If the Romans didn’t arrive at Richborough, there is another possible site for the Roman invasion – Chichester harbour, slap bang in the middle of Verica’s territory.

This is a typical tidal creek. What makes it special?

Chichester Harbour
Chichester Harbour

Martin Hennig “It’s nice and sheltered a wonderful natural harbour which would have allowed large numbers of men to be disembarked.”

If you had the Roman invasion arriving here, what sort of number of boats?

Martin Henig “Perhaps 200 or 300, so a large number of boats that would need to be manoeuvred.”

Chichester harbour is, in fact, right next to Fishbourne Palace, so was the palace anything to do with King Verica?

Bath House
Bath House

The palace was built 30 years after the invasion. However, recent finds of ceramics reveal that there was a base at Fishbourne before the invasion.

John Manley was involved in the excavations.

Chichester Harbour

John Manley “The fact that we found these ceramics and food remains suggests it was heavily Romanised before A.D. 43. To my mind, it makes it much more likely that a large part of the invasion force landed here in Chichester Harbour – in territory they were familiar with, maybe in territory where they already had client Kings.

John Manley
John Manley

It was Verica who pleaded with the Romans to come to Britain, and Verica lived somewhere around here – Chichester, Fishbourne area, and that was used as a pretext for the invasion of Britain. Now we don’t hear of Verica after AD 41, so it is conceivable that a relative maybe even his son, was brought by the incoming Romans, and settled here as a client king.

Although we can’t be certain Verica’s son was probably called Togidubnus. Excavations at Fishbourne found the marble bust of a child. Was this the owner of the palace? The Marble head had to have been carved in Rome – there was no marble carving in Britain. It’s very likely that of Togidubnus at the time he was made a Roman citizen.”

You think Togidubnus himself would have lived here at Fishbourne?

Martin Hennig, Archeologist

Martin Henig “Almost undoubtedly. It’s an enormous palace. This must have been a power centre for King Togidubnus who was increasingly given the territories and authority to rule much the rest of the province.”

Martin Henig on Chichester Harbour
Martin Henig

This contradicts the conventional account of the Roman conquest. King Verica opened his doors to the Roman troops who sailed peacefully up Chichester harbour. In honour of this alliance, this splendid palace was built, not as a symbol of Roman suppression, but as a celebration of British tribal power.

The Romans claim they came, saw and conquered but in fact they were invited into this country. Once here they didn’t crush our culture but guided the development of an increasingly diverse society.

In the years after the invasion, the Romans built a series of towns across Britain. Perhaps the most opulent of these was Bath. Bath’s buildings typify the elegance and glory of the Roman Empire. The town was built on the site of an ancient spring which had been a religious site for thousands of years.

It’s a great natural phenomenon, that a quarter of a million gallons of water a day pours out of the ground. This is hot. It’s 40 odd degrees centigrade.

Barry Cunliffe, Archeologist

Barry Cunliffe excavated the baths in the 1970s. Within 30 years of the invasion, they were erecting a great monument, and the first job was to contain the spring. It was impressive engineering because of all of that water coming out.

Barry Cunliffe on Chichester Harbour
Barry Cunliffe on Chichester Harbour

Barry Cunliffe “You could take one view – here are the Romans who have come and imposed a great Roman building – slap it down on the landscape and this could be seen as a sort of imperialism.

But I don’t think it’s like that at all. What we’re seeing is the Romans being very, very sensitive to the sanctity of the place. They recognise it and appreciate it as a sacred place.

Although the buildings are Roman and the sculptures look Roman, the iconography hints right back to the Iron Age. When we excavated the temple precinct, we were able to work out that there was a real order about it. Facing east with the great Gorgon’s head, was a temple front itself.

Then on either side, were the two sculptured facades with pediments. On the north side, the pediment had the goddess Luna shown riding her chariot across the night sky. On the southern side, was a pediment with the god of the sun Sol , with spiky crown.

So you got the sense of north cold, south hot, and the south side presiding over the hot spring. And the balance between the goddess and the God – the male, female. This encapsulates a much earlier belief, so the Romans are, if you like, taking over the sacred geography of the place, and monumentalising that.”

Medolithic Age

Many objects were thrown into the sacred spring as offerings. This is a startling reminder of the age-old customs in the Witham Valley and the Arthurian story of the Lady in the Lake.

Barry Cunliffe “The spring is a fissure down into the underworld where deities lived, so you could communicate there. This was sacred to Sulis Minerva – the two words put together. Now, Minerva, of course, is the Roman goddess. And Sulis is presumably the iron age goddess, the person revered here, going right back in time.”

The oldest occupation that is Mesolithic, going back to 7,000 BC, people will always have revered it. You can imagine what it would have looked like at the time of the Roman conquest.

Sulis Minerva
Sulis Minerva

The water brings up iron oxide, which spread red crusts on this black mud and must have looked almost as if the ground was bleeding. The construction of these baths is a magnificent feat of engineering for which the Romans are, quite rightly, admired.

Although they gave us magnificent buildings and luxurious baths, I do not believe the Romans changed this country’s soul fundamentally. Through the years of Roman occupation, Britain developed a unique ability to absorb foreign influences without losing its own identity. But the biggest foreign influence has yet to arrive. It originated not in Rome, but in the holy lands of Jerusalem, and it would contribute to the fall of the Empire in Britain.

Chichester Harbour saw the Roman Liberators arrive