Chester Right Slate relief depicting a left-handed retiarius (a net and trident armed gladiator) found near Chester amphitheatre in the 18th century – the only clue up until 1929 that there was an amphitheatre on the site.
Dark secrets of the arena revealed
Major new excavations at Roman Britain’s largest amphitheatre have overturned previous interpretations of how central the bloody games were to Romano-British life.
FH Thompson, who led excavations at Chester amphitheatre from 1960 to 1969, admitted that his methods were crude. Wholesale machineclearance of the arena down to the supposed Roman levels destroyed the evidence for post-Roman occupation. Despite this, Thompson’s main conclusions were accepted. The discovery, beneath the seating bank, of timber slots running concentrically and radially to the arena wall led to the conclusion that the first amphitheatre had been timber-built. The three stone walls uncovered were interpreted as part of a second phase that comprised arena wall, outer wall, and intermediate ‘concentric wall’. The presumed timber amphitheatre was
Below This altar to Nemesis, dedicated by centurion Marcianus after a vision, was found at Chester in the 1960s.
dated to the time of the foundation of the first legionary fortress in the mid AD 70s, the stone one to c.AD 100. A complex of post-holes in the middle of the arena was imagined to represent a platform associated with military parades.
None of this has stood the test of new excavations using modern methods. Funded and jointly implemented by English Heritage and Chester City Council under the direction of Tony Wilmott and Dan Garner, the intention was to increase knowledge of the site, improve public presentation, and enhance the tourism potential of the city. Much of the project involved re-examining parts of the site excavated in the 1960s (Trench A). But there was also an opportunity to explore fresh ground, in the