Combretovium Forts


Study of an aerial photograph taken in 1978 show two superimposed forts of different periods, the larger (and earlier) had three ditches and enclosed an area of over 11 acres (4.45 hectares), very likely a Claudian campaign fort. The second, smaller fort lies in the south-western corner of the larger enclosure and covers about 5½ acres (2.2 ha), 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.

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