Calleva has fallen.
The Atrebatic nation humiliated: driven towards the coast.
Verica sends envoys to Rome. An excuse to sound the drums of war
Four legions cross the Channel.
To force back the Catuvellaunian confederacy
Fighting across the Thames…..but
The final assault on Camaladunum (Colchester)…paused… for Emperor Claudius
Who, arriving with elephants, takes the capital and the surrender of 11 British kings…..
The Roman historians, Tacitus, Dio and Josephus, provide us with these details of the conquest of south-east England ..but say nothing much about the south west.
We must be glad that Suetonius gives an idea… while writing of the future emperor Vespasian.
In AD 43, he was commander of II Augusta legion: sent west to mop up the lesser tribes.
It was a joint operation by land and sea. A campaign probably launched from friendly territory near Noviomagus (Chichester).
Suetonius tells us that Vespasian’s army took Vectis (Isle of Wight)….the last locational clue….Suetonious drops a few more crumbs of history….mentioning 30 battles, 20 oppida captured and 2 warlike tribes..defeated.
A great deal of grief in an economy of words.
So, the Roman killing machine marches into historical darkness…. through Dorset, Somerset and into Devon and Cornwall.
Only archaeology is able to find the clues to plot its route through the landscape. We find the occasional stray protectile blade and pebbles as sling shot that indicate conflict…(like those from Badbury Rings and Hod Hill) ..but the course of the Roman campaign is mostly traced by locating signal stations forts and marching camps.
In Dorset there is Poole Harbour’s Hamworthy supply base, Lake Gates legionary fortress on the edge of the Kingston Lacy Estate, the National Trust’s Hod Hill fort in central Dorset and Waddon Hill near the Devon border. Just those few that are known and occupied c. AD 44-65.
I’ve been writing up the geophysical survey we did at Killerton near Exeter (blog: Killerton’s Roman Fort Sept 2019) which revealed evidence for three military ditches and timber framed barrack blocks hidden beneath the ploughsoil.
I needed to write a conclusion to the report and so it was time to update my knowledge of Devon Roman forts.
I went through the list on Heritage Gateway and circled each site on an old road map.
I soon proved to myself that I had no idea of the scale of the military investment in Devon and Cornwall. There may be four sites in Dorset but there are upwards of thirty forts known in Devon.,, including the Legio II Augusta legionary fortress at Exeter.
Across Devon, forts are spaced stategically 5-8 miles apart. One lies just on the edge of the National Trust’s Knightshayes Estate near Tiverton.
When Knightshayes Lodge was built in the 1870s, a 1st century cremation burial was found in the garden (perhaps part of a military burial ground like that found outside the Lake Gates Fortress near Wimborne). It is likely that any vicus settlement associated with the fort would continue into Knightshayes Park and it would be good to check that out with geophysics some time soon.
I got very excited last year by an excellent crop mark which showed road alignments and rows of rectangles of various sizes indicating regimented occupation.
Raef, who looks after the Park… broke it to me gently. I was seeing the site of the Mid Devon showground….the tents had only been taken down the week before.
Jim phoned me up from Cornwall. Good to hear his voice again now that we are back at work after furlough. Chris from Exeter University had spotted something on LiDAR which crosses onto National Trust land.
Chris had made out the classic rounded ‘playing card shape corners of a 10 hectare enclosure. It had lain hidden beneath the trees, abandoned by its Roman unit when they marched away.. almost 2000 years ago, now pitted by Victorian quarry workings.
That makes 4 forts found in Cornwall now. Who knows how many others are out there. LiDAR is a great tool for locating new sites.
So why were there so many forts? It feels a little like the Hadrian’s Wall military zone…
Many of them were rebuilt on the same site to a different plan and scale. Either they were abandoned and then needed to be occupied again or there was a permanent military presence that needed to be adapted, enlarged or contracted depending on the shifting pattern of the military campaign in the south west.
They are occupied for longer too. Many seem to be used into the AD 80s. Seems like the Roman army swept through the south-east, sorted out Dorset …by AD47 had set up the Fosse Way military zone between Lincoln and Axminster ….but it seems that beyond that temporary frontier. they encountered fierce resistance in Devon….a sort of Afghanistan which bogged down the military for decades.
Not quite the Romanised place that Dorset became. If you search the database for Roman forts, Devon definitely wins 30 to 4. Switch the search to Roman villas and Dorset becomes the place to be with 32 compared to Devon’s 6 ….and those all in the south east against the Dorset border.
So the Dumnonian peoples of Devon and Cornwall seem to have been rather hostile and not agreeable to the civilising influence of Rome. Perhaps it was for this reason that the commander of the Second Legion stayed in Exeter and did not send troops to support the provincial governor Suetonius Paulinus when, in AD 60, Boudicca rebelled in the east and burned Camaladunum, Verulamium and Londinium ….
Hard times in the land of cream teas.