Did you know that around 1,800 years ago, Romans and Ancient Britons were neighbours – living very nearby, here in Caerau? What would happen if the Ancient Britons and the Romans had a football match? Who would win?

Here at CAER Heritage we’ve been thinking about a Romans v Ancient Britons football game for some time – and one day we hope to stage this as a full scale event with teams and football kit and everything. In the meantime, however, we’ve created a miniature version for you to play – CAERbutteo! Young people at our ‘Summer of Smiles’ event, Trelai Park 25th August 2021, designed the Football Kit our players are wearing. The Blue Team are Ancient Britons; the Romans are playing in red.

© Vivian Thomas 2021

Here’s a little history, to help set the context for your game …   

We know that a tribe of Ancient Britons, who the Romans called the Silures, built our magnificent hillfort around 600BC, at the beginning of the Iron Age. The Romans first invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC, but it took a century or so to proper settlement in South Wales. When they did settle down, it looks like they were soon living in some style … 

A Roman villa was discovered on the Trelai Fields racecourse in 1894 and investigated by Mr. John Storrie. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who was then Director of the National Museum of Wales, then excavated the site in 1922.

He described his findings as follows:

“Here some time during the first half of the 2nd century some Romanized settler built a small house upon an island formed by a branching streamlet in a flat tree-lined marsh. The house was of half-H shaped plan with wings facing south and fronted by a continuous veranda. Above this the main block doubtless rose to a second storey. Close by lay a second building, oblong in plan, again with a veranda along the main front. To the southern end of this second structure was added shortly afterwards a small but complete set of baths. In connection with this establishment iron smelting was carried on… After various modifications … the second structure was demolished and the remaining buildings were surrounded, apparently within a quarter-century of A.D. 300, by … banks and ditches … and not many years afterwards the whole establishment seems to have fallen into disuse.”

So, let’s imagine our beautiful Roman Villa – complete with a posh bathroom – clearly visible from the ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort. Let’s imagine that a version of football (or soccer) had been invented all those years ago, on the outskirts of what is now Cardiff rather than in Sheffield in the 1850s … wouldn’t you fancy a game with your neighbours? OK, this might not be Association Football, but we could think about the Roman game of harpastum, for example. Athenaeus, writing in 228 CE, referenced this game in his account of the time, describing how a game of harpastum involved use of hands and violence and appears to have resembled a mix of rugby football, wrestling and volleyball more than what is recognisable as modern football. As with “mob football”, the antecedent of all modern football games, it involved more handling the ball than kicking.

So … let’s hope that our Romans and Ancient Britons play fair!

Info. re. Trelai Villa from

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