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Caerleon Roman Fortress Dog Walk, Roman Barracks

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Dog Friendly Walks South Wales - Caerleon Fortress

Caerleon Roman Barracks sign

Caerleon Roman Barracks: Location of King Arthur's Camelot?

Caerleon was the site of one of Britain's three permanent Roman Legionary Fortresses, and many believe it to be the location of King Arthur's Camelot.
In 830 AD Nennius listed Cair Lion as one of Britain's 33 cities.

Nowadays it's a thriving town, where past and present combine to delight both visitors and residents.

This is also an area where you can bring your dogs, as you will see from this set of photos of the Barracks and Ampitheatre. Pick up after your dog of course, as this is a nice clean area and there is no rough ground - it's all mowed.

Caerleon Roman Fortress Barracks

Caerleon Roman Barracks

Here is Jack the dog surveying the former Roman Barracks. The remaining Barracks are a series of fondation walls, side by side, in neat rows. This is only part of the complex.

Caerleon has the finest remains of Roman barrack buildings in Europe. A block housed a century - 80 men. The larger rooms were reserved for the centurion.

Legionaries shared quarters - eight men to a room.

I'll bet snoring was a real problem but they presumably kept warm in such tiny quarters.

Caerleon Roman Fortress Barracks foundation walls

Caerleon Roman Fortress Barracks foundation walls. It is fascinating to walk around these old Roman Barracks and picture the little rooms which would have housed up to 5,000 troops (I vaguely recall reading it was 6 soliders to a room but I may be mistaken).

The huge amphitheatre opposite is testimony to the size of this once major Roman Camp. Dogs can run around and explore as well, so this is a dog friendly outing. There is also the indoor museum which you should visit as well, especially on a rainy day.

You might be more inclined to spend time in the amphitheatre and miss out the Barracks foundations, but this area is just as interestnig as you picture the individual barracks as they would have been. This is only a small section of what there was originally.

Caerleon Roman Fortress Barracks foundation walls

Caerleon Roman Barracks: What happened to all the stone?

Sections of the Roman fortress wall and Barracks still survive despite locals in times gone by using the more accessible facing stones for their own building purposes.

Many premises in the village are constructed of 'Roman' stone!

While visiting Caerleon, you should also spend an hour inside, in the museum, once you have given your dogs a run, and provided it is not too hot and sunny to leave them in the car awhile. You can either walk from the Roman Barracks Car Park, to the museum, or, to get your car and dogs nearer the museum, you can drive to the museum car park itself - assuming there are spaces available.

Do not miss out on the museum. The National Roman Legion Museum houses a superb display of artefacts found in the region, as well as having demonstration rooms and the reconstruction of legionaries' quarters. Loads of fascinating reading boards to browse. This really does permit you to journey into the past. It is quite remakable this small rather inaccessible place in the middle of South Wales was such a major Roman Garrison in the Roman era. One of the most important Roman Garrisons in Britain and one of the three largest.

Like other National Museums and Galleries of Wales, entry is free. The museum organises an excellent variety of events right through the year (there is a small charge for some of these). Location: High Street, opposite Broadway. Tel.: 01633 423 134  Email the Museum. Open 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, 2pm-5pm Sunday. Closed 24-26 Dec & 1 Jan.
Caerleon Roman Fortress Amphitheatre

Early excavations on the Southern side of the amphitheatre in 1909 revealed that the outside wall was nearly 2 metres thick with heavy buttresses.

Inside this wall there was an earthen bank which supported the wooden seats.

Inside this was the arena wall which was estimated to have originally between 2 and 3 metres high, this surrounded the arena itself.

The arena floor was filled in with sand some 50cm deep on top of a layer of river cobbles.

The masonry (eg South Entrance top right) was found to be so strong that it was realised that the whole structure could be excavated and left uncovered.

Originally the entire arena area had become filled in with earth, creating a flat topped raised surface enclosed by the circumference wall of the amphitheatre. This created a raised round table effect when viewed from above, giving rise to Caerleon's original connection with the Round Table of Arthurian Legend.

Excavations resumed 1926

In 1926, some years after the earlier 1909 excavations, funds were made available by the Daily Mail newspaper and the Loyal Knights of the Round Table of America for a full excavation of the site. 30 thousand tons of soil was excavated, examined and carried away. This at a cost of just under ten pence a ton, considerably less than we would pay today!  I wonder where they put all the soil. Also I wonder how it got filled in with so much soil in the first place!

The amphitheatre at Caerleon is one of the best preserved in the World. This makes the site of major historic interest and it is a very good walk for the dogs too. Dogs can walk all around exploring this ancient monument. You can park right beside it.

If you go out of the monument area at the far end, opposite where you parked, through a field gate in the left corner of the amphitheatre's enclosed field, you will find a dog walk through some further fields. These are useful if you want to give dogs a good scamper before having them under closer control or on a lead if you prefer, around the monument.

Caerleon Roman Fortress Amphitheatre

Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre: Information

The amphitheatre could seat a whole legion - up to six thousand spectators.

Nowadays it is sometimes used for open air events and re-enactments. Entry is free (except for special events) and there is free parking in Broadway (off High Street) and beside the rugby pitches and Barracks opposite.
The site is now a national monument.

1. The Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre arena is oval - longer axis 56m, shorter axis 41.5m. The arena itself was originally lower than the outside ground level.

2. The arena wall rose to just under 4 yards above the arena and was covered with a smooth cement rendering.

3. The external wall was just under 2 yards thick with buttresses every 3 yards or so.

4. A bank of earth between these inner and outer walls supported the wooden seating. When the excavations were complete the soil was left at the original Roman level.

5. There was seating for 6000 spectators. The arena could therefore accommodate the entire legion plus visitors.

6. There were eight entrances. The two larger entrances served the arena and did not give access to the public seating.

7. It is thought that the amphitheatre was built around 90 AD

Caerleon Roman Fortress Amphitheatre Jack and Sheeba dogs walking

Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre: Known as King Arthur's Round Table

The remains of some 75 amphitheatres have been located in widely scattered areas of the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre in Caerleon is the best preserved example in Britain.

Known since the Middle Ages as King Arthur's Round Table, until 1926 it was a circular earthwork enclosing a deep hollow.

The first excavations were carried out by locals who dug trenches into the structure to recover stone for building purposes.  The huge volume of Roman stone used in buildings in the village is evidence of such quarrying. Recycling started centuries ago!

The Liverpool Committee for Excavation and Research in Wales and the Marches carried out the first formal excavations in 1909. They made some exciting discoveries and found that the remains were well preserved.

In 1926, thanks to the sponsorship of the Daily Mail, work began to uncover the amphitheatre by removing 30 000 tons of soil.

One of the most intriguing discoveries was the 'Caerleon Curse'.

Caerleon Roman Fortress Amphitheatre

Caerleon Amphitheatre and the Caerleon Curse

During excavations of Caerleon's Amphitheatre in 1926 this strange lead tablet was discovered in the debris of the northern half of the arena. Approximately 10 cm square, it was pierced with two nail holes for attachment. The inscription reads:
'Lady Nemesis, I give thee a cloak and a pair of boots; let him who took them not redeem them (unless) with his own blood.'
It seems that the writer is saying to the goddess Nemesis: 'I make you a present of the cloak and boots stolen from me and you can obtain them by seeing that the thief is killed in the arena, or let him redeem them by getting well wounded.'

The writer may not have known who stole his cloak and boots. Or maybe he does not have the courage to recover his own property, so he asks for the goddess to arrange for the death or injury of the thief in return for his (stolen) possessions - this salves his conscience. In either case, he has done his best!

Caerleon Roman Fortress Amphitheatre Dog Walking

Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre: Roman Coins found

During archaeological  excavations 242 Roman coins were found, and these were useful in dating the phases of construction.
Of equal interest were the post-Roman coins.

Five silver pennies of Edward I - III were found level with the surviving top of the arena wall. They lay in positions which they could not have reached by accidental percolation, and there can be little doubt that they were lost by those involved in 'robbing out' the stone for building use in the 14th century.

Also found were:

 7 Bristol tokens dated 1652
 1 Irish halfpenny of Charles II
 33 George I - III pennies and
 4 Victorian coins

These all provide evidence of trenches being cut into the structure for the recovery of building stone. This means much of the amphitheatre would have been better preserved but for the removal of stone for building other buildings.

It can also be presumed that much of the local town is built out of stone salvaged from the Amphitheatre and Roman Barracks.

Caerleon Roman Fortress Amphitheatre

Caerleon Amphitheatre: Why was it known The Round Table of Arthurian legend?

To the left is an aerial photo of the area occupied by the Amphitheatre prior to excavation.

The raised round area of ground that formed King Arthur's Round Table' is clearly visible in this aerial photo taken in the early 1920s.

So this is not a wooden round table we would imagine the table of Arthurian Legend to be, with all the Knights sitting around it.

Rather, it is a phrase coined to represent the large circular mound of earth that there would once have been, viewed from above, prior to auditorium and inside of the amphitheatre being excavated.

Caerleon aerial view round table
So on this basis, you can see why there was an intriguing circle, but it is not one that King Arthur's Knights could possibly have sat around as it is such a substantial area.

They would have had to shout at each other over a great distance assuming they sat around the circumference of the 'table'.

See the Wikipedia entry on Caerleon and Aurthur's Round Table

Wikipedia: "Geoffrey of Monmouth, the first author to write at length of King Arthur, makes Caerleon one of the most important cities in Britain in his Historia Regum Britanniæ. He gives it a long, glorious history from its foundation by King Belinus to when it becomes a metropolitan see, the location of an Archbishopric superior to Canterbury and York, under Saint Dubricius, followed by St David who moved the archbishopric to St David's Cathedral.

Geoffrey makes Arthur's capital Caerleon and even Sir Thomas Malory has Arthur re-crowned there. The still-visible Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon has been associated with Arthur's 'Round-Table' element of the tales and has been suggested as a possible source for the legend.

"For it was located in a delightful spot in Glamorgan, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea. Abounding in wealth more than other cities, it was suited for such a ceremony. For the noble river I have named flows along it on one side, upon which the kings and princes who would be coming from overseas could be carried by ship. But on the other side, protected by meadow and woods, it was remarkable for royal palaces, so that it imitated Rome in the golden roofs of its buildings... Famous for so many pleasant features, Caerleon was made ready for the announced feast." (Historia Regum Britanniae "History of the Kings of Britain")

Though the huge scale of the ruins along with Caerleon's importance as an urban centre in early mediæval Kingdom of Gwent may have inspired Geoffrey, the main historical source for Arthur's link with "the camp of the legion" is the list of the twelve battles of Arthur in the 9th century Historia Brittonum.

However the "urbs legionis" mentioned there may rather more probably be referring to Chester - or even York. "Camelot" first appears in Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, though Chretien also mentions Caerleon.

Copyright Dog Friendly Wales and Jack the Dog
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