Roman Legion Museum - mosaic

Roman Legion Museum - mosaic

National Roman Legion Museum - baths

Roman Legion Museum - baths

The National Roman Legion Museum (Welsh: Amgueddfa Lleng Rufeinig Cymru) is a museum in Caerleon, near Newport, south-east Wales. It is one of three Roman sites in Caerleon, along with the Baths museum and the open-air ruins of the amphitheatre and barracks. It is part of the wider network of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Roman Wales was the farthest point west that the Roman Empire in Roman Britain extended to, and as a defence point the fortress at Isca Augusta, now Caerleon, built in 75 AD, was one of only three permanent Roman Legionary fortresses in Roman Britain. It was occupied and operational for just over 200 years. The National Roman Legion Museum lies inside what remains of the fortress, and contains many artefacts from the period of Isca Augusta of Legio II Augusta from Roman currency to uniforms. The later name, Caerleon, is derived from the Welsh for "fortress of the legion".


Isca was founded in AD 74 or 75 during the final campaigns by Governor Sextus Julius Frontinus against the fierce native tribes of western Britain, notably the Silures in South Wales who had resisted the Romans’ advance for over a generation. Isca became the headquarters of the Legion II Augusta based in the large fortress of typical legionary "playing-card" shape and built initially with an earth bank and timber palisade. It remained their headquarters until at least 300 AD. The interior was fitted out with the usual array of military buildings: a headquarters building, legate's residence, tribunes' houses, hospital, large bath house, workshops, barrack blocks, granaries and, unusually, a large amphitheatre. At this time there were 4 legions in Britain out of a total of about 30 legions in the Empire, making Britain one of the most heavily militarised provinces due to its frontier status and hostile neighbours. Each legion consisted of over 5,000 heavily-armed and highly disciplined professional soldiers who enlisted in the army for at least 20 years. As the backbone of the army, legionaries were the conquerors and builders of the Roman Empire who brought with them foreign ideas, practices and traditions that would change the society and culture of Britain forever. An inscription of Trajan gives a date of AD99/100 for the replacement of the fortress walls, when the original earth and timber ramparts of the fortress were strengthened by the addition of a stone revetment at the front. This "composite" rampart consisted of a stone wall 5 to 5½ feet thick, backed by a clay bank and fronted by a single ditch.


By 120 AD, detachments or vexillations of the legion were needed elsewhere in the province and Isca became more of a military base than a garrison. However, it is thought that each cohort still maintained a presence at the fortress. When Septimius Severus seized power in the 190s, he had Isca refurbished and the legion were in residence rebuilding themselves after heavy losses on the Continent. Further restoration took place under Caracalla, when the south-west gate was rebuilt, the amphitheatre remodelled and barrack blocks re-roofed and otherwise repaired. The legion may have been called away to fight for one of the many emperors claiming power in the late 3rd century. Although most of the fort lay empty, a 'caretaker' squad are thought to have maintained the facilities and there was reoccupation and rebuilding work as late as the 270s. The main military structures are thought to have finally been demolished by the usurpers, Carausius or Allectus, when the legion was needed to repel a potential invasion from the Continent. The stone from Isca may have been used for building defences on the south coast. There may still have been an occasional military presence as late as the early 4th century, but the fortress was probably later taken over by the people of the surrounding vicus. The basilica of the baths was used as a cattle pen. Recent finds suggest Roman occupation of some kind as late as AD 380.


According to the Gildas (followed by Bede), Roman Caerleon was the site of two early Christian martyrdoms in Britain, at the same time as that of Saint Alban the first British martyr, who was killed in the Roman city of Verulamium (beside modern-day St Albans). He writes: "God, therefore, who wishes all men to be saved, and who calls sinners no less than those who think themselves righteous, magnified his mercy towards us, and, as we know, during the above-named persecution, that Britain might not totally be enveloped in the dark shades of night, he, of his own free gift, kindled up among us bright luminaries of holy martyrs, whose places of burial and of martyrdom, had they not for our manifold crimes been interfered with and destroyed by the barbarians, would have still kindled in the minds of the beholders no small fire of divine charity. Such were Saint Alban of Verulamium, Aaron and Julius, citizens of the City of the Legions, and the rest, of both sexes, who in different places stood their ground in the Christian contest." This city of the legions is identified with Caerleon, rather than Chester, because there were two medieval chapels there dedicated to each of these martyrs. They were probably executed in 304, during the religious persecutions of Diocletian's reign. However, these chapels may have been founded as a result of Bede's writings and cannot be dated archaeologically any earlier than the church of St John's in Chester which is also situated next to an amphitheatre.


Prysg Field Barracks

Prysg Field Barracks

Roman Tower 1783

Roman Tower 1783


Because of its rounded form, the unexcavated amphitheatre was known to locals as 'King Arthur's Round Table', but there is no known connection. An initial investigation in 1909 showed the potential for a full-scale excavation of the structure, which began in 1926 and was supervised by Victor Erle Nash-Williams. This revealed, among other things, that the amphitheatre had been built around AD 80. This (Period I) building was destroyed by fire in the early-second century, and the second (Period II) building erected c.AD138 was destroyed around sixty years later c.196/7. It was rebuilt for the third and last time during the campaigns of Severus and Caracalla in Britain c.197-211. The Period III building finally fell into disuse around the middle of the fourth century at the same time that the Caerleon fortress was evacuated. The latest coin from this site is that of Valens (AD364-378). The arena is oval in shape, with eight entrances, and the stadium is thought to have had a capacity of around six thousand spectators, and apart from the usual gladiatorial entertainments, it was probably used for parades, displays and exercises by the garrison of the fortress.


Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths

Frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium and natatio. Sounds like one of Harry Potter’s spells! In fact, they describe the wide range of facilities on offer to the Second Augustan Legion and other residents at their state-of-the-art leisure complex. We are talking heated changing rooms, a series of cold and warm baths, covered exercise rooms and even an open-air swimming pool. Roman Britain wasn’t that bad at all if you were a Roman. Leisure time was important and Caerleon – or Isca as it was known in Roman times – had it all laid out. Your average resident liked nothing better after a relaxing bathe and swim than to head off to the nearby amphitheatre for a bit of blood and gore. Ringside seats would have been rather a messy affair as gladiator and beast fought tooth and claw for their lives. The remains on view at Caerleon provide the visitor with a vivid picture of life in second-century Roman Britain. Some 12 miles down the Roman road you will come across Venta Silurum, the first town in Wales and the tribal capital of the Silures. We call it Caerwent today. If you get a chance, pop down to see its surrounding walls and the remains of shops, a Romano-Celtic temple and the forum-basilica.


The Baths and Fortress site offers Good access within the modern building. Pay and display car park adjacent to the baths, approx. 20 spaces. No dedicated disabled spaces. Hearing induction loop available. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are no toilets on site. The Roman Legion Museum : There are parking spaces 50 yards from the front of the museum down the adjacent street, none of these are designated for orange badge holders. Entrance to the museum for wheelchair users and those with pushchairs is to the right of the front steps. There is a level entrance into the museum, through glass doors. There is wheelchair access to The Gallery and the lower level of The Gallery via a ramp. A wheelchair is available on request. Seating is available throughout The Gallery. There is a handling collection available on request for the visually impaired. Large print guide books are available free on loan. Please ask at the entrance. Water can be provided for assistance dogs. A unisex WC is available in The Gallery. The Gallery has no facility for refreshments but there are number of catering outlets in Caerleon town centre. Wheelchair access is limited in the Capricorn Centre. Entrance to the Barrack Room can be gained by use of 4 steps, or by the use of a side door outside the front of the museum. Staff will make this entrance available on request. Entrance to the Link building is on a level floor. The Barrack Room is designed as a hands-on area for the Visually Impaired. The artefact handling collection is also available on request, both for use within the Barrack Room and within The Gallery. A facilitator will be in the Barrack Room when members of the public are present. There is a unisex WC, and both male and female toilets, situated on a level floor within the Capricorn Centre.


Location : National Roman Legion Museum, High St, Caerleon, Newport NP18 1AE

Location : Caerleon Roman Fortress, High St, Caerleon, Newport NP18 1AE

Transport : Newport (National Rail) then bus (27, 28). Bus Routes : 27, 28, 29B and 60 stop close by.

Opening Times Roman Legion: Monday to Saturday 10:00 -17:00;  Sunday 14:00 to 17:00

Opening Times Fortress + Baths: Daily 09:30 -17:00

Tickets : Free

Tel. Legion Museum: 029 2057 3550