A small Roman town named Canonium / Canonivm was sited in a wide bend of the River Blackwater and now underlies the present village of Kelvedon in Essex. There was evidently a settlement on this site from pre-Roman times. This is attested by the recovery of British Iron-age Coins of the Trinovantes tribe, who were known to have peopled this region in the time of Julius Caesar, also of the Catuvellauni who had raided the area on several occasions, and succeeded in capturing the Trinovantian capital at Colchester around 10AD. Aside from the coinage evidence, Gallo-Belgic pottery, amphorae and Arretine-ware were also recovered from the site, all of which indicate a thriving iron-age town with trade links to the continent.

Evidence for the Roman Name

The Roman name for the Kelvedon settlement is attested in two ancient geographical sources, in a table of Roman road routes produced in the second century called the Antonine Itinerary, also in an eleventh century copy of an original Roman map known as the Peutinger Table. Route Nine of the Itinerary is entitled “The route from Venta Icinorum to Londinium“, and details the road-stations between Caistor St. Edmund in Norfolk, the tribal capital of the Iceni, and London (Londinium), the provincial capital of Britannia. In the middle of Iter IX there is a station named Canonio, 9 miles from Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex) and 12 miles from Caesaromagus (Chelmsford, Essex), which distances when applied to the direct route between these Roman towns place this station in the vicinity of Kelvedon. The Peutinger document contains almost identical information as that in Antonine Iter IX, the only differences being that the name is spelled Caunonio, and the distance to the Roman Colonia at Colchester is reported as 8 miles. The name now commonly accepted is Canonium.

The Meaning of the Roman Name

The name Canonium may stem from the Latin verb cano meaning ‘to sing, play (an instrument), or blow (a trumpet)’, also ‘to prophesy’ (ancient oracles used to sing or chant the answers to questions asked of them, often in rhyming-riddles), and in the military ‘to sound a bugle call’. If the name is Latin in origin, then it may be translated ‘The Place of Song’, ‘The Place of Prophesy’ or even ‘The Place of the Military Signal’. However, like the settlement itself, the name may have roots in pre-Roman times.

Possible Claudian Fort

A possible Roman fort ditch was found during excavation of the site. The ditch was cut in the distinctive V-profile favoured by the Roman military, and extended beyond the limited area being excavated. Three pottery kilns had been dug into the side of this ditch, all of which were dated to the mid-first century. Any fort on the site would have to be built earlier than these overlying structures, and would probably have been Plautian in date, built during the push on the British capital at Colchester during the late summer of 43AD. The Kelvedon fort, should it prove to exist, may have been viewed by Claudius Caesar himself.

The Romano-British Settlement

Earthwork defences comprising a ditch five metres wide and two metres deep, with a possible – though unsubstantiated – inner rampart, were added at the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. To date, only the southern and eastern alignments of the towns defences have been identified. A circular building of timber construction seven metres in diameter, has been identified within the settlement. A pipe-clay figurine, a bronze brooch and an enameled bronze were among the items recovered from the site, and several bronze letters were discovered in a pit nearby; indications of a possible temple. A spread of tesserae recovered from an area of seventy metres square in the south-east angle of the defences, may indicate the presence here of one or more substantial Roman buildings.Roman cemeteries containing cremations and inhumations have been located outside the south-west and north-east angles of the enclosed area.

References for Canonivm

  • Roadside Settlements in Lowland Roman Britain by Roger Finch Smith (B.A.R. British Series #157, 1987) pp.145/6

Map References for Canonivm

NGRef: TL8618 OSMap: LR168

Roman Roads near Canonivm

Iter IX: WSW (13) to Caesaromagus (Chelmsford, Essex) Iter IX: ENE (10) to Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex) Itinera V/IX: NE (10) to Camvlodvnvm Trinovantvm

Sites near Canonium