One of the most impressive sites at Rutupiae was the amphitheatre, built at the height of the town’s importance. It was set on a higher position at the edge of town, and was used for the gory fights that the Romans were so well known for – although it did not have lions and other African beasts, like in the amphitheatres at Rome, but held fights between native species, such as bull, wild boar and bears. It also was used for the execution of criminals and gladiator fights.
Today, the amphitheatre is simply a large mound, with a hollow in the centre that shows the structure of the building. Only one excavation has taken place at the mound, in 1849, but more recently, geophysical surveys took place to go back over the research from the Victorians. They found that the site was much larger than first suggested; around 62 metres long by 50 metres wide, and able to accommodate up to 5,000 people. Again, this shows just how popular the site at Richborough was. Interestingly, the 1849 excavators discovered several skeletons dug into the amphitheatre, which suggests that it was used as a cemetery, after it was fallen, after the Romans left.
So Rutupiae was a highly successful site – but why did it eventually fall? For nearly two hundred years it thrived, but in AD 250, a drastic change occurred, both from conflict within the empire and attacks on the Romans from Saxon and Frankish raiders. (The Saxons were from Germany and the Franks from France.)
A huge amount of the settlement was destroyed, hundreds of buildings, along with the glorious monumental arch, and the lot was replaced with two successive forts. The second of these was built in stone shortly after AD 273, and today it is the most recognized feature, one that formed a part of a chain of forts defending the coast in the late 3rd century.
Join me next time as we look into more archaeology!