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Amphitheater excavation unearths cell where gladiators waited for death fights

<i>Jim Holden/English Heritage</i><br/>A major insight into how Romans residing on the southeastern English coast would have lived has been revealed by the excavation of a historic amphitheater. Archaeologists discovered coins
Jim Holden
Jim Holden/English Heritage
A major insight into how Romans residing on the southeastern English coast would have lived has been revealed by the excavation of a historic amphitheater. Archaeologists discovered coins

By Hannah Ryan, CNN

A major insight into how Romans residing on the southeastern English coast would have lived has been revealed by the excavation of a historic amphitheater, where thousands would have once gathered to witness gladiatorial combat, wild animal hunts and executions.

English Heritage archaeologists working in Richborough, Kent discovered a cell within the amphitheater — known as a carcer — that likely would have held gladiators, criminals, and wild animals before they were released into the arena to meet their grisly fates.

The amphitheater was first revealed during a Victorian excavation of the site in 1849 but now the details of what it would have been used for have come to light — and English Heritage said in a news release that it would have “provided the inhabitants of the town with a place for public spectacles and entertainment.”

Paul Pattison, a senior properties historian at English Heritage, said in the news release: “The discoveries we’ve made during the excavation at Richborough are startling and exciting, and dramatically transform our understanding of the structure of the amphitheater and the nature of adjacent settlement in the town.”

The excavation also suggests that Romans living in Richborough might have cared for pets, as is evidenced by the “moving” discovery of the almost complete skeleton of a Roman cat, who had been purposefully buried in an area of domestic settlement outside the amphitheater.

The cat has been nicknamed Maxipus by English Heritage, a charity which cares for hundreds of historic monuments, buildings and sites in England.

Archaeologists working at the site also discovered coins, butchered animal bones, pottery fragments and items of personal adornment that show the Roman settlement in Richborough was occupied by civilians right up until the end of the 4th century AD — the entire Roman period in Britain.

Pattison told CNN that Richborough would have been one of the most unique, diverse Roman settlements in Britain.

“As Richborough is coastal, it would have provided a connection between what was at the time called Britannia and the rest of the Roman Empire — and, because of that, all sorts of Romans who came from all corners of the Empire would have passed through and lived in the settlement,” Pattison said.

The excavation has tossed up puzzles for the team to solve, including two badly burnt rectangular areas — described as being “bright red-orange in color” — that are believed to be the remnants of Roman buildings that stood against the turf outer wall of the amphitheater.

While it is unclear what function these buildings would have served in the settlement, English Heritage said that “their destruction by fire must have been dramatic, though the reason is unknown.”

A major refurbishment of the on-site museum at Richborough is set to take place later this year and will reopen to the public in the summer of 2022.

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