Today is the first day of a two-part archaeological trip to a castle – Richborough Castle/Fort, near Sandwich, Kent. It was founded by the Romans soon after their invasion of Britain in AD 43, and because of its position near the mouth of the Stour (a nearby river) it was used as a major port for dealing goods – back then, called Rutupiae.
It was occupied by the Romans for pretty much the entire of their occupation in Britain – from the invasion in AD 43 to the end of Roman rule in 410. Though it is best known for being the port, it was originally a military supply base. When Claudius’s invasion force of 40,000 men arrived in AD 43, they quickly built a defensive barrier at the site in the form of two deep, parallel V-shaped ditches, running around 650 meters north-south in line to the coastline. This defended the fort from any invasions from the beach, giving the needed protection to their ships, supplies and troops.
There is even archaeological evidence for the presence of granaries or storehouses at Rutupiae. After the threat of invasion died away, it was an ideal place for a port, being at the end point from one of the best sea crossings to Gaul, so Rutupiae just continued to grow and flourish, until some fantastic structures were built at the height of growth – an amphitheatre, and one of the biggest monumental arches in the Roman Empire – it was built in about AD 85, twenty-five meters tall, and clad in white marble, imported from Italy. Adorned with inscriptions and sculptures, it must have made for an astonishing and powerful sight. (Romans liked to show off how amazing they were!)
These are just a couple of the features; but the success of the site was far more important. Its heyday is believed to have been in the 2nd century, and modern geophysical and aerial surveys have estimated that the settlement covered an area of at least 21 hectares (52 acres).
Next week, we will look into more at Rutupiae – join me then!