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Roman Britain

Gladiators Fought in Cheshire

Edited from BBC News, 17 February 2007

According to an archaeological report which was published in 2007, gladiatorial games, the bloodiest of ancient Rome's traditions, were probably held in the heart of genteel Cheshire, near the modern Welsh border.

Prior to the report's release, archaeologists had unearthed evidence in the remains of Chester Amphitheatre which suggested that gladiators had appeared there. It had previously been thought that the large arena had only been used for ceremonial activities.

Spectacle

But archaeologists found a stone block with iron fastening, suggesting that victims - whether human or animal - were chained up here for gladiatorial spectacles. Two similar blocks had already been found in the 1960s, located in the northern half of the arena, which is one of Britain's largest Roman amphitheatres.

Experts at the time were of the opinion that the most recent discovery to have been found in the centre was significant because it formed a row of anchor points along the axis of the arena so that victims could be chained up in advance of a spectacle.

Dan Garner, an archaeologist with Chester City Council, said: 'Up until now we have found human and animal remains to suggest that gladiatorial games may have taken place, but the discovery of the third chain block puts that suggestion almost beyond doubt. I dare say that people met a rather brutal end in Chester's arena some 1,900 years ago.'

Tony Wilmott, an archaeologist at English Heritage, pointed out that the discovery of the block did not necessarily mean that human slaves had been chained to them.

Exotic animals

He said: 'It is possible that the blocks were also used for displaying various exotic animals, or for executing criminals who would be cast into the arena together with the violent beasts which would then finish them off to the delight of the audience. What is certain is the Romans' flair for mass entertainment.'

'By chaining victims to these blocks along the long axis, the Romans were trying to ensure that spectators had the maximum view,' Wilmott added.

Excavations at the site also uncovered evidence of eight vaulted stairways which served as entrances to the auditorium, and which were evenly spaced around the arena. Two foundation stones which could have formed the base of substantial columns had also been found, according to English Heritage.

The findings were presented at an international symposium on amphitheatres in Chester between 17-18 February. Tony Wilmott said the findings would change historians' understanding of Roman Chester.

 

 

     
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