Ancient theatre is uncovered in Rome

Arena could have served to entertain the Emperor Trajan and his guests

British archaeologists have unearthed a Roman amphitheatre the size of the Pantheon at the site of a port which once supplied Rome and its legions.

In the 2nd century, Portus was a gateway to the Mediterranean. Twice the size of Southampton, it now lies two miles inland, close to the runway at Fiumicino airport.

The excavation team, led by the University of Southampton and including experts from Cambridge University, has conducted the first large-scale dig at Portus and believes its discoveries may broaden understanding of the Roman emperor Trajan.

The site was first excavated in the 1860s, but after two years of digging, an elliptical theatre has been found which held up to 2,000 people. Its design suggests it was used by a high-status official, possibly the emperor himself.

Emperor Trajan: AD52-117

Trajan, or Marcus Ulpius Traianus, as his mother knew him, ruled Rome from AD98 until his death, from a stroke, in AD117. The son of a senator, he made his name as a no-nonsense general on the German frontier and came to power following a revolt by the Praetorian Guard, who deposed the elderly, childless Marcus Cocceius Nerva.

Trajan's administration of Rome was noted for its public building; Trajan's market, forum and column are all visited by tourists in the city today.

He is remembered for his military successes, especially the punitive four-year war launched in AD102 against Dacia (now Moldova and Romania). The Dacian king Decebalus annoyed Trajan by refusing to act as a conquered client, so the legions were sent to teach him a lesson. Decebalus killed himself rather than be paraded through Rome.

The discovery of the amphitheatre suggests Trajan may have treated other foreigners more hospitably.