NGRef: TL995252
OSMap: LR168
Type:
 alt=
Roads
Stane Street: W (15) to Braintree (Essex)
Peddlars Way?: NNW (30) to Ixworth
Probable road: NW (16) to Long Melford (Suffolk)
Iter IX: NNE (5) to Ad Ansam (Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk)
Via Devana: WNW (21) to Wixoe (Suffolk)
Probable road: WNW (33) to Great Chesterford
Iter IX: WSW (10) to Canonivm (Kelvedon, Essex)
SE (5) to Fingringhoe (Essex)
Peddlars Way?: NNW (30) to Sitomagvs

Camulodunon - The Fortress of The Powerful War God

"... Farther eastward, and near the Tamesa Aestuarium¹ are the
Trinovantes² and the town Camulodunum 21*00 55°00 ..."
  1. The Thames Estuary.
  2. The Trinovantes tribe were the original inhabitants of Colchester, but they were overrun by their powerful neighbours the Catuvellauni c.9AD, who were in turn defeated by the Roman army of Claudius in 43.
Above extract from Ptolemy's Geography

Colchester is situated mostly on the southern bank of the River Colne in Essex, close to the border with Suffolk. The town is mentioned in two of the British routes in the Antonine Itinerary. It first appears near the start of Iter V, "The Route from London to Carlisle on the Wall [of Hadrian]", where it is named simply Colonia, and positioned 24 miles from Caesaromagus (Chelmsford, Essex) and 35 miles from Villa Faustini (Scole, Norfolk). The Roman colony also appears in the Ninth Itinerary as Camoloduno, this time 6 miles from Ad Ansam (somewhere near Stratford St. Mary in Suffolk) and 9 miles from Canonium (Kelvedon, Essex). Iter IX is entitled "The Route from Venta Icinorum to Londinum", and details part of the same route as Iter V, filling in the Roman road-stations between the civitas capital of the Iceni tribe at Caistor St. Edmund in Norfolk, and the provincial capital at London.

Colchester is also mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#99), where it is named Manulodulo.Colonia and appears between the entries for Caesaromagus (Chelmsford, Essex) and Durolitum (Romford, Greater London). Like most of this seventh century document the entry for Colchester is somewhat garbled, but may be easily identified, as there were only ever four Roman colonies in Britain, and the sole example in the entire south-eastern region was at Camulodunum.

The Roman name for Colchester then, was Camulodunum, which is a straight Romanization of the original place-name Camulodunon, which may mean 'The fort of Camulos'. Camulos was the iron-age War God, the meaning of whose name is supposed to be 'powerful', and was associated by the Romans with their own God of War, Mars.

The Gods of Roman Colchester

A monumental Roman temple was built at Camulodunum c.44AD, which grandiose structure was dedicated to the emperor Claudius himself, following the urges of his sycophantic court. The site chosen for it lay just outside the fortress to the east, in the middle of the large civilian settlement or canabae, which had assembled in the short year following the invasion, the intention was probably to forcefully remind the natives that they were now vassals of Rome. The 'Temple of the Divine Claudius' at Colchester was the first monumental Roman temple in Britain.

Bronze Plate Dedicated to Mars

DEO MARTI MEDOCIO CAMPESIVM ET VICTORIE ALEXANDRI PII FELICIS AVGVSTI NOSI DONVM LOSSIO VEDA DE SVO POSVIT NEPOS VEPOGENI CALEDO

"To the god of the battlefields Mars Medocius,¹ and to the victory of [Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus] Alexander Pius Felix Augustus,² Lossius Veda the grandson of Vepogenus Caledos,³ placed [this] offering out of his own [funds]."

(RIB 191; bronze ansate plate; dated: 222-35AD)

  1. This god is otherwise unknown in Britain, and may be of Syrian origin.
  2. The emperor Alexander Severus, who was named Caesar by his cousin the extravagant young emperor Elagabalus in 221AD, and was proclaimed emperor on 13th March the following year, after his cousin was murdered in Rome by elements of the praetorian guard. This emperor was to spend most of his rule fighting against the Persians in the east, the hereditary enemies of his ancestors who were of Syrian descent. Severus Alexander was murdered at Vicus Britannicus (Bretzenheim, Germany) by soldiers under the command of the usurper Maximinus Thrax in March 235. He was buried at Rome.
  3. These names are obviously not Roman, and again may be Syrian in origin.

Aside from the iron-age war-god Camulos, to whom the whole settlement was dedicated in name, and the temple of the imperial cult mentioned above, there are evidences of other classical gods being worshipped in Romano-British Colchester. The only dateable inscription mentioned in the R.I.B. is a bronze ansate plate dedicated to the Roman war-god Mars, which was inscribed in the early-third century (RIB 191 supra). Also recorded is a statue or altar base dedicated to the the Sulevae (RIB 192, hic), a dedication in stone to the Spirit of the Emperor and the god Mercury (RIB 193 etiam) and two bronze plates dedicated to the classical god Silvanus (RIB 194 et 195, uterque infra).

Stone Dedicated to the Numinibus Augusti and Mercury

NVMINIB AVG ET MERCV DEO ANDESCOCI VOVCO IMILCO AESVRILINI LIBERTVS ARAM OPERE MARONIO D S D

"To the Spirit of the Emperor and the God Mercury, Andescoci Vouco Imilco Aesurilini,¹ freedman, [dedicates] this altar, the work of Maronius,² donated out of his own [funds]."

(RIB 193)

  1. A very strange name. Andescoci is possibly connected with the Italian village Andes where the poet Virgil was born, Himilco was a popular Carthaginian name, and the name Aesurilini may be connected with the copper trade, possibly being derived from Latin aes, aeris 'copper, bronze; money, wages; statue'. The name Vouco offers no clues at all.
  2. Probably a famous stonemason of the time, eminent enough so that the inclusion of his name on the stone would serve to further enhance the standing of the dedicator, evidently a wealthy merchant.

Two Bronze Plates Dedicated to Silvanus

These texts were discovered within Colchester Temple 6 and are now displayed on the RBO page for Colchester Temples.

The Capital City of Cunobelin

CVNO/CAMV Gold stater of Cunobelin minted at Camulodunum c.10AD? This superb example of the late Iron-age moneyer's art, is inscribed on the obverse with the name CVNO[belin] beneath an image of a prancing horse (perhaps a symbol of freedom), and on the reverse, the word CA MV[lodunon] inscribed to either side of an ear of wheat, a symbol of prosperity.

The exact whereabouts of the British royal enclosure at Camulodumnum has been established recently, near Gosbeck's Farm in Cheshunt Field (TL966225). The site lies close to a gap in the western defences of the British oppidum, and has long been known as an area of some historic importance.

A large Romano-British temple was built close to the Gosbeck's Farm enclosure to the north-east (TL967226). It is possible that the temple was built on the site of a shrine to some native iron-age deity, perhaps Camulos himself, after whom the ancient British capital was named.

The Colchester Site

Map of the Colchester Area
Colchester Map
Map based on OS Landranger #168 (Colchester & Surrounding Area), with Romano-British details taken from various plans in John Wacher's The Towns of Roman Britain.
Features on the map are hyper-linked to the text below.

The Roman Military

The legionary fortress at Colchester (TL995252) was established in 43AD as the base of Legio XX Valeria during the governorship of Aulus Plautius. This was the first permanent legionary fortress to be built in Britain, and was sited near the centre of the British oppidum, about 2¼ miles (2.7km) north-east of the British royal enclosure. There are two stones from Colchester which name this legion, the tombstone of a centurion from the unit (RIB 200 infra) and the tombstone of an experienced centurion who may have been serving in the Second Legion Adiutrix when he was either discharged, or died in service (RIB 203 etiam infra).

Legio Vicesimae Valeria - The Twentieth Valiant Legion

M FAVONI M F POL FACILIS C LEG XX VERECVNDVS ET NOVCIVS LIB POSVERVNT H S E

"For Marcus Favonius Facilis, son of Marcus, of the Pollentian voting tribe, centurion of the Twentieth Legion, Verecundus and Noucius his freedmen have placed [this memorial]. He lies here."

(RIB 200; tombstone)

The reverse of this stone (supra) is inscribed T V L, which is not any recognisable formula or abbreviation, and let's face it, could mean anything.

Fragmentary Tombstone of Experienced Centurion

...LEG I (or II) ADIVTRICIS... ...AE BIS C ... ... BIS C LEG III AVG ... C LEG XX VAL VICTORIVNDVS NICAEA IN BITHYNIA MILITAVIT ANN ... VIXIT ANN ... ...

"[...] of Legio Primae Adiutrix¹ [...] twice centurion [...] twice centurion of Legio Tertiae Augusta [...] centurion of Legio Vicesimae Valeria, Victoriundus, from Nicaea in Bithynia,² with [...] years military service who lived for [...] years [...]"

(RIB 203; tombstone)

  1. The numeral may be II. Legio Secundae Adiutrix saw service in Britain.
  2. Now known as Iznik in north-west Turkey, was built by Antigonus the son of Philip of Macedonia, and is remembered chiefly as the site of the famed Ecclesiastical Council of 324AD.

This fort is now detailed on a separate page, available by Clicking Here.

The Roman Colony Destroyed by Fire

A colonia of army veterans was established in 49AD when the Twentieth Legion was withdrawn to a new legionary fortress at Glevum (Gloucester, the Kingsholm site). This time, Camulodunum had the honour of becoming the first Roman colony in Britain. Camulodunum was already a thriving town when it was destroyed by fire during the uprising of Boudicca in the winter of 60/61AD, this time earning it the dubious distinction of the first town razed to the ground by rebellious British tribesmen.

Following the Boudican revolt the defensive walls of the colony were rebuilt, this time of concrete faced by cut stones with brick bonding courses, 8 feet thick backed by a 20 foot wide earth bank. These defences were augmented by large rectangular corner and interval towers and pierced by four monumental gateways, one of which, the so-called Balkerne (West) Gate, became in 1913 the first Roman structure in Britain to be dated by modern excavation methods. The footings of the Balkerne Gate were found to have been built no later than c.85AD, and it is possible that this structure began life as a first century monumental archway. The town walls were completed by the early second century and enclosed an area of one hundred acres, the interior of the colonia being divided into city-blocks measuring on average about 330 feet square.

Tombstone of a Roman Knight

...OS... ... MACRI... ... VS EQ R VIX AN XX V FRONTINA CONIVNX ET FLOR COGITATVS ET FLOR FIDELIS FECERVNT

"[...] Macri[nus] [Flor]us,¹ a knight of Rome, who lived for twenty-five years, Frontina his wife, with Florus Cogitatus and Florus Fidelis,² have made [this memorial]."

(RIB 202; tombstone)

  1. The restored names of this Roman Knight are conjectural.
  2. The family-name of these two men is obviously the same, though the ending, as rendered, is again purely conjectural. Their cognomina both appear to be slave names (Cogitatus 'thoughtful', Fidelis 'faithful') and it is very likely that they were freedmen of the deceased. This being the case, they would have been obliged to honour their former master by adopting his family name, hence the restoration noted in #1 above.

Tombstone of a 'Honourable Youth'

D M IN HOC TVMVLO TEGVNTVR OSSA VENERABILIS IVVENIS ... CVNCTI MVCIANVM ... ERVNT SER ... ... VN ...

"To the spirits of the departed, within this mound are being protected the bones of the honourable young man [...] Cunctius Muciana [...] they are overthrowing slavery¹ [...]"

(RIB 204; tombstone)

  1. The translation is tentative; from the verb eruo 'to pluck or dig out', and the expansion Ser[vitus] 'servitude, bondage'.

Excavations in 1970 - Sheepen Farm Belgic Bronze-Works

A small section of the Belgic oppidum south-east of Sheepen Farm (TL987257) was excavated in 1947 and revealed four "Belgic huts" and the timber sheds, gravel yards, rubbish pits and hearths of a large native bronze-working industrial area. The pits were found to contain metalworking scrap and pottery sherds which was predominantly British in character. There is some evidence that the site was occupied by the Roman military during or shortly after 43AD, when the native bronze-working tools were employed to make Roman military decorations such as phalerae, and it seems likely that gangs of native tribesmen were forced to do all the heavy labour. The area was razed to the ground during the revolt of Boudicca in the Winter of 60/61, and completely abandoned after c.75. The eastern part of the site was later used as a small 4th-century inhumation cemetery.

A section through the defences of the colonia just south of the Balkerne Gate (at TL993252) found that the rampart wall had been originally free-standing, with a gravel road running just to the rear, and that the monumental gateway had been added at a later period.

Click here for the Romano-British Walled Towns page

See: The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.112-132 & fig.46;
Roman Britain - A Sourcebook by S. Ireland (Routlege, New York, 1986);
The Excavation of the Roman Theatre at Gosbecks by Rosalind Dunnett in Britannia ii (1971) pp.27-47;
Britannia ii (1971) p.272;
The Romans in Britain - An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1969);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.81-97;
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

Camulodunum Related Links

Colchester Roman Society Subtitled: Cohors primae fida Vardullorum milliaria civium Romanorum - A very good site!