Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester)

British Capital

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 895AD (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 43/44AD, 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

RIB92 - Dedication to Nero

NERONI
CLAVDIO DIVI
[...]ERMANI[...]
[...  ]EPOTI TI [...]
[...  ]RONEPOTI DIV[  ...]
[...]N CAESARI AVG [...]
[...]R P IV IMP IV COS IV
S C V M
For Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Claudius, grandson of Germanicus Caesar, great-grandson of Tiberius Caesar Augustus, great-great-grandson of the deified Augustus, in his fourth year of tribunician power, four times acclaimed Imperator, consul for the fourth time, by decree of the Senate the vow was deservedly fulfilled.
No commentary.

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.

RIB90 - Altar dedicated to the Genius Loci

GENIO S
LVCVLLVS
AMMINI FIL
D S P
Sacred to the Genius (of the place) Lucullus, son of Amminius, set this up from his own resources.
No commentary.

RIB89 - Dedication to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

I O M
IN HONOREM DO
MV[...] DIVINAE S
[...]
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, in honour of the Divine House ..
The stone was quarried in all probability from the Hythe Beds which outcrop at a point about 19 km. north of Chichester.)In Britain the formula in honorem domus divinae occurs only on an inscription at Old Penrith (RIB 916), but is frequent in the Rhineland. It is still somewhat rare in the late second century, is common in the third, and continues in the fourth. Pro salute domus divinae is very rare, but occurs at Chichester in RIB 91, dated to Claudius' reign. For variants like pro salute imperatoris totiusque domus divinae see RIB 897 (Old Carlisle), 919 (Old Penrith), (see De Ruggiero, Dizionario s.v. domus divina).

RIB95 - Funerary inscription for Catia

CATIA
CENSORIN[...]
AN XXIII[...]
Catia Censorina, aged 23 (or 24) ...
No commentary.

Classical References to Noviomagus – The New Port

Below the Atrebati and the Canti are the Regni and the town Noeomagus 19*45 53°05.

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).

References for Noviomagvs Regnorvm / Regentivm

  • 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). 

Roman Roads near Noviomagvs Regnorvm / Regentivm

Probable Coastal Road: E (27) to Brighton (nr. Brighton & Hove, Sussex) W (1.25) to Fishbovrne Stane Street: NE (13) to Hardham (West Sussex) N (13) to Iping (West Sussex) NW (32) to Venta Belgarvm W (4) to Magnvs Portvs (Bosham Harbour, West Sussex) S (7) to Selsey (Selsey Bill, East Sussex)