At the centre of a Roman town, in Britain or anywhere in the Roman Empire, was the most important building - the basilica. Nowadays we would call this building the town hall, for it was where the town magistrates worked, running the town's affairs and settling legal cases.
The basilica was usually attached to the forum, or market place, at the crossroads in the middle of the town. In Silchester in Hampshire (known as Calleva in Roman times), the basilica was one side of the square arrangement of buildings that formed the forum. The basilica has been excavated, and we know a little about its structure.
Inside the basilica was a great hall, with a 72ft (22m) roof, and lined with two rows of 30ft (10m) columns. The walls were partly panelled with stone, and topped with plaster panels in red, blue and green. Light from high windows lit inscriptions on the walls, and shone on a life-size bronze statue of the emperor.
At each end of the hall were semi-circular spaces - tribunals - where magistrates dealt with criminal and civil cases, such as theft or quarrels over property or inheritance. Facing the main entrance in the forum was the shrine, with two statues, one standing for the spirit of the community and one an emperor. On the right side of the hall was the council chamber, and around this were offices, in which clerks and copyists worked.
The basilica was also used for meetings and ceremonies.
Reconstruction of the basilica and forum of Silchester.
The basilica is the taller building on the left.
Reconstruction of the forum and basilica at Caerwent, South Wales
The Aula Palatina from the outside.
This was an audience hall for the Emperor Constantine.
It was built in AD310, and it is 220 feet long, 90 feet wide
and 98 feet high with a vast semi-circular apse. It is the
largest surviving single-room structure from Roman times.
Inside the basilica in Trier, Germany. It was known as the Aula Palatina and is now used as a church.
The basilica at Volubilis in Morocco