Richborough Castle

Richborough Roman Fort

Rutupiæ was the Roman name for Richborough near Sandwich, Kent, which they founded after they landed in England in AD 43. A major port of Roman Britain (with Dubris, it was one of the start-points for the Roman road of Watling Street, which ran on to Canterbury and London), it has many phases of Roman remains, collectively known as Richborough Fort or Richborough Roman Fort, still visible today and under the care of English Heritage. (A third, local name, Richborough Castle, is used mainly just for the Saxon Shore Fort walls.) Earth fortifications were first dug on the site in the 1st century, probably was as a storage depot and bridgehead for the Roman army. This transformed into a civilian and commercial town, which was later replaced by a Saxon Shore Fort around the year 277. The later fort is believed to have been constructed by Carausius. [1]


Invasion of 43 A.D.

It has commonly been accepted that Richborough was the landing site for the 43 AD invasion. This is because of the existence of mid-1st century AD ditches and fortifications on the site. These ditches and fortifications are assumed to have been built to protect their bridgehead and supply depot. However, the site of the Claudian invasion of Britain in the year 43 AD is not stated in the surviving written sources and has recently started to be debated.

Civilian town

As the fighting moved north, Rutupiae became an increasingly large civilian settlement. There were temples, an amphitheatre (visible as a hummock in the grass 5 minutes walk from the main site), and a Mansio (first built in 100, it was a building that went through several phases, being a hotel for visiting officials, bath house and administration building).

As a port, the town always competed with Portus Dubris (modern Dover), about 15 miles (25 km) south along the coast. However, Richborough was widely regarded throughout the Roman Empire for the quality of its oysters (they are mentioned as on a par with those from the Italian Lucrine Lake in Juvenal, Satires 4.141), whilst "Rutupine shore" was used as a synonym for the whole coast of Britain in some literary works.[2]

Triumphal arch

A major quadrifrons triumphal arch was erected straddling Watling Street, the main road from Richborough to London. Its position and size suggest it may have been built to celebrate the final conquest of Britain after Agricola’s victory at Mons Graupius.[3] Almost 25 metres high, it had a facade of high quality, Italian granite. Standing as it did between the port and the province, passage through the arch signified formal entry into Britannia (cf the similarly maritime arch at Ancona). Only its foundations and mound are still visible.

Saxon Shore Fort

During the late third century this (by now large) civilian town was remilitarized by its conversion into a Saxon Shore Fort. The Saxon Shore Forts were a series of forts built by the Romans along the Channel on the English and French sides, to guard against invading Saxon pirates. Construction of the fort here is believed to have started in 277 and completed in 285. This involved the demolition and reuse as spolia of the triumphal arch, and numismatic evidence suggests it occurred during the reign of Carausius.[1]

The fort was 5 acres (2 ha) in area and was surrounded by massive walls, forming an almost perfect square. However, the construction of the north and south walls differed. The north wall was built by different gangs of laborers, while the south wall seems to have been built as a single unit. This suggests that the north wall of the fort was built sometime after the construction of the south wall. In some places, the walls reached over 25 feet (8 m) in height, and were built of small ashlar and double-tile courses. The main entrance of the fort was in the west wall. The walls stand to a great height and were of such high quality, that they only recently needed repointing.

Though some stone buildings existed in the interior of the fort, most of its buildings seem to have been composed of timber. There existed a central rectangular building built of stone, which was probably the principia (headquarters). Small, stone built bathes were also present at Richborough.[4]

Church at Richborough

There exists an unexplained structure at Richborough that is believed to be a font. Today, this structure is almost entirely destroyed. The hexagonal font discovered during the excavations at Richborough suggests that baptisms could have been a function of this church. The church was probably built at the end of the fourth century or at the beginning of the fifth century. It seems plausible that the church was built of wood.[5]

Roman withdrawal

During the decline of the Roman Empire, Richborough was eventually abandoned by the Romans and after this, the site was occupied by a Saxon religious settlement.


Recent Excavations carried out in late 2008 of an 90 metre section of Roman wall uncovered the original Roman Coastline along with the remains of a Medieval Dock. The discovery and excavation of the beach itself has pinpointed its geographical relationship to the site's earthworks, proving that the earthworks were a beachhead defence, protecting around 700 metres of coast. The site is now two and half miles inland from the current coastline.


  1. ^ a b White, Donald. Litus Saxonicum; The British Saxon Shore in Scholarship and History, page 36. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin for Dept. of History, University of Wisconsin, 1961.
  2. ^ p. 39, Victoria County History of Kent: Romano-British Kent, 1932.
  3. ^ Stillwell, Richard; William Lloyd MacDonald, Marian Holland McAllister (1976). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton University Press. p. 778.
  4. ^ Johnson, J.S. (1970). "The Date of the Construction of the Saxon Shore Fort at Richborough". Britannia 1: 240–248. doi:10.2307/525843. 
  5. ^ Brown, P.D.C (1971). "The Church at Richborough". Britannia 2: 225–231. doi:10.2307/525812. 


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