Durovernum (Canterbury)

British Capital, Fort and Oppidum

Durovernon was the Roman Name for Canterbury. The Romano-British town covered about 100 acres. Evidence has been found of Roman military timber buildings, and also of a large Gallo-Belgic oppidum on the same site as the later Romano-British town. The military buildings were probably part of a fort built by governor Aulus Plautius in the face of the first signs of British resistance, and was built to cover his rear before attempting to cross the Stour.

Evidence for the Roman Name of Canterbury

Next to these,¹ but farther eastward, are the Canti² among whom are the towns: Londinium³ 20*00 54? Daruernum³ 21*00 54? [and] Rutupie³ 21*45 54?.

  1. The Atrebates tribe of Hampshire and Berkshire.
  2. The Cantiaci tribe inhabited Iron-Age and Romano-British Kent.
  3. Of these towns, the assignation of London to the Cantiaci is doubtful, especially since the later provincial capital was situated on the north bank of the Thames, also the prefix of the Canterbury entry Dar-uernum is suspect, and has led to Canterbury being erroneously identified in past times as an ancient druidical site through the resemblance of Ptolemy’s spelling with the native British word for the Oak Tree, *Dyr, a potent symbol of Druidism. The last mentioned station, Richborough, is undoubtedly in Kent.

Another classical geography to mention the ancient capital of the Cantiaci is the Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century. The same name, Durovernon, occurs in three separate itinera in the British section of this document; in Iter II, 12 miles from Durolevum (Ospringe, Kent) and 12 miles from the southern terminus at Portus Ritupis (Richborough, Kent); in Iter III, 25 miles from Durobrivae (Rochester, Kent) and 13 miles from Portus Dubris (Dover, Kent); and in Iter IV, again 25 miles from Rochester and 16 miles from Portus Lemanis (Lympne, Kent).

The last classical work to mention Canterbury is the seventh-century Ravenna Cosmology, where the entry Duro auerno Cantiacorum (R&C#72) is listed between Dubris (Dover, Kent) and Ritupis (Richborough, Kent). The Ravenna prefix confirms the Antonine spelling and stems from a native British word *Duromeaning ‘stronghold, fortified enclosure’. The suffix is from another native word *verno, which may be related to the Welsh gwern ‘a swamp, particularly of Alder trees’. The trailing title ‘of the Cantiaci‘ confirms Canterbury as the Romanized civitas capital of the tribe. The Romano-British name for canterbury then, could be translated as ‘the Enclosed Settlement of the Cantiaci near the Alder Swamp’.

Nennius, writing in the ninth? century, names the town Cair Ceint ‘The Stronghold of Kent’. The Saxon Chronicle of the late-twelfth century refers to the town variously as either Cantwaraburh, Cantwarabyrig or Cantwareberi, all various forms of its modern name, meaning ‘The Town of the Men of Kent’.

Durovernon – The Epigraphic Evidence

There are five inscriptions on stone recorded at Canterbury in the R.I.B., all but one being heavily damaged. The only (almost) complete text is a tombstone (RIB 43 infra), and another testamentary text reads … VLPIAE FILIAE … A MATER … “[…] to the daughter of Ulpia […] from her mother […]” (RIB 41; tombstone). The remaining texts are too fragmentary to be of much use.

RIB43 - Fragmentary funerary inscription

To the spirits of the departed ...]erna, aged fourteen ..
[...] M
[...] XIV
No commentary.

References for Dvrovernvm Cantiacorvm

  • The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.189-207 & fig.88;
  • Roman and Medieval Canterbury – Historical Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1990);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
  • The Saxon Chronicle – AD 1 to AD 1154 translated by Reverend J. Ingram (1823);

Roman Roads near Dvrovernvm Cantiacorvm

NNE (9) to Regvlbivm Watling Street: WNW (11) to Dvrolevvm (Ospringe, Kent) Watling Street: E (11) to Rvtvpiae (Richborough, Kent) SE (14) to Portvs Dvbris (Dover, Kent) S (14) to Portvs Lemanis (Lympne, Kent) Watling Street: WNW (11) to Ospringe S (14) to Portvs Lemanis Sarre Wall: ENE (14) to Westgate Possible Tidal Causeway or Ferry: WNW (9) to Tanatvs (Isle of Thanet)