Early Roman Wales
In the years following 70AD fresh forts were built by the
Romans at strategic locations along the Welsh borders,
where the tribes resisted, using guerrilla tactics
unfamiliar (and thoroughly exasperating) to the Roman
troops. At least 35 smaller fortified camps were built to
support these troops, and linked with a network of
roads. The Deceangli of the north and the Demetae of
southwest Wales offered little opposition to the Romans.
Such is not the case with the Silures in the south-east
and the Ordovices in the north-west, whose territories
are dotted with Roman strongholds. The Silures
gradually adapted to the presence of the Romans among
them and gave little trouble after the mid 2nd century.
Such could not be said for the Ordovices. The
north-west of Wales remained a source of irritation to
the Romans for generations
A falcon's eye view of Segontium from the east in a superb reconstruction by John Banbury
in 1996. Showing the fort, as it would have looked in c.A.D.250, the drawing is based on
excavations made at the site in 1921-23 and 1975-79
The Roman name for Caernarfon is recorded in the Antonine Itinerary of the
second-century AD as Segontio, and is placed 24 Roman miles from Canovium at the
starting-point of the route from Caernarfon to Deva (Chester, Cheshire).
The accepted Roman name for Caernarfon is Segontium, which very likely means 'the place
or home of the Segontii'; implying that there was a tribe of that name in the area. The
modern Welsh place-name Caernarfon is readily translated as 'the fort at the river mouth'
The dynamic Roman governor of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, established the first fort
here in the autumn of AD77. It was originally built to command the Menai Straits and thus to
enable the capture of the island of Mona (Anglesey) which it overlooked to the northwest.
The site underwent a number of reconstruct ional phases during its lifetime and was
occupied until c. AD383.
The original Flavian timber-built fort was apparently burned and was either abandoned or
destroyed, to be replaced by a stone fort during the reign of Hadrian.
The fort remained of key importance until at least the late-fourth century. The latest coin
from the site is that of Gratian (367-383).
Settlements (vici) grew up around the major Roman forts of Caerleon, Caernarfon, and
Casws. The Romans granted the right to build a "civitas", or self-governing city, to tribes
whose allegiance was secure.
The Romans attempted to subvert allegiance to the old Celtic gods by linking them with
Roman gods. Thus, for example, the Roman god Mars was linked with the Celtic Oculus.
Although the language of the Romanised cities, was Latin, the vast majority of the
population still spoke a version of Brittonic.
Throughout the second half of the 4th century the Empire became increasingly unstable;
barbarian attacks on the borders increased, and it seems that the legions were gradually
withdrawn from Wales to counter threats on the continent.
By 390AD there were probably no Roman troops remaining within the borders of Wales. In
the next few decades most of the legionaries in England followed and Britannia was
|Caer Gai, Gwynedd
Located on a spur in a valley the fort covers an area of 4Â½ acres
(1.7 ha) and was furnished with timber buildings never rebuilt in
stone. The fort was occupied from c. AD75 until c.130.
There are two Roman practice works nearby at Rhyd Sarn
Type: Minor Settlement, Fort.
|Tomen y Mur, Gwynedd
Agricola, slightly reduced in size in
c. 110, when the walls were rebuilt
in stone, and finally abandoned in
c. AD 140, built this auxiliary fort
in AD 78.
A small amphitheatre to NE was
built perhaps to compensate the
troops for being posted to such a
|Bryn y Gefeiliau, Gwynedd
Bryn-y-Gefeiliau - The Hill of the
This fort was built c. AD90, and Trajanic
pottery and "a little Samian ware" of the
Antonine period probably point to the fort
becoming disused before the third century.
This fort is also known by the alternate
name Caer Llugwy (possibly "the Camp
of Lugh's Egg").
Plan of the fort at Canovium The first fort was built of timber in the late first century
and some interior buildings were replaced in stone in the early second century.
The Antonine Itinerary was a list of routes and posting-stations used by the Roman army
of the late-second century, the British section of this document has fifteen such
itineraries, and the Caerhun fort is included in 'Itinerary Eleven - The route from
Segontium to Deva'. The route is listed as 74 (Roman) miles long; starting from
SEGONTIVM (Caernarfon, Gwynedd) the next station Conovio is 24 miles away, which
can only be Caerhun.proceeds another 18 miles to VARIS (St. Asaph, Clwyd?) then on to
its eastern terminus at DEVA (Chester, Cheshire), a further 32 miles
|After the fort was destroyed in c. AD200, the civilian settlement or
vicus outside the defences was only sporadically occupied until the
4th century when it was finally abandoned
Type: Minor Settlement, Fort.
Pen Llystyn, Gwynedd
Plan of Pen Llystyn Fort, oriented with north at the
top. Judging from the number of barrack blocks
which are seen clearly on the plan, each with ten
double-rooms and a centurial block at the end
nearest the defences, the fort housed a miliary
infantry cohort with a nominal 960 foot-soldiers.The
fort stands on a west facing slope on the east bank
of the Afon Dwyfach, near Bryncir on the A487
trunk road from Porthmadog to Caernarfon.It lies
within the angle formed where the postulated
Roman military road between the forts at
Segontium (Caernarfon) and Tomen-y-Mur makes a
marked change of alignment.
|The road alters heading from south-south-east to east-south-east, about a kilometer to
the south of the site. The fort faces south-west across the river valley and was
obviously sited to police the Ganganorum Promontorium (LLeyn Penninsula), the home
of the Gangani tribe.
There is a temporary camp nearby at Derwydd-bach Farm (SH4745), and a substantial
Roman building at Tremadog (SH5540), along the line of the postulated road east to
|Although there are of course many other forts from the Roman era, I have
concentrated on the sites local to my home. For a more detailed listing of Roman
Britain an excellent site can be found as http://www.roman-britain.org/main.htm