Durotriges

The Durotriges, were an Iron Age tribe in the British Isles prior to the Roman invasion of Britain. Their territory was in what modern Dorset, south Wiltshire, south Somerset and Devon east of the River Axe.

The Realm of the Durotriges according to Ptolemy

“Toward the west and south of these [the Dobuni and the Belgae] are the Durotriges whose town is Dunium 18*00 52°40.”

Above quote from the Geographia of Ptolemy (II.ii)

The Durotriges tribe occupied Dorset, south Wiltshire, south Somerset and Devon east of the Axe. The tribe had no discernable pre-Roman tribal centre and consisted of a number of fiercely independant baronies rather than a single unified state. However, there was a mint at Hengistbury Head which may denote some sort of central administration. Their territories were possessed of an unusual density of powerful hillforts. They were bordered to the north and east by the Belgae and by the Dumnonii to the west.

Other passages in Ptolemy Book II Chapter 2 give the ancient names of a couple of rivers within the territories of the Durotriges tribe:

  • Isca Fluvius (River Exe) – This river possibly marked the western boundary of the canton. The capital of the neighbouring Dumnonii tribe was located upon this river and was itself named Isca.
  • Uxela Fluvius (River Parrett) – Flowed northwards through the northern part of the canton, emptying into the Bristol Channel near Burnham-on-Sea.

The Tribal Territories

Distribution of Coins of the Durotriges
The hatched area shows the approximate extent of the Durotrigian Canton.
From Barry Cunliffe’s Iron Age Communities in Britain (Fig.7:7, pp.97; originally sourced from D.F. Allen, 1961a and 1962).

The Tribal Πολις Assigned by Ptolemy

Dvnivm (Hod Hill, Dorset) – An Iron-Age hillfort of the tribe later re-used by the Romans who built an auxiliary fort within the north-west corner of the original defensive works.

The Civitas Durotrigum The Tribal Administrative Centre

The civitas capital of the Durotriges is nowadays accepted to be the large walled town of Durnovaria (Dorchester, Dorset), however, there is no epigraphic or documentary evidence to support this assumption. The only other walled town in the canton is at Lindinis (Ilchester, Dorset), which was possibly the centre of a separate tribal civitas for the northern Durotriges, if this is not the case, then it was certainly the centre of a second administrative district or pagus.

Centred on Durnovaria (Dorchester, Dorset)
    • Vindocladia (Badbury, Dorset) – Small settlement to take the displaced inhabitants of the nearby hillfort of Badbury Rings.
    • Woodyates – Small settlement or posting station near the borders with the Belgae.
    • Hamworthy, nr. Poole Harbour (Dorset) – Small port serving the campaign fortress of the Second Augustan Legion at Lake Farm, and the later settlement at Badbury.
    • Radipole, nr. Weymouth (Dorset) – A small port probably served Dorchester.
    • Wareham (Dorset) – A known Saxon town, was preceeded by a Roman settlement of unknown extent, perhaps the administrative centre of the extensive stone and shale quarries near Kimmeridge and Purbeck.

Hengistbury Head – Ancient trading centre of the Durotriges on the south coast of Dorset. Evidently the site of one of the first Gaulic mints in Britain.

Industries of the Southern Civitas

The most important industry here was the extraction and working of the Kimmeridge shale outcrops on the south coast, perhaps administrated from Wareham. Several small potteries were dotted around Poole Harbour and another was sited at Bager, near Sturminster Newton. Villas are rare but there is a notable example at Frampton.

Rural temples of the Southern Civitas

  • Jordan Hill (nr. Weymouth).
  • Maiden Castle – Inside the ramparts of the ancient hillfort.

The northern Civitas Durotrages Lindiniensis

Centred on Lindinis (Ilchester, Dorset)
  • Moridvnvm (nr. Honiton, Devon) – This town is mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography, the Antonine Itinerary and the Peutinger Table, the latter two sources both place it 15 miles from Isca (Exeter), probably at Honiton, though apart from a Roman road junction at this location, there is nothing to substantiate this. It is also unclear whether the town should be assigned to the Durotriges or to their western neighbours, the Dumnonii.

Industries of the Northern Civitas

The stone quarries at Ham Hill, south-west of Ilchester, were used extensively during Roman times. The immediate area of Ilchester is posessed of the richest concentration of villas in the whole of Roman Britain; there are thirteen villas within a ten mile radius of the town, and a further twelve substantial Roman rural buildings, some of which may also represent villa estates.

Rural Temples of the Northern Civitas

  • West Coker (Somerset) – A shrine to the god Mars Rigisamus.
  • South Brewsham (Somerset) – A shrine north-west of Ilchester, may mark the border with the Belgae.

The Durotrigian Kings

The Durotriges were numbered among the few tribes of Iron-age Britain which issued coinage, although unfortunately, none of the coins associated with the tribe bear inscriptions. Sadly, this means that we are left with no record of the names of any of the Dumnonian nobility.

References for The Durotriges

  • The Geography of Claudius Ptolemaeus, trans. by E.L. Stevenson (Dover, New York, 1991);
  • Atlas of Great Britain by the Ordnance Survey (Country Life, 1982);
  • Historical Map and Guide: Roman Britain by the OS (4th Ed., 1990);