Venta Belgarum (Winchester)

British Capital

Venta Belgarum – The Market Town of the Belgae

“Below the Dobuni¹ are the Belgae² and the towns: Iscalis 16*00 53?, Aquae Calidae 17*20 53? and Venta 18*40 53?.”

  1. The Dobunni tribe inhabited Gloucestershire and Hereford & Worcester.
  2. The Belgae inhabited Hampshire and Avon.
  3. Of the three names mentioned by Ptolemy the station Iscalis remains unidentified, Aquae Calidae literally ‘the hot waters’ can only be Aquae Sulis (Bath, Avon), and the final town mentioned is easily equated with Winchester.

Winchester appears on three (out of fifteen) routes in Britain recorded in the Antonine Itinerary of the late second century:

  • In Iter VII “the route from Chichester to London”, Venta Belgarum occurs in the middle of the Itinerary 10 miles from Clausentum (Bitterne, Hampshire) and 22 miles from Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester, Hampshire).
  • Iter XV is entitled “the route from Calleva to Isca“, and details the journey from the Atrebates capital at Silchester in Hampshire and the civitas capital of the Dumnonii tribe at Exeter in Devon. Winchester appears near the beginning of this Itinerary, again as Venta Belgarum, 21 miles from Vindomis (Neatham, Hampshire) and 11 miles from Briga (Buckholt Farm, Horsebridge, Hampshire).
  • Iter XII is entitled “the route from Muridunum to Viroconium“, and details the journey from Moridunum (Carmarthen, Dyfed, South Wales) and the capital of the Cornovii tribe at Wroxeter in the Midlands. Unfortunately this route has been corrupted at some time in antiquity, and a portion of Iter XII inserted at the beginning, so this third mention of Venta Belgarum may be safely ignored. The confusion was perhaps caused by the dimly recognised station near Honiton in Devon, which appears in Iter XV and shares the same name as the fort at Carmarthen in Iter XII, namely Moridunum.

Winchester also appears in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmology as Venta Velgarom (R&C#41), this time listed between the unknown entries Onna and Armis. The name Venta Belgarum is an amalgam of the Welsh/Gaelic word venta meaning ‘market or market town’, and the determinative Belgarum meaning ‘of the Belgae‘, denoting that Winchester was the chief town of this southern British tribe.

Extract from the Notitia Dignitatum

Part XI – The Count of the Sacred Bounties

Under the control of the illustrious count of the sacred bounties: … The accountant of the general tax of the Britains. Provosts of the storehouses: … In the Britains: The provost of the storehouses at London. … Procurators of the weaving-houses: … The procurator of the weaving-house at Winchester in Britain. …”

Epigraphic Evidence from Winchester

The only inscription on stone recorded in the R.I.B. for Winchester is an altar dedicated to the Matres the ‘Mothers’ or mother goddesses (vide RIB 88 infra). This fine altarstone is now on display in the British Museum.

RIB88 - Altar dedicated to the Mother Goddesses

MATRIB
ITALIS GER
MANIS
GAL BRIT
[...]NTONIVS
[...]CRETIANVS
[...]F COS REST
To the Italian, German, Gallic, and British Mother Goddesses Antonius Lucretianus, beneficiarius consularis, restored (this).
On the style of the lettering Huebner assigns it to the end of the first or beginning of the second century.For beneficiarius consularis see Glossary.

Other Roman Sites in the Neighbourhood

As elswhere in southern Britain, the area around this Roman town, the sixth largest in the province, is studded with Romano-British villas: Sparsholt (SU4130), Twyford (SU4824), King’s Worthy (SU4833), Itchen Abbas (SU5234), Bramdean (SU6228) and West Meon (SU6324). In addition, the remains of substantial Roman buildings have also been identified at Upham (SU5422) Alresford (SU5833) and Micheldever (SU5337).

References for Venta Belgarvm

  • The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.291-301 & fig.132;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Map References for Venta Belgarvm

NGRef: SU4829 OSMap: LR185

Roman Roads near Venta Belgarvm

NNE (23) to Calleva Attrebatum (Silchester) (Silchester, Hampshire) SSW (11) to Clavsentvm (Bitterne, Hampshire) NW (14) to East Anton (East Anton, Hampshire) Iter XV: ENE (19) to Neatham SE (32) to Noviomagvs Regnorvm (Chichester, West Sussex) SW (12) to Nvrsling (Hampshire) W (22) to Sorviodvnvm