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The 3.2-hectare (8-acre) fort established by the Romans near the mouth of the River Taff in 75 AD, in what would become the north western boundary of the centre of Cardiff, was built over an extensive settlement that had been established by the Romans in the 50s AD.

A writer around this period described Cardiff: "The River Taff runs under the walls of his honours castle and from the north part of the town to the south part where there is a fair quay and a safe harbour for shipping." During the Second English Civil War, St Fagans just to the west of the town, played host to the Battle of St Fagans.

The battle, between a Royalist rebellion and a New Model Army detachment, was a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians and allowed Oliver Cromwell to conquer Wales.

Caerdyf has its origins in post-Roman Brythonic words meaning "the fort of the Taff".

The fort probably refers to that established by the Romans.

Original Roman work can, however, still be distinguished in the wall facings.

A town grew up in the shadow of the castle, made up primarily of settlers from England.

Caer is Welsh for fort and -dyf is in effect a form of Taf (Taff), the river which flows by Cardiff Castle, with the ⟨t⟩ showing consonant mutation to ⟨d⟩ and the vowel showing affection as a result of a (lost) genitive case ending. The antiquarian William Camden (1551–1623) suggested that the name Cardiff may derive from "Caer-Didi" ("the Fort of Didius"), a name supposedly given in honour of Aulus Didius Gallus, governor of a nearby province at the time when the Roman fort was established.

Although some sources repeat this theory, it has been rejected on linguistic grounds by modern scholars such as Professor Gwynedd Pierce.

Archaeological evidence from sites in and around Cardiff – the St Lythans burial chamber, near Wenvoe (about four miles (6.4 km) west, south west of Cardiff city centre), the Tinkinswood burial chamber, near St Nicholas (about six miles (9.7 km) west of Cardiff city centre), the Cae'rarfau Chambered Tomb, Creigiau (about six miles (9.7 km) north west of Cardiff city centre) and the Gwern y Cleppa Long Barrow, near Coedkernew, Newport (about eight and a quarter miles (13.5 km) north east of Cardiff city centre) – shows that people had settled in the area by at least around 6,000 years before present (BP), during the early Neolithic; about 1,500 years before either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed.

Until the Roman conquest of Britain, Cardiff was part of the territory of the Silures – a Celtic British tribe that flourished in the Iron Age – whose territory included the areas that would become known as Breconshire, Monmouthshire and Glamorgan.

It was likely made up of traders who made a living from the fort, ex-soldiers and their families. Contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, a stone fortress was established at Cardiff.