The Fosse Way was a Roman road built in Britain during the first and second centuries AD that linked Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) in the southwest and Lincoln (Lindum) to the northeast, via Ilchester (Lindinis), Bath(Aquae Sulis),Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum), and Leicester (Ratae Coritanorvm).
The word Fosse is derived from the Latin fossa, meaning ‘ditch’. For the first few decades after the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain. It is possible that the road began as a defensive ditch that was later filled in and converted into a road, or possibly a defensive ditch ran alongside the road for at least some of its length.
The road joined Akeman Street and Ermin Way at Cirencester, crossed Watling Street at Venonis (High Cross) south of Leicester, and joined Ermine Street at Lincoln. From Lincoln to Ilchester in Somerset, a distance of 182 miles (293 km), the route is never more than 6 miles (10 km) from a straight line.
Excavations between 2010 and 2019 by the University of Exeter at Ipplepen in Devon and Calstock in Cornwall suggest that the road network extended much further into the southwest peninsula than previously thought.
The Fosse Way Route
Travellers on the road were served by a system of way stations or mansios. The privately-owned cauponae were also established along the routes, providing basic hostel-like accommodation. The upper classes, however, would have used the better tabernae; these began as houses on the roadside offering a service similar to the modern ‘bed and breakfast’ system. Travellers would also need sufficient money to pay the various tolls along the way.
The Fosse Way follows two separate routes for one portion of its length, in the section between Exeter and Bath. The north-eastern route goes directly from Honiton to Ham Hill. The eastern route goes from Honiton to Ham Hill via Axminster Roman Fort.
While walking along the Fosse way you would pass over 20 settlements, from the grand to the rural, some of which existed just to serve the garrison of the fort near where they were built, and to give shelter to the travellers on the Fosse Way. The journey on foot will take a minimum of about nine days – that’s assuming you walk eight hours a day, travelling an average of 32 to 33 miles per day. It is interesting to note that the longest distance between any two points on this journey is the 23 miles between Honiton and Ham Hill on the north-eastern route. This is less than one day’s travel for foot soldiers, although wagons and carts could be as slow as eight miles a day. All distances given are starting from Exeter.
Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) – The riverside settlement of the Dumnonii
Exeter was a British tribal city and a Roman legionary fortress of the Second Legion, and was founded in 46 AD. Originally a Celtic oppidum (tribal capital), Exeter was built on the river Exe. The town had a basilica, a forum, temples and baths. The houses were of timber and stone, and mosaic floors and painted plasterwork were not uncommon.
The town also had a very busy and prosperous port at Topsham, 3 miles to the southwest. The settlement was originally intended to provide a port to supply the legions in Exeter and the West of Britain. There were timber-framed houses and a few stone buildings, with some paved streets.
The first settlement you would have come to would probably have been Honiton. It stands on the Fosse Way between its south-western terminus at Isca (Exeter) and Lindinis (Ilchester), at the junction with the Roman coastal road running south-east to Durnovaria (Dorchester). Standing as it does between two British tribal domains, the Dumnonii in Cornwall to the west and the Durotriges of Devon and Dorset to the east, it is highly probable that a Romano-British rural temple once stood here.
Axminster is reached on the eastern route of the Fosse Way between Honiton and Ham Hill. Alternatively it can be bypassed by taking the northeastern direct route. The settlement was founded as a fort in 64 AD, on the Fosse Way and built as a defended settlement with earth and timber ramparts and faced with a ditch. Sited in a farming area, it was a prosperous settlement of timber-framed and stone housing and some municipal buildings, trade buildings and warehouses with paved streets. There was a small port on the River Axe.
There was a fort at Ham Hill Roman Fort built by the Second Legion, the Augusta, in 46 AD. A trading settlement developed alongside the fort and the Fosse Way. The settlement was of timber-framed housing and a few stone buildings, with some paved streets. The settlement was established to take advantage of the stone quarries in the area.
Ilchester (Lindinis) was a settlement defended with earth and stone ramparts and ditches, the town had a wide variety of housing, several temples and a theatre, with stone municipal buildings, and mainly paved streets. There was a junction of the Fosse Way and local roads to
Old Sarum (Sorbiodoni), Bawdrip, Andover (Leucomagus)[link_post], [link_post post_id="1158" type="link"]West Coker Villal[ink_post] and [link_post post_id="585" type="link"]Dorchester (Durnovaria) to the east of the town.
The Roman town at Shepton Mallet was a prosperous settlement of timber-framed and stone housing and stone-built municipal buildings. There were trade buildings, warehouses and paved streets. The town was a local centre for a pottery-producing industry that supplied the whole province. There were more than seven pottery kilns sited to the southwest of the town.
Nettlebridge Valley Roman Coal Mines
The Fosse Way passes a landmark on this part of the journey, the open cast Roman coal mines in the Nettlebridge valley. There is evidence of this in the area together with traces of buildings associated with trade in this resource.
The settlement at Camerton was a thriving one, with earth and timber ramparts and ditches, a wide variety of housing, a temple, a theatre, stone municipal buildings, some paved streets and a busy market.
Bath (Aquae Sulis) – Waters of Sul
Bath(Aquae Sulis) was an important settlement and a major religious centre, the town was the site of a hot water spa, with a pool and springs dedicated to the deity Sul (Minerva). The pool was enclosed by a bath house sanctuary complex with eight or more temples surrounding it. Of the main temples, one was built with a square floor plan and three had a rectangular plan. They were all built alongside the Fosse Way. The town was defended by earth and stone walls. Within the walls, the settlement was of stone and timber-framed housing and fine stone municipal buildings with paved streets, inns and bathhouses. Stone and mosaic floors were not uncommon. There was a wide variety of shops and traders serving the town and surrounding area. The town also had a small port at Sea Mills at the mouth of the Avon river. There was a local pottery industry near the town. Bath was also connected to the South Coast trading port at Poole Harbour, 37 miles away. Salt, local produce, limestone and shale from Purbeck and Wareham were all traded for goods from Gaul.
The settlement at Nettleton was defended by earth and timber ramparts and faced with a ditch. There were timber-framed houses and a few trade buildings and shops. There was a stream alongside the settlement with evidence of a water wheel to serve the settlement. Of the three religious sites in the settlement, the temple to the goddess Diana was built with a rectangular floor plan; the other two were both shrines dedicated to the god Apollo.
The Easton Grey Roman Settlement was founded on the Fosse Way and defended by earth and timber ramparts and faced with a ditch. Sited in a farming area, it was a prosperous settlement of timber-framed and stone housing and some municipal buildings, trade buildings and warehouses with paved streets.
Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum) starting as a fort to guard the Fosse Way crossing of the river Churn, it was at this point the town’s expansion began. With good connections to the prosperous estates in the area, the wool and cattle trade flourished. The town was a rival to London being the second largest in Britain. There was a basilica, a forum, a temple and baths; these were followed by a temple complex to the southeast of the town and an amphitheatre. The houses were of timber and stone and mosaic floors were common in the homes of the many leading citizens. There were mosaic craftsmen established in the town serving clients in a wide area. There was a wide variety of shops. Glass making, brick, tile and pottery production were all established in the town. Cirencester was noted for its gold work.
Chedworth Villa Estate
The Fosse Way passes a landmark on this part of the journey, the villa estate of Chedworth Roman Villa. The largest of the many estates in the area, it was built near the river Coln. Evidence of the wealth of the villa are found in the remains of mosaics and hypocausts. With its size and wealth, it would have dominated this part of the Cotswolds.
Bourton on the Water
The Roman trading settlement at Bourton on the Water was built on either side of the Fosse Way. The settlement was of timber-framed housing and a few stone municipal buildings, with mainly paved streets.
Situated at the modern hamlet of Dorn near the village of Moreton-in-Marsh, this was a large market town, built as a defended settlement with earth and timber ramparts. There were timber-framed houses and buildings, and mainly paved streets. Little is known of the settlement and all but the location are lost.
The settlement at Ettington was a small market town, with timber-framed houses and buildings and some paved streets. Little is known of it, as all but the location are lost.
Chesterton on Fosse
Chesterton on Fosse was founded as a way station at a point where the Fosse Way crossed a small river. This grew into a small market town, with timber-framed houses and buildings, and mainly paved streets.
High Cross (Venonis) was founded before the arrival of the Romans in Britain, and built as a defended settlement with earth and timber ramparts and faced with a ditch, High Cross was at the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way. It was a settlement of timber-framed houses and a few trade buildings, with mainly paved streets.
Leicester (Ratae Coritanorvm) was probably a Claudian vexillation10 fortress of the 14th Legion in 46 – 47 AD, and a British tribal city (civitas) of the Corieltauvi.
Willoughby on the Wolds
Willoughby On The Wolds (Vernemeto) was a walled town defended with earth and timber ramparts and ditches, with a wide variety of good housing, a temple and a theatre. There were stone municipal buildings and mainly paved streets.
The Roman settlement at East Bridgford (Margidunum) lay right on the Fosse Way. It was defended by earth and timber ramparts and faced with a ditch. Sited in a farming area, it was a prosperous settlement of timber-framed and stone housing and some municipal buildings, trade buildings and warehouses, with paved streets.
The settlement at East Stoke (Ad Pontem) Roman Settlement was first founded as a fort of the Ninth Legion in 46 – 47 AD, and the Roman name ‘The Place of the Bridges’ gives the reason for the fort’s founding. It was established at a crossing of the river Trent where a pre-Roman trackway (from Denton to Aldborough – Isurium Brigantum) also crossed the river. The settlement grew to serve the fort and the surrounding areas. It was an ideal site and the defended settlement grew with a wide variety of housing. There was a busy market and trading centre, and there were several temples and a theatre, with good stone municipal buildings, and mainly paved streets.
Founded on the Fosse Way and close to the river Trent, Crococalana was built as a defended settlement with earth and timber ramparts and faced with a ditch. It had timber-framed housing and a few trade buildings and shops. The town also had some impressive stone buildings that were possibly temples, and a way station or mansio for travellers on the road.
Lincoln (Lindum) – A pool of dark water
The settlement of Lincoln (Lindum)was first founded as a legionary fort of the Ninth Legion in 46 – 47 AD. With good connections to London (Londinium) via Ermine Street, trade flourished. A basilica, forum, temple and baths were built; these were followed by a temple complex. The homes were of timber and stone and mosaic floors were not uncommon. There was a wide variety of shops. Bronze making, brick, tile and pottery production were all established in the town. Lincoln was the terminus of the Fosse Way. The total distance travelled from Exeter was 231 miles on the direct route, and 237 miles if the route through Axminster was used.
Fosse Way and Antonine Itinerary
The Antonine Itinerary (a 2nd-century Roman register of roads) includes the section between High Cross and Lincoln, and lists intermediate points at Verometo (Willoughby on the Wolds), Margiduno (Castle Hill near Bingham), Ad Pontem (East Stoke) and Crocolana (Brough).
Sites near Fosse Way
- Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) Vicus (1 km)
- Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) Amphitheatre (1 km)
- Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum) Roman Fort (1 km)
Neronian Auxiliary Fort (AD 54–68), Vexillation Fort and Vicus
- Ermin Way (3 km)
- Daglingworth Villa (3 km)
- Bagendon Settlement (4 km)
Iron Age Settlement and Settlement
- Barnsley Park Villa (7 km)
- Combend Villa (10 km)
- Chedworth Roman Villa (12 km)
- Cricklade Roman Settlement (12 km)