NGRef: SK9843
OSMap: LR130
Type: British Settlement, Small Roman Town, Fort

Roads
Iter V: Ermine Street: N (17) to Lindvm
SSE (6) to Sapperton
Ermine Street: SSW (5) to Saltersford (Lincolnshire)

Located on the south side of the Ancaster gap in the canton of the Coritani tribe, Causennae was one of only five roadside settlements in Roman Britain built on same site as an existing native settlement.

The Roman name for Ancaster is known from a single ancient geographical source, the Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century. The Fifth Itinerary is entitled "the route from Londinium to Luguvalium at the Entrenchments", and details the road stations between the provincial capital London and Carlisle in the far north of the province, near the western end of Hadrian's Wall. The entry for Ancaster appears as Causennis, and is listed 30 miles from Durobrivae (Water Newton, Cambridgeshire) and 26 miles from Colonia Lindensium (Lincoln, Lincolnshire). The route is nowadays known for most of its course as Ermine Street.

The actual course of Iter V / Ermine Street is uncertain, and the Causennis entry has also been identified with other Roman settlements, in particular Saltersford and Sapperton, both in Lincolnshire nearby. The road south-west from /Vernemetum continued eastwards to a probable port on the Metaris Aestuarium (The Wash).

Ancaster does not appear in King William's Domesday Book (AD1086) and the modern name is first mentioned on a 12th century document in which it appears as Anecastre, an amalgamation of two Old English words, a personal name coupled with the word for an old Roman settlement, Anna's Cæster.

Epigraphic Evidence from Roman Ancaster

There is only sparse evidence from the Ancaster site itself. The R.I.B. lists only a single inscribed stone within the boundaries of the settlement, recovered from the grounds of the local church, a dedicatory inscription to the Germanic god Viridius (RIB 245a infra), evidently from a ceremonial archway. In addition, a honorific pillar dated to the early-fourth century was found beside the Ermine Street about a quarter of a mile north of the town defences (RIB 2242 etiam infra).

The Arch of Viridius

DEO VIRIDIO TRENICO ARCVM FECIT DE SVO DON

"For the god Viridius, Trenico made this arch, donated from his own funds."

(RIB 245a; JRS lii (1962), p.192, no.7; from the local churchyard)

Milestone - ¼mile North of Ancaster

IMP CAES FL VAL CONSTANTINO P F INV AVG DIVI CONSTANTI PII AVG FILIO

"For Imperator Caesar Flavius Valerius Constantinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus,¹ son of the divine Constantius Pius Augustus.²"

(RIB 2242; honorific pillar; dated: 307-37AD)

  1. The emperor Constantine. Born at Naissus in February 272AD, he was named Caesar in 306 and became Imperator in 307. He adopted the Christian faith in 312 and abolished all pagan sacrifice in 324; the following year Rome officially adopted Christianity. He died of natural causes in May 337 near Nicomedia, receiving baptism shortly before his death.
  2. Constantinus I. Born in Illyricum 250AD, he became emperor in May 305 and died of illness at York in July the following year.

Viridius Stone Discovered by the Channel-4 Time Team - God bless 'em!

The Channel-4 Time Team programme recently uncovered a late-Roman/early-Dark Age cist burial, which increased the epigraphic evidence from the Ancaster settlement by one-hundred percent. The burial was that of an aged male, who had revieved two broken legs during his lifetime, both of which had healed before his death. The body was contained within a stone-built cist, comprised of several 'uprights' and two 'capstones', and the burial was aligned east-west, which is an accepted indication of Christian belief. However, one of the long upright stones was found to bear a dedicatory inscription in Latin to the god Viridius. In the words of one of the Time Team members, the old warrior was probably "hedging his bets", having a Christian internment but including the pagan inscription 'just in case'.

DEO VRIDI[...]
SANCTO [...]

"To the holy god Viridius ..."

(RIB 245b? - exact RIB designation unknown)

The Claudian Auxiliary Fort

There is a known Claudian fort at Ancaster, identified by a pair of ditches outside the later settlement's western defenses. The fort was abandoned by no later than AD80.

"The next fort along the route is at Ancaster (No 71), where the river Slea cuts through the Jurassic ridge. Excavations have produced details of the defences and a p[ossible gate. The size of the fort is not yet known although the east-west width has been suggested as 420 feet." (Webster)

The Later Romano-British Settlement

Dating evidence for occupation of the civil site: Flavian pottery fragments were found beneath the ramparts of the towns defenses; three buildings within the defenses, to the east of Ermine Street beside an east-west road contained a lot of late-third and fourth century pottery; a fourth building to the west of Ermine Street was excavated but yielded no dating evidence.

Defences consisting of a wall and rampart were built around 200AD, probably before 225AD. A ditch was probably associated, evidence for which has been erased by subsequent phases.

Projecting, fan-shaped angle-towers were probably added to the defenses early in the fourth century, and contemporary with this, any existing vallation was superceeded by a pair of ditches, the inner being c.16.76m wide and c.4.88m deep, the outer ditch being c.9.14m wide and c.2.7m deep. A berm 2.13m to 2.43m wide separated the ditches. The settlement covered an area of around 10 acres (4 ha).

Two sculptures were recovered during excavations; one of three Matres seated on a couch; and a dedicatory stone to the God Viridius set up by one Trenico. These finds points to the existence within Causennae of a shrine or temple.

The Extramural Settlement

Of the settlement outside the eastern defenses, little is known, two building excavated contained pottery dated no later than the second century.

A pottery kiln lay close to the east side of Ermine Street, north of the defended area.

Several cemetaries are known to be associated with the site: nine inhumations were found beside Ermine Street to the north; Roman and Anglian burials were found c.92-5m to the south; and an extensive cemetery to the west of over 300 inhumations dated to the late third and fourth centuries.

The Ancaster Aisled Corridor Villa

A large rectangular building measuring about 50 feet by 27¾ feet (c.15.24 x 8.45 m), located about 600 feet (c.183 m) to the north-east of the defended settlement, was found, when excavated, to date to the early-4th century. It stood on the site of two earlier superimposed buildings of mid-second and third century date, and has been identified as a Romano-British villa of the 'aisled corridor' type.

Nearby Roman Sites

Click here for information on the Ancaster Marching Camp

Click here for the RBO Romano-British Walled Towns page

Click Here for the 3rd century Roman coin hoard at Goadby Marwood between Willoughby and Ancaster

See: Town and Country in Roman Britain by A.L.F. Rivet (London, 1958);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Britain in the Roman Empire by Joan Liversidge (London 1968);
The Coritani by Malcolm Todd (Sutton, London, 1973);
The Roman Villa - An Historical Introduction by John Percival (B.C.A., London, 1976) p.104;
Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford 1981) p.593;
The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993) p.156;
Roman Camps in England - The Field Archaeology by the R.C.H.M.E. (H.M.S.O., London, 1995);
Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

Click here for a map of Causennae from StreetMap.co.uk