Modern Chester is dominated by its cathedral (right). This view is taken from the top of a tall modern building adjacent to the excavation in Princess Street (the photo on p. 9 is taken from the same place, looking in the opposite direction). This photo looks eastwards across the northern half of the fortress.
Photos: T. E. Ward, the Grosvenor Museum.
CHESTER WHAT happened to the legionary fortresses in the 4th century? Following the army reforms at the end of the 3rd century, the ar my was divided into the comites, the 'companions' or field army, and the limitanei or frontier guards, and the legion was downgraded into being a small and comparatively minor unit. What then, happened to the great legionary fortresses?
At Chester, a dramatic new picture is beginning to emerge. Here it appears that around AD 300 much of the legionary fortress was abandoned. On the peripheries, the barrack blocks appear to have been demolished and their sites levelled, and at one time it began to look as if the whole of the fortress had been turned into a vast open compound. Recent work however, has shown that the administrative buildings at the centre of the fortress remained in use and were even refurbished in this period and we can now begin to envisage that the fortress became purely an administrative centre, surrounded by acres of open space, where a field army, when it did eventually come to base, could occasionally bivouac.
This recent work has also resulted in a re-writing of the earlier history of Chester. It has long been known that Chester was founded by AD 79, as demonstrated by the famous lead water pipes, stamped with the name of the governor Agricola and that date. However it now appears that parts of this early fortress were never completed, and that around AD 120, much of Chester was abandoned. It would appear that a large part of the legion moved north, where it stayed for half a century, building first Hadrian's Wall, and then the Antonine Wall, and providing gar-