Everyday Life at Wroxeter Roman City

English Heritage

Roman Britain’s fourth largest settlement

City Life in Roman Britain
Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire was the fourth largest town in Roman Britain and about the size of Pompeii. The defended area of this Roman urban settlement covered 78 hectares at its greatest extent. 

The fields surrounding these ancient walls disguise the original extent of Wroxeter Roman City.

The Old Work, the seven metre high basilica wall shown here, attracted antiquarian attention in the 19th century, with excavations nearby revealing the bath house complete with underfloor heating.

Excavations in the early 20th century exposed the forum and houses. These are now grassed over.

In the later 20th century, new excavations centred on a small marketplace adjacent to the baths, and the huge baths basilica or gymnasium (pictured here), both dating to the 2nd century AD.

Here, vanished walls, floors and walkways are indicated by different coloured building materials.

Beyond the civic core, the foundations of many hundreds of buildings survive below the topsoil. These have been studied with modern non-destructive methods of survey.

The earliest element of the site was a fort established between about AD 57 and AD 85. The area was picked for its strategic location on the Roman road Watling Street as it heads into Wales. It is also near a major crossing of the river Severn.

The fort attracted civilian settlement and the town was established by about AD 90.

When the army was relocated to Chester (about 45 miles to the north), the proto-town was handed over to authorities of the local Cornovii tribe who developed the civic centre on a grand scale, starting in the early 2nd century AD.

This recreated villa gives us an idea of what one of Wroxeter’s larger private residences would have looked like in the later Roman period.

Urban life carried on at Wroxeter for roughly 500 years, though there were many radical changes after the end of Roman rule.

But by the 7th century, when the Anglo-Saxons had taken control of the area, the city at Wroxeter had run its course. The monumental Roman buildings were then used as quarries for the building of local churches and a new urban centre for the region was established at Shrewsbury.

The Reserve Collection
The number and scale of the excavations at the site have resulted in a huge range of fascinating Roman objects that give us a glimpse into everyday life in the town. 

The collection for Wroxeter is the largest stored at English Heritage’s archaeological collections store at Wrest Park.

It ranges from massive pieces of architectural stonework to the tiniest scraps of broken jewellery.

The small finds, particularly the metal objects, provide insights into the lives of both the incomers and the native population, who willingly adopted a level of mass consumerism and self-adornment not previously known in Britain.

A rich Roman Briton could afford luxuries. Jewellery is a frequent find on Romano-British sites (so much around, so easily lost)

Such visible material wealth created a new need for the technology of security.

Bonus Fortuna (‘good luck’)!

Bells were thought by the Romans to bring good luck, and some types of stone such as jet and amber were also considered lucky.

This is a jet bead with a scallop design. Many jet items, like this, have been found at Wroxeter.

The collection also gives us a picture of the religious lives of the population. These plaster eyes are votive objects (offered to fulfil a vow), made of pieces of fallen wall plaster. Over 100 of these have been found at Wroxeter.

They were offerings to a local god, asking for their intervention, and were probably made by people with eye complaints. There may have been a spring with healing properties in the area.

These white clay figurines, depicting Venus, are another frequent find. They would have been displayed in household shrines.

This altar would have been used for sacrifices and offerings to the gods.

A small number of human burials have been excavated at Wroxeter but most people were buried outside the town’s defences in accordance with Roman practice.

Other organic evidence of the residents occasionally survives in the form of coprolites – fossilised faeces. These can tell us about what was eaten at Wroxeter, the health of the population, and whether the residents suffered from intestinal parasites.

Indirect evidence of the existence of professional doctors practicing comes from the large numbers of medical probes, such as this one, and other specialist surgical equipment found at Wroxeter.

These remarkable objects and structures give us fascinating insights into the lived experience of this Roman city.

Credits: Story

Contributors: Cameron Moffett, Ian Leins, Rose Arkle

Visit Wroxeter Roman City.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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