The Amphitheatre

Plan showing position of the amphitheatreThe amphitheatre was probably first built between about AD 50 and 70 at the eastern edge of the town. The arena now has an elliptical plan with two opposing entrances on the longer, north-south axis and two small rooms recessed into the seating bank on the east-west axis. It measures about 45 by 39 metres.

Soil from the area of the arena, whose surface lies some 2 metres below the original ground level, was used to build up the seating banks. At first the inner faces of the banks were retained by an almost circular timber revetment, a wall which may have had the additional function of supporting timber terracing for spectators.

In the third century, after modifications and periods of disuse, the arena was refurbished and the timber revetment was replaced by a wall of flint and brown ironstone, the lower courses of which remain. Originally about 3 metres high it also served to support seating arrangements which continued to be of wood.

On the east and west sides are semi-circular niches which were probably once vaulted. There is no evidence as to how they were used, but similar recesses elsewhere have contained altars to Nemesis (fate). Alternatively, they may have served as refuges for participants in the games held in the arena.  Images and diagrams of the amphitheatre

Activities at the amphitheathre

Artist's impression of gladitorial combat at Silchester's amphitheatreThe banks of the seats in the amphitheatre provided space for between 4,500 and 9,000 spectators. No evidence survives of the sort of activities which took place here, but gladiatorial combat and shows using wild beasts were popular, but expensive, forms of entertainment elsewhere in the Roman empire. Blood sports using bulls, dogs and bears are possibilities at Silchester. Public executions also took place in amphitheatres.

These monuments have to be distinguished from theatres, the traditional venue for dramatic entertainment. No theatre has yet been discovered at Calleva.

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