Llandeilo Past and Present

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Llandeilo Archaeology & History


Recent discoveries have revolutionised our understanding of Llandeilo in Roman times. When a geophysical survey located the site of a Roman fort and vicus town in Dinefwr Park in 2003, the long held suspicion that Llandeilo had a Roman past was at last confirmed. Llandeilo's location had already marked out the town as a strong candidate for the location of a fort or fortlet. It is halfway between the Roman forts at Carmarthen and Llandovery and within a day's march of each, but also close to the known route of the Roman road along the Tywi valley and at a fording and bridging point on the Tywi.

There had been many past archaeological discoveries that had suggested a strong Roman presence in the area. These included coin hoards (PRN869 and PRN886) and single coin finds (PRN875), a 3 rd century milestone bearing an inscription to the Emperor Tacitus (PRN872) and some Roman bronze needles found around 1875 (PRN910). Coin hoard PRN869 was found close to Llandyfeisant church and there has been an unsubstantiated tradition that the church itself was built on the foundations of a Roman building, possibly a villa or temple (PRN7367). There is currently little evidence for such a building, other than reported late-20 th century finds of tesserae (mosaic tiles), which may be Roman in date, within the area of the churchyard. There have also been recent finds of fragments of a pottery type that was commonly used in the region during the Roman period known as black-burnished are in a stream bed in Dinefwr Park (PRN32105). A few pieces of another characteristically Roman pottery type, Samian Ware, which was mass-produced in Gaul during Roman times were also picked up by archaeologists during the construction of the Llandeilo by-pass in the early 1990s (PRN47646). Since 2000, several more finds of Roman date have been made in the area of Home Farm and Cae William, including bronze fragments, 1 st century AD coins and an amphorae handle (PRNs 47647-50) that give some indication of the archaeological potential of the area.

The discovery of the fort site itself came in 2003 when a geophysical survey undertaken for the National Trust produced remarkable results. The outline of two large forts, one partly overlying the other (PRN47636 & PRN47637), were clearly visible on the geophysical scan. It is thought that the earliest fort (PRN47636) dates to the time of the Roman conquest of Wales, about AD70-AD74. This would perhaps have been abandoned for a time after the conquest, but a second, smaller fort was built on the same site shortly afterwards, perhaps to maintain the peace and help establish Roman rule.

The scan also shows Roman roads running northeast (PRN47638) and east (PRN47639) from the fort entrance, probably linking to the Tywi valley road to Llandovery and possibly to a bridging point below the modern town. Another road can be seen heading south-eastwards (PRN47640), possibly towards Llandyfeisant and perhaps a river crossing downstream of the modern bridge. A fourth road clearly heads north-westwards (PRN47641), presumably to link with the Tywi valley road to Carmarthen. A building can be seen on the geophysical survey alongside this road, which may prove to be a Roman bath house (PRN47643). It is located in a field known as Brick Field, where the finds of Samian Ware pottery were made in the 1990s. Perhaps the most tantalising image on the scan is the outline of what appears to be a small vicus town developing outside the northeastern gate of the second fort. This may have been the first town to grow at Llandeilo and although we do not know A its name or, at present, much about its character, its presence allows us to speculate that Llandeilo town can indeed claim 2000 years of history! If nothing else, the establishment of Llandeilo as a centre of Roman military and, possibly, a political and civil authority may have ultimately led to the appearance of an early Christian community. This may perhaps have been the foundation for the next glorious chapter in the history of the area, when the settlement that we now know as Llandeilo Fawr take shape in the centuries following the end of Roman rule.