Godmanchester (Durovigutum) Roman Fort

Claudian Auxiliary Fort (AD 43–54) and Vicus

The site of Godmanchester Roman town, controlling the river crossing of Ermine Street and the junctions of two minor roads. A fort was built nearby shortly after the Roman invasion of AD 43 and covered about 2.4 hectares. It was defended by twin ditches with associated timber and earth rampart. These defences were not completed before the fort was dismantled, indicating only a very short occupation. The civil settlement that had built up around the fort remained and gradually expanded into a small town.

The town was burnt down during the Boudiccan Revolt but was quickly rebuilt. The town continued to expand and shortly after 120 AD the west side of the town was cleared to accommodate an inn (mansio). When eventually completed, the mansio complex was the second largest known in Britain, with an overall length of 100 metres. South of the inn lay the bath house which was fed by water brought by an aqueduct. Both inn and bath house were substantially built structures, with tessellated pavements and mosaics. West of the inn lay the shrine of a native god.

The earliest town defences date to the early 2nd century and took the form of a deep ditch. This was superseded in the 3rd century by a defensive circuit which covered a larger area.

A large hall was also built in the 3rd century in the centre of the town. This may have been a town hall (basilica) or headquarters of an imperial estate (principia) or a tax-collection area. The economy of the town was largely based on agriculture and Godmanchester was as major market centre. Local industry was small-scale and included iron and bronze working and pottery. A number of villas have been discovered in the vicinity. A fire at the end of the 3rd century left the inn and bath house gutted and derelict.

The town was reoccupied in the 4th century but on a reduced scale. Occupation appears to have continued into the Anglo-Saxon period.

Godmanchester Cambs. Godmundcestre 1086 ( DB ). ‘Roman station associated with a man called Godmund’. OE pers. name + ceaster.” (Mills)

The Archaeology of Godmanchester

A strategic site on Ermine Street at the crossing of the River Ouse. Traces of the defences and internal buildings of an early Claudian fort of around 6 acres (c.2.4 ha) have been found to the south of the civil settlement, and the east gate of a Neronian fort, which lies on a different alignment.

Ermine Street ran through the town, south-south-east to settlements at Wimpole Lodge and Braughing towards Londinium, and north-noth-west to the settlements and forts at Durobrivae (Water Newton) and Longthorpe towards Lindum. Around 6 miles NE from Godmanchester, a branch road off Ermine Street led WNW to Ratae (Leicester) via a possible settlement near Thrapston on the River Nene, and a settlement on the River Welland at Medbourne. Also, the Via Devana led south-east to a settlement at Duroliponte (Cambridge) and on towards Camulodunum (Colchester).

On the settlement site at Godmanchester, which lies below the present town, evidence of ovoid huts were found which predate the Roman period. The mansio and bath-house were built in c.120AD. The first of three successive shrines or temples lay to the west of the mansio, dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries. Several bronze votive feathers were found, one inscribed: ‘To the god Abandinus Vatiaucus gave this from his own resources’. Two 2nd century buildings were demolished when the supposed Basilica was built to the east of the mansio in the early 3rd century.

The mansio and bath-house were gutted by fire towards the end of the 3rd century, and although the bath-house was rebuilt, the replacement was a much smaller building. A supposed granary was built on the site of the mansio.

The earliest town defences were of early Hadrianic date, with a V-shaped ditch, 3m wide and 2m deep enclosing an area of 8.06 Ha. New defences in the shape of an irregular hexagon were ereced in late 3rd c. and enclosed an area of c.11 Ha. They consisted of a 2.97m wide Masonry wall, a clay rampart 9.75m wide. The original 4.9m wide, U-shaped ditch was replaced in the 4th c. by a 11m wide ditch. The S gate has a central carriageway with footways either side, measuring 9.15m overall, flanked by rectangular gate towers.

A corridor villa lies only a mile to the north-east at Rectory Farm, Huntingdon (TL2371), and another small settlement lay two miles north along Ermine Street at Huntingdon itself (TL2471).

Other substantial Roman buildings have been found outside of the main settlement to the north-east (TL2571).

Excavations at Godmanchester

The area of the mansio in Pinfold Lane was further explored in 1969, during which four main occupation periods were identified:

  1. The first Roman construction on the site was a 1st-century fort, defended by a single ditch 10ft (c.4.1m) wide and 4ft (c.1.2m) deep. The fort was equipped with timber corner-towers, probably with interval-towers and gateways also built of timber. The N corner-angle of the first-century fort was found beneath the mansio.
  2. By the late-1st century the fort had been dismantled and its defences levelled to make way for a series of building-plots, each 139½ft square (c.42.5m²), and arranged along the axis of Ermine Street. These areas were delineated by ditches or by fencing, and timber buildings were arranged along the sides of each plot, insula style.
  3. A number of these plots were cleared and the mansio complex was built c.120AD. A timber building was erected to the E during the 3rd century.
  4. The mansio burned down in the late-3rd century and the ruined building was completely demolished in the late-4th, whereupon the space was reused to build an extension to the public bath-house.

Pottery recovered from the site of the mansio include shards of native British Iron-Age, Roman ceramics of all periods, also some Anglo-Saxon pieces.

Inscription on the neck of a buff storage-jar recovered during excavations at Godmanchester in 1965: FAXIATIS[AMICI(?)]|LAGONAM[AMPLAM(?)] “May you produce, my friends (?), a large (?) storage-jar” (restored text and translation from Britannia II (1971) p.296).

Classical References for Durovigutum / Dvrovigvtvm

The only classical geographical work which mentions the Roman name for Godmanchester is the seventh-century Ravenna Cosmology, in which the name Duro viguto (R&C#101) occurs between the entries for Durolitum (near Romford, Greater London) and Durobrivae (Water Newton, Cambridgeshire). The duro component of all of these names is thought to be Welsh/Gaelic in origin, meaning ‘strength’ or ‘a strongpoint’; the name Duro-vigutum possibly means ‘the thriving strongpoint’, the suffix perhaps stemming from the Latin verb vigeo ‘to thrive, flourish’ or ‘lively’. The modern name gives no clue as to what the original Romano-British town was called.

References for Dvrovigvtvm

  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • Britannia i 1970 p.287;
  • Britannia ii 1971 p.264 & p.296.

Map References for Dvrovigvtvm

NGRef: TL246704 OSMap: LR153

Roman Roads near Dvrovigvtvm

Ermine Street: NNW (19) to Dvrobrivae Catvvellorvm (Water Newton, Cambridgeshire) WNW (18) to Thrapston (Northamptonshire) SSW (14) to Sandy Ermine Street: SSE (15) to Wimpole Lodge Ermine Street: NW (3) to Great Stvkeley Ermine Street: NNW (9.5) to Sawtry

Sites near Godmanchester (Durovigutum) Roman Fort
  • London (Londinium) Roman Settlement
    Claudian Auxiliary Fort (AD 43–54), Legionary Fort, Palace and Triumphal Arches
  • Lincoln (Colonia Lindum) Roman Settlement
    Aqueduct, Colonia, Legionary Fort, Pottery and Roman-Building
  • York (Eburacum) Roman Settlement
    Colonia, Legionary Fort, Marching or Temporary Camp and Triumphal Arches
  • Hibaldstow Roman Settlement
    Minor Settlement
  • Braughing Roman Trading Post
    Iron-work and Minor Settlement
  • Water Newton (Durobrivae)
    Minor Settlement
  • Wimpole Lodge
    Minor Settlement
  • Great Casterton Roman Fort
    Bath House, Claudian Auxiliary Fort (AD 43–54) and Vicus
  • Ancaster Roman Fort
    Claudian Auxiliary Fort (AD 43–54)
  • Salterford (Causennis?)
    Minor Settlement
  • Owmby Settlement
    Minor Settlement