Read on to find out why the historical site of Chester, or Deva, was such a strategic and important Fortress for the implementation of Roman rule in the North West of England and Wales.
With its harbour it became the focal point of forward planning by Rome and the forward staging post for the army was consequently moved north from Wroxeter.
Rome's expansion plans
Prior to the formation of Deva Victrix there was a forward marching camp close to Upton, laid out as a fort would be with its own defences. Later the site close to the river was chosen and Legio II started the construction of the fortress. There had been Roman campaigning in North Wales for some time and it was felt pertinent for a more permanent base which would allow good access to Wales and through which the Roman General Gneaus Julius Agricola could lead a campaign to Ireland.
The Harbour and Trade Routes
The River Dee, before it became too silted up to be navigable was an important trade route. The Roodee (Chester Racecourse) is the site of the original Roman harbour and the point from which raw minerals such as copper and lead were dispatched to the rest of the Roman Empire. The original wall of the Roman quay can still be seen at the foot of the medieval walls if viewed from the racecourse.
The Fortress was built on a sandstone bluff, with the bend in the river at the time giving protection from the south and west. More importantly the river was navigable up to this point. The way the walls were constructed and the size of the Fortress give reason to think that the Provincial Governor oversaw the planning of the Fortress.
Chester's Shrine to the Roman Goddess Minerva
The fortress was constructed from local sandstone from across the river in Handbridge. One very visible remnant of the quarry is a shrine to the Roman Goddess Minerva carved in the second century. This is situated in Edgar’s Field over the Old Dee Bridge in Handbridge. The shrine is of great historical importance and has been designated as a Grade 1 listed building.
The civilian settlements of Deva Victrix were located along the walls of the Fortress, in Handbridge and over to Boughton from where the water supply to the Fortress was directed.
The Fortress remained a central part of Rome’s expansion plans but as campaigns elsewhere took priority, part of the force from Deva were re-deployed and areas of the Fortress became derelict. Some rebuilding did occur but in the 400’s AD the Fortress was abandoned as the Legions were needed back in Rome to defend its borders.
More on Chester's history to come!