A Roman rampart has been reconstructed at an ancient fort in Kent that was built some two millennia ago to guard the site where the empire first invaded Britain. The new, 26-feet-height attraction at the Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre will offer visitors panoramic views across the site. It was built by English Heritage using the very same methods that would have been employed by the Romans to erect the original defensive structure.
English Heritage’s Senior Properties Historian, Paul Pattison: “This is an historic moment.
“To be able to rebuild a structure as accurately as possible — and one that stands on the exact spot of the original at Richborough almost 2,000 years ago — is remarkable.
“The Roman invasion was a major milestone in our history. We know that Richborough witnessed over 360 years of Roman rule, from the very beginning to the bitter end.
“But standing atop this eight metre [26 feet] -high gateway, looking out and imagining what the first Romans might have seen, is quite an experience.”
According to English Heritage, Richborough represents a “hugely significant” Roman site in Britain, one that transitioned from a military base to a thriving port town — spanning the area of more than 50 football pitches — and back again over the course of 360 years.
In fact, they explained, it is often referred to as the “gateway to Britannia” and, at the time of the Roman invasion, was originally just a small island.
This eventually went on to be the location of a large fortification, which was first discovered by archaeologists back in the 1920s.
In 2021, the current generation of archaeologists unearthed traces of large holes in the Roman ground layer at the entrance to the ancient defences that they believe once held large timber posts that supported a wooden gateway and tower.
This feature would have been used to guard the Roman fort, within which soldiers and their supplies would have been assembled after disembarking vessels that crossed what today is known as the English Channel.
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It is based on the post holes, other archaeological evidence and Roman sculptural sources that English Heritage has carefully reconstructed the ancient defence above the site of the original.
The new gateway was fashioned out of oak, using Roman-style dovetail, lap and scarf joints between individual wooden beams.
In particular, the design of the tower was built by taking inspiration from depictions of Roman fortifications seen on Trajan’s column in Rome —including the use of a crenellated parapet.
This featured a frame of timber uprights connected to rails. To this, vertical boards were fixed using iron nails hand-made much like they would have been made two millennia ago.
To accompany the opening of the gateway, English Heritage has also assembled a new exhibition featuring various previously unshown artefacts found at Richborough.
English Heritage said: “The collection of objects found at Richborough is one of the largest for any Roman site in the country, including an extraordinary 450 brooches, over 1,000 hairpins, and 56,000 coins.
“Alongside the surviving ruins of the later Roman fort, these objects add an invaluable insight into the people of Richborough.
“Individual items can be identified as belonging specifically to soldiers, farmers, officials, craftsmen, pagans, Christians, and women and men of all social classes, and there are even hints at individuals who travelled from other parts of the Empire.”
Highlights of the display include a 2,000-year-old cup made from glass originally blown in the Middle East, to a trader’s weight fashioned in the shape of Harpocrates, the god of silence — the only one of its kind ever to have been recovered from Britain.
Visitors to the fort can also be led around the site by a new audio guide, the commentary on which is led by the broadcaster and historian Tessa Dunlop.
English Heritage added: “Drawing parallels between Richborough’s Roman inhabitants and modern occupations, the guide includes interviews with real-life local miners, oyster sellers, stonemasons, a special-forces soldier, a former harbourmaster and an Olympic boxer — who bring a contemporary take to life in Roman Richborough.”