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Carmarthen

The Roman Empire's Wild West

Think of Roman Britain and South-West Wales does not spring to mind. The great centres of Roman civilisation were much further east. The Welsh mountains were controlled by forts, and even in South Wales there were only two small towns - Caerwent and Carmarthen - and a mere handful of villas. Caerwent is fairly well-known (CA 132 and 174), but Carmarthen hardly at all. Part of the problem is that, while Caerwent has an impressive Roman wall-circuit, almost nothing survives above ground at Carmarthen. Yet rescue excavations, mainly by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (now known as Cambria Archaeology), have been going on since 1968, and many of the digs have just been published in a major new report. Much remains uncertain, but a consistent picture has emerged: of a small frontier town on the furthest fringe of civilisation - the Roman Empire's Wild West.

A Roman Army cattle-station? The Romans had two goes at conquering Wales. The first was aborted by the Boudican Revolt of AD 60/61 - the provincial governor was attacking Anglesey when he got the news. The second, under Julius Frontinus in the mid 70s AD, was more successful: by the end of the decade, though many remote upland areas remained under military control, the whole of Wales was effectively pacified.

Unlike the Silures of South-East Wales and the Ordovices of the North, the Demetae of the South-West (or Dyfed: a name derived from that of the Celtic tribe) are not recorded by ancient historians as having resisted the Romans. But new archaeology is forcing a rethink. 'There is increasing evidence for large-scale military activity in South-West Wales,' explains leading local archaeologist Gwilym Hughes, 'especially

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