Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) Vicus


Roman Cirencester was known as Corinium Dubunnorum and was the civitas capital of the Dobunni tribe who lived in that area when the Romans invaded. Cirencester is likely to have started out as the vicus that grew around the fort placed near the Iron Age Settlement of Bagendon in the mid-40s AD. Bagendon continued to prosper and was still in occupation at around AD60, but the growth of the vicus presumably attracted the population away from the hillfort.

The fort was evacuated in AD70 and the vicus expanded to fill the gap, with the ditches filled in and built over. This caused the basilica to suffer subsidence problems as it was built over backfilled fort ditches, leading the walls to crack due to their unstable foundations.

The area chosen for the settlement essentially an island in the middle of two rivers; the Daglingworth Brook and the Churn. When Corinium was built, extensive drainage works had to be carried out to divert the rivers away from the town, a task of great effort and expense. When Roman occupation of Britain ended abruptly in the early fifth Century AD, these defences were no longer maintained, resulting in the medieval occupation of the town being reduced to the dryer northern area.

Defenses of Corinium Dobunnorum

Roman Walls

The construction date of the city wall is uncertain and controversial. An earth wall was probably built as early as the middle of the 2nd century AD, which was about 14 meters wide, enclosed the entire city and had a length of about 3.6 kilometres. The exact structure of this first attachment is uncertain. There was probably a wooden palisade, wooden towers and stone city gates. In the middle of the 3rd century AD, a stone wall was placed in front of the earth wall. In a third phase in the 4th century AD, the stone wall was reinforced to three meters thick and the still standing earth walls were further increased. The towers were then abandoned and replaced with new ones on the outside of the wall.

City Gates

The city wall had at least four, if not more, gates. Two gates could at least be partially excavated. Bath Gate and Verulamium Gate , both of which are on the “Fosse Way” which enters the city in the southwest and exits it in the northeast. The Verulamium Gate is almost 30 minutes long and has a semi-circular tower on each end. The gate once probably had four passages. The Bath Gate is a bit smaller but similar and was only about 22 meters long. It probably once had two passages. The Verulamium gate was thus once more monumental. It was the main gateway to the city for traffic coming from the Londinium , the largest city in Britain. It is from there that most of the travellers and traders probably came.

Early Christians of Corinium Dobunnorum

Little is known of Christians in the city. In 1868 the following letters were found scratched on a fragment of plastering. However, as far as we know today, it is a magical sator square:

The sequence of characters rearranged to a cross results in the Our Father PATERNOSTER. The inscription is interpreted as a secret reference to Christianity at a time when this religion was still suppressed.

The Layout of Corinium Dobunnorum

The city had 30 insulae (city blocks), which were numbered consecutively with Roman numerals by modern research. In many places, remains of the ancient city have been found during excavations, so that the place is one of the better-researched Roman cities in England. Nevertheless, many questions remain unanswered. Above all, there are various public buildings that are well documented for almost all Roman cities of this size, but not so far in Corinium Dobunnorum. So far no temple and no public bath could be identified with certainty.

Forum of Corinium Dobunnorum

The city’s forum is only known to a small extent. Various digs provided a very general picture of the building, although many detailed questions remained unanswered. The system (168 × 104 meters) was located in the middle of the city and took up an entire insula (“Insula I”). In the middle was the usual large courtyard, lined with shops. In the south there was a large basilica with an apse . In the 4th century AD, the forum was divided into two parts by a wall in the courtyard. The corridor behind the colonnadesa mosaic floor decorated with geometric patterns was added in the courtyard. The mosaics date from a coin after 335 AD. These changes may be related to the elevation of Corinium Dobunnorum to the provincial capital. These late changes are also noteworthy because forums were abandoned in many other Roman cities in Britain at around the same time.

The basilica was partially excavated between 1897 and 1898 and then again in 1961. It was about 101 meters long and 23.8 meters wide. There was an apse on the west side, while there was none on the east side. The floor of the apse was paved with stones in the first construction phase. On the south outside of the basilica there was a series of rooms that flanked the long side of the basilica. At first it was probably business rooms, but they were converted into workshops in the 4th century AD. Evidence of metalworking was found here. The main entrance to the apse was probably to the north. In the apse there was a fragment of an eye from a larger than life bronze statue.

The actual forum was surrounded by a colonnade on the outer facade. The 107 × 84 meter courtyard also had a colonnade. The courtyard was paved with stone slabs. The forum and basilica were built in the last quarter of the 1st century AD. Corinthian capitals may also come from herefound nearby. Marble fragments indicate rich furnishings. The basilica was renovated as early as the middle of the 2nd century AD. It was probably built too quickly, without considering that under it were the remains of the trenches of the Roman military camp, which in turn did not offer enough support over time. As a result, parts of the walls sank and had to be renewed. Further alterations date back to the 4th century AD, although it is not always clear whether the alterations were a single renovation or whether these alterations took place over time, if necessary. [11]

Market of Corinium Dobunnorum

In addition to the forum, the city may also have had a separate market. This was apparently almost as big as the forum and thus took up at least half of the “Insula II”, which was right next to the forum. The system here was initially a free space. This was limited to a number of shops in the 2nd century AD. There were porticoes on the street side, but also built towards the courtyard. According to the coin finds, the building was abandoned around 350 to 360 AD. However, the interpretation as a market ( Macellum ) is far from certain. Another option is that it is a to be used as a public bath. Pits with animal bones dating from the 2nd to the early 5th centuries AD have been found near the building. This was taken as sure evidence that this was a market, maybe even a meat market. However, since these pits cover such a long period of time and some date to a time after the construction was abandoned, the connection of the pits to a market does not seem very likely. After all, the separation of market and forum is remarkable and suggests that Corinium Dobunnorum benefited from the wealth in an agriculturally prosperous area from the very beginning.

Temple Precinct of Corinium Dobunnorum?

In “Insula VI” remains of another public building came to light. It measured about 75 by 38 meters. Walls were found that can be extended to form a large courtyard with access. The halls were decorated with simple mosaics. The outside of the complex had a portico. The interior formed a large courtyard, but only a small part of it could be excavated, so it is not known whether there were other structures inside the courtyard. The facility was built in the middle of the 2nd century AD and operated until the early 5th century AD. The function of this district is unknown. It may have been a market, or a temple precinct.

Temples in Corinium Dobunnorum are only documented by inscriptions. So there seems to have been a sanctuary for the Deae Matres . This is evidenced by the discovery of sculptures and altars in “Insula XX”, which are related to this goddess. However, it has also been suggested that these finds can be identified with a sculptor’s workshop.

Theatre in Corinium Dobunnorum?

In “Insula XXX”, during various very limited excavations between 1962 and 1968, walls that probably formed two semicircles came to light. Maybe it’s the remains of a theatre. However, the excavation sections are far too limited to allow certain statements. There are also inconsistencies. The few theatres in British cities are mostly in the city centre, while these walls are on the outskirts. One option, after all, is that the theatre was related to a temple precinct. This may also be the case here, although nothing of the temple has yet been found.

In “Insula XIII” one found a large open area laid out with stones. It has been suggested that it is the forecourt of a temple. However, this cannot be further proven without further excavations. From Corinium Dobunnorum comes a Corinthian capital (about one meter high), which is decorated on each side with the figure of a deity whose upper body protrudes from the capital. The capital may come from a giant column of Jupiter , of which part of the inscription on the base has been preserved. The figures depicted are possibly Celtic deities. The quality of the sculpture is high and it has even been suggested that a Gallic artist was at work.

Water Supply of Corinium Dobunnorum

As a large city, Corinium Dobunnorum must have had a regular water supply, above all in order to supply the baths and other public as well as private buildings with clean water. The clearest remains of a water pipe were found at the Verulamium Gate in the west of the city. During the excavations, the remains of a wooden water pipe, the parts of which were connected with iron clips, came to light here. The line dates back to the 4th century, but may have replaced an older line. The excavator suspected that one of the towers in the city gate was used as a water reservoir (catstellum aquae)served. It is not known where the water in the tap came from. The churn flows right next to the gate. Cleaner water may have come from a more distant source, which, however, has not yet been identified with certainty. It can be assumed that this was not the only water supply, but so far nothing more concrete has been found in excavations. There were also various fountains within the city. The remains of a pump were found in one of them.

Residential development of Corinium Dobunnorum

Residential buildings could be recorded during excavations throughout the city. Often, however, it was only possible to excavate individual room groups, so that in many cases the character of individual residential buildings remains uncertain. The first residential buildings were made of wood. Most of them were strip houses; they are residential buildings that are very narrow and reach deep into the insula along the side of the street. In the front part there were mostly shops or workshops, in the rear part the actual living area. It is likely that it was primarily the residential buildings of the urban middle classes, i.e. above all residential buildings of the craftsmen and traders. The earliest stone houses were built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. This is earlier than many other Roman cities in Britain, perhaps simply because stone was easy to obtain around the city. In the city there was also numerous evidence of larger houses, which mostly consisted of two or more wings that were grouped around a courtyard. Some of them had porticos. Already in the 2nd In the 19th century, many houses received first-class mosaics. These are obviously the houses of the urban upper class. The urban development does not seem to have been very dense. In some of the insulae the houses stood close together. But in “Insula VI”, close to the city centre, there was even a few meters distance between the strip houses. In this insula a large area lay fallow for about a hundred years in the 3rd century.

Insula III

In 1837 a mosaic from the 4th century AD was found inside the “Insula III”. It has a pattern of two intertwined squares that were once depicted four times. In the center of them there was a stylized flower, which has only been preserved in one case. [17]

Insula IV

In the “Insula IV”, the remains of several residential buildings came to light during construction work in 1958. A large house once had at least two wings. The wing on the west side had a portico to the courtyard, which was decorated with a simple mosaic. Another 7.8 x 8.1 meter room was also decorated with a geometric mosaic dating to the 2nd century AD. [18]

Insula V

During excavations in 1961, in the far north of the “Insula V”, a number of shops came to light that were initially made of wood, but were replaced by stone buildings over time. A number of stoves were found, although it is unclear whether they were domestic stoves or those for a craft. In 1972, further excavations in the same insula uncovered similar structures. Some stone work is noteworthy. There were three altars, two column bases, a headless eagle and a group of Genii Cucullati . [19] Wall paintings from the late 1st century AD also come from here, some of which have been reconstructed. They show red panels above a base that imitates marble . The fields in between are black.[20]

Insula VI

In “Insula VI” there was a public building from which the courtyard was exposed. Strip houses stood next to them. In other parts of the insula, remains of at least four large townhouses have been excavated. The largest was partially exposed in 1974. In its place were again strip houses until the end of the 3rd century AD, which were replaced by a large stone building that was inhabited at least until the end of the 4th century AD. At least four rooms of a patrol house could be recorded during the excavations. The later house had a portico to an inner courtyard and was decorated with mosaics. [21] The largest of them was decorated with a mosaic, the remains of which were a kantharosand two dolphins, but otherwise decorated with geometric patterns. A mosaic also comes from the great house of the 4th century AD.

Insula VII

The remains of a house were found here, furnished with hypocausts and perhaps with mosaics. There were collections of loose mosaic stones.

Insula IX

Remains of various buildings came to light within the “Insula IX” over time. In this insula, the remains of an octagonal building were excavated in 1929 and 1958, the floor of which was partly decorated with a mosaic. The building consisted of an octagonal interior with a walkway. Most of the rooms had hypocausts. The building may have been part of a bathroom. Remains of a mosaic that probably belonged to a residential building come from the same insula.  Only parts of the plan have survived from another building. The house consisted of at least three larger and several smaller rooms. From another house there were mainly two adjacent rooms with apses, both of which were equipped with hypocausts. They are each about four meters long and three meters wide. They may have belonged to a private bath. Various rooms in the house had wall paintings.

Insula X

In the area of ​​the “Insula X” in 1922, during construction work, the remains of four rooms came to light, all of which were decorated with mosaics. A large room was found, to the north of which there were two smaller ones and to the west of this group of rooms there was probably a portico. The mosaics were filled in again and are known today from colour drawings and photographs. They date to the end of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. They all show geometric motifs.

Insula XII

In the east of the city, two city villas from the 4th century AD were completely excavated. “House 1”, located in the north, was initially a simple rectangular building that was expanded over time and expanded again and again. The house had a porch to the south, which served as an entrance and was decorated with a simple, monochrome mosaic. From there you came into a long room that divided the house in half. This room was also decorated with a monochrome mosaic. On the west side there was a bath wing and on the east side there was the living area. Two rooms in the living area had more elaborate mosaics, while otherwise all rooms were again laid out with single-coloured or simple two-tone floors. The decorated mosaics date to the 4th century AD. The larger one shows geometric patterns and in the centre two squares that interlock. A hare can be found in the centre as a motif. The room with the mosaic received heating in the 4th century AD, with the walls for the hypocausts being built on top of the mosaic. This may have helped make it so well preserved. In the bath wing there was a well-preserved mosaic that covers the entire area. When lifting the mosaic, auxiliary lines could be observed in the screed below, which were obviously drawn before the mosaic was laid. A children’s burial was found under a pile of stones just north of the house. The child, who died at or shortly after birth, had a vessel with a stone as a lid as a burial gift. Various rooms in the house had wall paintings.

The southern house (“House 2”) had a portico on the north side and was richly decorated with mosaics, which, however, are not well preserved. The mosaic in the portico shows a labyrinth and several meanders. Other mosaics in the house are more complex with different patterns. This house also had heated rooms. Two simple buildings belong to this house, which in one case consisted of only one large room, in the other case of one large and three smaller rooms. They were probably farm buildings, which led to the assumption that the whole complex was a villa rustica within the walls of a city.

Insula XVII

Mosaics from a house in “Insula XVII” date from the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD and are among the finest Roman in Britain. Little is known of the house in which they were laid out. As early as 1783, when a cellar was being built, large parts of a mosaic showing a sea scene were found. There are fish, crabs, but also fantastic marine animals. In the center there was perhaps the image of Neptunebut that was not preserved. Today the mosaic is only known from an old drawing. In 1849 another, smaller but better preserved mosaic came to light. The mosaic consists of a round image field in the middle and around it eight semicircles with partly figurative, but also purely ornamental patterns. Hunting dogs are shown in the central field of view. The section in which the hunted animal was depicted is lost. Other picture fields show sea animals and the heads of Neptune and Medusa . [31]Another figural mosaic with the four seasons as busts and mythological figures comes from a neighbouring room in the same house. It was found in 1849. The mosaic is roughly square with a side length of eight meters. It is framed on three sides by a meander. This framing is lost on the fourth page. The main field shows nine circles with motifs. In the circles at the corners there are busts of the four seasons. Spring, summer and winter are still preserved today. In the other fields there are mythological scenes, only two of which have survived. Once, Silenus is depicted on a donkey. In the second space received is Aktaiondepicted being attacked by dogs. Four small square fields that lie between the larger ones also show pictures. One time the head of Medusa has been preserved, another time the figure of a bacchant . Extensive remains of wall paintings were also found in the house.

Insula XVIII

Geometric mosaics and remnants of high-quality wall paintings come from a house in “Insula XVIII”. Some rooms had hypocausts.

Insula XX

In the “Insula XX” the remains of several residential buildings could be excavated. In a house that was partially excavated in 1905, parts of a bath and a mosaic with the bust of Oceanus were found . In 1964 there were three rooms from another house, all of which were furnished with geometric mosaics. The mosaics may date from the turn of the 2nd to the 3rd century AD. A mosaic found in 1909, which dates to the 2nd century AD, may come from a third house.

Insula XXI

In 1950, the remains of a well-preserved mosaic from the 2nd century AD came to light in “Insula XXI”.

Insula XXIII

During excavations in 1962, small parts of a house could be recorded. There were three construction phases during which the house was changed. The first construction dates to the end of the 1st or 2nd century AD. Conversions then took place in the 2nd century AD. A wall from the first phase was almost 1.8 meters high. Extensive remains of wall paintings were still adhering to the wall. Above a black plinth, which is decorated with geometric patterns, is the main part of the wall with wide yellow between narrow green fields.

Insula XXV

In “Insula XXV” between 1964 and 1966, the remains of a large house with an inner courtyard came to light. The courtyard had a gallery, which in turn was decorated with probably six columns. The courtyard walls were decorated with murals. Coins are largely dated to the 4th century AD, but there is little evidence of when the house was built. In a few places there is evidence of older buildings in place of this house.


Houses outside the city walls could also be observed, which in at least one case were decorated with mosaics. At Barton Farm , about 500 meters north of the city walls, a large mosaic was found in 1824, which shows Orpheus as the central motif in an inner circle . Various animals are shown in two further outer circles.Another house was excavated near the amphitheatre, directly on the “Fosse Way“. It had two rooms. It was probably a workshop with living space. In the first and larger room there was a furnace that perhaps served as a forge. The building was constructed around 280 and was in operation until around 330 AD. At the end of the fourth century the area was used as a cemetery.

Plan of Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) Vicus

Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) Vicus
Sites near Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) Vicus