Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster … what do they have in common? The endings! Chester and caster are the English translations of the Latin castrum (plural castra). It means a military camp fortified with walls, that is a fort. Such an ending is a good predictor of some Roman ruins nearby. Discover them! (Unfortunately, you won’t find them in any of the 30 or so Chesters scattered around the New World. No Romans in Chester, NY; Chester, PA; or Chester IL. Stick to the Old World’s Chesters).

The fort was part of the offensive strategy. Before attacking, the Romans would settle for a while near their enemies. As if they knew that they’ll inhabit those places for centuries. In 3 days they could raise a fort, where they rested and slept properly during the war. Great advantage against their enemies who, deprived of food and sleep, resisted just a few days on the battle camp!

A catalogue of pre-planned forts

The fort’s building was standardized. Similar to a house catalogue, the engineers and the architects had on offer five fort plans: the temporary camps, the permanent camps, the winter camps, the summer camps, and the navy camps. The army commander chose one according to the building speed and to the estimated fighting time. There were fort varieties to be built in 3 days, 5 days, or more.

In the image above you see the soldiers’ tents in a temporary camp. Sebastiano Serlio (Sebastiano Serlio: A Peek into Renaissance) drew them in his 8th Book of Architecture. Have a look: Serlio, Sebastiano: Ottavo libro d’architettura. Della castrametatione di Polybio – BSB Cod.icon. 190, Lyon, 1551 – 1554.

Unlike today’s standardization of buildings, the Roman architects would adapt the pre-made plan to the landscape and building materials at hand. Thus, no two forts were the same. Take a look at two Roman forts: Barcelona and Manchester. They differ in both soccer styles and city layouts.

Space is power

Have you ever wondered why prestigious institutions still use sumptuous real spaces even today, when we claim that “all we need is virtual”? Real space counts. The group owning a space can think about long-term plans and strategies, be they attacking strategies in a fight or marketing strategies in a new region. The group with no roof can think only of short-term tactics to attack or to pouch into others’ spaces.

The Romans knew it. No wonder they conquered so much. No wonder they appropriated the land on a battle field first by building on it, then by fighting for it.

Draw the fort!

First, start with a square. Why square? Because the square means order and power (What can you do with a rectangle? Empower!).  As if it’s not enough majestic, trace the North-South and West-East axes. These will be the main roads. Mark the intersection. Here some important buildings will rise: the headquarter, the supply office, the plaza for public discussion (forum), and the food storage house.

plan of a fort
The basic plan of a Roman fort.

Second, detail the roads; mark the watch towers (small squares) at each of the four gates into the fort; trace the wall and the ditch surrounding the fort.

Third, place the soldiers’ barracks or tents in a double row and the commander’s house at the row’s end closer to the main street.  Position the latrines and baths on a row close to the ditch.

The basic Roman fort is ready to play with it! Enlarge it and alter it by adding narrower streets, more barracks, and secondary gates. Place you mini figurines inside and start the battle!