Hunt is on for missing ampitheatre in Colchester


Archaeologists are set to begin searching for evidence of an ampitheatre which would have been used for gladiators is in Roman Colchester.

Hunt is on for missing ampitheatre in Colchester
Hunt is on to find gladiator arena [Credit: Daily Gazette]

Work is due to start in two weeks to excavate land in the grounds of St John’s Abbey, just inside the precinct walls.

The area is owned by developers Taylor Wimpey and is currently overgrown and wooded. The site has never been investigated before, but archaeologists hope it might hold the key to Colchester’s missing ampitheatre.

The town has the remains of Britain’s only Roman circus,atemple and two theatres. In theory, Colchester would also have an ampitheatre where gladiators fought or beast hunts were held. However, it has never been found. The dig is being carried out by Colchester Archaeological Group in association with the Colchester Archaeological Trust which found the town’s famous chariot circus.

The trust’s director Philip Crummy said: “The vicinity of the circus is interesting to see if, by chance, there is an ampitheatre there. Most towns in Roman Britain had an ampitheatre and they were particularly associated to military sites. Where there is a circus, quite often you find ampitheatres close by. You would expect there to have been an ampitheatre in Colchester, but we have never found it.”

An ampitheatre would be about 90m across and oval in shape. It would have been sunken into the ground with seating all around it. Artefacts found at previous digs include the Colchester Vase which had images of gladiators fighting on it and even graffiti naming gladiators. A piece of plaster dating back to the second half of the first century, found near Balkerne Gate, also had paintings of gladiators on it.

Mr Crummy said knowledge of Colchester’s Roman town centre ruled out the ampitheatre being there. He added: “There are only a few spaces where the ampitheatre could be and if Colchester did have one, it was probably outside the town walls.”

Long trenches will be dug, mostly by volunteers from the archaeological group.

Mr Crummy continued: “There will be a limited excavation to see what there is there. One interesting feature is a mound which appears on early maps dating to about the 1st century. It is often referred to as a plague pit but that seems unlikely. It might be the site of a temple or an early church or a place for Roman burials. It is exciting. Colchester is a fantastic place archaeologically and this is a new area for us.”

Author: Wendy Brading | Source: Daily Gazette [June 22, 2015]