Maiden Castle

Winterborne Monkton, Dorset


NGRef: SY669884
OSMap: LR194
Sitetype: Nce/IAf/RBt

Iron-Age Hillfort

Among both the biggest and most impressive sites in Britain, having an inner defensive circuit of 2.5km, the area within its huge ramparts measures some 18ha. Earliest occupation dating from c3000 to c2000BC, was an 8ha causewayed camp at the E end of the hill, having 2 causewayed ditches 15m apart. Some time later, a massive earthen bank, 0.5km long, was built NW/SE down the length of the ridge; burials were found at its E end, but little is now visible of this phase. After about 350BC, the Iron Age defences were developed, starting with a 6.5ha fort on the site of the Neolithic camp, which was subsequently extended to 18ha towards the W. The massive ramparts and ditches were constructed c150BC. The defences were strengthened c75BC, at which time the complex entrances to E and W were constructed. By now, the fort enclosed a flourishing Iron Age town. The fort was conquered after a protracted assault on the E gateway by Vespasian and Legio II sometime after 43AD; over 50,000 slingstones from nearby Chesil beach that were found in this area during excavations bear mute testimony to the stiff resistance the defenders offered. (The downhill range of a slingstone from the ramparts here would be c140m). In a British war cemetary located just outside the E gate were buried 30 warriors killed during the Roman assault. This, we know, because one of the skeletons exhumed had a Roman ballista bolt lodged in its spine. In addition, each warrior was accompanied by his tankard and a joint of meat, but no weapons, presumably as they had all been confiscated by the conquering Romans. By 70AD the local civil population had relocated to the town of Durnovaria (Dorchester), and the fort remained deserted until late in the 4th century, when a 12m square Romano-British temple was built in the NE area of the old fort, having a square cella at the centre surrounded by a verandah, and a 2-roomed priests house just to the N.