The Amphitheatre

This discovery is yet another exciting finding of Bradford University Archaeological Studies Dept, which worked at the Trimontium site, originally under Dr RFJ Jones and then under Dr Simon Clarke, from 1987 to 1998. Their report is expected in 2006/2007 and will follow in the steps of Curle (1905-10); Richmond (1947); and St Joseph (aerial photography 1948-75). A large amount of information relating to the archaeology of the Trimontium site at Newstead can be found at Dr Simon Clarke’s UHI Communities page.
The amphitheatre is the first to be discovered in Roman Scotland and, so far, the most northerly in the Roman Empire. (There is possibly another at Inveresk near Edinburgh.) As the Roman Army HQ in Southern Scotland it is not surprising that a fort housing up to 2,500 men at one point in the 2nd century should have had an arena for weapon training, displays of martial skills and exhorting the troops, at a convenient point near its North East corner.

Bill Lonie of Newstead, the retired Scottish College of Textiles lecturer, Trimontium Trustee and former Chairman of Melrose and District Community Council, who in 1991 was the first to wonder if the saucer-like depression, as seen from the Leaderfoot railway viaduct, and half-filled by the embankment of the now-closed minor road B6361, was an amphitheatre, and wrote it up in the 1992 Trimontium Trumpet newsletter, was delighted with the news. “I’m relieved too,” he said with a laugh,”and very impressed with the work of Dr Clarke and his colleagues on a difficult site.”

Trimontium already has a first to its credit, in that the only Roman milestone found in Scotland (out of 500 miles of Roman roads north of the Border) – found indeed at Ingliston, near Edinburgh, 40 miles away – gives the distance from the hub of Roman roads in Scotland i.e. Trimontium. (A replica Millennium Milestone was unveiled at Newstead on 2nd Sept. 2000)

The site itself is in pasture, with sheep and cattle, and has a fine situation above the River Tweed and the three Leaderfoot bridges – the Victorian railway viaduct; the eighteenth century turnpike bridge; and the A68 1974 bridge.

Dr Clarke, whose booklet on the Phases of the Fort (seven in all) was published by the Trust, says that the arena lies NNW – SSE, a little like a rugby ball; the centre of the arena is 40 metres across; and the spectating area is a circular cobbled bank, enclosing the arena.

The Trust was delighted that its investment in the three-week dig in August-September 1996 at the top of the Leaderfoot brae (largely helped by Treasure Trove money from Walter Elliot and his detector friends) was so productive. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and others assisted – and a North Annexe or Vicus was also identified. The details are contained in a 14 page A4 booklet (available from the Honorary Secretary, or the Museum for a small fee) entitled “Newstead 1996 : The Northern Vicus and the Amphitheatre : Excavation and Survey”