Significance of Wroxeter Roman City

The primary significance of Wroxeter is that it is one of the best preserved examples of a Roman town in Britain.

The entrance to the hot room in the public baths at Wroxeter Roman city was decorated with this fine plaster ceiling featuring geometric designs
The entrance to the hot room in the public baths was decorated with this fine plaster ceiling

Well Protected

Much of the site of the Roman town has been under the curation of English Heritage since the mid 1970s and for this reason has been preserved from deep ploughing, further enhancing the archaeological significance of the site. This practice has been extended to the National Trust land in the northern part of the former town.

Its preservation under the care of the state means that it has excellent protection from the threats which endanger other sites, such as development pressures or agricultural practice.

The site also has significance through its lack of surrounding development: Wroxeter’s location in its landscape appears largely unaffected by the modern world and is thus able to offer understanding of how Roman towns related to their landscapes in a way that is not possible for most Roman towns in Britain.

The site gains further significance from its extensive, well-stratified group of artefacts which offer a rich potential for our understanding of how Romano-British culture developed over time, especially the latter period of the site’s existence in the immediate post-Roman period.

Finally, Wroxeter has significance as a site that has been able to offer significant training opportunities for archaeologists and for the public alike, a situation that ideally should continue into the future.

The best-preserved part of the Wroxeter Roman City bath suite has an arch for the passage of hot air from the furnace to the heated rooms
The best-preserved part of the bath suite has an arch for the passage of hot air from the furnace to the heated rooms

A First-Rank Roman Town in Britain

Wroxeter was the fourth largest Roman town in Britain by area. It developed in a part of Britain that had not seen any prior urban development and took place within a community who demonstrated little sign of engagement with material culture before the Romans arrived in the region.

Our study of this site thus offers strong leads for examining the important questions of why towns are founded, how they succeed and why they die away. This study is made easier by the fact that Wroxeter’s archaeology is accessible and the links with its landscape are still clearly delineated.

Where excavation has occurred, the results have shown excellent preservation of archaeological levels and of the material culture associated with those levels. This enables us to generalise from the results found in Wroxeter for other less well-preserved towns and permits study of important issues such as trade mechanisms and the broader workings of the Roman economy.

Similarly, the Wroxeter Hinterland Project has demonstrated the potential for researching the relationship between town and country in the Roman period.

One of the problems of studying Roman towns in Britain is that most are built over or have been extensively damaged through excavation. Wroxeter is an exception to this rule and broad-based study of its overall spatial patterning should enable a more nuanced understanding of how Roman towns functioned than is generally possible.

The good time-depth to the site also enables us to see longer-term trends emerging in Romano-British society, although it has to be remembered that detailed understanding of how the town developed is weak through lack of detailed modern excavation outside the civic core.

Among finds from Wroxeter Roman City was this lead shrine of the goddess Venus
Among finds from Wroxeter was this lead shrine of the goddess Venus

Roman and British

Wroxeter’s fortress and the extensive associated remains of military activity in the Wroxeter region offer good possibilities for examining the engagement between soldier and native in this region. The lack of prior contact between these two groups also means that the evidence for this contact is sharply delineated.

Wroxeter offers a powerful locale to explore the historical and cultural identities of the British. Similarly, its early history is associated with two classical figures who epitomise Rome’s early relationship with Britain: Agricola and Hadrian. These elements in combination tell a powerful story of Roman and British relationships, and how the identities familiar to us for 1600 years first came about.

The last phase of Wroxeter’s existence has generated the greatest scholarly interest and debate. Academic opinion is divided as to what the evidence means, but none would deny that study of this period at Wroxeter has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of how Roman Britain collapsed, not least through charting the economic and social transformations wrought in the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. This phase is the most difficult to detect through remote sensing so excavation offers the best way forward for understanding the extent and nature of settlement in this phase.

Reconstruction drawing of Wroxeter Roman City
Late-Roman Wroxeter based on the evidence found on the site of the baths basilica by Philip Barker

Depth of Landscape History

It would be easy to focus on Wroxeter’s Roman past to the exclusion of all other periods but Wroxeter’s lack of development also applies to the periods after the Romans left Britain. The purchase of the site in the mid-1970s has meant the fossilisation of a landscape that is essentially mid-18th century in character and in which earlier landscape elements can be traced.

The full history of Wroxeter’s post-Roman landscape has yet to be explored but the key elements of the evidence, such as the village and its archaeology (including the church), early maps and medieval records, survive to be exploited.

Similarly, the high Victorian period is well represented on the site in the form of the model farm and its associated dwellings at a range of social scales. The preservation of such evidence is becoming increasingly rare in our landscape and will become more important over time.

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