Aerial view of Segontium showing the playing-card shape that is typical of Roman forts. Many of its stone buildings have been exposed for public display. Image: Cadw (Crown Copyright).
Aerial view of Segontium showing the playing-card shape that is typical of Roman forts. Many of its stone buildings have been exposed for public display. Image: Cadw (Crown Copyright).
R. E. M. Wheeler with Lady Lloyd George (far right) at Segontium in 1922. Image © Private collection.
R. E. M. Wheeler with Lady Lloyd George (far right) at Segontium in 1922. Image © Private collection.
In the early 4th century construction of a bathhouse began in the south-east corner of the fort. The building was never completed.
In the early 4th century construction of a bathhouse began in the south-east corner of the fort. The building was never completed.
Roman soldiers worshiped many gods. This relief from Segontium depicts Mars, the god of war and, on some occasions, healing.
Roman soldiers worshiped many gods. This relief from Segontium depicts Mars, the god of war and, on some occasions, healing.

The Roman fort of Segontium was founded in AD77 and was garrisoned until about AD394. No other Roman fort in Wales was held so long.

Segontium's name comes from that of the river: 'sego-' , meaning 'vigorous', which is hidden in its modern form, Seiont. The fort, one of the most famous in Britain, occupies a key position in the Roman military network. It is built on the summit of a broad rounded hill overlooking the Menai Strait and the Isle of Anglesey.

The first excavations were undertaken by R. E. M. Wheeler, then Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales. Wheeler undertook excavations within the fort between 1921 and 1923. Many of the stone buildings now on view were uncovered at this time.

Further excavations undertaken between 1975-79 revealed a number of timber barrack blocks dating to the later 1st century and earlier part of the 2nd centuries AD. This indicates that the fort was designed initially to accommodate a 'cohors milliaria' (a regiment of auxiliary infantry, up to 1,000 strong).

There is clear evidence that the garrison had been reduced in size by about AD120. A large courtyard house, with its own small bathhouse, was constructed in the mid 2nd century. This impressive building may have been the residence of an important official who was possibly in charge of regional mineral extraction.

In the earlier part of the 3rd century the garrison was the First Cohort of Sunici, a 500-strong infantry regiment originally recruited from Germany. The name of the unit appears on an inscription, which records the repair of the fort's aqueduct around AD200.

The garrisons of the later 3rd and 4th centuries were much smaller. At this time Segontium's main role was the defence of the north Wales coast against Irish raiders and pirates. Coins found at Segontium point to a continued presence of troops at this key fort until AD394.

This extraordinarily long occupation can be explained by the need to protect the fertile and mineral-rich lands of Anglesey. Throughout the Roman period Segontium was the military and administrative centre for north-west Wales.

The military significance of Caernarfon did not end when the Romans left. In the medieval period a Norman 'motte' (a mound upon which a castle was sited) was established at the mouth of the Seiont, followed in the late 13th century by the famous Edwardian castle with its walled town joining it and, finally, by a small fort planted at the mouth of the strait in 1775.

Background Reading

'Excavations at Segontium (Caernarfon) Roman Fort, 1975-1979', by P. J. Casey and J. L. Davies. Published by the Council for British Archaeology (1993).

'Roman & Early Medieval Wales' by C. J. Arnold & J. L. Davies. Sutton Publishing (2000).

'Segontium and the Roman Occupation of Wales' by R. E. M. Wheeler. In Y Cymmrodor, vol. 33 (1923).

Comments(6)

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
26 January 2018, 10:39

Hi there Jack

Thanks for getting in touch. I'm sorry that you did not enjoy your visit to Segontium. If you have concerns about the safety of a scheduled ancient monument, please get in touch with Cadw, as they will be able to address these.

Over the last five years, we have invested £6million in the redevelopment of St Fagans National Museum of History, to allow the story of Wales to be told, from prehistory to present day. Our archaeology and numismatics collections will play a key role in telling this story. While I cannot guarantee which Roman objects may go on display (this is very much in the hands of our Curators at the moment), we are doing our very best to ensure that our visitors enjoy and learn from these wonderful collections. Additionally, we have recently secured funding to ensure that the Caerleon National Roman Legion Museum can undergo essential maintenance, to keep this resource about Roman Wales open to the public for years to come.

Thanks again for your enquiry.

Sara
Digital Team

Jack Robinson
24 January 2018, 13:00
Like Ian Kestle, I too visited the site last October, and was similarly dissappointed with signage, even using my Sat-Nav, and with the condition of this very important site.

I was horrified to see that there were places around the site in parts of areas of the fort, that had obviously been used for ad-hoc parties etc, as there was lots of broken bottles and beer cans etc. littering the whole site. Having talked to one of the men mowing the grass between the foundations of the fort, I discovered to my horror, that needles had also been discarded around the site, especially in the hedges that surround the (now defunct) Museum building!

I also obviously discovered, much to my dismay, that the Museum was closed down, and all artifacts taken to Cardiff. If this is true, where can one visit these artifacts now?
It does seem such a shame that such an amazing site should be left in such a poor situation.
Yours,
Jack Robinson.
Ian Kestle
10 October 2017, 15:35
During our recent visit to North Wales I was very keen to see Segontium and as it came under the National Trust and CADW I assumed this would be easy. Wrong! The road signs are so poor that we eventually gave up and went elsewhere. From comments made on Trip Advisor however it seems we didn't miss much and this seems a great shame as this was evidently an important Roman fort so why is it so appallingly neglected?
Evan Chapman - Senior Curator, Archaeology Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
5 August 2016, 14:10

Dear Mrs May,

Thank you for your enquiry about the Roman fort of Segontium that your grandfather saved for the nation and provided a site museum for.

As you correctly say the site was excavated in the early 1920s as it was threatened by housing development. The land had been bought just before the First World War, 1913, by a group of members of the Cambrian Archaeological Association to allow for excavations to take place, but these were then delayed the War. On the competition of the excavations in 1923 it would, at the time, have been normal for the land to be sold on and once again face the threat of development. It is at this point, 1925, that Mr Roberts bought the land to permanently preserve the site, giving it to the National Trust. He also funded the building of the museum on the site, but, according to our records this did not actually open until 1937.

In 1957 the site and the museum were placed under the guardianship of the then Ministry of Works (now Cadw) and in 1979 the National Museum took on full responsibility for the interior of the museum and its day to day operation. This situation continued until 2003 when the management of the museum was transferred to a new independent organization Segontium Cyf, with continued financial support for five years. The hope and plan was for the museum to be redeveloped during this period. Unfortunately this was never achieved and in late 2009, as the museum was going to be closed all winter, we removed all the small objects, for their safety. The museum in fact never reopened and the management of the building was returned to Cadw. At their request, in advance of proposed building work, we removed the reaming large objects in 2011. It now acts just as a visitors centre for the site, with no objects currently on display.

With sincere apologies for the delay in dealing with your enquiry.

Yours,
Evan

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
21 June 2016, 13:28

Dear Mrs May

Thank you for your comment and for your information about John R. Roberts. It's interesting to know the letters between him and the Clerk of Works still survive, I'm sure they provide great insight into the development of Segontium following the Mortimer Wheeler excavations.

I will pass on your comment to the relevant curator, to see if they can provide more information about the site, as you requested - I will pass on their response as soon as I get it.

Thanks again for your interest in this article and your interesting comments.

Sara
Digital Team

Mrs.Ella May,
21 June 2016, 10:39
I am the granddaughter of John R. Roberts who funded and built Segontium Museum in about 1923/4 after Mortimer Wheeler completed excavations. The town council of Caernarfon at that time were about to build houses on the site - my grandfather having become a very wealthy man, he purchased the land being most interesed in the history of Caernarfon
Theywere well known members, solicitors and shipping Agents living at Glendower by the Castle Gate. The Museum and site were handed over to the National Trust on my grandfather's death in 1926.
I believe a firm of Solicitors still practice in Llangefni.

It is the Museum I am interested in having visited it several years ago when told it was run by volunteers and artifacts were being moved to Cardiff.

I have many origianl letters between my grandfather and the Clerk of Works.

Please bring me up to date with the site and the Museum.

I look forward to your comments.
With regards,
Ella May

Leave a comment