Ancient Roman amphitheatre to be excavated

Hunt for Britain’s 2000-year-old gladiators: Archaeologists are to dig up ancient Kent amphitheatre in hopes of finding proof it was a venue for blood-soaked Roman contests… or public executions

  • Roman amphitheatre is due to be excavated by English Heritage from March
  • The buried arena was the landing site for the Claudian Invasion of AD 43
  • Richborough became a rich and famous Roman town, port, and later coastal fort
  • It was abandoned by the Romans around 410, and became a Saxon site
  • English Heritage now wants to ‘unlock’ its story through big excavation 

An ancient amphitheatre that was thought to have hosted Roman gladiator fights, public executions, and wild animal hunts, will be excavated this year. 

Now buried under the grassy hills of southern England, the Richborough amphitheatre in Kent is believed to have been a place of spectacle and excitement.

Enjoyed by conquering Romans as well as occupied Britons, the amphitheatre was built on the landing site for the Claudian Invasion of England in AD 43.

Named Rutupiae or Portus Ritupis, the settlement amid the East Kent marshes developed into an early fortification and civilian town as the fighting moved north. 

Pictured: Richborough Castle, where the original fort was built, is widely regarded as the landing site for the Claudian Invasion of the British Isles in AD 43 

Pictured: Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2001), about a Roman warrior who is sold into slavery and becomes a gladiator. Richborough amphitheatre is thought to have housed gladiator fights

Pictured: Richborough amphitheatre, which was built on the site of the Claudian Invasion of the British Isles in AD 43, is thought to have been home to gladiator fights

Temples, an amphitheatre, and a mansio – an official stopping place on a Roman road – were added as Richborough’s reputation and riches grew.

It was renowned throughout the Empire for the quality of its oysters, and competed fiercely with Portus Dubris – modern Dover – around 15 miles away. 

During the late 3rd century, the civilian town was converted into a Saxon shore fort, part of a Channel-wide system in England and France to repel pirates. 

Uniquely, Richborough also witnessed the collapse of the Empire in the British Isles, as the settlement was abandoned by the Romans around 410. 

It became a Saxon religious settlement, and Rutupiae – along with its 3rd-century amphitheatre – was buried under grassy plains by the passage of time. 

Pictured: named Rutupiae or Portus Ritupis, the settlement amid the East Kent marshes developed into an early fortification and civilian town as the fighting moved north

Pictured: Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2001), about a Roman warrior who is sold into slavery and becomes a gladiator. Richborough amphitheatre is thought to have housed gladiator fights

Pictured: Richborough was renowned throughout the Empire for the quality of its oysters, and competed fiercely with Portus Dubris – modern Dover – around 15 miles away

Now archaeologists hope to discover more about what the amphitheatre looked like, how it was used, and what happened when the site was abandoned. 

The site is now under the care of English Heritage, who aim to ‘reveal these ancient remains, analyse the clues left by the Romans, and finally unlock its story’.

Paul Pattison, English Heritage historian, said the ‘impressive ruins’ make Richborough ‘amongst the most important Roman historical and archaeological sites in England’, adding: ‘Until now, its amphitheatre’s secrets have remained hidden’. 

One other excavation occurred in 1849, but the Victorian records are sketchy.   

Excavation of the Richborough Roman Fort will begin in late March and the site of the amphitheatre will open to the public in spring next year.

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