Venta Silurum

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The remains of the town wall of Venta Silurum

Venta Silurum was a town of Roman Britain, the remains of which survive in the village of Caerwent in Monmouthshire. Much of it has been archaeologically excavated and is on display to the public.



Venta was established by the Romans in around AD 75[1] as an administrative centre for the defeated Silures tribe. Venta Silurum seems to mean "Market town of the Silures", the tribal name being attached to distinguish it from other towns of the same name,; specifically Venta Belgarum (Winchester) and Venta Icenorum (Caistor St Edmund). The name is confirmed by inscriptions on the "Civitas Silurum" stone, now on display in the parish church.[2]

The town was located on the Roman road between Isca Augusta (Caerleon) and Glevum (Gloucester) and close to the Severn Estuary. It was, in contrast with nearby "Isca", essentially established for civilian administration rather than for military purposes.


Initially Venta had a forum and basilica. By the early part of the 2nd century, during the reign of Hadrian, the civitas had begun construction work on a market place and developing centre of local government. Public baths and shops, including a blacksmiths, were built about the same time. Remains of farms and dwellings, some with courtyards, have also been excavated.

A Roman temple, perhaps dedicated to Mars and the Celtic god Ocelus, has been identified on the site. A bowl with a chi-rho symbol shows that early Christian worship had begun in the late 3rd century.[3]

Post-Roman legacy

Remains of a Roman Basilica and Forum

Following the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain, the town remained occupied until at least the mid-5th century. Early Christian worship was still established. The town might have had a bishop.[3] According to traditional accounts in the Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae, a monastery was founded by St Tatheus in about the 6th century.[4] The site of the present church occupies part of an early Christian cemetery.

The name Venta gave its name to the emerging Kingdom of Gwent (called initially "Kingdom of Guenta"), and the town itself became known as Caer-went or "the castra/fort of Venta/Gwent". Tradition holds that Caradog Freichfras of Gwent moved his court from Caerwent to Portskewett around the 6th century.[3]


The Civitas Silurum Stone, which refers to the "council of the Silures."

The town lacked substantial defences until the mid 4th century when stone town walls were built. A small garrison may have been based in the town during this period.[3] Large sections of the defensive walls are still in place, rising up to 16 feet in height in places. The walls have been described as "easily the most impressive town defence to survive from Roman Britain, and in its freedom from later rebuilding one of the most perfectly preserved in Northern Europe."[5] In 1881 a portion of a highly intricate coloured floor mosaic or Tessellated pavement, depicting different types of fish, was unearthed during excavations in the garden of a cottage.[6]

In 2008, a dig involving Wessex Archaeology and volunteers from the local Chepstow Archaeology Society, found a row of narrow shop buildings and a villa with painted walls, frescoes of Roman art and mosaic floors. Among the artefacts excavated were a bone penknife hilt depicting two gladiators fighting, coins, Roman glassware, ceramics, human and animal bones, lead patches used for repairing and pieces of mosaic. These excavations featured in Channel 4's Time Team programme, broadcast on 25 January 2009.[7]

Modern houses are built on top of half the site of the old Roman market place. The ruins of several Roman buildings are still visible, including the foundations of a 4th-century temple.[8] The fact that most of the houses lacked mosaic or hypocaust-heated floors, however, suggests that despite its size, Caerwent never achieved the cultural level of other Romano-British tribal capitals.[9]

In 2010 a programme of archaeological work was carried out, by Monmouth Archaeology, as part of the construction of a new garage, at Museum Cottage. A number of finds were made.[10]


Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Venta Silurum)


  1. Site details (RCAHMW)
  2. Photograph of church
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Ray Howell (eds.), Gwent In Prehistory and Early History: The Gwent County History Vol.1, 2004, ISBN 0-7083-1826-6
  4. Ray Howell, "From the fifth to the seventh century", in The Gwent County History Volume 1: Gwent in Prehistory and Early History, University of Wales Press, 2004, p.244
  5. Newman, John (2000). The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire. ISBN 0-14-071053-1. 
  6. Morgan, Octavius (1882). Goldcliff and the Ancient Roman Inscribed Stone Found There 1878. Monmouthshire & Caerleon Antiquarian Association. 
  7. Time Team
  8. Photograph of temple foundations
  9. Caerwent at Template:Webarchive

Major towns of Roman Britain

Capitals: Londinium (London)Eboracum (York)Camulodunum (Colchester)

Caesaromagus (Chelmsford)Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester)Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester)Deva Victrix (Chester)Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury)Durnovaria (Dorchester)Glevum (Gloucester)Isca Augusta (Caerleon)Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter)Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough) • Lactodurum (Towcester) • Lindum Colonia (Lincoln)Luguualium (Carlisle)Moridunum (Carmarthen)Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester)Petuaria (Brough)Ratae Corieltauvorum (Leicester)Venta Belgarum (Winchester)Venta Silurum (Caerwent)Verulamium (St Albans)Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter)

Lost:   Alchester (Wendlebury) Bannaventa (Northamptonshire)Cunetio (Wiltshire)Venta Icenorum (Norfolk)