Chichester’s Ancient History: A Time Traveller’s Journey

by | Dec 1, 2021

Let’s take a journey through time, right here in Chichester. Let’s meet brave warriors and visit ancient castles. Let’s see who built our city, who named it, and who fought to protect it!

Recreation of what the Mystery Warrior’s helmet would have looked like when it was buried with him.

Our journey starts 3,000 years ago, when the people of Britain discovered iron and began using it to make their tools and swords… that’s right, we are in the ‘Iron Age’! The oldest and largest Iron Age settlement ever found is on the outskirts of Chichester, in Westhampnett (this is between Homebase and Goodwood). Here, we would have seen people living in round huts with thatched roofs.

People were generally farmers and very skilled carpenters, so their houses were made out of wood! Around 2,000 years ago, a mystery Iron Age warrior was buried in between Chichester and Bognor Regis! This is a very rare find, as Iron Age people usually cremated (burned) their loved ones when they died. Our Mystery Warrior was found with pots, some weapons, and a beautifully detailed helmet! World- class experts say that the headdress on his helmet is so beautiful and skillfully made, it is unlike anything ever discovered! The mystery warrior must have been a very important man!

One of the two openwork crests on
the Mystery Warrior’s helmet. Each would have been decorated with hair or feathers.

You can see the Mystery Warrior’s weapons, helmet, and even his ancient bones at The Novium Museum in Chichester. He is displayed almost exactly like how he was found – so you can really feel the moment of discovery! You can learn all about the Mystery Warrior’s life, who he was, where he came from, and why he might have been so important to the Iron Age people at The Novium Museum in Chichester.

“You can see the Mystery Warrior’s weapons, helmet, and even his ancient bones at The Novium Museum in Chichester.”

Can you imagine what Chichester would have been like thousands of years ago, with ancient soldiers walking around?

But why were there soldiers here? Well, about 2,000 years ago, the Roman Army swept across Europe. Experts say that the Mystery Warrior was French and fled to England to escape the war. The Romans came to Britain too. Some British tried to fight them off, but the British lost, and the Iron Age ended. The Romans came to Chichester too. In fact, they actually built Chichester!

The Mystery Warrior in the flesh – almost! Here is what the Mystery Warrior might have looked like thousands of years ago. (Grant Cox, ArtasMedia).

Next time you are standing at the cross, look down each street; North Street points north, South Street points South and …. You guessed it! East Street goes east, and West Street goes west! The Roman’s built Chichester like that!

After the Romans settled in Chichester, they built stone walls around it. Chichester was an important Roman town and they wanted to keep it safe. Today, you can still see the stone walls in some places – like in Priory Park or at the Bishop’s Palace Gardens. Those walls are almost 2,000 years old, and they are still standing. Wow!

The Romans also built a palace near Chichester, Fishbourne Roman Palace – the largest Roman building ever found in Britain! In Roman times, this would have been a beautiful palace, filled with expensive and colourful art. One of the biggest and most beautiful is a mosaic of the Roman god of love, Cupid, riding a dolphin.

A mosaic is a picture made up of tiny pieces of coloured tiles. The Romans loved using mosaics to show off how rich they were to their friends! Fishbourne Roman Palace has more mosaics than anywhere else discovered in Britain, so we know that whoever lived there was very rich and important in Roman society.

Historians can’t know for certain who lived in Fishbourne Roman Palace. Only a time traveller could unravel this mystery! You can look into this mystery yourself if you visit the palace…

After nearly 400 years, the Romans left Britain, and they left Chichester. In the last part of our ancient journey, we will see the Saxons come to Chichester.

It was actually the Saxons who gave Chichester its name! The story goes that Cissa was the name of a brave Saxon warrior, and they named the town after him. In the Saxon language, a group of Roman buildings was called a ceaster. Because Cissa’s town was a ceaster, they named it Cissa’s ceaster. Over time that changed to Cisscester, and now – Chichester!

Can you think of any other places in England that would have been ceasters?

Chichester is filled with ancient history; this was just a snapshot of what a time traveller would see if they made a journey through Chichester’s ancient past. Our little city has lots to tell!

“The oldest and largest Iron Age settlement ever found is on the outskirts of Chichester.”

“It was actually the Saxons who gave Chichester its name!“

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