Fort, Possible British Settlement, Temple Or Shrine and Villa
The Roman settlement at Nettleton lay mostly to the west of the Fosse Way in grass-land on the south side of a valley. Both of the known shrines lie on the valley side above a small stream. Although the excavated area covered c.2.4 hectares the overall extent of the settlement is unreported. Items of military metalwork have been found in the area, and an enclosure with ditch-infill containing Claudian pottery may be a Roman fort or marching camp, though its trapezoidal outline makes this interpretation doubtful.
The site was possibly inhabited by the native Britons prior to the Roman conquest, although the reported iron-age pottery may be early-Roman. The earliest samian-ware is Claudian or Claudio-Neronian. Coins recovered include two Dobunnic issues, which lends further weight to the argument that there was an iron-age settlement here. Roman coins recovered from excavations include issues of Augustus (1), Tiberius (2), Claudius (14) and Nero (4), the latest are of Honorius (9).
The Romano-British Temples at Nettleton
Rectangular Temple of Diana – Nettleton 1
Located to the north of Temple 2/3 on the opposite side of the brook, this elongated rectangular building measures 63 ft. by 21 ft. (19.5 x 7.3 m), aligned roughly north-south with its rear built into the valley side. Through a doorway in the extreme southern end of the eastern side, the visitor would walk into a long rectangular antechamber with a drain running along its axis, a central doorway in a dividing wall placed towards the opposite end of the building leading onto a squat rectangular cella with interior dimensions of about 14 ft. by 16 ft. All walls were about 2½ ft. thick, of finely dressed stone at the rear but with decidedly inferior work elsewhere. There is evidence of a floor surface paved with slabs and covered by a tiled roof supported upon timber beams.
Finds included a small bronze candlestick in the form of a cockerel and fragments of stone slabs bearing sculpted reliefs, smaller than life-size, depicting scenes including “Diana and Hound?” and “Mercury and Rosmerta”, also glassware, samian and coarse pottery and many bronze coins dating from Hadrianic times to the late-4th century. These artifacts and the overall design of the building have led to it being identified as a temple, perhaps dedicated solely to Diana, perhaps also to other Roman hunting deities, offering visitors to this sacred site a classical alternative to the local Romano-British cult. It is interesting to note that Diana, as well as being the patron goddess of hunting, was also the moon goddess, the sister of the sun-god Apollo, another hunting god, who was celebrated at the other known shrine at Nettleton.
Romano-British Rural Shrine to Apollo Cunomaglus – Nettleton 2/3
An octagonal temple (Nettleton 3) was built on the site of an earlier, possibly pre-Roman, circular temple (Nettleton 2). The two successive temples or shrines were enclosed within a walled precinct or temenos. Several construction phases have been identified:
- A circular shrine c.10.1 metres in diameter built sometime between the late-1st to the early-3rd centuries, most likely during the late-2nd.
- An octagonal stone podium was built around the existing structure in the first half of the third century.
- The structure was destroyed by fire later in the third century
- The replacement was octagonal and incorporated the existing podium in its plan, an outer wall being added and connected to the podium by inner walls radiating out from the base like the spokes of a wheel.
Other Roman Buildings in the Area
A building described as a ‘hostelry’ lay to the east of the temple precinct, adjoining the west side of the Fosse Way. It was 21.9 metres square externally, with walls just over one metre thick, with an inner wall c.0.6 metres wide parallel to the outer wall and forming an inner square with a narrow ambulatory 0.9 metres wide. The building has been given a terminus post quem of c.140AD.
A leat and the stone base for its associated water-wheel was identified to the east of the settlement, and may be of Roman date. Evidence for iron-working has been found at several points within the settlement, and a crucible used for bronze-smelting has also been recovered.
Two cemeteries have been examined;
- To the north-east of the settlement where seven cremations and an inhumation were found.
- To the south-east, inside the trapezoidal first-century enclosure described above, which contained inhumations without grave goods.
Further afield, there is a villa slightly less than one mile away to the south-east of the settlement at Truckle Hill, Wraxall (ST8376), and another at Colerne (ST8171) about three miles south.
Temple Complex Marks a British Tribal Boundary
The geographical position of this settlement, added to the evidence of possible pre-Roman occupation and the identification of at least one Romano-British temple or shrine, leads me to believe that this site marked the pre-Roman tribal boundary between the Dobunni in the north and the Durotriges in the south.
References for Nettleton
Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001); Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966).Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001); Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966). Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001); Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966).Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001); Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966).
Map References for Nettleton
NGRef: ST8276 OSMap: LR173