NGRef: SP0201
OSMap: LR163
Type: British City, Fort
 alt=

Reconstrcuted View of Corinium from the Air
Picture courtesy of the Corinium Museum, Cirencester
Roads
ENE (18) to Asthall (Oxfordshire)
Fosse Way: NE (15) to Bovrton (Gloucestershire)
NE (6) to Chedworth
Iter XIII: NNW (7) to Colesbovrne
NW (17) to Glevvm (Gloucester, Gloucestershire)
Fosse Way: SW (13) to White Walls (Easton Grey, Wiltshire)
SE (7) to Cricklade (Wiltshire)
NW (2.75) to Daglingworth
Probable Road: N (16) to Spoonley Wood
Probable Road: N (16) to Wadfield

Corinium Dobunnorum - Cironion of the Dobunni

"... Next to these [the Silures] are the Dobuni, and their town Corinium 18*00 54°10 ..."

Above text from Ptolemy's Geography (early-2nd C.)

Cirencester started off as small vicus settlement, first outside, then within the defences of the Roman fort which was built here in the early first-century. By the second century the town had expanded to become the largest in the province, in terms of population, with perhaps 12,000 inhabitants. The town was likely among those visited by the emperor Hadrian during his trip to Britain in the early second century, and the tribal council marked his visit by building a macellum or covered market in the centre of their principal city. In the third century Corinium was surpassed in size only by Londinium, and covered in its heyday an area of 240 acres, its civic buildings and town houses being of an almost uniformly high standard, and also possessed of an impressive amphitheatre built outside the town defences.

A Discrepancy in Antonine Iter XIII

Item ab Isca Calleva mpm. cviiii sic ¹
Burrio viiii Usk, Gwent
Blestio xi Monmouth, Gwent
Ariconio xi Weston under Penyard,
Hereford & Worcester
Clevo xv Gloucester, Gloucestershire
-------- [LACUNA] --------
Durocornovio xiiii Wanborough, Wiltshire
Spinis xv Speen, Berkshire?
Calleva xv Silchester, Hampshire
Total 90 ²

The second century document the Antonine Itinerary contains many of the major road routes in the Roman empire, and includes fifteen from the province of Britannia. The Thirteenth Itinerary is entitled "The Route from Isca to Calleva," and lists the Roman stations along the road between the fortress of the Second Augustan Legion at Isca Silurum (Caerleon, Gwent), and the ancient capital of the Atrebates tribe, Calleva Atrebatum. This route evidently passed directly through Cirencester, but, although normally quite reliable, the Itinerary is unfortunately defective in this area.

  1. The original sources give the distance in the title line of the itinerary as "one hundred and nine thousand paces" or 109 Roman miles.
  2. The accumulated total of the mileage listed between each of the road stations is 19 miles short of the total stated at the top of the itinerary.

In most cases the distances recorded in the Antonine Itinerary are reasonably accurate, although there are obvious errors in the Thirteenth Itinerary following the entry for Gloucester. In the first instance, an unknown copyist has missed out the entry for Cirencester, which lies 17 Roman miles from Gloucester and 15 from Wanborough; the missing line should read Corinio xvii. Secondly, there is clearly another discrepancy in the latter half of Iter XIII where the total distance reported between Durocornovio and Calleva is thirty miles, whereas the actual measured distance is closer to thirty-two. It would appear, then, that the other two 'missing' miles should most likely be allocated somewhere in the lower portion of the itinerary. Unfortunately, the exact location of the Spinis station is unknown as yet, so until someone unearths it Iter XIII will remain unclear.

The Meaning of the Ancient Name

"Cirencester Korinion c.150, Cirenceaster c.900, Cirecestre 1086 (DB). 'Roman camp or town called Corinion'. OE ceaster added to the reduced form of a name (Welsh/Gaelic) of uncertain origin and meaning." (Mills, 1998)

It should be noted that Cirencester is also listed in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#66) as Cironium Dobunorum, appearing between the entries for Salinae (Droitwich Spa, Hereford & Worcester) and Lactodurum (Towcester, Northamptonshire). The name Corinium is a Romanisation of the town's original name (Welsh/Gaelic), perhaps Cironion, the original meaning of which remains unknown.

Aside from Iter XIII and the Fosse Way - another Curious omission from the Antonine Itinerary - another road left Corinium northwards, which, although its terminus is unknown, passed within two miles of the known minor settlement and temple at Wycombe, eleven miles to the north. Possible termini of this road are Alcester in the north, or more likely, Droitwich or Vertis (Worcester, Hereford & Worcester) in the north-west. Also of interest is a Roman milestone, found on the Fosse Way at Turkdean, 11 miles north-east of Cirencester (RIB 2315.c; dated: 296-337?), which reads simply FIL.

The Roman Military Encampments

The Claudian Vexillation Fortress

The sole evidence for the presence of a Roman campaign or "vexillation" fortress at Cirencester are two parallel ditches, dug close together with hardly any intermediate berm, the entire system being almost W-shaped in profile, the distance between the two outer ditch lips is only about 10 feet (c.3 m). These ditches ran roughly north-east to south-west and were sealed beneath the intervallum road of the later auxiliary fort - built upon the same alignment - which confirmed their earlier construction date. Various sherds of pottery recovered form the ditch-fill included pre-Claudian and early-Claudian forms, also some fragments attributed to the late-Iron-Age. "A date in the 40's would not seem unreasonable for this initial phase of activity" (McWhirr).

The Neronian? Auxiliary Fort

N.G.REF DIMENSIONS AREA
SP025018 540 x c.360? ft
(165 x c.110? m)
c.4½ acres
(c.1.8 ha)

The entire north-western side of this fort, including its northern and western corner-angles, has been recorded by excavation, measuring about 540 feet (c.165 m) long. The arrangement of the recorded internal buildings suggest that the transverse measurement would have been in the region of about 360 feet (c.110 m), which would give an internal occupation area of around 4½ acres (c.1.8 ha). The defences consisted of a turf rampart fronted by two ditches; the rampart measured 20 feet (c.6 m) wide at its base, and survived to a height of only 8 inches (c.20 cm), the inner ditch measured 8¼ feet wide by almost 4 feet deep (c.2.5 x 1.2 m), the outer ditch, inferred by subsidence of the later civil buildings, is thought to have possessed the same profile as the inner, the distance between ditch centres being about 55 feet (17 m).

The space between these ditches was seemingly strewn with obstacles such as sharpened stakes (cippi) or whole branches (cervi) to impede any would-be attacker, their presence revealed by a number of irregularly-spaced post-holes. There is evidence also for the presence of a third, intermediate ditch to either side of the road leading to the camp's north-western gateway, Ermine Street, which formed the via principalis of the fort. The ditches of the earlier fortress run just inside the fort's north-western rampart, parallel with it and sealed beneath the road behind the fort rampart, the via sagularis; both camps were therefore built upon the same alignment, and there is evidence to suggest that the fort faced towards the north-east.

The Roman Military Garrison

rib108
Tombstone of Dannicus (RIB 108)
Picture Courtesy of the Corinium Museum

Ala Gallorum Indiana - Indus' Wing of Gauls

DANNICVS EQES ALAE INDIAN TVR ALBANI STIP XVI CIVES RAVR CVR FVLVIVS NATALIS IT FLAVIVS BITVCVS EX TESTAME H S E

"Dannicus, trooper of the Indian Wing in the turma¹ of Albanus, with 16 years service, a citizen of the Raurici.² Fulvius Natalis and Flavius Bitucus organised [this memorial] as stipulated in his will. He lies here."

(RIB 108; tombstone)

  1. A squadron or troop of cavalry numbering thirty-odd horsemen under the command of a decurion.
  2. A tribe from the upper Rhine valley in Germania Superior. Their capital city was Augusta Raurica, now known as Augst on the Rhine in northern Switzerland.

Cirencester was evidently the base for an auxiliary cavalry unit, as two tombstones have been unearthed here, both belonging to troopers from separate cavalry regiments. The first to be stationed here was Ala Gallorum Indiana, attested on a tombstone which has been dated on stylistic grounds to the latter half of the first century (vide RIB 108, supra; c.70AD or later), though the unit may have been stationed at Cirencester from the late 40's following the invasion.

Ala I Thracum - The First Thracian Wing

SEXTVS VALERIVS GENIALIS EQES ALAE TRHAEC CIVIS FRISIAVS TVR GENIALIS AN XXXX ST XX H S E E F C

"Sextus Valerius Genialis, a cavalryman of the Thracian Wing, a citizen of the Frisiavones,¹ from the Turma of Genialis. Forty years old with twenty years service. He lies here. The cavalry were responsible for the making [of this memorial]."

(RIB 109; tombstone)

  1. A tribe from Germania Inferior; their capital was at Rijsbergen in the Baronie van Breda district of Zeeland in the southern Netherlands, close to the border with Belgium.

The second regiment to be stationed at Cirencester is thought to be Ala I Thracum (vide RIB 109, supra) who were apparently stationed here shortly after the Boudiccan revolt c.62AD, and remained a short while before they were withdrawn from Cirencester in the late 70's, to garrison a bleak outpost in troublesome Wales.

rib109
Tombstone of Genialis (RIB 109)
Picture Courtesy of the Corinium Museum

The Civil Settlement and Civitas Capital

 - Click to Enlarge

Picture taken in October 2005

The only readily-accessible part of the old Roman city is preserved in the Abbey Fields to north-east of the modern town centre. ...

 - Click to Enlarge

Picture taken in October 2005

...

Tombstone of Arelius Ingenuus

D M AVRELIVS IEGENNVS VIX ANNIS VI EX MESEX AVRELIVS EVTICIANVS PAR POSSVIT

"To the spirits of the departed and Aurelius Ingenuus who lived for six years, formerly a harvester, his parent Aurelius Euticanus placed [this]."

(RIB 118.b; tombstone; Britannia iii (1972), p.352, no.2)

The most obvious evidences for a civilian settlement are the tombstones of its citizens, particularly women and children, whose presence was certainly not condoned by the Roman military - aside from the family of the commanding officer, but that's another story. A selection of the more easily read tombstones from Roman Cirencester is presented below.

More Civilian Tombstones from Corinium

Inscription Togo-Translation RIB
PHILVS CASSAVI FILI CIVIS SEQV ANN XXXXV H S E

"Philus the son of Cassavus, a citizen of the sequani,¹ forty-five years old, he lies here."

110
D M P VICANAE P VITALIS CONIVX

"To the shades of the departed Vicana, her husband Publius Vitalis placed this [memorial]."

111
D M IVLIAE CASTAE CONIVGI VIX ANN XXXIII

"To the spirits of the departed and to Julia Casta, a wife who lived for thirty-three years."

113
D M NEMONNI VERECVNDI VIX AN LXXV H P

"To the spirits of the departed and Nemonnus Verecundus, who lived for seventy-five years, placed here."

118.c ²
D M LVC PETRONIVS VIX ANNOS XXXX COMITINVS POSS

"To the spirits of the departed and Lucius Petronius who lived for forty years, Comitinus placed [this memorial]."

118.d ³
  1. The Sequani tribe lived in the Jura foothills of Germania Superior, whose capital was Vesontio, now Besancon on the Doubs river in the Franche Compte or Upper Burgundy region of eastern France.
  2. RIB 118.c = Britannia iii (1972), p.352, no.3
  3. RIB 118.d = Britannia iii (1972), p.352, no.4.

Roman Industries in the Neighbourhood

After the Roman military left, the civil centre of the Dobunni expanded. New houses sprang up in a characteristic grid-pattern, and the civilian population flourished. Corinium was located in an extremely favourable position in the highway system, and soon became the centre of the richest area of villa estates in Roman Britain, with numerous villas within a few miles and several temples within a days journey. Within a ten mile radius of Cirencester there are ten known Romano-British villa's, a temple complex (Chedworth, Gloucestershire) and half a dozen substantial Roman buildings. The town owed its eminence to its development as a centre of the wool trade, hosting a large market. In the fourth century the town probably became the seat of a provincial governor, attracting the wealthier class of citizen to the area which became famous around this period as a prominent centre of the mosaic industry, helped no doubt by the plethora of rich villa estates in the neighbourhood.

The Gods of Roman Cirencester

Altar to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

I O M L SEPT ... V P P BR PR REST CIVIS R

"To Jupiter Best and Greatest, Lucius Septimius [...] most Perfect of Men,¹
Governor² of Britannia Prima and a citizen of the Remi,³ restored [this]."

(RIB 103; front face of statue or altar base; dated 296-315AD?)

  1. V P is here expanded Vir Perfectissimus.
  2. P may be expanded Praeses, 'guardian, custodian, warden'.
  3. The Gaulish Remi tribe inhabited the Champagne region of north-eastern France. Their capital was Durocortorum [Remorum], now known as Reims on the Vesle, which later became the preferred location for the coronation ceremonies of the French monarchy.

Perhaps the most important Roman stone unearthed at Cirencester is the columnar base of a statue dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter Best and Greatest (RIB 103 infra et supra), which bears inscriptions on three of its faces.

SIGNVM ET ERECTAM PRISCA RELIGIONE COLVMNAM SEPTIMIVS RENOVAT PRIMAE PROVINCIAE RECTOR

"This statue and column was raised under the Old Religion."

"Septimius renewed [this, while] Rector¹ of the First Province [of Britain]."

(RIB 103; back face)

(RIB 103; left side)

  1. The title Rector may be variously translated, 'guide, director, driver, leader, ruler or governor', its literal meaning is perhaps 'he who sets things right'.

Stones Dedicated to Other Gods

Other Roman altarstones have been unearthed at Cirencester and recorded in the RIB, most of which are shown and translated below. It should be noted that RIB 101 is an inscribed altar or statue base and all the remaining texts are altarstones.

Inscription Togo-Translation RIB
GENIO SACRVM MIO...EDI ATTIVS CH...VVS VSLM

"To the Sacred Genius [...] Attius Ch[...]vus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."

101
G S HVIVS LOCI

"To the Sacred Genius of this place."

102
D SILVANO ... SABIDIVS MAXIMVS ...

"To the God Silvanus,¹ [...] Sabidius Maximus [fulfilled his vow]."

104
SVLEIS SVLINVS BRVCETI VSLM

"To the Sulei,² Sulinus Brucetus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."

105
SVLEVIS PRIMVS ... IIAS

"To the Sulevi,² the first [...]"

106
DEO MER ET MATRI

"To the God Mercury and the Mothers."

118.e ³
  1. Silvanus was a purely Roman god of herdsmen and the forest. Possibly a son of Saturn, women were excluded from his worship.
  2. Sul or Sulis was a iron-age goddess (or triad of goddesses) often associated with Minerva, a deity from the classical pantheon said to have sprung from the head of her father Zeus/Jupiter. She was known in Greek mythos as Athene or Pallas and was at the same time the goddess of storms and of battle, also the goddess of wisdom and the patron of scholars. In Britain her worship was centered about the city of Bath, called in Roman times Aquae Sulis.
  3. RIB 118.e = Britannia iv (1973), p.324, no.1.

The Cirencester Christian Word-Square

Cirencester Christian Word-Square
The Cirencester Word-Square
Courtesy of the Corinium Museum
A P O
A
T
E
R
P A T E R N O S T E R
A O O
S
T
E
R

One of the earliest textual evidences for the presence of Christianity in Britain is a graffito found scratched into the wall-painting of a Roman house uncovered at Cirencester in 1818. The inscription is a word square in Latin consisting of the words ROTAS, OPERA, TENET, AREPO, SATOR, arranged as depicted on the left, and usually translated as:

"Arepo the sower, holds the wheels with care."

At first glance, this phrase is seemingly meaningless. However, scholars soon realised that the letters could be rearranged into a cruciform pattern formed from the words PATER NOSTER or 'our father', with two each of the letters A and O left over, which in Greek are alpha and omega. These are both undoubtedly of powerful Christian symbolism, proving that the Cirencester word-square is an early Christian cryptogram, whose secret meaning was known only amongst those professing the Christian faith. The same word square has been found twice at Dura Europos on the River Euphrates in Mesopotamia where it has been dated to the year 256AD, also twice at Pompeii in Campania which must have existed prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. The Cirencester word square cannot be dated with great certainty, but estimates range from the early-second century to the late-third, making it one of the earliest evidences of Christian worship in Britain.

The Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre

 - Click to Enlarge

Picture taken in October 2005

...

 - Click to Enlarge

Picture taken in October 2005

Click here for the RBO Romano-British Walled Towns page

See: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.302-323 & fig.136;
Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum) by Alan McWhirr in Fortress into City (Batsford, London, 1988) chap.4 pp.74-90;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.