Durnovaria (Dorchester)

Roman Settlement

The Romans established a garrison there after defeating the Durotriges tribe, calling the settlement that grew up nearby Dvrnovaria / Durnovaria.

The later Romano-British town was fed by an aqueduct which ran for seven miles from the old hillfort in the north-west, around Frampton closely following the contour lines on the modern O/S maps of the area. It followed the south side of the valley as a chalk-cut, clay-lined channel, 1.5m wide by 0.9m deep, and was probably capable of delivering around 55 million litres/day. It is best seen between grid references SY:671917 and SY:674914, where it forms a terrace.

They built an amphitheatre on an ancient British earthwork.

After the departure of the Romans, the town diminished in significance, but during the medieval period became an important commercial and political centre.


There are three inscriptions on stone recorded in the R.I.B. for Dorchester, only one of which is readable, the tombstone RIB 188 (vide supra), the other texts being too fragmentary to be of any use (RIB 189 & 188; not shown).

RIB188 - Funerary inscription for Carinus

... for ... Carinus, a citizen of the Dumnonii, aged 50 Rufinus and Carina and Avita, his children, and Romana, his wife, had this set up.
CIVI [...]OM[...]
[   ]
No commentary.

The Godmanstone Inscription

Reputed to be from Godmanstone in Dorset the exact origin of this stone is, however, unknown, but was perhaps from Forston which lies a little to the south along the road between Godmanstone and Dorchester. One of the giant hill-figures of the English southern counties lies only 4 miles further north along this road outside the village of Cerne Abbas.

Excavations were conducted at several locations throughout the town in 1970:

  • The south defences were sectioned near the south-west corner-angle at Bowling Alley Walk (SY691903), revealing that the rampart had been built in at least two phases; the first rampart was of dumped-chalk 50ft (c.15m) wide, which was later augmented by an earth-bank at least 90ft (c.27m) wide; no trace of the town wall was found. The south-west corner-angle was also investigated during surface-stripping of the Great Western Road nearby, revealing that the defensive ditch system was at least 250ft (c.75m) wide.
  • Investigations in the grounds of Dorchester Hospital and at West Walk (SY690904) revealed a sequence of cobbled roads, a covered walkway and several 4th century buildings.
  • A Roman road running east-west was uncovered at Greenings Court (SY694908) which was first laid in the 1st-century and was resurfaced three times, the last resurfacing occurring in the late-4th. A fence bordered the northern side of this road, delineating the grounds of a large timber building of the 1st century. The area was later used as a rubbish dump, the demolished remains of a hypocaust system being tipped here during the 3rd.
  • In addition, a two-roomed masonry building was discovered in the grounds of Dorchester Gaol (SY691908).

Classical References to Durnovaria

The first classical mention of the name for the Dorchester Roman settlement occurs in the Antonine Itinerary of the late second century. The fifteenth (and last) itinerary deals with south-west England, and details the road-route between Calleva (Silchester, Hampshire) and Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter, Devon). In Iter XV the station Durononvaria is listed 8 miles from Vindocladia (Badbury, Dorset) and 36 miles from Muridunum (nr. Honiton, Devon). This entire itinerary has been mistakenly copied onto the beginning of Iter XII at sometime in the distant past.

The final mention of Roman Dorchester possibly occurs in the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century, where the name Purocoronauis (R&C#6) is listed between Tamaris (Plymouth, Devon) and the unidentified station Pilais. This station has also been identified with the Dumnonian hillfort at Carn Brea in Cornwall.

The earliest classical work which details the geography of Roman (i.e. post-Iron-Age) Britain is that of Claudius Ptolemaeus which was produced in the early-second century. Ptolemy gives the name of only a single town in the territory of the Durotriges, named Dunium, which has been equated with the captured hillfort at Hod Hill. This perhaps indicates that the Durotriges were under Roman military jurisdiction for quite some time before their own tribal administrative centre was established, also perhaps, that Roman rule over the tribe was administered from the auxiliary fort built in the north-west corner of the old hillfort.

References for Dvrnovaria [dvrotrigvm]

  • The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp. & fig.145;
  • Britannia ii (1971) pp.279, 281 & graffito p.295; The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Roman Roads near Dvrnovaria [dvrotrigvm]

NNW (23) to Ilchester WNW (34) to Whitley Castle (Whitley Castle, Northumberland) ENE (19) to Vindocladia S (5) to Jordan Hill (Dorset) SW (2) to Maiden Castle ENE (19) to Shapwick NNW (19) to West Coker WNW (34) to Mvridvnvm