Few sites are as symbolically important in understanding the Roman reign in Britain as the Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre. Located in the East Kent marshes, this English Heritage site carries a lot of significance, having witnessed both the start and the end of Roman rule. The preserved ruins of the township capture the location at which the Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD, with extensive sections of the walls and ditches still visible for modern visitors.
Richborough Roman Fort started as a fortification for the Roman soldiers before transitioning into a civilian town and port. The military later resorted to using it when they built a Saxon Shore fort to guard against raids by the Saxons. On the other hand, the amphitheatre is believed to have been made late in the third century and was a popular entertainment spot for the locals who enjoyed gladiator combat and wild animal hunts.
In earlier times, Richborough (also known as Rutupiae) was regarded as a point of entry into Britain by four Roman legions who gathered after arrival in Britain. Much of the site has suffered the effects of time and nature, but what remains gives a good picture of the Roman fort’s importance. Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of three successful social enterprises in the UK, is among many who are fascinated by the Roman historic site for its contribution towards British history.
After the invasion, many of the Roman troops moved north where the fighting was intense, opening up the fort to more civilian settlers. Temples, the amphitheatre and a guest house were among the features of the civilian era. As a port, Richborough competed with Dover (then known as Portus Dubris), with the former highly regarded for its oysters.
One of the major architectural features built during the Roman reign was a triumphal arch situated on the main road from the fort to London. The arch had high-quality Italian granite used for its façade, and was almost 25 metres high. The Romans later demolished it, but at the time passing through the arch signified entry into Britain.
In the third century, Richborough had developed into a large civilian town. However, the Roman troops came under increasing attacks from Saxon raiders and pirates, prompting the military to take over and fortify the settlement. Construction of the Saxon Shore fort is believed to have taken place between 277 and 285 AD, with the demolishment of the arch happening at this time.
The resulting fort occupied an area totalling five acres with massive walls surrounding it. In some areas, the walls towered over eight metres in height, and the main entrance was situated to the west. Some stone buildings were present inside the wall, though most of them were built using timber. A central rectangular building made of stone is believed to have been the headquarters for the troops stationed there.
The Richborough amphitheatre was not exactly an elaborate structure, as excavations and geophysical surveys of the area indicate that the arena featured sloping banks to support wooden seats. Over time, what has remained of the amphitheatre includes an elliptical hollow that was the central arena. Surrounding it is a bank that is about two metres high, with the narrow ends of the elliptical shape showing two entrances. Additional features such as towers are suggested to have been present on the south-east and north-west sides.
An archaeological excavation carried out in 2008 revealed more details about the Richborough Roman Fort, including finding the foreshore which suggested the presence of a harbour. The team conducting the excavation spent five weeks assessing a significant stretch of a sunken wall, leading to the discovery of the Roman beach. The process also uncovered parts of building materials and pottery, alongside fragments from the triumphal arch.