The dream of Macsen Wledig
Work began on this, the largest of the Roman forts of Gwynedd, in AD 77 as part of the consolidation of Roman power in the area by Gnaeus Julius Agricola. The fort commanded extensive views across the Menai Strait to Anglesey and was connected to other forts by a network of roads, including the main legionary base at Deva (Chester).
Much of the original layout of the 5.6-acre fort can be traced to this day. It contained buildings common to most forts of the day such as granaries, barrack blocks, bathhouses and the Principia. This was the headquarters building, incorporating a great hall or basilica and a strongroom that housed the goods used to pay the soldiers’ salaries. A Roman temple dedicated to the Eastern god Mithras, the Mithraeum, was also discovered nearby.
The fort features heavily in the story of Macsen Wledig, one of the Four Independent Tales in the Mabinogion. Macsen Wledig has been identified as the renegade Roman commander Magnus Maximus who declared himself Emperor in 383. In the tale, Macsen dreams of a beautiful woman at ‘the fort at the mouth of the Seiont’ and sets out to find her. She turns out to be Elen Luyddog, later known as Saint Helen of Caernarfon.
A stone built enclosure, known as Hen Waliau, looks out over the River Seiont. It may have been a storage depot or small base from which to protect the harbour. Set 150 metres west of the main fort, some of the original Roman walls can be seen by the side of the main road and surrounding houses.