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Colchester Roman Circus Open Day

Colchester Roman Circus Open Day

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Published by corinne mills

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Published by: corinne mills on Mar 23, 2008
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06/17/2009

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Colchester Roman Circus Open Day
Archaeologists working on a housing development at Colchester in Essex have unearthed whatthey believe to be the first Roman chariot-racing circus to be found in Britain. Members of Colchester Archaeological Trust were on hand to give an overview of the excavations which aretaking place on garrison land south of Abbey Field. It is likely the remains will be back-filled topreserve them in situ, in order to retain the integrity of the walls and prevent any degradation.Most likely visible sightlines will be established will be established to indicate where thestructure originally stood. A number of finds from the excavations and those of the adjacentRoman cemeteries were on display at the open day. Over 8,000 visitors attended!Time Team crew were also on site filming for a "Special" to be screened around May 2005.The discovery was made 400m south of the Roman Town, and is some 70m wide and at least350m long. The stones and banks have gone, but a circus was the largest entertainment buildingin the Roman world and of a standard and well know design. The closest in size to the Colchestercircus is at Segunto in Spain, which is 354 x 73.4m .
The Colchester circus was found in three excavations:
 
Area C1,
350 square metres north of Napier Road, at the junction with Flagstaff Road. Gravelmetalled surface with wheel ruts (probably cart tracks), and a wall foundation, two largebuttresses and a much slighter foundation (all stone robbed out) parallel and 5m to south. Therewere no partitions between the two walls, tile finds suggest coursing rather than a rood or heatingsystem.
 
Area C2
, 0.3ha on the other side of Napier Road, at the junction with Circular Road East. Mirrorimage of walls in area C1, with substantial buttresses on south side, 3-4 m apart, made of Greensand and septaria (nodules from local London Clay deposits); a square stone by a buttressmay represent an arch. Nothing later than Roman has yet been found, so demolition an robbingmay have been late Roman in date.
Area J1
, c 1ha along Circular Road South. Evaluation in 2002 and 2004 identified two Romanwall lines 250m west of C2, on same alignment as paired walls there. Area excavation in October2004 showed walls to be identical to those in C1 and C2, with buttresses 4m apart along entire75m foundation length, and parallel shallow robbed out wall 5m to north; it seems certain theyran east to connect with C2 walls. Medieval pottery (possibly 11th century) was found in therobber trench. Roman finds include an iron stylus or writing equipment.Why do they think these apparently elusive remains make such a strong case for a Roman circus?First, the walls are clearly parts of a single construction, seen in the mirror image of C1 to J1/C2,with large exterior buttresses and parallel less substantial walls 5m inside. The use of KentGreensand on each site is significant, since it is rare elsewhere in Roman Colchester. Theremains seem to represent the main circus structure, the ramped seats (cavea), facing across anelongated staium-like space some 62.5m wide and 320m long, being the right length andproportions. Critically, the buttressed wall in J1 curves at its extreme west end, matching theapical stadium end found in all Roman Circuses.An earth cavea rather than stone would be consistent with British amphitheatres and not leasttwo of its known theatres. There are a few theatres in Gaul of the same type, and more modestcircuses use an earth embankment for seating (eg in Luz, Portugal and Zafra, Spain).Continental caveae are typically set on stone substructures, with a single inner wall, and shortwalls radiating outwards - usually ending in pilasters - to form vaulted bays supporting tiers of seats. At Colchester, whilst projections along the outer cavea may have been foundations forbuttresses to help support the outward thrust of the cavea mound, the may also have supportedblind arcading enhanced with pilasters; the circus would have looked much like continentalversions despite being built differently.Finds from the robber trenches indicate Romanise decorative architecture, tile coursing, opussigninum facing mortar (fine Roman concrete) and a piece each of column and incised marblefacing (possibly Purbeck)Artefacts found in Colchester before showing chariot races now acquire a new significance:some may have been souvenirs of actual events. A fine 2nd century pottery beaker shows four,four horse chariots (quadrigae). A glass cup, along with four quadrigae and rider, has a textcelebrating Cresces victory over his three competitors. Another glass vessel shows a similarscene.New finds continue the theme. A fine piece of horse furniture came from the inner robbed wallfooting. A coin (a bronze Duponius of Caligula's rein , A37-41) features a four-horse chariot and

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