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A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

8. The Chester Amphitheatre



Amphitheatre 0I

New material added 12th August 2014

Parts 01 | II, III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII and Gallery | 2 | 3 of the amphitheatre story- or on to St. John's Church

"These old buildings do not belong to us only; they have belonged to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendents, unless we play them false.
They are not... our property, to do as we like with. We are only the trustees for those who come after us". William Morris 1889


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SChester amphitheatretanding on top of the Newgate with our backs to the city, we see a curious semi-circular form recessed into the green space before us. Unimpressive as it may look now, this is the partially-excavated remains of the largest stone-built Roman military amphitheatre in Britain.

The first amphitheatre on the site was built soon after the establishment of the great fortress itself, sometime in the late 70s AD by the engineers of Legion II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis ('Dutiful and Faithful'). Generally assumed to have been constructed of timber, recent research seems to indicate that this early amphitheatre was stone-built from the start. The Second Legion were posted to the Danube in AD 86, and, towards the end of the First Century, the structure was progressively rebuilt and enlarged by their successors, Legion XX Valeria Victrix ('Strong and Victorious').

However, by the middle of the Second Century it had fallen into disuse. This may have been connected with the temporary posting of Legion XX northwards to assist in the construction of Hadrian's Wall.

Upon their return, they continued with the work of rebuilding the Second Legion's timber and turf fortress, and by around 275 AD, their amphitheatre too had been restored and paved with sandstone flags. From that time, it stayed in constant use until its final abandonment around the year 350. There is evidence that it underwent numerous structural modifications and alterations during this long period.

Wherever possible, Roman legionary fortresses were constructed to a standard pattern: a playing-card shaped circuit of walls aligned north-south, four main entrances and two principle roads intersecting in the centre, where were located the headquarters (principia), the commander's residence and other major administrative buildings. Along with barrack blocks, officer's houses, stables, workshops, granaries and bath houses, an amphitheatre situated outside the walls, generally located, as here, close to the south-east corner, was a standard feature of fortress construction.

1930s amphitheatreThere are nineteen Roman amphitheatres known in Britain, with, doubtlessly, more waiting to be discovered. The largest is at Maumbury Rings, Dorchester, which is almost a third larger in area than Chester's. This, however, along with those at Aldborough, Silchester, Chichester and Cirencester survive only as earthworks.

All but three of these amphitheatres were constructed at civil settlements; those at Caerleon, Chester and York (this latter known to exist but, remarkably, still awaiting actual discovery) are the only ones, to date, known to have been developed as part of legionary fortresses. This 'military' type of amphitheatre, of which Chester's is the largest, had a greater arena area in proportion to its seating compared to those of civil settlements. They were mainly used for military training, but were also opened to the general population for 'recreations' (spectacula) such as bull baiting, cock fighting, mock hunts- in which well-equiped huntsmen slaughtered wild animals released into the arena- wrestling and boxing. This latter was a popular, though brutal sport in Roman times.The fighters wore no protection, and instead of gloves had metal-studded leather thongs wrapped around their wrists.

Amphitheatres were also used for the public execution of criminals- both military and civilian- and for the celebration of state and religious special events. These latter would have featured the sort of gladiatorial combat (munera) with which Hollywood has so recently once again made us familiar. A relief carving on slate, found nearby in Newgate Street, showing a retiarius- a gladiator who fought with a trident and net, would seem to confirm that this type of activity went on here (you can see a drawing of it on the next page).

vale royal amphitheatre mapGladiators could be of either sex (a little known fact) and were drawn from the ranks of slaves, prisoners of war and petty criminals, to whom the dangers of the arena may well have been preferable to the alternative fates that awaited them elsewhere. Those offenders against the state- including many early Christians- deemed a threat to Imperial authority, were condemned ad bestias, 'to the beasts'. These unfortunates were left tied to a stake, or as an extra 'refinement' were pushed naked and unarmed into the arena, where wild and half-starved animals were turned loose on them.

In the centre of the arena here in Chester, a series of postholes set into narrow gullies (hidden from view today) suggest the possible presence of a timber platform of some kind- possibly a scaffold. This structure may have been temporary, being erected only when required. (It was this structure that encouraged the original assumption that the original amphitheatre had been timber-built).

What became of the amphitheatre after the withdrawal of the Legions is entirely unknown, but it does seem remarkable that the site of a structure of this size and importance could have vanished so effectively as to remain unrecorded and unsuspected for a thousand years. But we refer again to York, the Roman Eboracum, the capital city of Britannia Inferior (the northern province of England)- where a great amphitheatre remains to this day tantalisingly lost somewhere beneath the modern streets. These sites would doubtless have proved a valuable source of quality building stone and other materials, such as was used for the construction of the neighbouring St. John's Church. The alignment of medieval streets around the site show that the presence of the ruins long proved an obstacle to the development of the road system in this area. Little St. John Street, for example, has for centuries followed its semi-circular course around the site but few had apparently thought to question why this should be.

hollars map 1656Here we see the site in a small detail from Wenceslaus Hollar's map of 1656- but, because it fails to show the devastation we know occured here during the Civil War- probably based upon the earlier work of John Speed and others, such as the similar, but more roughly-sketched, detail from Daniel King's Vale Royal of England, above right. Note the lane running from directly opposite the west tower of St. John's Church and ending between two tall houses (?) half way up Souter's Lane. The entrance to this lane was situated roughly where the gate to the controversial new County courthouse (of which much more later) is now. Due to Civil War bombardment and the later appearance of Dee House on the spot, no trace of this lane remains today.

Little St. John Street, curving around the north of the amphitheatre, was first recorded as viculus maioris ecclesiae Sancti Johannis ('the lane of the greater church of St. John') and is shown on Speed's map of 1610 (reprinted at least fourteen times between 1616 and 1770) as Church Lane- and Souter's Lane, to the west, as Souterlode- both in 1274. (a souter was a shoemaker or cobbler) They probably followed the lines of Roman streets as the presence of the amphitheatre ruins would have been a major constraint to new road layouts in this area.

The site of the amphitheatre seems to have long remained an open area where the citizens came to congregate, play and worship, becoming slowly filled in by natural erosion and its sometime use as a refuse dump. A bear pit here also provided a source of local 'amusement'. The arena was still visible as a shallow depression in the ground as late as 1710, when Dee House (of which much more later), was built. On the right we see the open area in a detail from Alexander De Lavaux's 1745 map of Chester. Below it, Dee House, set in its extensive gardens, is seen in the centre and labelled "Mr Comberback's". The curved road, following the ancient line of the outer wall of the amphitheatre, linking St. John's Lane (now St. John Street) and Vicar's Lane is here called Church Lane.

Within half a century, as our photograph above shows, the northern half of the site had disappeared under houses and the remains of the monument beneath quickly became lost to memory.

So completely did it disappear, in fact, that W. Thompson Watkin in his influential Roman Cheshire of 1889 wrote, "There remains the interesting question, where was the amphitheatre? A station or castrum of of the dimensions of Deva would certainly have one... It would certainly, at Deva as elsewhere, be outside of the Roman walls, and I suspect either at Boughton or at the 'Bowling Green'" (The site of today's so-called Roman Garden, just across Souter's Lane from the actual site) "I hardly think it would be on the Handbridge side of the river, though we may look for discoveries of villas in that area. Time will probably reveal the locality, either by information being brought to light from old manuscripts or or from actual excavation accidentally taking place within its area". Which, as we are about to see, is exactly what did happen...

Discovery and Danger
The story of the Chester amphitheatre's discovery and (partial) excavation and of the numerous threats to which it has been- and continues to be- subjected is one that has touched the lives of hundreds of people from the end of the 1920s to the present day. As we shall see, it is little short of miraculous that, poorly-presented though it is, so much of this internationally-important monument has once again become visible to us today.

A fortress of the size and importance of Deva would certainly have possessed such an amenity and, as with Thompson Watkin, its existence had long been suspected by scholars. One of these was a classics teacher at the Chester King's School, W J 'Walrus' Williams (1875-1971), who, as a keen amateur archaeologist (the line between amateur and professional was not so rigid as it is now)- and member of the Chester Archaeological Society, had long argued for the amphitheatre's existence. And indeed, by happy fortune, it was he who, in June 1929, while examining a pit dug in the grounds of the Ursuline Convent (of which more later) for the removal of a large holly tree in preparation for the installation of a new heating plant, observed massive pieces of masonry and immediately realised that this was indeed the site of the vanished amphitheatre.

Actually, it is said that the first man to set eyes upon the great stones was Bill the convent gardener, who at first thought he had come across the foundations of a wall or old house. Bill later went off to war and was killed somewhere in France.

But what a moment that must have been for Walrus Williams! He was presented with further evidence of what lay beneath when a workman unearthed a coin of Hadrian in his presence, and his findings were soon after confirmed by small-scale trenching carried out by P H Lawson.

In 1930-1, Professors Robert Newstead (left) and J P Droop and their staff from the Chester Archaeological Society and Liverpool University commenced trial excavations in order to ascertain the scale of the buried remains. They discovered the western entrance, parts of the perimeter and arena walls and the arena itself. In 1934, further work in the cellars of St. John's House- of which more later- and in Little St. John Street revealed parts of the northern outer wall.
National interest in the work was considerable and progress was regularly reported upon within the pages of the London Times. Following are two such examples-

24th August 1930 "Some important discoveries have been made at Chester this week during excavations on the site of the Roman amphitheatre in the south-east angle of the city. The excavations are being continued under the direction of Professor R. Newstead on behalf of the Chester Excavations Committee. The operations have revealed a long section of massive Roman wall which is believed to date back to the first century, and Professor Newstead has concluded that it was probably one of the retaining walls of the side entrance to a Roman amphitheatre. This find, with the discoveries which were made last year, indicates that the amphitheatre was larger than that at Caerleon which is being preserved by the Office of Works. As is usual with the Roman buildings at Chester, the wall which the excavations have revealed rests upon solid rock. It stands about nine feet high and at the base measures six feet in thickness".

6th April 1931 "Further section of tbe arena wall of the Roman amphitheatre at Chester was revealed by excavations carried on under the direction of Professor Robert Newstead, F.R.S., last week. This new discovery removes any doubt as to the exact position of the structure. Although it has not been fully excavated, all the evidence leads to the conclusion that the wall has a depth of 16ft. and is about 18in. nearer the surface than the section previously found. Several "finds" have been made at various levels during the excavations. The most interesting is an exquisite example of a bronze second-century brooch with pin and spring intact and patina almost as brilliant as in the day of its casting. One level yielded much eighteenth-century pottery (chiefly slipware).. This level also revealed a number of beer jugs, which also appear to belong to the eighteenth century. Among various coins found are a second brass of Domitian, whlich had evidently been in circulation for a long time before it was dropped, for no trace of the original inscription remains; a small brass coin of Tetricus, probably minted between 268 and 273 A.D., and another third-century piece completely oxidized and with no traceable inscription.
The arena floor of the amphitheatre, as Professor Newstead now finds it, is covered with material evidently transported from building operations near by. Bits of bricks, broken tiles, slates and refuse have been found in layers above the surface of the floor. Discussing the signiflcance of the discovery of the new section of the arena wall, Professor Newstead said the relative position of the new flnd with the rest of the theatre was a factor in the suggested scheme for the complete excavation and preservation of the structure." Further discoveries must be made," he added, before we can actually decide what course to take."

Mr. C. R. Peers, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments. examined the site last November on behalf of the Office of Works, and concurred with Professor Newstead that the future of the amphitheatre would depend to a large extent on the results obtained in the direction in which the new section has been found. If these were satisfactory he supported the suggested excavation and preservation of the whole site. Professor Newstead is continuing his excavations. He expresses no definite opinion yet as to how much this latest discovery may decide".

newgate tavernBy the end of the First World War, with the growth of Chester and the increasing appearance of the motor car, this corner of the city was constantly congested and in 1926 plans were laid to replace the ancient Peppergate, widen the road leading to it and alter its course so it left the town in a 'more convenient' straight line.

As may be readily seen from this photograph, the medieval Peppergate and the road leading to it, Little St. John Street, were at this time extremely narrow and hemmed in by a clutter of houses and small factories, such as 'Poynton's Famous Pipe Works', where clay pipes in the style of those used by the American Indians were manufactured, and considered by many to be the finest in England. The building on the left of the picture was the long-vanished Newgate Tavern.
(Go here to learn more about this and Chester's numerous other lost pubs).

The photograph would appear to be recording the final days of congestion in this area as the buildings on the right hand side are being removed to make way for the great changes to come. Compare the picture with the modern drawing of the Newgate on the previous page.

It was actually during preparatory work for this road that the true extent of the amphitheatre site was established. Despite this, some sections of the city authorities remained adamant that the road would be built as planned, claiming that "they could not afford to revise their plans at that late stage" (a cry that has echoed down the decades to the present day, as we shall presently see)- and also that the cost of acquiring and demolishing the properties covering the northern half of the site would be prohibitive. This, of course, would mean the almost total destruction of this unique treasure almost as soon as it had been found and resulted in national uproar. The City Improvement Committee however, to their credit, did delay inviting tenders for the construction of the new road to allow the Chester Archaeological Society time to raise the necessary funds to divert the road around the newly-discovered monument- the (at the time) considerable sum of around £24,000.

The debate dragged on during the early 1930s during which time, as with many of today's controversial planning proposals, the subject was rarely absent from the letters pages of the national and local press. This letter, for example, signed by a number of eminent local citizens including the High Sheriff of Cheshire, the Dean and Archdeacon of the Cathedral and the Chairman of the Council of the Chester Archaeological Society, appeared in the London Times on 19th March 1932:

"Sir, May we ask for a little space in which to make known the present situation of the Chester amphitheatre? Two years ago, on the site of new buildings outside the Newgate, extensive Roman masonry was found which Mr W. J. Williams identified as part of a Roman arnphitheatre. On the site of a by-pass road then planned, excavations made by Professor Newstead, F.R.S., amply confirmed the identification anid gave much valuable information about the structure. Recently the city council passed a recommendation to proceed with the road over the middle of the amphitheatre site. At this juncture we wish to lay stress on the immense historic and antiquarian importance of the work that is in danger of being buried for generations and perhaps irretrievably lost. It is no mere earthwork, but a massive stone structure existing still in the sections explored to a depth of between 7ft. and 9ft., in well-dressed ashlar masonry. The outer supporting wall is 9ft. thick, and the inner arena wall, 62ft. away, stands in good preservation. The importance of the work is also shown by its measurements, which put it on terms with the great amphitheatres of Nimes and Arles; for its outer measure is estimated at 315ft. by 284ft., and its arena floor at 190ft. by 161ft. The value of such a monument as a unique survival of Roman Britain is hard to over-estimate: and on all grounds we are sincerely anxious that nothing should be done to make its ultimate excavation more difficult, if not actually impossible. Admittedly this is not a time for lavish expenditure, and we do not urge that the whole site should necessarily be forthwith cleared for excavation. We do, however, wish to draw attention to the excellent possibility whlich presents itself of deflecting the road to the much more elegant and far safer line of the medieval Little St. John's Lane. We estimate that some £8000 would be sufficient for tlle acquisition of the sites necessary for widening this street and for the increased cost of road making. A further sum of £8000 would OS 1959enable us to offer the unencumbered site of half the amphitheatre to the Office of Works, who, as we understand, are willing to undertake the excavation and maintenance. And where such an important monument, an asset to the city and the nation, is in peril of being lost for ever we hope that the interest of the people will be aroused and that means may yet be found to make this most desirable alternative practicable. The respite brought about by the request of H.M. Office of Works to the city council enables us to appeal for contributions to effect the rescue of the site. Donations may be sent to the Hon. Treasurer, the Chester Roman Amphitheatre Fund, Lloyds Bank Limited, Chester".

A detail from the 1959 Ordnance Survey map showing the site of the amphitheatre immediately before the commencement of the 1960 excavation. Clearly visible is the line of the abandoned road, which has by this time been transformed into the short-lived Amphitheatre Gardens (illustrated below and here)

The national press reported that the appeal "has met with a remarkable response from all parts and from all classes at home and abroad. Subscriptions have been headed by the Duke of Westminster (grandfather of the current holder of that title) with £1,000, by Lord Wavertree, Lord Leverhulme, Lord Gladstone, and others. A schoolboy at Wrekin College sent 2s. 6d., and an unemployed workman handed in 2d. The local Chamber of Trade has taken the matter up with great enthusiasm. The elementary schools of Chester and neighbourhood have contributed useful quotas, the City and Counity School for Girls raising £41".

Some well-aimed publicity ensured continual interest and comment from, among others, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who had excavated the-then only known British amphitheatre, at Caerleon in South Wales (smaller and less sophisticated than Chester's)- only a few years previously, and even, in November 1932, the Prime Minister of the day, Ramsay MacDonald.
Sir Mortimer said at the time, "From an archaeological and historical standpoint it is probable that the scientific excavation of this structure would throw a new light upon the early history of this country." The Duke of Westminster was also a signatory.

amphitheatre excavationThe Grosvenor Museum, then run by the Chester Archaeological Society, held an exhibition of Roman artifacts found in Chester and this also featured Jacob Epstein's sculpture Genesis.
(Epstein is probably best remembered locally for his statue of a naked man standing on the prow of a ship which graces the main entrance of Lewis' department store in Liverpool city centre- a traditional meeting place for generations of young people. Its official title is Liverpool Resurgent- but, for obvious reasons it is better known hereabouts, as in the traditional saying, "Ah'll meet yer under Dickie Lewis.")

At the same time, the society, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1999, started an appeal to raise the necessary funds and published a widely-distributed leaflet entitled Save the Chester Amphitheatre! (which you see reproduced in its entirety here.)

The-then Commissioners of Works were so impressed by the case that they offered to defray the cost of the excavation of the site and urged the city council to delay operations so that the road could be diverted and properties purchased to clear space for further excavation. The sum of £8,000 was to be raised and the proprietor of the Plane Tree Cafe on the Groves, Chester's riverside promenade, offered £100 on condition that 49 others did the same!

chester guided walksDespite continuing to be the subject of considerable national and international criticism, the city fathers sat tight until, in 1933 as a result of their continuing intransigence, the government Ministry of Works effectively imposed a veto upon the ill-conceived road scheme by refusing loan sanction. Given little choice, the corporation grudgingly agreed to build their new road around the site- and also to spare the ancient Wolfgate into the bargain. They erected a new entrance, designed by Sir Walter Tapper, aptly called the Newgate, next to it instead, which was opened to traffic in 1938.

The site saved, funding the planned excavation remained a major problem. The Chester Archaeological Society formed a Trust and astutely purchased a large 18th century brick building, St. John's House, which stood on the north-east portion of the site from its owners, the Anglo-American Oil Company. From May 1935, they leased it to Cheshire County Council for successive 3 year periods and invested the rents. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the war in 1939 forced the postponement of plans for the site's imminent excavation.
You can see St. John's House in the centre background of the old photograph above, taken from the same spot on top of the Newgate as the one at the top of the page, showing the mass of buildings that once covered the site. In the foreground you can see the lining walls which were all that was ever built of the corporation's ill-conceived road scheme.

A correspondent in the local press in August 2000 reminisced about St. John's House, saying the entrance hall, which was on the north side, had attractive floor tiles and outside, on the east, was a huge well. There were some fine trees and, during the war years, when air raid shelters for St. John's school were dug, a NAAFI canteen adjoined the Georgian mansion, a large wooden building with a corrugated asbestos roof. For a few years after the war, it served as a social club for GPO (post office and telephone) workers. You can see some photographs of the old house and read about its many and varied occupants here.

During the course of demolition, evidence of an earlier building came to light, in the form of a stone inscription dated 1664. This house, whose plan was unfortunately not recorded, was probably built during the restoration of the area outside the Newgate following extensive devastation during the Civil War.

In 1892, the Rev Scott, incumbent and historian of St. John's Church, reproduced a plan of the church, "taken from two plans of 1589 in the British Museum" which showed an even earlier building on the site, 'Mr Marbury's house', which may have been in existence as early as 1470 but was presumably destroyed during the siege, when the neighbouring St. John's churchyard was occupied by Parliamentary troops who set up a gun battery there on 20th September 1644.


Excavation
amphitheatre gardensThe County Council's legal department occupied St. John's House for the next 22 years, but relinquished their tenancy in 1957, when the new County Hall next to the river near the Old Dee Bridge was completed. By this time, the income generated from the rent of St. John's House was deemed sufficient to allow the consideration of large-scale excavation of the northern half of the amphitheatre, although considerable additional funding from the Ministry of Public Works was also necessary. The house was demolished in June 1958 and excavation of the site commenced in 1960 under Hugh Thompson, Curator of the Grosvenor Museum.

Initial work was designed to ascertain the exact location of the outer walls so the Corporation could fix a final building line for Little St. John Street and large-scale excavation followed between 1960 and 1969. The site was transferred into State ownership in 1965 after which time Hugh Thompson's successor at the Grosvenor Museum, Dennis Petch, took over much of the labour.
After exposure, the remains were consolidated- the leaning arena wall was carefully jacked back into the vertical plane in small sections. Unfortunately, the outer and concentric walls had been too severely robbed out in antiquity to permit full restoration so their positions were indicated by thin concrete strips laid out on the newly-created grassy bank. Our photograph above shows the excavation in progress.

amphitheatre gardensBetween July and September 2000, this previously-excavated half was subjected to a further small-scale excavation run by the city council, led by Keith Matthews with the assistance of the Chester Archaeological Society, students from Chester College and other volunteers.

Two photographs from Spring 1958 of the 'Amphitheatre Gardens' which once landscaped part of the site- see map above- but which were removed when the excavation got under way. Another view of them is here and more are in our amphitheatre gallery...

During this dig, much evidence came to light of damage done to the site as a result of the original excavation and the later consolidation of the remains for public display during the 1960s and 70s. It was said that financial and other restraints meant that the focus of work was strictly upon the Roman monument, and consequently a decision was taken to remove all post-Roman deposits mechanically (ie with bulldozers). In the arena, it looks as if the Ministry of Works had actually shaved off part of the exposed sandstone bedrock to make a level surface onto which they laid their 'protective' layer of gravel. They showed even less respect for the Roman drains: the peripheral drain had been completely replaced by a concrete feature, while the axial drain had fared similarly badly. Worse still, there was a herringbone pattern of concrete land drains, designed (unsuccessfully) to improve the poor drainage of the arena.

Hugh Thompson later expressed regret at the use of such methods, saying that the clearance "might have been a bit ruthless and ham-fisted"...

It is sometimes claimed by those with a separate agenda that the structure visible to us today is a reconstruction- and such would also have to be the case when the southern half is eventually excavated. This is not the case. The masonry may have been stabilised and repointed in places, but what we see is the real thing- original, in situ, Roman work.

The Chester Amphitheatre was eventually opened to the public in August 1972: the result of a labour of love by hundreds of individuals for over fourty years.
Perhaps as a sign of things to come, the Chester Archaeological Society's crucial role was 'overlooked' and today is, unforgivably, entirely without mention on the mouldering information panels on the site.

Do not be deceived by the remaining low curved wall enclosing the small central arena- the Amphitheatre's massive exterior wall measured 320 by 286 feet (95.7 by 87.2 metres) and stood 40 feet (11.5 metres) above the Roman street level, around twice the average present height of the city walls- you would have had to crane your neck to see the top! The interior wall facing the arena stood twelve feet high and the arena itself measured 190 by 160 feet (58 by 49.4 metres: an area of 2230 sq m).

At regular intervals the inner and outer walls were connected by radial walls 9 feet thick. An inner, 'concentric' wall lies 2.1 metres within the outer wall and is thought to have formed the inner wall of a corridor linking the entrances, of which there were main ones to the north, south, east and west as well as a series of eight minor entrances (vomitoria)- two spaced between each of the major entrances. The building would have comfortably accomodated around 8000 spectators.

The entrance into the arena we see exposed today, the northern, was the one through which the animals and those about to die would be led, as well as those about to participate in various forms of gladiatorial combat. Their bodies would be dragged out by horses into a dark passage leading to the dungeons, animal enclosures and changing rooms which lay across the modern road- and which were exposed to view when the GPO switchgear building (soon to be a hotel) on the corner of St. John Street was erected.

Next to this entrance, an altar was found in situ, dedicated to Nemesis, patron Goddess of amphitheatres and Goddess of retribution, by the Centurion Sextus Marcianus "after a vision". The chamber in which is was housed, the lower parts of which still survive, is called a Nemesium.
The inscription on the altar is as follows:

DEAE:NEMESI
SEXT<IVS>:MARCI
ANVS:>EX:VI SV

Which may be translated: "The centurion Sextius Marcianus (set up this altar) to the Goddess nemesis after a vision"
You can see it today in the city's excellent Grosvenor Museum but an exact copy was made in 1966 and stands where the original was found.
(We're sorry to say that in August 2000, this replica altar was broken into several pieces by vandals. It was 'temporarily' removed by English Heritage for expert repair and is yet to reappear.)

During the execution of criminals, animal fights and gladiatorial contests, the presence of the altar would serve to remind those present that the laws of Rome, carried out by men, were based upon divine rulings. Afterwards, Nemesis would transport the souls of the guilty to Tartarus: the abyss of punishment below Hades where the Titans were confined.

The currently-unexposed half of the Amphitheatre, facing the northern entrance, was the 'better' part where the senior officers and principal citizens would have been seated, although a tribunal, or private box, existed above this entrance- the worn stone steps leading to it still exist.


The newly-restored Grosvenor Museum also houses- but sadly lacks the room to display- the hundreds of other small objects found amid the ruins- pottery, bits of jewellery, broken weapons, coins, carved figures, even graffiti- eloquent reminders of the long-dead citzens of a mighty empire who once mingled together on this spot. On a coping stone which was once situated on top of the 12-foot high arena wall was found the insciption SERANO LOCVS: 'Seranus' place'- inscribed there by a regular attender in order to reserve his favourite seat.

It is to be hoped that one day the city may acquire the means- and the will- to put this remarkable collection of antiquities on public display- ideally at, or close to, the amphitheatre where they first came to light...

This first part of the story of Chester's Amphitheatre, having grown inordinately, has now been split into two- the second half is here- or read what the people think about current developments: reader's letters to us and the local press...

Top of Page | Site Index | Site Front Door | Chester Walls Stroll Introduction | The Newgate | St. John's Church
The Amphitheatre 01 | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | | X | XI | XII | XIII | Gallery | 2 | Letters 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
Save the Chester Amphitheatre! (1932) | St. John's House | 'Round in Circles' by Flavius | Chester Amphitheatre Project
The Other Side: some alternative views | The amphitheatre on the Chester Wiki



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Join us to explore Chester's world-famous circuit of ancient City Walls- the most complete in Britain- and discover the rest of our lovely city as well.
Quick introductory tours or lengthy and detailed study walks upon specific themes, the choice is yours. Available all year round, reasonably priced, friendly, informal and very informative. Hear stirring tales you'll never find in a guide book- you'll never forget Chester!
You're welcome to explore the great city of Liverpool with us too. Click on the picture to get started or
download our 2011 brochure now: pages 1 | 2


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