Durobrivae (Water Newton)

Town

There were three major gates in the town walls of Durobrivae, two aligned with Ermine street to north-noth-west and south-south-east, and a third gate lay to the south-west. The mansio site lies in the very centre of the defended town, and it is evident from the lack of the usual grid-like pattern of other towns, that the Roman settlement at Durobrivae evolved rather than being planned, and is therefore classed as a ‘small town’. There is an extra-mural vicus-like area along the road to the south-west, and a tributary of the Nene snakes between the defended town and the fort situated to the north-west.

At Water Newton [37 Artis, Durobrivae 1828, pl. 23; VCH Huntingdonshire I, 1926, 228; Inventory of Hunts. (R. Comm. Hist. Mons.) 1926, 52-4] (TL 122968) in Huntingdonshire, the polygonal outline of the town-site, known as Chesterton, cut in two by Ermine Street, is a striking feature seen from the air. About half the street-plan has also appeared, but buildings are not ordinarily visible. The defences include a ditch, wall, and bank. In addition to the south-east and north-west gates, where Ermine Street enters the town, the existence of a gate, perhaps only a postern, may be inferred from the street-plan near the centre of the south side, at a point where a kink occurs in the line of the defences. As at Kenchester, to be noticed below, the street-plan is irregular. Only towards the west end of the town do normal rectangular insulae occur, elsewhere the streets run at right angles either to Ermine Street, or to the defences, and so outline quadrilateral building-plots.” (J.R.S., 1953, p.91)

Durobrivae lay at the extreme northern border of the Catuvellaunian canton, and, as the centre of the flourishing Castor pottery industries, was one of the richest towns in Roman Britain. The immediate area is studded with potteries, kilns and villas. One villa estate, lying north of the river Nene in Castor village, has remains so extensive, that it had in the past, been incorrectly identified as a separate town prior to its true nature being revealed by excavation.

Salway states that Water Newton was one of the great industrial centres of Roman Britain, and the pottery industries were in large-scale production in the late-2nd century. He also mentions a hoard of plate and votive plaques from a Christian church, dated to the late-3rd to early-4th centuries, found concealed within the town walls. Two of these silver donatives are illustrated by Bedoyere, one of them bearing a pagan-style record of a vow fulfilled by one Amicilla (Bedoyere p.111).

A mortarium discovered at Water Newton bears the painted text Sennianus Durobrivis Urit or “Sennianus [the potter] of Durobrivae fired this”, and another mortarium had a stamp bearing the inscription Cunoarus Vico Duro or “[Made by] Cunoarus at the vicus of Durobrivae.”, which suggests that the town had the official status of a vicus (Liversidge p.192 ff.).

Classical references to Dvrobrivae 

The Roman name for the settlement at Water Newton occurs first in the Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century, where, in Iter V, “the route from Londinium to Luguvalium on the Wall”, the town Durobrivas is listed 35 miles from Duroliponte (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire) and 30 miles from Causennis (Ancaster, Lincolnshire).

Further mention occurs in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmology, wherein the town is listed as Durobrisin (R&C#102), between the entries for Duro viguto (Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire) and Venta Cenomum (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk).

The name is a Latinisation of Celtic (or more accurately Brythonic) *Durobrīwās, meaning essentially “fort (by the) bridges”.

Roman Remains in the Neighbourhood

Aside from the fort on Ermine Street at Water Newton, to the south of the River Nene crossing, there is a Claudian campaign fortress at Longthorpe, only about 2¾ miles (c.4 km) to the east. There are also a number of potteries in the area at Stibbington in the west and at Castor in the south-west.

A Roman milestone discovered in situ and inscribed with the mileage figure I (vide infra), coupled with the large size of the town, and the obvious economic importance of the nearby potteries lead Rivet to suspect that Durobrivae was the centre of a small civitas known as a pagus, possibly one of the 28 civitates attributed to Britain by Nennius, and listed in the corrupt part of his manuscript.

RIB2235 - Milestone of Florian

For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Annius Florianus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, one mile.
IMP CAES
M ANNIO
FLORIANO
P F INVICTO
AVG
M P I
Florian, A.D. 276.Stevens says that the industrial centre at Castor (Durobrivae) would make a suitable civitas from which the mileage was measured.Above l. 1 the surface is heavily weathered, and there are traces of what might have been an m from a primary text R.P.W.

RIB2238 - Milestone of Victorinus

For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Piaonius Victorinus Pius Felix Augustus, pontifex maximus, in his [] year of tribunician power ..
IMP CAES
MARCO
PIAONIO
VICTORI
NO P F AVG
P M TR
[...]
Victorinus, A.D. 268-70.

Outside the immediate area of the town and fort (both at TL1296), there are potteries north of the settlement, at Water Newton (TL1197), also to the north-east at Stibbington (TL1597), and another at Castor (TL1197), three villas have been identified at Castor (TL1097, TL1297 & TL1298) another two at Water Newton (TL1196 & TL1197), and there are others at Helpston (TF1204) and Thornhaugh (TF0700). In addition, there are substantial Roman buildings at Yarwell (TL0699), Wansford (TL0799) and Elton in Northamptonshire (TL0894), all but the last mentioned site being in Cambridgeshire.

References for Dvrobrivae (catvvellorvm)

  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Roman Towns in Britain by Guy de la Bedoyere (E.H./Batsford, London, 1992);
  • Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford 1981); Britain in the Roman Empire by Joan Liversidge (London 1968); T
  • he Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965); Town and Country in Roman Britain by A.L.F. Rivet (London, 1958); Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. XLIII (1953) pp.81-97;

Roman Roads near Dvrobrivae (catvvellorvm)

N (1.25) to Ailsworth SSW (7) to Ashton N (15) to Bovrne Ermine Street: NW (11) to Great Casterton Fen Causeway: E (3) to Longthorpe (Cambridgeshire) Ermine Street: SSE (19) to Godmanchester Ermine Street: SSE (16) to Great Stvkeley Ermine Street: SSE (9.5) to Sawtry