Possibly the last Roman amphitheatre ever built found in Switzerland

Archaeologists excavating at Kaiseraugst in Switzerland have uncovered an oval-shaped amphitheatre built in an abandoned Roman quarry that dates from the fourth century AD.

The team said that the quarry and amphitheatre are near the Castrum Rauracense, “a late Roman fort situated on the northern border of the Roman Empire in AD 300” – and are very close to what was known by the Romans as Germania.

The find has been dated by the discovery of a Roman coin at the site, estimated to be from between AD 337 and AD 341. Archaeologist Jakob Baerlocher also said that the composition of the amphitheatre’s construction materials – including the stone blocks and mortar – are “reminiscent of that of the late antique fort wall.” In an interview with the website Live Science, Baerlocher added that the date would make the amphitheatre the “youngest” to have been left by the Romans.

Kaiseraugst is situated in the Rheinfelden, in the canton of Aargau, near the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Raurica. The Municipality is just over three hours by road from the Italian-speaking Swiss town of Lugano. The Romans had settlements round Lugano by the first century BC, including the important town of Bioggio to the north of Lugano. There is evidence that Romans lived in Lugano and in the surrounding areas such as the region now known as Aargau.

Google Map of Swiss Roman settlements

The amphitheatre was discovered while an archeological team was monitoring the construction of a new boathouse on the River Rhine in 2021, Live Science reports. The Department of Education, Culture and Sport in the Swiss canton of Aargau announced the find on 19 January 2022. The team at Aargau Cantonal Archaeology were already aware of the existence of the ancient Roman quarry, but were not aware that there was also an amphitheatre built on the same site.

The amphitheatre is an estimated 164 feet (50 metres) long and 131ft (40m) wide – and is in the valley of the quarry. There is “a large gate to the south of the amphitheatre”, flanked by two entrances.

Archaeologists have also found preserved sandstone blocks by another entrance on the western side of the structure. There is evidence that the inside arena walls were plastered – and the imprint of a post from wooden grandstands or seats is also visible. 

The sandstone block at the side entrance (Image
Kantonsarchäologie Aargau; © Kanton Aargau)

In a written statement, the Department of Education, Culture and Sport said:

“All the evidence together — the oval, the entrances and the post placement for a tribune [an elected official] — speak for the interpretation as an amphitheatre.”

You can read more about the discovery of the amphitheatre at the website Live Science, including a video of the dig – visit the Kantonsarchäologie Aargau website for more information and news about their work.

Buon viaggio!

A drone image shows the location of the amphitheatre on the banks of the
Rhine. (Image: Kantonsarchäologie Aargau; © Kanton Aargau)

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