Education

The Romans of Liverpool Bay

 By Simonetta Sandri

North Wales is home to a gas terminal which fits in well with the unspoiled surrounding scenery. In an almost perfect balance between Man and Nature, you can also rediscover the past in the form of the distant glories of ancient Rome…

(Cover image by Carole Raddato, Flickr)

Eni has been in the United Kingdom since 1964, with investments in 5 production areas. In 1989, it began exploration in Liverpool Bay where, between 1990 and 1992, oil and gas fields were discovered. In 1995, production began at the first gas field of Hamilton North and in 1996 the first oil fields of Douglas and Lennox entered production. In 2014, Eni achieved a 100% holding in the Liverpool Bay assets, becoming the lead operator. Liverpool Bay is in Wales, a region that, although it shares a close political and social history with the rest of the United Kingdom, has kept a distinct cultural identity and is officially bilingual: more than 560,000 people speak and write in Welsh, an ancient Celtic language. And there’s more.
When we went to visit Point of Ayr Gas Terminal, in the north of Wales, we were not aware that when we landed in Chester, the county town of Cheshire, not far from the border with Wales, we were arriving in an ancient Roman Legionary fortress, which later became a Roman city in the province of Britannia.

Point of Ayr Gas Terminal in Liverpool Bay (reptonix.awardspace.co.uk)

Founded in the first century AD, the city was called Deva or Castra Devana, derived from the name of the nearby Dee River. Work was originally begun by the Adiutrix legion around 75 AD as a permanent encampment and later completed by the twentieth Roman legion, the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, which made the city its headquarters, until probably the end of the 4th century AD. Created by Augustus, the Legio Valeria, the name of which has unclear origins (it could be linked to the Valeria people or its military valour), served in Spain, Illyricum and Germany before taking part in the invasion of Britannia ordered by the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. It was one of the legions which was responsible for the construction of Hadrian’s Wall and probably also the Antonine Wall. Some metal fragments dating back to the 1st century AD found in Chester seem to suggest that the aqueduct was at the time still in construction. The first buildings were made of wood, before being replaced with the local sandstone likely due to the city’s growing importance, with a 6-metre high rampart and a ditch to defend its position.

Reconstruction of Deva plan (Łukasz Nurczyński, Wikimedia)

The Deva fortress followed the classic Roman plan: a rectangle with rounded corners and gates at each of the 4 compass points. It contained military quarters, granaries, thermal baths and a building which may have been the headquarters of the governor of Britannia. When the Legio Valeria arrived, the thickness of the wall was increased, 22 towers were added and the ditch was widened. Then the Via Devana was built, connecting Deva with Camulodunum to the south (in Celtic, the fortress of Camulo, the God of War, now Colchester) whilst a secondary road crossed Deva from east to west. At the start of the second century AD, Septimius Severus had the fort expanded and a defensive line built, the Wat Wall, which protected Deva from incursions by the Celtic Ordovices and Deceangli tribes. Gradually a civilian settlement (canabae legionis) grew up around the fort which was self-governing.

The Romans in Chester

The workshops of craftsmen and traders quickly flourished. There was also a large spa complex for legionaries: stone-clad concrete baths measuring 85 x 85 metres, with a monumental entrance (vestibulum), a room for gymnastic exercises (basilica thermarum), a sweat room (sudatorium), a room with a cold water pool (frigidarium), a warm water room (tepidarium) and one with hot water (calidarium). To complete the complex, there was an open area outside for gymnastics (palaestra). Today, some of the ruins can be visited in Chester’s Roman gardens. Chester’s amphitheatre, where numerous performances were held and which could accommodate up to 7,000 spectators, was discovered in 1929 and protected by the Chester Archaeological Society. It is now managed by English Heritage. Located to the east of the city walls, with a beautiful statute dedicated to the goddess Nemesis in Its northern section, it is one of the best preserved amphitheatres in Great Britain.

Deva's amphitheatre ruins (Carole Raddato, Wikimedia)

The elliptical building discovered in 1939, however, and the presence of elements such as the curtain wall made from sandstone, as well as the uncovering of pipes in that building bearing the name Gnaeus Julius Agricola (the only archaeological evidence in Britain of a building under his possession) suggests that Deva was Agricola’s headquarters and therefore the seat of the first provincial government in Britannia. Another clue is the port, one of the best points for a conquest of Ireland, which was in Agricola’s plans. So many mysteries.
When, under Hadrian, consolidation was preferred to conquest, Deva lost its importance in favour of Londinium. The name Chester derives from the Latin castrum (encampment) which, having entered the English language, gave rise to the names of all towns with the suffixes -chester and -caster, ancient Roman forts. And on 4 and 5 June, the Roman Chester Festival is held. A shared past which arouses curiosity and brings people together, regardless of their position. Because culture and beauty build bridges and start conversations, as well as being a fantastic tool for mutual understanding. For exploring.

READ MORE: Energy in ancient time by Nicholas Newman

about the author
Simonetta Sandri