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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

London’s Roman Amphitheatre

London's Roman Amphitheatre - Guildhall Art Gallery

London’s Roman Amphitheatre

London’s Roman Amphitheatre is the visible remains of an amphitheatre constructed during Roman period London that lies beneath the Guildhall Art Gallery complex. The ruins were discovered in 1988 and are displayed in its original place in a room in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery. London’s first Roman amphitheatre was built in 70 AD from wood but was renovated in the early in the 2nd century with tiled entrances and rag-stone walls. The amphitheatre was used for various public events such as gladiator games, entertaining soldiers and the public with animal fighting and public execution of criminals, as well as religious activities. When the ancient Romans left in the 4th century, the amphitheatre lay derelict for hundreds of years. In the 11th century the area was reoccupied, and by the 12th century, the first Guildhall was built on top of the ruins of London’s first Roman Amphitheatre.

There are only twelve known Roman amphitheatres in Britain. This amphitheatre was built for the Roman provincial capital of Londinium, and is one of the largest of the discovered amphitheatres. This Amphitheatre provided the main focus of entertainment within the capital and one of the critical marks of civilised Roman life. It was located inside the latter walled defences of Londinium and close to the main fort.

The archaeological remains which are 8 metres (20 feet) below street level have survived due to their waterlogged conditions that contributed to the preservation of timber and other normally perishable remains. The excavations have provided valuable insights into structural details not usually preserved. The elliptical amphitheatre was about 105m long and 85m wide with a capacity of up to 6,000 people.

Roman Amphitheatre

A Roman amphitheatre was an open-air venue used for entertainment, performances, and sports. The term derives from the ancient Greek words meaning “around” and “place for viewing”. Ancient Roman amphitheatres were oval or circular in plan, with seating tiers that surrounded the central performance area, like a modern open-air stadium.

Roman Amphitheatres were used for events such as gladiator combats, chariot races, animal hunts and executions. About 230 Roman amphitheatres have been found across the area of the Roman Empire. Only five of Britain’s amphitheatres show a military connection by way of proximity to a fort as does London’s Roman Amphitheatre. These amphitheatres would also have been used for military ceremonies and events.

London's Roman Amphitheatre - Guildhall Art Gallery

Londinium

Londinium was a settlement established on the current site of the City of London around  43 AD. Its bridge over the River Thames turned the city into a road nexus and important port, serving as a major commercial centre in Roman Britain until its abandonment during the 5th century.

Following its foundation in the mid-1st century, early Londinium housed a fortified garrison on one of its hills. In the year 60 or 61, the rebellion under Boudicca forced the garrison to abandon the settlement, which was then razed. Following the Boudicca’s defeat, the city was rebuilt as a planned Roman town. During the later decades of the 1st century, Londinium expanded rapidly, becoming Britain’s largest city. By the turn of the century, Londinium had grown to perhaps 30,000 or 60,000 people.

Between 190 and 225 AD, the Romans built a defensive wall around the landward side of the city. This wall was one of the most significant construction projects carried out in Roman Britain. The London Wall survived for another 1,600 years and broadly defined the perimeter of the old City of London.

Reflections

  • London’s Roman Amphitheatre with the sand which once soaked up the blood from wounded Gladiators.
  • Discover London’s Roman Amphitheatre while visiting the art gallery above.

London’s Roman Amphitheatre

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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
– William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: 1) [Public domain, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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