THE ONLY KNOWN ROMAN CIRCUS IN BRITAIN
Scheduled Ancient Monument Number 46327.
In 2005, it gradually dawned on the archaeologists that the remains that they were uncovering, as part of an evaluation dig for a property developer prior to building works, was, in fact, a Roman circus. Understandably, this caused great excitement in the archaeology world, as no other Roman circus was known in Britain. Over the months that followed, more and more of the foundations were uncovered and the true extent of the circus was discovered. The local and national press were delighted.
Apart from a few sporadic small exploratory digs, sadly, there the story of discovery ended. The remains were covered over to preserve them and the weeds began to grow. Many people asked what was to become of the circus. No positive answer was forthcoming. Nobody knew.
In order to make something of it, money was needed - a lot of money. Colchester Borough Council pointed out that it had no money to spare. A lottery bid was made - and that failed.
However, it all turned out well in the end and we are pleased to be able to ask you to visit the webpage for the circus, where you will find out just how far this project has come.
In order to do this, please go to:
This web page........
.......brings you old news of the circus, showing you some of the press cuttings from the earliest stages of discovery, through to recent times. It is a page that we at Camulos created back in 2005, as we followed developments with interest.
At the time, this was a truly inconvenient discovery for the building company who had bought the land. Luckily, English Heritage saw the imminent threat to it, and the importance of the site, and they swiftly made it a Scheduled Ancient Monument. This was fantastic news for Colchester! The circus could not be damaged - by law!
As time went on, money was raised by different means, to enable the Colchester Archaeological Trust to relocate to a redundant military NAAFI building (it was looking for somewhere anyway), that sat right on the edge of the newly discovered circus. What better location could there be?
The Roman Circus is now open for business and it welcomes visitors.
Essex County Standard 14th January 2005 OPEN DAY
Saturday 22nd January 2005
'There must have been thousands of people attending as, when we arrived the queues were long and were to get much longer - obvious panic setting in with those of the Colchester Archaeological Trust as to whether they would be able to cope with so many people. Whilst queuing, we were entertained by the antics of a charioteer with his modern version of a Roman chariot, preceded by a more authentic Roman cavalryman with his horse with phallerae and an absence of stirrups. 'We began our tour with a warm up session with Kate Orr of CAT who explained what we were about to see and some of the background to the archaeology of the general area. The circus lies parallel to the town walls, some 400 metres to the south and appears to neatly separate a known area of a Roman cemetery from the town. For this reason the circus and the cemetery are believed to be of the same period. The following picture looks east along the line of the outer wall with Ben Holloway of CAT explaining the archaeology. 'Every 4 metres there was a buttress, although most of the masonry had been robbed out during the late 12th century (dateable from pottery finds in the backfill), probably to build the nearby St John's Abbey (now long gone). A good area of intact Roman masonry was found although all of it is in very unstable condition, much to do with the high acidity of the soil in this area. The plan view below shows the area where we were standing (in actual fact, this has since been disproved, the starting gates being at this end) with evidence of the curve just having been defined and continuing to be mapped by geophysical surveying. A tree approximately 50 metres to the north had been marked to show where the turning post is likely to have been.' The following picture shows some of the masonry that the robbers had left intact. It is of green stone, an inferior type of material to the septaria used for the town wall and which suggests a date of building in the early 2nd century AD, perhaps during the Emperor Hadrian's era (117 - 138 AD). This would fit nicely with the ending of the building of the town wall around 80 AD and give continuity to the gainful employment of otherwise underutilised soldiers. The overall size of circus victricensis can only be guessed at at this stage, due to the starting position to the east not having been discovered yet. However, the Mersea Road is a know Roman road and it is likely that the starting gates would have been close to this. Also, comparisons can be made with other Roman circuses of the Circus Maximus in Rome and at Sagunto in Spain.
Another view below shows the robber trench and evidence of the buttressing on the outer wall, quite similar to the theatre remains at nearby Gosbecks.
Below is the area of the inner wall, a much less substantial affair as it was less load bearing for a lower level of wall.
In the picture below, Chris of CAT explains the features of what appears to be one of the entrance gates or doorways onto the terraced wall system.
The picture below shows a mock up of the suggested angle and height of the 8000 - 10000 capacity audience seating, perhaps 5 metres high at its highest point.
.......and so back to the exhibition tent where various finds were on view, mainly from an adjacent cemetery that had been discovered as part of this excavation.
Below is an aerial view of the site with an overlaid image of how the circus would have lain (again, this is a wrong intepretation as later excavation has shown the orientation to be 180 degrees out). Of course, only a fraction of the whole thing has been uncovered and this will be an ongoing excavation as and when access is permitted. The dig is due to come to an end within a few weeks and the intention seems to be to cover up the site to protect it from the ravages of weather. Hopefully, the general area will be kept as open space, with markers to indicate what lays beneath. There are plans afoot for displaying the various finds at the nearby Taylor Woodrow headquarters and further news of this will be placed here when details are known. The project is being managed by RPS Planning, Transport and Design and the investigations are being carried out on behalf of Taylor Woodrow, who are funding the work.
The archaeological excavations are being carried out by the Colchester Archaeological Trust who described the whole subject in great detail in their 'The Colchester Archaeologist' Issue 18 of 2005.
The Taylor Woodrow
based on archaeological findings
East Anglian Daily Times 17th March 2005
Evening Gazette - 15th June 2005
Evening Gazette - 19th July 2006
Evening Gazette - 17th October 2006
Essex County Standard - 14th December 2007
14th December 2009
10th February 2010
16th February 2010
17th February 2010
1st March 2010
10th December 2010
Failure admitted by the Colchester Archaeological Trust as they are let down by major partners. They put forward a second plan to purchase the nearby Education Centre for less than half the price but without ownership of the starting gates area. We would still have access but very limited and we would have to pay handsomely for that access via a lease. Details of that agreement brokered by Councillor Higgins are shown elsewhere on this site.
13th December 2010
17th December 2010
It all turned out well in the end. The plan to buy the Sergeants Mess failed, but the NAAFI building was bought instead. The Colchester Archaeological Society had a new home and an exciting location to work from.
A FEW EXAMPLES OF ROMAN CIRCUS ILLUSTRATIONS
Finally, the framework below in 2019 depicts how the circus outer perimeter wall would have been in profile, with six tiers of seating. The front wall to the left, was high enough to protect the spectators from harm. Just beyond the framework are glass covered areas where the circus wall foundations have been exposed to view.
We stand with our backs to Roman Circus House, looking west towards the starting gates that are displayed just in front of the blue hoardings. Behind the hoardings is the old Sergeant's Mess building that we tried to buy. As things worked, thank goodness we didn't.
Please go to:
for up to date information about Colchester's Roman Circus.
Note: the link shown is not to a Camulos webpage.
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