Archaeologists digging on the banks of the River Usk near the Roman fortress of Caerleon in South Wales have uncovered the remains of what is only the second Roman port ever found in Britain. The other is in London, and it was a commercial port that appears to have gone up haphazardly over time as individual merchants built docks for their own needs. The Caerleon port is a single structure, most likely built to supply and move the legions stationed at the fortress. The Cardiff University team has found in relatively good condition the main quay wall, jetties, landing stages and docking wharves next to a group of several Roman buildings they discovered in a dig last year.
The fortress was built in 74-75 A.D. during the final push under Julius Frontinus to quell the feisty local tribe, the Silures. Claudius’ troops first invaded in 43 A.D., remember, so the Welsh had been giving Rome the pointy end for 30 years by the time the r Legio II Augusta quartered permanently at Caerleon. Historians previously thought that Roman troops had built their own roads then walked them to Wales, but the discovery of the port suggests that the front lines against the Silures were supplied far more promptly and safely by river. During the four years that Julius Frontinus was governor of Britain (74-78 A.D.), he not only built the fortress of Caerleon and, presumably, its port, but he also established a series of smaller forts 10 or so miles away from each other to house auxiliary troops. This network would have relied on the headquarters for supplies, so all the more use for a functional water route. In what is probably a coincidence but a cool one, Frontinus is most famous today as the author of De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae, a comprehensive two-volume report of the aqueducts of Rome written when he was appointed Water Commissioner by emperor Nerva in 95 A.D. He lists every aqueduct, its history, size, condition, discharge rates, water quality and source. He mapped the entire water system, set up regular maintenance to prevent leaks and ensure clean and even delivery, and he tracked down and eliminated an enormous number of illegal taps on the lines where local landowners and merchants had connected their own pipes to the main channel to divert water for their selfish needs. The Guardian has an excellent digital rendering of the port and fortress that it won’t let me embed because it’s mean.
From The History Blog