Alchester Vicus (Bicester)

Roman Settlement

Alchester is the site of an ancient Roman town. The site is not included in any ancient references so the Roman name is not known. It lies about 2 miles (3 km) south of Bicester, in the northwest corner of the civil parish of Wendlebury in the English county of Oxfordshire. Alchester had a strategic location in Roman Britain at a crossroads on the Silchester–Dorchester on Thames–Towcester road and the Cirencester–St Albans road (Akeman Street). Recent excavations have shown that it was the site of one of the earliest legionary fortresses in Roman Britain after the invasion of 43 AD.

Classical References to Alchester

Alchester does not appear in any of the classical geographies, so unfortunately, the Roman name of the town is not known.  However, Eilert Ekwall contended that it appears as Alavna in the Ravenna Cosmography, with the addition of the Old English ceaster to signify a Roman fort. Alchester was originally named Bernecestre, meaning ‘fort of warriors’ and dating back to around 600 AD.

Archaeological Investigations of Alchester

The site has been the subject of investigation since 1996, first under the auspices of Oxford University Archaeological Society, then under those of Leicester and Edinburgh Universities. Outside the western defences, excavation in 1766 of what was then a prominent mound known as the Castle uncovered a sizable Roman bath. Excavations in 2003 of the town wall near the west gate showed this had been robbed of building stone in post-Roman times, except for two stones that were found in situ and the wall’s rubble foundations. The area bounded by defences, about 10 hectares (25 acres), is almost square, with the earliest defences consisting of a gravel rampart and one or more ditches; later, a stone wall was added to the rampart. The dating of these two phases is obscure. The planning of streets approaches a rectangular grid, uncommon in smaller Romano-British towns. Along the main street, aerial archaeology has revealed a number of narrow, rectangular strip buildings. Near the centre of the town lay a building with a central court, surrounded by a portico on three sides.

References for Alchester / Bicester

  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford 1981);
  • Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953

Roman Roads near Alchester / Bicester

NNE (20) to Lactodvrvm (Towcester, Northamptonshire) Probable road: NW (16) to Lower Lea WSW (19) to Asthall (Oxfordshire) ESE (25) to North Chvrch (Hertfordshire) S (18) to Dorchester On Thames (Oxfordshire) ESE (13) to Fleet Marston WSW (11) to North Leigh Road: S (10) to Shotover (Oxfordshire) Akeman Street: WSW (14) to Wilcote