GLADIATORS and Celts invaded the streets of Chester at the weekend as 14,000 visitors were transported back to the height of the Roman Empire.

The This is Deva Roman Weekend kickstarted this year’s MBNA Chestival in spectacular style, with a programme of free activities on Saturday and Sunday.

A record crowd of more than 4,500 packed the city’s amphitheatre on Saturday afternoon to watch gladiators do battle with a bear in the ancient arena.

Hundreds of fully-armoured Roman legionaries from across Europe marched through the city, in the largest parade of its kind in Britain.

Visitors of all ages were treated to performances by Cheshire-based Arabic dance troupe Ya Raqs, while Grosvenor Park was transformed into a large-scale Roman village complete with reconstructed buildings and tents.

Ancient weapons, art, armour, excavated artefacts and period crafts were also on display and the Grosvenor Museum hosted a talk by best-selling authors Ben Kane and Ruth Downie.

Paul Harston, director of Roman Tours UK, said: “The festival was huge. It was a magnificent spectacle, even for those taking part.

“As the location of the largest military fortress in Britain, it’s only right that Chester is becoming the capital for such events in Europe.”

Director of Chester Festivals Tracy Lynn added: “The Roman Weekend took us right back to the start of Chester. The amphitheatre and Grosvenor Park were really brought to life by all the activities.”