Venta Icenorum (Caistor St. Edmund)

British Capital, Industry, Pottery Kiln and Temple Or Shrine

Venta Icenorum – The Market Town of the Iceni

Venta Icenorum was the Civitas Capital of the powerful and independent Iceni tribe, who inhabited the flatlands and marshes of Norfolk and earned immortality for their revolt against Roman rule under their queen Boudica (or Boadicea) in the winter of 61AD. The Iceni had close ties with their neighbouring tribe the Trinovantes to the south and possibly also with the civilised Coritani to the north-west, and their former adversaries the Catuvellauni lay to the south-west.

Caistor St. Edmund is recorded on two itinera in the Antonine Itinerary of the second century. In Iter V, entitled “The route from London to Carlisle on the Wall”, it is named Icinos and is listed 19 miles from Villa Faustini (Scole, Norfolk) and 35 miles from Camboritum (Lackford, Suffolk). It also appears as the starting point or terminus of the Ninth Itinerary, “The route from Venta Icinorum to London”, a reported distance of 128 miles in total. In this itinerary Caistor is listed 32 miles from the Sitomagus station, which has not been positively identified, though the two main contenders are Ixworth or Saxmundham, both in Suffolk, and both of which lie at approximately the required distance from Venta.

The town is readily identified in the otherwise confusing seventh century document, the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#103), appearing as Venta Cenomum and listed between Durobrivae (Water Newton, Cambridgeshire) and Lindum Colonia (Lincoln, Lincolnshire). The town is also one of only seven south-eastern British townships depicted on the Peutinger Table, a Medieval copy of an earlier Roman map. The westernmost surviving portion of this document shows a town named Ad Taum, which lies 22 miles from a settlement called Sinomagi (q.v. Antonine Sitomagus), the former station may be reasonably identified with Caistor St. Edmund. (For an explanation see the RBO Peutinger page, footnote 2).

The only inscription on stone recorded for Caistor St. Edmund in the Roman Inscriptions of Britain is the highly confusing RIB 214, the text of which reads … … ADAT… …SVPE…. If anyone has any ideas, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

The town was reduced in size after the Boudiccan revolt to around 40 acres.

TG231034 – A bronze plaque bearing a figure of the god Mercury was discovered within the defences of the town in 1970. The figure, in high-relief, bore around its neck a silver ring with snake-head terminals. These artifacts were cemented together with charcoal-like deposits and bronze corrosion products, which intimates that the two had been in close association since ancient times.

The Caistor-by-Norwich Romano-British Temples

Caister-by-Norwich Temples 1 & 2 (TG231035)

These square temples form a pair positioned in the town centre, both facing east:

  • Temple 1 to the north, has a portico measuring 47 x 43 feet and a cella 20 x 18 feet, the outer wall varying between 2-1½ feet in thickness, the inner wall a uniform 2 feet thick. Built during the late-2nd century. (Type I)
  • Temple 2 to the south, has portico dimensions of 45 x 42 feet and a cella measuring 18½ x 16 ½ feet, with much thicker walls than Temple 1, those in the portico varying between 4½-3½ feet, the wall of the cella a uniform 3 feet in thickness. This temple was raised around 200AD. (Type Ic or Id, possibly IIc or IId)

Caister-by-Norwich Temple 3 (TG239039)

This square temple is located ½ mile to the north-east of the town within a temenos enclosure. The outer “portico” wall, 2¾ feet thick, measures c.59 x 54½ feet, the inner cella wall is thicker, measuring 4 feet across with dimensions of 37½ x 33 feet. First constructed during the late-2nd century and used until the 4th, this temple possibly faced east. (Type I)

References for Venta Icenorvm

  • The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.243-255 & fig.112;
  • The Forum and Baths at Caistor by Norwich by S.S. Frere in Britannia ii (1971) pp.1-26;
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.270 & plate.XXXVIIb
  • Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965). 

Roman Roads near Venta Icenorvm

Probable road: NW (18) to Billingford (Norfolk) Possible road: N (14) to Brampton (Norfolk) Itinera V?/IX?: SW (28) to Ixworth Iter IX?: SSE (29) to Saxmvndham (Suffolk) Iter IX?: SW (28) to Sitomagvs Iter V: S (16) to Villa Favstini