Caistor St. Edmund (Venta Icenorum) Roman Town
British Capital and Temple Or Shrine
Venta Icenorum – The Market Town of the Iceni – 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. The town was reduced in size after the Boudiccan revolt to around 40 acres.
The Early Roman Town at Caistor St. Edmund
The settlement at Venta began after the Iceni revolt of AD 60/61, and may have developed from a Roman army base. Most of the inhabitants of the Roman town were probably of local origin. The early Roman settlement was small and without paved streets. People here used high quality pottery from Gaul, and some of the buildings were decorated with fine painted wall plaster, which were found during excavation.
The entire town was supplied by running water, perhaps from an aqueduct on high land to the east. Wooden water pipes and drains running along the streets have been found during excavation and survey work; water and waste would both have flowed down the slope westward to the river
The Growing Roman Settlement at Caistor St. Edmund
Around Ad 120 the earliest known gravelled roads were laid out and the grid-system of streets began to develop. Soon after, stone buildings started to appear. At this time the town covered a much larger area that the current walled enclosure and the area protected by ditches not walls. The ditches were probably not defensive in nature, rather they marked the town’s boundaries.
The Walls of Caistor St. Edmund.
The walls of Caistor St. Edmund were probably built in the late 3rd century as a response to the growing threat from Saxon Raiders. The walls were topped with a walkway and parapet.
The Caistor-by-Norwich Romano-British Temples
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)
Classical References to Caistor St. Edmund Roman Town
Caistor St. Edmund Roman Town in the Antonine Itinerary
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.
Caistor St. Edmund Roman Town in the Ravenna Cosmology
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.
Inscriptions for Caistor St. Edmund Roman Town
The only inscription on stone recorded is the highly confusing RIB 214 which is yet to be translated.
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 artefacts were cemented together with charcoal-like deposits and bronze corrosion products, which intimates that the two had been in close association since ancient times.
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