Almost two thousand years ago there was a stadium in Gloucestershire thought to have had a greater capacity than the modern day homes of either of the county’s professional football teams Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers.
Cirencester Amphitheatre was built in the early 2nd century AD. At the time, Cirencester (then called Corinium) was the second-largest town in Roman Britain and seems to have been a highly prosperous place. With a capacity of around 8000, the amphitheatre could hold the majority of Corinium’s roughly 10,000 population and would today be the second-largest stadium in the county, after Gloucester Rugby’s Kingsholm.
The large oval-shaped banks that survive today supported a mix of tiered seating and standing for the spectators, who probably came to see events such as gladiator fights, bull-baiting and shows involving wild animals. It’s thought that two small chambers later added to either side of one of the stadium’s two entrances could have been built to house prisoners or animals.
Much like any large modern-day sporting event, it is thought that the road leading to the amphitheatre would have been lined with stalls selling food, drink and souvenirs. Archaeologists studying a similar site at Carnuntum in Austria identified a shop-lined boulevard leading to the amphitheatre, as well as a series of taverns and food outlets. Souvenirs being sold here included oil lamps with depictions of gladiators.
According to English Heritage, the Roman withdrawal from Britain saw the amphitheatre fall out of use as an entertainment venue, eventually becoming a fortress as part of an unsuccessful attempt to defend the town from Saxon invaders. The site was then abandoned for several centuries before the Abbot of Cirencester turned it into a rabbit warren during the Middle Ages.
The Corinium Museum is home to a bird-shaped Roman brooch decorated with red and blue enamel which was discovered during excavations at the amphitheatre in 1966. What sort of sights might its owner have seen at this ancient Gloucestershire megastructure?