Colonia Camulodunum (Colchester)

Colonia and Town

This is possibly the oldest Roman town in Britain, and was reportedly the first capital before London.  It was one of the three largest and most important towns on the island, with its official name being Colonia Claudia Victricensis.  The probable Civitate for the Trinovantes, the city was sacked in the Boudabrican revolt and the inhabitants massacred.

Classical References to Camulodunum (Colchester)

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.

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.

RIB191 - Dedication to Mars Medocius of the Campeses

DEO MARTI MEDOCIO CAMP
ESIVM ET VICTORIE ALEXAN
DRI PII FELICIS AVGVSTI NOSI
DONVM LOSSIO VEDA DE SVO
POSVIT NEPOS VEPOGENI CALEDO
To the god Mars Medocius of the Campeses and to the Victory of our Emperor Alexander Pius Felix, Lossio Veda, grandson of Vepogenus, a Caledonian, set up this gift from his own resources.
Severus Alexander: a.d. 222-35.1. Medocio. PW s.v. Mars, col. 1952 cites no further example of this name.Campesium. Rhys (PSA) seeks to connect this name with the Campsie Fells in Stirlingshire. Haverfield (EE) says Campestrium may have been intended, and Rhys (PSAS) concurs. Campe(n)sium is equally possible.4. Lossio, Veda (5) Vepogeni. Haverfield quotes Celtic names formed from these stems. Holder cites this inscription for each of these names.5. nepos. If Lossio Veda was a Pict, he presumably reckoned his descent, as the Pictish kings did, matriarchally; that is to say, the male line of descent would be reckoned from the mother's brother. In this case nepos would mean 'nephew'. If he were a Briton, nepos should mean, as normally, 'grandson' or, if used loosely, 'descendant'.

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).

RIB193 - Dedication to the Divinities of the Emperors and Mercury Andescociuoucus

NVMINIB
AVG
ET MERCV DEO
ANDESCOCI
VOVCO IMI
LICO AESVRI
LINI LIBERTVS
ARAM OPERE
MARONIO
D S D
To the Divinities of the Emperors and to the god Mercury Andescociuoucus, Imilico, freedman of Aesurilinus, from his own resources gave this altar in marble.
1, 2.  For the expansion of Aug.(...) as Aug(ustorum) see note to RIB 152. 4, 5.  The name Andescociuouco is plain but its etymology is obscure. Professor K. Jackson (to R.P.W., 25 Jan. 1958) observed that the first two elements Andescoci- are acceptable as meaning 'the great activator'. 5, 6.  Imilico seems to be a variant of Imilco, see CIL viii 1249, 1562, 23834 (Africa Proconsularis). 8, 9.  opere maronio: maronio seems to be a mason's error for marmoreo or marmorario (CIL vi 9556, ILS 7679).

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

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 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).

RIB200 - Funerary inscription for Marcus Favonius Facilis

M FAVONI M F POL FACI
LIS 𐆛 LEG XX VERECVND
VS ET NOVICIVS LIB POSV
ERVNT H S E
Marcus Favonius Facilis, son of Marcus, of the Pollian voting-tribe, centurion of the Twentieth Legion, lies buried here Verecundus and Novicius, his freedmen, set this up.
On the back: tvl in lettering which tapers and is not square-ended. This may be a mark of identification cut at the quarry.The absence of d · m·, the use of the nominative for the names of the deceased, the formula h · s · e, and the absence of Valeria Victrix from leg. XX serve to date the inscription to the first century. The sculpture is hardly weathered; it is probable that it was overthrown in the rising of Boudicca in a.d. 60-61.

RIB203 - Fragmentary funerary inscription

[...  ]DIVTR[...  ...]
[...]AE BIS 𐆛 [...]
[...] BIS 𐆛 LEG [...]
[...] 𐆛 LEG III AV[  ...]
[..] LEG XX VAL V[...]
[... ]NDVS NICAE [...]
[...]IA MILITAVI[  ...]
[...] VIXIT ANN [...]
[...] OBITVM [...]
... twice centurion ... twice centurion in the ... Legion ... centurion of the Third Legion Augusta ... centurion of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix, born at Nicaea in Bithynia, served ... years, lived ... years ... death ..
9.  For the use of obitum in this context see CIL xi 43, Ravenna (ILS 2863) si quis post obitum. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Since it is uncertain how centurions were 'promoted', translate bis centurio literally as 'twice centurion'.

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.

RIB202 - Fragmentary funerary inscription

[...]O[...]
[...] MACRI[...]
[...]VS EQ R VIX
[...] XX VAL FRON
[...]INA CONIVVX
ET FLOR COGITA
TVS ET FLOR FIDE
LIS FECERVNT
... Macri...us, Roman knight, lived 20 years Valeria Frontina, his wife, and Florius Cogitatus and Florius Fidelis set this up.
3.  As Birley pointed out (Richmond loc. cit.), this is the sole instance of an eques Romanus in Britain. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): The prefect Q. Florius Modestus (RIB 1578, 1591) may belong to this equestrian family: Birley People, 117.

RIB204 - Fragmentary funerary inscription

[...] (ascia) M
[...  ]VMVLO TEG[...]
[...]ERABILIS IVVE[...]
[...] CVNCTI MVC[...]
[...]ERVNT [...]
[...]VN[...]
To the spirits of the departed in this mound lie buried a venerable young man ... everyone ... Mucianus ..
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Ascia in l. 1, (see RIB 491 with note): Deman, Latomus 26 (1967), 144.

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.

References for Colonia Clavdia Victricensis Camvlodvnensivmcamvlodvnvm

  • 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;

Map References for Colonia Clavdia Victricensis Camvlodvnensivmcamvlodvnvm

NGRef: TL 995 252 OSMap: LR168

Roman Roads near Colonia Clavdia Victricensis Camvlodvnensivmcamvlodvnvm

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