The location of Viroconium Cornoviorum is no coincidence. The River Severn – Sabrina Fluvius to the Romans – was a transport and communications artery linking settlements along this far-flung frontier. The local British tribe, the Cornovii, fished from coracles here, but the Romans were the first to use the river as a highway.
From the Severn Estuary 100 miles away, troops and trade could arrive from across the Empire. Further upstream, the river passes close to the lead-mining areas of the Shropshire Hills and, via tributaries, the lead and silver mines near Llanymynech, Powys.
It was largely hunger for these metals that drove the Romans to occupy and control the area that is now Shropshire. The Cornovii were in the way, so legionary troops were sent to subjugate these Celtic peoples. In around AD58, the XIV Legion established a fort beside a ford through the river; a centre both to control the Cornovii and a beachhead for onward campaigns to subdue the Welsh Deceangli tribe. The XX Legion further developed the fort before advancing to Chester in around AD90, leaving the stronghold as a relatively peaceful centre, attended by the civilian settlement that had grown up to service the legions.
It is largely the remains of this ‘civilian’ town that pepper the riverside pastures here at modern Wroxeter. At its height in the second century, more than 5,000 people lived here, making it the fourth-largest town in Roman Britain. Much lies undisturbed, awaiting excavation, but that which has been exposed and explained reveals a complex society mirroring the ideals the Romans sought to impose across the Empire. In all, nearly 50 city ‘blocks’ were built; much the same size as Pompeii.
The long goodbye
Forum, bath-house, basilica and public buildings stand proud from the plain; the
‘Old Work’ wall, fringing the bath-house, is the tallest freestanding Roman structure in Britain. The remains of an indoor market and small temples intermingle here, together with a typical house accurately reconstructed for a TV series. Upon the departure of the legions in the fourth centruy, the happily Romanised Cornovii assumed the mantle, using the town as the capital of their tribal area, trading with other areas of England via Watling Street, which served the town. Viroconium was finally abandoned in the seventh century, as political and social changes made it redundant. The museum here houses tantalising artefacts and interpretations of the town’s heyday.
How to get there
The site is near modern Wroxeter, four miles
south-east of Shrewsbury on the B4380. The 96
bus runs between Shrewsbury and Telford.
Find Out More
Wroxeter Roman City
Wroxeter SY5 6PH
Open 10am-5pm, Mon-Sun, 1 Apr-4 Nov; 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun only, 5 Nov-28 Mar 2013. Adults £5, children £3, concessions £4.50.
The Horseshoe Inn
Uckington SY4 4UL
Brompton, Cross Houses, Shrewsbury SY5 6LE