Evidence of a ‘carcer’ cell for holding wild animals and gladiators found at Roman amphitheatre

Archaeologists conducting excavations at Richborough Castle (Rutupiae) in Kent, have found evidence of a ‘carcer’ cell in the wall of the Roman town’s amphitheatre.

Although a matter of scholarly debate, historians generally agree that Rutupiae was the landing site for the Claudian invasion of what would become the Roman province of Britannia in AD 43.

- Advertisement -

As the frontier pushed further north, Rutupiae expanded into a flourishing commercial town, boasting temples, a mansio (guest house for visiting officials with a bathhouse and administration buildings), and an amphitheatre that provided the inhabitants of the town with a place for public spectacles and entertainment.

Excavations of the amphitheatre has revealed how it was constructed: the exterior arena wall was up to 6m wide and made of carefully stacked turf, with the outlines of individual turves still visible. The interior wall, defining the arena, was made of mortared chalk blocks with a rendered and plastered face, on which are traces of paint in what once would have been vivid reds and blues, a discovery which is unprecedented in amphitheatres in Britain.

Image Credit : English Heritage

The team also identified a “carcer”, or cell, that would have held those awaiting to enter the arena to meet their fate, such as exotic animals, criminals, or gladiators.

Numerous small finds have been unearthed during the excavation, including butchered animal bones, coins, items of personal adornment, and pottery fragments which provide the evidence required to show that the Roman town at Richborough was occupied by civilians right through until the end of the 4th century AD – the entire Roman period in Britain.

- Advertisement -

One unusual and moving discovery was the almost complete skeleton of a Roman cat, nicknamed Maxipus by the team who uncovered it, which appeared purposefully buried on the edge of a ditch outside the amphitheatre, in an area of domestic settlement.

Paul Pattison, English Heritage Senior Properties Historian, said: “The discoveries we’ve made during the excavation at Richborough are startling and exciting, and dramatically transform our understanding of the structure of the amphitheatre and the nature of adjacent settlement in the town. We’ve always known that the Roman fort at Richborough was an important place to the Romans, until the very end of their rule, and now we have been able to gather evidence that much of the town outside the fort may also have been settled until the very end.”


Header Image Credit : Oszibusz – Shutterstock

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Brass trumpets among cargo of 16th century shipwreck

Underwater archaeologists from the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar have discovered a cargo of brass trumpets at the wreck site of a 16th-century ship.

Ancient Egyptian carvings found submerged in Lake Nasser

A joint French/Egyptian archaeological mission has discovered a collection of Ancient Egyptian carvings beneath the waters of Lake Nasser, Egypt.

3,800-year-old textile dyed using insects found in desert cave

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Bar-Ilan University, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have discovered the earliest known example in Israel of red-dyed textiles made using insects.

Archaeologists discover traces of Roman circus at Iruña-Veleia

Archaeologists from ARKIKUS have announced the discovery of a Roman circus at Iruña-Veleia, a former Roman town in Hispania, now located in the province of Álava, Basque Autonomous Community, Spain.

Archaeologists make new discoveries at Bodbury Ring hillfort

Bodbury Ring is a univallate hillfort, strategically located at the southern tip of Bodbury Hill in Shropshire, England.

Lost crusader altar discovered in holiest site of Christendom

Archaeologists from the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), working in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), have discovered a lost crusader altar in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Viking arrowhead found frozen in ice

Archaeologists from the “Secrets of the Ice” project have discovered a Viking Era arrowhead during a survey of an ice site in the Jotunheimen Mountains.

Underwater archaeologists find 112 glassware objects off Bulgaria’s coast

A team of underwater archaeologists from the Regional Historical Museum Burgas have recovered 112 glass objects from Chengene Skele Bay, near Burgas, Bulgaria.