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, about AD 150, shows the town’s first public buildings, including theatre with semi-circular tiered seating. The town’s key strategic position, at the mouth of the river Stour and centre of a new road system, made it an obvious choice for capital city of the administrative area of ‘Cantium’.
Late Roman Canterbury, about AD 300, shows the fully developed town, with defensive walls, public buildings and homes. The theatre was rebuilt around AD 220 and was one of the largest in Britain, seating 3,000 people. Public baths, constructed about AD 200, have been found below St Margaret’s Street (you can see part in the basement at Waterstone’s). A Roman temple was on the site of Canterbury Cathedral.
Artist impression of late Roman Canterbury, about AD 300
Political and military struggles in the Roman Empire grew during the fourth century AD. Troops were withdrawn from Britain to fight elsewhere. Excavation evidence in Canterbury shows gradual decline of the town from the mid-fourth century into the fifth. Buildings decayed and collapsed; dark earth overlaying Roman remains indicates overgrowth with vegetation. People appear to have abandoned the town for some years but we do not know why. Suggestions range from economic and trade decline to an outbreak of disease.
Post-Roman Canterbury, about AD 450, shows the homes people built in the overgrown ruins when the town was repopulated. The houses had timber frames, wattle and daub walls, earth floors and thatched roofs. Some of the people may have been Britons but most were settlers. Bede, a monk writing a ‘History of the English Church and People’ in the eighth century, recorded the arrival of ‘newcomers from the three most formidable races of Germany – the Saxons, Angles and Jutes’, now known collectively as the Anglo-Saxons. Their new town was called ‘Cantwaraburg’. Pope Gregory sent missionaries to England in 597 to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. King Ethelbert of Kent and Bertha, his Christian wife, allowed them to build an abbey here (later named after Augustine) and a church dedicated to Christ (Canterbury Cathedral).