Venta Belgarum - The Market Town of the Belgae
"Below the Dobuni¹ are the Belgae² and the towns:
Iscalis 16*00 53�, Aquae Calidae 17*20 53� and Venta 18*40 53�."
- The Dobunni tribe inhabited Gloucestershire and Hereford &
- The Belgae inhabited Hampshire and Avon.
- Of the three names mentioned by Ptolemy the station Iscalis remains unidentified, Aquae Calidae
literally 'the hot waters' can only be Aquae Sulis (Bath, Avon), and the
final town mentioned is easily equated with Winchester.
Winchester appears on three (out of fifteen) routes in Britain recorded in the Antonine Itinerary of the late second century:
- In Iter VII "the route from Chichester to London", Venta Belgarum occurs in the middle of the
Itinerary 10 miles from Clausentum (Bitterne, Hampshire) and 22 miles from
Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester, Hampshire).
- Iter XV is entitled "the route from Calleva to Isca", and details the journey from the
Atrebates capital at Silchester in Hampshire and the civitas capital of
the Dumnonii tribe at Exeter in Devon. Winchester appears near the
beginning of this Itinerary, again as Venta Belgarum, 21 miles from Vindomis (Neatham, Hampshire) and 11 miles from Briga (Buckholt Farm, Horsebridge, Hampshire).
- Iter XII is entitled "the route from Muridunum to Viroconium", and details the journey from
Moridunum (Carmarthen, Dyfed, South Wales) and the capital of the
Cornovii tribe at Wroxeter in the Midlands. Unfortunately this route has
been corrupted at some time in antiquity, and a portion of Iter XII inserted at the beginning, so this third
mention of Venta Belgarum may be safely ignored. The confusion was perhaps caused by the dimly recognised
station near Honiton in Devon, which appears in Iter XV and shares the
same name as the fort at Carmarthen in Iter XII, namely Moridunum.
Winchester also appears in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmology as
Venta Velgarom (R&C#41), this time listed between the unknown entries Onna and Armis.
The name Venta Belgarum is an amalgam of the Welsh/Gaelic word venta meaning 'market or market town', and
the determinative Belgarum meaning 'of the Belgae', denoting that Winchester was the chief town of this
southern British tribe.
"Part XI - The Count of the Sacred Bounties
Under the control of the illustrious count of the sacred bounties:
... The accountant of the general tax of the Britains.
Provosts of the storehouses:
... In the Britains: The provost of the storehouses at London. ...
Procurators of the weaving-houses:
... The procurator of the weaving-house at Winchester in Britain. ..."
Above quote from the Notitia Dignitatum of the 4th/5th century
Epigraphic Evidence from Winchester
The only inscription on stone recorded in the R.I.B. for
Winchester is an altar dedicated to the Matres the 'Mothers' or mother goddesses (vide RIB 88
infra). This fine altarstone is now on display in the British Museum.
|MATRIB ITALIS GERMANIS GAL BRIT ANTONIVS LVCRETIANVS BF COS REST
"For the Mother Goddesses of Italy, the Germanies, Gaul and Britain, the Beneficiarius
Consularis¹ Antonius Lucretianus restored [this temple]."
(RIB 88; altarstone)
- A beneficiarius was a soldier excused normal duties in order to perform some specialised function, in this
case serving on the staff of the consular governor.
Other Roman Sites in the Neighbourhood
As elswhere in southern Britain, the area around this Roman town, the sixth largest in the province, is studded with
Romano-British villas: Sparsholt (SU4130), Twyford (SU4824), King's Worthy (SU4833), Itchen Abbas (SU5234), Bramdean
(SU6228) and West Meon (SU6324). In addition, the remains of substantial Roman buildings have also been identified at
Upham (SU5422) Alresford (SU5833) and Micheldever (SU5337).
See: The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA,
London, 1995) pp.291-301 & fig.132;
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.