Roman invasion and building the town
In AD 43 four Roman legions with auxiliary troops – over 40,000 men – sailed across the Channel from France in hundreds of ships. Their landing place is uncertain but was probably on the east Kent coast. The invasion had been ordered by Claudius, the new Emperor of Rome, to assert his authority. According to Roman historian Suetonius, Claudius “decided that Britain was the country where a great victory could be won most easily. The Britons had not been taught a lesson since Julius Caesar’s day; and they kept stirring up trouble.” Decisive battles took place at a river crossing (probably the Medway) and the Thames estuary. The British were defeated. Emperor Claudius came in person from Rome to celebrate the victory.
An artist’s impression shows the Iron Age settlement that was present on the site of Canterbury in AD 43. It had the Celtic name ‘Durovernon’ and had begun in the second half of the first century BC. The Romans called the Britons who lived there the ‘Cantiaci’. Durovernon spread out either side of the River Stour crossing. Archaeological excavations have found evidence of houses and farmsteads, skilfully built from timber and local materials. Roman imported luxury goods have also been found. They are evidence of contacts existing between Britons and the Roman world before the invasion of AD 43.
After the invasion Roman soldiers remained in the town they called ‘Durovernum Cantiacorum’. Evidence for their presence on display in the museum includes decorative fragments from infantry and cavalry equipment or weaponry. Among these is a very rare set of cavalry horse-harness fittings. Military-style ditches, found near the later Norman castle, have been dated to the early Roman period through pottery, coins and brooches. They suggest that an early fort was built, to control the River Stour crossing.
Romanisation of the settlement in Canterbury at first took the form of a change in shape from round to rectangular for houses. They were built of timber, with walls of clay or ‘wattle and daub’ (interwoven twigs covered with a mixture of clay and straw), and thatched roofs – the same materials used for Late Iron Age roundhouses. Later houses were built of masonry – mostly flint (plentiful in the area) and mortar – with tile roofs. Tile kilns have been found to the north and north-west of the Roman town.
Roman Canterbury was located in a key strategic position, at the mouth of the River Stour and centre of a new road network linking it with London and the coastal ports. Artist’s impressions of the town in about AD 150 and AD 300 show important Roman buildings, with orientation references to present-day Canterbury. By AD 300 the shape of the town had been fixed by a circuit of protective walls. Public buildings, including a Theatre and Temple, were constructed with masonry foundations and Kentish ragstone walls. Fragments have also been found of imported marble for wall and floor veneers in the Temple.
Roman building tools on display include rare finds: a unique spade made of oak-wood edged with iron, found in waterlogged ground at Pound Lane, near the River Stour; a carpenter’s square, made from sheet bronze cut to shape; and a mason’s trowel, made of iron and virtually identical to ones used by the archaeologists who excavated it. There are iron chisels, fastenings and nails, all made by local blacksmiths.
Artist's impression of early roman Cantebury, about AD 150