Noviomagus Reginorum: Today’s British Chichester

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The expanse of Roman influence was far and wide across Europe, and is still felt even today. Outside of Italy, a majority of well-preserved Roman ruins are found in Great Britain.

So today we head to back to Provincia Britannia as we explore Noviomagus Reginorum!

Map of modern Chichester with Noviomagus Reginorum outlined in blue.

Noviomagus Reginorum was the Roman town which is the modern cathedral city of Chichester, situated in the English county of West Sussex. It has a long history from Roman times and was important in Anglo-Saxon times.

Museum model of how Fishbourne Roman Palace may have appeared.

Noviomagus is a Latinization of a Brittonic placename meaning New Fields. It was given its epithet of Reginorum in order to distinguish it from other places with the same name, including the Noviomagus in Kent.

The settlement was first established as a winter castrum (fort) for the Legio II Augusta (2nd Augustan Legion) under Vespasian (the future Emperor) shortly after the Roman invasion in AD 43. The camp was located in the territory of the friendly Atrebates tribe.

Re-enactors of the Legio II Augusta

The castrum was only used for a few years before the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) withdrew. The site was then developed as a Romano-British civilian settlement.

It served as the capital of the Civitas Reginorum, a client kingdom ruled by Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus. The Regnenses were either a sub-tribe of the Atrebates or simply the local people designated the ‘people of the Kingdom’ by the Roman administration.

Inscription discovered in 1723 from a temple dedicated to Neptune and Minerva, erected on the authority of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus.

Cogidubnus almost certainly lived at the nearby Palace of Fishbourne. He is mentioned on the dedication stone of the temple to Neptune and Minerva found in Chichester.

The area around Chichester is believed to have played significant part during the Roman Invasion of AD 43, as confirmed by evidence of military storage structures in the area of the nearby Fishbourne Roman Palace. The Roman road of Stane Street, connecting the city with Londinium (modern London), started at the east gate, while the Chichester to Silchester road started from the north gate.

Roman city walls

The original Roman city wall was over 6.5 feet thick with a steep ditch (which was later used to divert the River Lavant). It survived for over 1,500 years but was then replaced by a thinner Georgian wall.

The plan of the modern city was inherited from the Romans. The North, South, East and West shopping streets radiate from the central market cross dating from medieval times.

An amphitheatre was built outside the city walls, close to the East Gate, in around 80 AD. The area is now a park, but the site of the amphitheatre is discernible as a gentle bank approximately oval in shape.

Cupid on a Dolphin mosaic in the Fishbourne Roman Palace.

The town became an important residential, market and industrial center, producing both fine tableware and enamelwork. In the 2nd Century the town was surrounded by a bank and timber palisade which was later rebuilt in stone.

Other public buildings were also present including the thermae (public baths), now found beneath West Street, and the basilica, thought to be beneath the cathedral.

Bastions on the Roman wall at Chichester.

Bastions were added in the early 4th Century and the town was generally improved with much rebuilding, road surfacing, and a new sewerage system. There were cemeteries outside the east, north and south gates.

By the 380s, Noviomagus appears to have been largely abandoned, perhaps because of Saxon raids along the south coast. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the town was eventually captured towards the close of the 5th Century by Aelle of the South Saxons.

The dedication stone of the temple of Neptune and Minerva is now set into the wall of the Assembly Rooms. Part of a fine Roman mosaic may be seen in situ beneath the floor of the cathedral, while another mosaic from Noviomagus may be seen at Fishbourne Roman Palace.

The Novium Museum as viewed from Tower Street.

Chichester’s museum, The Novium, houses many finds from across the city. Opened on 8 July 2012, The Novium preserves many of the bath structures from the Roman town.

In January 2017, archaeologists used underground radar and reported the discovery of the relatively untouched ground floor of a Roman townhouse and outbuilding. The exceptional preservation is due to the fact the site, Priory Park, belonged to a monastery and has never been built upon since Roman times.

Timber barrack blocks, supply stores, and military equipment have been excavated. The foundations of a luxurious private bath house once owned by some of the richest citizens of Roman Chichester have been found under a public park in the centre of the city.

Local volunteers joined professional archaeologists in the excavation of the bath house.

The remains have survived because in the densely built medieval city that grew up within the Roman walls, the site remained open land. The land was eventually given to the city as a WWI memorial by the Duke of Richmond.

We hope you enjoyed the journey into jolly old England to explore this Roman town. We look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don´t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Dargie, Richard. A History of Britain. 2007.

Down, Alec. Roman Chichester. Chichester, 1988. ISBN 0850334357.

Kennedy, Maev. ¨Luxury bath house from Roman Chichester unearthed by archaeologists¨. The Guardian, 31 May 2017.

Manley, John. AD43: The Roman Invasion of Britain. Tempus Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7524-1959-6.

Wacher, John The Towns of Roman Britain Routledge; 2nd Revised edition. 5 April 1995. ISBN 978-0-7134-7319-3.

“Chichester Roman houses found under Priory Park”. 26 January 2017.