Roman Caerwent: other Roman monuments
Caerwent’s Roman curtain wall extends for about 1 mile around the village. Those on the south side are particularly impressive and are the best preserved Roman civilian fortifications in Britain.
The earlier earth rampart lies behind the wall, which is 3 m wide at its base and in places stands to approx. 5 m in height (originally it would been up to 7.5 m high with a walkway and parapet). The remains of several later towers built against the wall can be seen, as well as the (infilled) south gate.
Part of the consolidated west gate lies on the main road and is the starting point for most visitors’ walks around the village (via a stone stile). A footpath close to the south gate allows visitors to return to the centre of the village and the West gate barn facilities via the Church of St Stephen and St Tathan. A possible medieval motte in the southeastern corner of the wall is an interesting feature, the top of which provides excellent views over the Nedern valley towards Caldicot and the River Severn.
The Romano-Celtic Temple is located on the main road in the centre of the village, next to Caerwent House and opposite the public toilets. Built around 330, the temple comprised a square inner shrine (cella) with an apsidal alcove on its rear wall (presumably for the cult statue), with a covered ambulatory around the central shrine. The temple was positioned towards the back of a larger sacred precinct bounded by stone walls. A wide entrance from the main road gave access to the temple enclosure, initially into a long covered hall and then into the precinct itself.
Later alterations included 2 sets of rooms built against the entrance hall’s inward side, as well as niches to either side of the temple porch (perhaps for statues). It is not known which god or gods were worshipped there, but its ‘Romano-Celtic’ plan is typical of a pagan temple. This is the only Roman urban temple on display in Britain.
The consolidated remains on display at Pound Lane comprise walls and floors of multiple buildings from different phases of occupation. The earliest structures are 2 stone strip-buildings, separated by a narrow alley and facing onto the decumanus, that were probably shops (or workshops) and domestic dwellings. These were constructed in the mid-2nd century (replacing earlier timber buildings on the plot), and the western building was probably a blacksmith’s forge.
At some point towards the beginning of the 3rd century the 2 shops were joined together to form a single large building that seems to have carried on being a blacksmith’s workshop and residence. A further major alteration in the 4th century saw the eastern strip-building demolished and replaced with a new building on its eastern side, while a new building was also added at the rear of plot. These changes created a much larger building with 3 wings around a central courtyard, although the old western wing seems to have continued to be used as a blacksmith’s forge and workshop.
Further along Pound Lane, to the north of the strip-buildings, is part of a separate large courtyard house that seems to have occupied previously open ground. Built in the 4th century, it was probably the private residence of a wealthy family (one room had a heated floor covered with a mosaic).
Excavated between 1981 and 1984, the remains of the Courtyard House in Insula I lie between the basilica, Pound Lane and the carpark and public facilities at West Gate barn. The plot was vacant until the late 2nd or early 3rd centuries when a timber framed building was constructed (not visible today).
This was replaced at the end of the 3rd century by a much larger residential house (also not visible today), which was also demolished and replaced in the early 4th century by a very substantial and well-appointed house arranged around 2 internal courtyards (marked today by grassed areas). Brightly painted wall plaster decorated several of the rooms, while others were heated by underfloor hypocausts and mosaics decorated the floors of rooms and corridors. Storerooms and a corn-drier suggest this was a farm, or the residence of a wealthy landowner with farming interests.
Although not located at Caerwent, the important finds assemblages and archives from previous archaeological excavations are significant heritage assets in the own right. Finds and site records from the long-running CEF excavations at the beginning of the 20th century are held in Newport Museum & Art Gallery, much of which is on display in the galleries. Finds and site records from the later excavations at Pound Lane, as well as those from the Courtyard House, Romano-Celtic Temple and the Forum-Basilica are kept at the National Museum Wales. These are invaluable resources for archaeologists studying Venta Silurum, but the lack of formal excavation reports describing these finds and the buildings where they were found means that they are not widely known and not often used in scholarly research