British Tribal City

Chichester, West Sussex

NGRef: SU861047
OSMap: LR197
Type: Tribal Capital (Regnenses).
N (13) to Iping (West Sussex)
NW (32) to VENTA BELGARVM (Winchester, Hampshire)
Stane Street: NE (13) to Hardham (West Sussex)
W (4) to MAGNVS PORTVS (Bosham Harbour, West Sussex)
Probable Coastal Road: E (27) to NOVVS PORTVS? (nr. Brighton & Hove, Sussex)
S (7) to Selsey (Selsey Bill, East Sussex)

Noviomagus - The New Port

"Below the Atrebati and the Canti are the Regni and the town Noeomagus 19*45 5305."

The Roman name for Chichester is first recorded in Ptolemy's Geography produced in the early-second century. The town is listed twice; the first in the section entitled "a description of the south side below which is the Oceanus Britannicus", and appears as between the unknown river Alaunus and the mouth of the River Arun in Sussex, which is named the Trisantona by Ptolemy. The second mention occurs in Ptolemy's list of British tribal towns (vide supra) where the town is named Noeomagus.

The city appears in the Antonine Itinerary as the southern terminus of Iter VII, entitled "the route from Regnus to Londinium; ninety-six thousand paces". The town is listed twenty miles from the first station on the route. Named Clausentum, this station has been associated with the settlement at Bitterne but could possibly be the Roman name for Wickam, both sites in Hampshire.

The last appearance of the Roman name for Chichester occurs in the Ravenna Cosmology of the late-seventh century. In this document the name Navimago Regentium is listed between the entries for Portus Ardaoni (Portchester, Hampshire) and Leucomagus (East Anton, Hampshire).

Chichester - The Roman Camp of Cissa

Any modern town which contains the place-name affix -chester (also -cester, -caster or -xeter) as part of its name, is generally a good indication that the place was originally the site of a Roman military encampment or fortified settlement. The affix is derived from the Saxon word ceastre, used by this folk to denote an already-existing - i.e. probably Roman - lowland fort or defended town. Also of note is the affix -burgh - also -borough, -brough, etc. - from the Saxon word burh, which more-likely indicated a former civil settlement rather than a military encampment.

"A.D. 895 ... And as the army [of the Danes] returned homeward that had beset Exan-ceaster (Exeter), they went up plundering in Sud-Seaxum (Sussex) nigh Cisse-ceaster (Chichester) ; but the townsmen put them to flight, and slew many hundreds of them, and took some of their ships. ..." (The Saxon Chronicle)

The name 'Chichester' was recorded for the first time in the Saxon Chronicle entry for AD895 (quoted in part above), which referred to the town as Cisseceaster. It later appeared in a shortened form in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Cicestre, from which we have directly derived the modern name. This Saxon place-name is thought to combine a Saxon personal-name with the common -ceastre affix, and is most likely translated as 'the Roman camp [belonging to a man named] Cissa', although the identity of this Saxon chieftain remains uncertain. There is a possible clue recorded earlier in the Saxon Chronicle:

"A.D. 477 This year came Ella to Britain, with his three sons, Cymen, and Wlenking, and Cissa, in three ships ; landing at a place that is called Cymenes-osa.¹ ..." (The Saxon Chronicle)

This same Saxon chieftain is also mentioned in a later entry:

"A.D. 490 This year Ella and Cissa besieged the City of Andredes-ceaster,² and slew all that were therein ; nor was one Briton left there afterwards." (The Saxon Chronicle)
  1. The location of the place named Cymenes-osa or 'Cymens-shore' is unknown.
  2. Likewise, the place named Andredes-ceaster, which, if the narrative is followed, appears to lie somewhere in Hertfordshire, has been uncertainly identified with the Roman 'Saxon Shore Fort' of Anderitum at Pevensey, another candidate being the hypothetical Romano-British port and settlement at Hastings, both sites in East Sussex.

Roman Chichester - A Quick History

Roman occupation of the Chichester site began with the construction of a military supply base, perhaps as early as the winter of AD43/44, which was apparently abandoned by the military in 47, after which the site developed as a timber-built town possessing a large statue of Nero. The town was the centre of government of Cogidubnus the client king who probably lived in the nearby villa at Fishbourne. Inscriptions from the site include a first century dedication of a temple to Neptune and Minerva. During the late second century, the original timber buildings began to be replaced in stone, and earthen ramparts with stone gateways were erected enclosing a 100 acre (40Ha) polygon. In the early third century, the town walls were replaced in mortar and flint and bastions were added in the late fourth. The town declined after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the early fifth century, but occupation has been continuous to this day.

In addition to those listed above, a military road led south to the Claudian bridgehead on Bracklesham Bay, while another led east to the iron mining district of the South Downs.

The Epigraphy of Roman Chichester

Neronian Building Inscription from Chichester

"To Nero Claudius Caesar Augusus Germanicus, son of the Divine Claudius Augustus Germanicus, grandson of Tiberius Caesar Augustus, great-grandson of the Divine Augustus, great-great-grandson of Caesar, in the fourth year of his holding tribunicia potestas,¹ hailed imperator five times,² consul four times,³ under his care this offering deservedly (is made)."
(RIB 92; AD58-60)
  1. The number of times Nero was granted the powers of a Tribune of the Plebs would normally equate with the number of years into his emperorship, in this case AD58, but it is possible that the numerals VI were transposed to IV during the cutting of the inscription; see note 3.
  2. This distinction was given to victorious generals whenever a decisive battle was won, which sometimes occurred many times in any specific year; this can rarely be used to date an inscription.
  3. Nero was first consul AD55 with Lucius Antistius Vetus, consul II AD57 with L. Calpurnius Piso, cos. III AD58 with Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, and consul for the fourth time AD60 with colleague Cossus Cornelius Lentulus.

Only nine inscribed Roman stones have been recovered from Chichester and the surrounding neighbourhood, but there are two stones of particular note, the most important being an inscription dedicated to the emperor Nero (vide RIB 92 supra), which is the earliest dateable Roman stone in Britain, and another dated to the same period, discussed on the RBO page for Fishbourne (rib 91), which lies only 1¼ miles to the west. Of the other inscribed stones, the majority are presented and translated below.

Altar to the Guardian Spirit by a son of Amminus

"To the Sacred Genius, Lucullus the son of Amminus has placed this out of his own [funds]."
(RIB 90; altarstone)

There is an interesting altarstone from Chichester dedicated to Guardian Spirit which may be connected with Adminius, a prince of the Catuvellauni tribe and the former king of Cantium who was forced by his brothers Togodumnus and Caratacus to flee to the Continent shortly before the Roman invasion of Britain (vide RIB 90 supra). This is a supposition, however, and not proven.

Inscribed Base Dedicated to Jupiter Best and Greatest

"To Iupitter Optimus Maximus in honour of the Divine House this sacred object [...]"
(RIB 89; altar or statue base)

Altarstone to the Goddesses of the Home

"To the Mother Goddesses of the Home, [...]us erected this arch for his family."
(RIB 96a; Britannia x (1979), p.339, no.1)

Fragmentary Tombstones and Memorials from Chichester

D M ... NVSAT ... ARIVS ... LXXXV"To the shades of the departed [...] nusat [...] arius [...] eighty-five."93
... CCA AELIA ... CAVVA ... FIL AN XXXVI"[To the shades of the departed ...]cca Aelia [...] Cauva [...] the daughter, thirty-six years [of age]."94
CATIA ... CENSORINA AN XXIII ..."Catia [...] Censorina, twenty-three years [...]"95

Click here for the Romano-British Walled Towns page

See: The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.255-271 & fig.117;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
The Saxon Chronicle - AD 1 to AD 1154 translated by Reverend J. Ingram (1823).
All Latin-English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.


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