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Chariot racing and gladiators in Roman Britain

The popular Roman sport of chariot racing took place in an arena known as a circus. In Britain the remains of a circus have yet to be found, but the most likely locations would have been London and Colchester. Scenes depicting chariot racing have been discovered on mosaics, sculptures and beakers in Britain, but these may be stereotypes and not a true representation of local activity.

There is, however, evidence that gladiator fights took place in Britain during the Roman occupation. Gladiator and animal fights would undoubtedly have varied in nature and size across the Empire. Whatever form these sports took most people would have enjoyed watching them. It was in the amphitheatre that the public could watch both huntsmen fighting animals, as well as gladiators fighting each other, usually in pairs. Gladiators, who received training in their sport, were mainly slaves and captives. There were various types of gladiator each carrying different weapons, such as the more heavily armed samnite, who carried a sword and was protected by a shield, helmet, arm and leg armour. A retarius, on the other hand, carried little more than a net and a trident.

Remains of the best preserved amphitheatre in Britain can be seen at Caerleon in south Wales. The amphitheatre is part of a nearby fortress and it is most likely that the arena was used for military training as well as for amusement. Remains of other amphitheatres may be visisted in London and Chester.