"Caerleon - travel back to Roman times" Caerleon by ettiewyn

Caerleon Travel Guide: 18 reviews and 85 photos

Amphitheatre in Caerleon

At first I need to say that I was never really interested in Roman history. I learned Latin for five years when I was in school and was forced to translate Caesar's De Bello Gallico and others, and although I always had good marks and enjoyed the work of translating, I was never really interested in the stories themselves, or any other parts of Roman history. I found it very dull.
My interest only arouse when in preparation of my trip I read some history books about the UK and learned about the Roman occupation of Britain. I also watched the film Centurion (just because a few of my favourite actors are in it), and although I know that most of it is totally fictional, for the first time I saw the Romans as "human beings" and wondered about how they felt when they were sent to far away, foreign corners of the empire, to fight for yet another conquest, to make the empire bigger and bigger... Shortly before my trip to the UK I visited Xanten in Germany, and again my thoughts revolved around these things, especially about what happened when Roman culture met native culture.

So, with these thoughts I travelled to the UK and was looking forward to visiting Caerleon very much, to learn more about Roman history in Britain!

The Romans called this place Isca Silurum, derived from the river Wysg, today Usk, and the tribe of the Silures which was defeated here. From about 75A.D. they established a legionary fortress here, which was the home of Legio II Augusta. This legion had come to Britain in 42A.D. and took part in founding a new province. It had been posted in Silchester, Dorchester and Exeter before moving to Caerleon to secure the occupation of Wales (together with the legion posted in Chester). Caerleon was of course a good location because of its river. Previously, an iron age hill fort had been located in this area.
The name Caerleon is derived from the Welsh expression for fortress of the legion. The legion stayed here until about 300A.D. when Cardiff became headquarters of the Romans in Wales.

Caerleon's main attractions are all connected to its Roman history: The amphitheater, the baths, and the Roman Legionary Museum. It is also possible to see the foundations of some Roman barracks, but I did not visit those.

Up to 1926, though, Caerleon was not at all famous for its Roman history, but was connected to King Arthur! In his Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth had appointed Caerleon to be the place where King Arthur was crowned. Thus, the big earthen mound that held the remains of the amphitheatre was thought to be King Arthur's round table for centuries.
Well, again it can be seen: Mythology is very interesting, but usually the "real" history is as fascinating as the mythological history, and you don't need King Arthur at all in order to find interesting things in Britain :-)

I enjoyed my visit to Caerleon very much. It rained almost all of the time, but it was not a very strong rain, and of course the museum and the baths were indoors. I did not see much of the town of Caerleon itself, but it looked pleasant enough, although very sleepy on this morning in early March.
I would love to visit this area again. It is hard to get here on public transport from Cardiff, but I might make a base in Newport next time, as Caerwent and Caerleon are not far from there. Caerwent is a town close to Caerleon where more remnants of Roman history can be seen. I will be back in Wales one day! :-)

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Fascinating Roman history
  • Cons:Hard to reach on public transport if you are staying in Cardiff
  • In a nutshell:I loved it and learned so much!
  • Last visit to Caerleon: Mar 2012
  • Intro Updated May 11, 2012
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Reviews (5)

Comments (6)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Aug 15, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    Very interesting, especially as I have never been to Caerleon myself (I have been to the amphitheatre in Trier however, and this looks similar - yes?)
    A shame you were messed around with your tour bookings like this - I'm glad that at least when you finally got there, the guide was so good :-)

  • uglyscot's Profile Photo
    Jun 17, 2012 at 2:50 AM

    We were there on a very wet day when the rain didn't abate for a minute. The Barracks left us cold, literally so the Museum was ablessing, as were the baths. The amphitheatre meant being in the rain so lost its charm.

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    May 19, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    Caerleon sounds to be a very interesting place to visit. Too bad your experience with the tour company was not all good.

  • Redang's Profile Photo
    May 19, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    Another interesting page!

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    May 16, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Lovely little page about Caerleon here. I especially like your detailed repeort about the "See Wales" tour.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Fascinating tips! I never knew the ancient Romans had built so much in Wales. It’s funny that the supposed Round Table of King Arthur turned out to be an ancient Roman amphitheatre.


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