Explore Room by Room
1. Entrance and stairwell
Meet the Roman soldier and follow his direction down the stairs (or via lift) to the level of the Roman town buried beneath Canterbury’s modern streets. A timeline highlighting key events takes you from the ‘Baedeker’ Blitz of 1942, which destroyed historic buildings and revealed Roman remains, through the centuries including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Thomas Becket’s murder, to Norman, Viking and earlier invasions, St Augustine and Roman Canterbury.
2. Roman invasion and building the town
In AD 43 four Roman legions with auxiliary troops – over 40,000 men – landed in England. Decisive battles took place and the British were defeated. Roman soldiers built a fort near the Iron Age settlement ‘Durovernon’, located strategically on the River Stour and routes between the coast and London. Evidence for the presence of soldiers and Romanisation of the town include fragments of cavalry equipment and building remains. Read more.
3. Roman marketplace
Roman Canterbury was a place to live and work in. It was also a marketplace to which people from the surrounding countryside brought their produce for sale. Reconstructions of Canterbury’s Roman shops and craftsmen, based on archaeological evidence, include a food bar, fabric seller, shoemaker, bone-pin maker, vegetable seller, and stall with imported and locally made jewellery. Read more.
4. Roman building materials and home
Remains from Roman houses include roof and floor tiles, as well as fragments of painted wall plaster. You can go into a reconstructed Roman dining room and kitchen, and handle replica Roman pottery, as well as see examples of real Roman dishes and pots made locally and imported. There is also a reconstruction of a woman having her hair dressed in Roman style, and a display of figurines representing Roman gods for home and burial use. Read more.
5. Everyday life and death in Roman Canterbury
Roman ways of life were adopted in Canterbury, as can be seen from finds on display. These include part of a lead cistern from a Roman bathhouse, along with toiletry items and gaming counters; fragments of carved stone and coloured marbles from a Roman temple; a Roman gate hinge; Roman inscriptions; locally made and imported pottery; and high-quality glass, some of which was used for burying cremated remains. Two rare cavalry swords point to a probable murder. Read more.
6. Reconstruction views of Roman Canterbury
Artist’s reconstruction views, based on archaeological evidence, show Roman Canterbury about AD 150 and AD 300, and post-Roman Canterbury about AD 450. Early Roman Canterbury shows the first public buildings, including theatre with semi-circular tiered seating. Late Roman Canterbury shows the fully developed town, with defensive walls, homes, public buildings and enlarged theatre. Gradual decline took place from the mid-fourth century into the fifth. Read more.
7. Rediscovery of Roman Canterbury
Buried under rubble and soil as people built on previous houses, shops and dumped rubbish, Roman Canterbury was almost forgotten until rediscovered by antiquarians from the sixteenth to eighteenth century, and during construction of drainage and railways in the nineteenth century. Wartime bombing destroyed much of the city and rescue archaeology in advance of rebuilding revolutionised knowledge about the Roman town. Excavations continue to reveal new finds. Read more.
8. Roman hypocaust and mosaics
Centrepiece of the museum is part of the ‘hypocaust’ under-floor heating system and mosaic corridors of a Roman town house. These were discovered by archaeologists when excavating under cellars of shops destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Built about AD 70, the house had costly features including wall paintings, and was rebuilt and extended over 300 years until about AD 350, when it stopped being lived in. Read more.
9. Hands on area
Try on a toga, wear a replica Roman centurion’s helmet, try on Roman sandals, make a mosaic, or handle replicas and real Roman objects. Items for supervised close-up viewing include an exact replica of a very rare bronze helmet dating to the time of Julius Caesar’s invasions of Britain in 55BC and 54BC. The original was found just outside Canterbury by a metal detectorist in 2012. The resin replica has been created by specialist 3D scanning at the University of Kent. Read more.