Coddenham (Combretovium) Roman Forts

Claudian Auxiliary Fort (AD 43–54)

Combretovium Roman site (Baylham House) is a 60 hectare open settlement, with occupation from the late Iron Age and Claudian periods through to the mid 4th century.  Study of an aerial photograph taken in 1978 show two superimposed forts of different periods. The larger fort encloses about 14.5 acres (5.8 hectares) and its defences include a triple ditch system is very likely a Claudian campaign fort.  The smaller fort of 5.3 acres (2.1 hectares) lies within this and is surrounded by a set of four ditches, in all respects a normal-sized auxiliary fort.

Situated at the crossing of the River Gipping, this site has produced a number of notable finds, including a saddle-cloth weight, indicating the presence of Cavalry, and a bronze statuette of Nero with silver and niello inlay which appears to have been deliberately broken, perhaps in 68AD when Nero recieved the damnatio after his assassination. This quality piece is not likely to have come from a native settlement, thus strengthening the argument that a large military presence occupied the site.

Traces of a Roman road running to a ford on the river at Sharnford were identified. Numerous finds were made in the vicinity of the road, including 1st to 4th century coins, a bronze mirror, a cinerary urn, pottery, slag, building debris and a wall 30 yards long and 2 feet thick. There were also 1st century hut circles associated with drainage gullies and rubbish pits. This level was sealed by 2nd to 3rd century occupation debris, including footings of a rectangular timber building.

To the south-west of this area a Roman Conquest-period enclosure ditch was excavated, while to the east there was a 1st century cremation cemetery. Two 2nd century pottery kilns, and a late 1st or 2nd century enclosure ditch with a gateway complex was uncovered. Rubbish pits and ditches were abundant and a timber-lined shaft 9.25 metres deep was also excavated, which contained pottery, a La Tene III brooch and a silver coin of the Iceni. In the absence of any sign of ritual, it was presumed to be a well. Although occupation of this marginal part of the settlement was clearly never substantial, the quantity of finds was taken by the excavators to indicate the importance of the main settlement which lies under pasture nearer the river. Extension northwards is shown by the discovery of ditches and finds in Pool Fields. Roman burials have also been discovered in fields near the Sheepwalk. The Roman Road form Colchester to Caistor passes through both sites and its positioning suggests that the small fort was the earlier, replaced by the larger fort.

Classical Reference to Combretovium

The sole classical reference giving the name of the Roman fort and settlement at Baylham House is Iter IX of the Antonine Itinerary, “the route from Venta Icinorum (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk) to Londinium (London, Greater London)”, a total distance, we are told, of one-hundred and twenty-eight miles. The name Combretonio appears second on the list of stations in Iter IX, 15 miles from Ad Ansam (Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk) and 22 miles from Sitomagus (probably Ixworth in Suffolk, though possibly Saxmundham in Essex). Baylam House also gets a mention in the Peutinger Table, a medieval copy of an original Roman map in which it is spelled Convetoni, and is listed 15 miles from Sitomagus (q.v. Antonine Iter IX) and 15 miles from Stratford St. Mary. The name now commonly accepted is Combretovium, though equally, the name may have been spelled Combretonium or Convetonium. In addition, Combretovium must have been on the route of Antonine Iter V but was not listed among the stations in this itinerary.

The various spellings of the name make it difficult to translate. The prefix possibly derives from the Latin verb comburo, meaning ‘to burn’, but the endings are many. The suffix may have stemmed from the Latin word via ‘way, path, road’, or vivo ‘live, survive’, or possibly from tonitum ‘thunder’. I am inclined to believe that the place-name means something along the lines of ‘The Burning of the Ways’, perhaps in reference to an incident during the Boudican unrest in the winter of 60/61AD.

The road west, travelling through Long Melford, joins the Via Devana in the Kedington/Wixoe area, and continues north-west to Duroliponte (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire). Other less-distinct roads lead east and north-east to the coastal areas around Farnham and Dunwich.

References for Combretovivm

  • The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993).

Roman Roads near Combretovivm

N (17) to Villa Favstini Iter IX?: NW (22) to Ixworth Iter IX?: ENE (21) to Saxmvndham (Suffolk) WSW (17) to Long Melford (Suffolk) Iter IX: SW (14) to Ad Ansam (Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk) Possible Road: ESE (10) to Martlesham (Suffolk) Iter IX?: NW (22) to Sitomagvs

Sites near Coddenham (Combretovium) Roman Forts