Maiden Castle — Winterborne Monkton, Dorset


Iron-Age Hillfort

Among both the biggest and most impressive sites in Britain, having an inner defensive circuit of 2.5km, the area within its huge ramparts measures some 18ha. Earliest occupation dating from c3000 to c2000BC, was an 8ha causewayed camp at the E end of the hill, having 2 causewayed ditches 15m apart. Some time later, a massive earthen bank, 0.5km long, was built NW/SE down the length of the ridge; burials were found at its E end, but little is now visible of this phase. After about 350BC, the Iron Age defences were developed, starting with a 6.5ha fort on the site of the Neolithic camp, which was subsequently extended to 18ha towards the W. The massive ramparts and ditches were constructed c150BC. The defences were strengthened c75BC, at which time the complex entrances to E and W were constructed. By now, the fort enclosed a flourishing Iron Age town. The fort was conquered after a protracted assault on the E gateway by Vespasian and Legio II sometime after 43AD; over 50,000 slingstones from nearby Chesil beach that were found in this area during excavations bear mute testimony to the stiff resistance the defenders offered. (The downhill range of a slingstone from the ramparts here would be c140m). In a British war cemetary located just outside the E gate were buried 30 warriors killed during the Roman assault. This, we know, because one of the skeletons exhumed had a Roman ballista bolt lodged in its spine. In addition, each warrior was accompanied by his tankard and a joint of meat, but no weapons, presumably as they had all been confiscated by the conquering Romans. By 70AD the local civil population had relocated to the town of Durnovaria (Dorchester), and the fort remained deserted until late in the 4th century, when a 12m square Romano-British temple was built in the NE area of the old fort, having a square cella at the centre surrounded by a verandah, and a 2-roomed priests house just to the N.

Map References for Maiden Castle – Winterborne Monkton, Dorset

NGRef: SY669884 OSMap: LR194

Maiden Castle Temples

Temple Or Shrine

Two Romano-British temples lie about 40 ft. apart within the defences of the Iron-Age hillfort at Maiden Castle in Dorset.

Circular Temple – Maiden Castle 1

This roughly circular shrine, about 23 ft. in diameter, lies to the south of the square Temple#2 at the head of the main street through the hillfort. The superstructure of crude drystone walls was built wholly within the boundaries of an earlier, larger Belgic-style roundhouse which was evidently a focus of the Iron-Age town. A doorway lay on the south-east and a row of substantial post-holes in the interior aligned upon this entrance suggests that the building had a ridged roof. Many roofing-tiles were found lying upon the flagstone and slate floor of the ruined building during excavations which also uncovered 171 Roman coins, all dating from the 4th century to the early 5th. A building date around 350-60AD is suggested, continuing in use into the 5th century.

Romano-British Temple – Maiden Castle 2

This square “Romano-British” temple lies just north of circular Temple#1. Its portico measures 43½ feet by 41 feet, the cella 19½ feet square; all walls were an almost-uniform 2 feet thick, with plaster found on the interior wall of the cella. The temple faced east-south-east, was built sometime shortly after 367AD, and its floor and walls replastered at least three times before falling into decay during the 5th century. (Type Ib-d, or IIb-d)

References for Maiden Castle Temples

Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966).Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966). Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966).Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966).

Map References for Maiden Castle Temples

NGRef: SY6688 OSMap: LR194

Roman Roads near Maiden Castle Temples

NE (2) to Dvrnovaria (Dorchester, Dorset) S (3) to Jordan Hill (Dorset)