Moridunum – ‘The Blackberry-Covered Hillfort’ Alternately – ‘The Hillfort of the Dead’

Honiton 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.

The Antonine Itinerary of the late second century AD contains two separate itinera which deal with the Roman routes in south-west Britain. The middle of Iter XII and the last three entries of Iter V are almost identical, apart from small differences in spelling:

Iter XII … Durnonovaria viii, Muridono xxxvi, Isca Dumnoniorum xv, … Iter XV … Durononvaria viii, Muriduno xxxvi, Isca Dumnoniorum xv.

The first entry is readily identified as Dvrnovaria (Dorchester, Dorset), and the last entry is easily recognised as Isca Dvmnoniorvm (Exeter, Devon). The remaining entry spelled alternately Muridono and Muriduno, is located thirty-five miles from Dorchester and fifteen miles from Exeter, very close to the place where the southern coastal road branches off the Fosse Way, near Honiton.

The name also occurs in the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century, this time under the guise of another variant spelling Moriduno:

Once again, beside the Dumnonian towns listed above are (other) towns which are named: [23] Moriduno [24] Alauna siluaยน …

  1. The ‘Forest of Alauna’ remains unidentified.

The name Moridunum is usually assumed to contain elements of both Latin and Welsh/Gaelic. The prefix Mori- could be Latin, stemming either from morior ‘to die’ or morus ‘blackberry-bush’, while the suffix -dunum is is a common Welsh/Gaelic & Old English word for a defended enclosure or hillfort.

There are a number of hillforts nearby Honiton. The nearest is about two miles north-north-east at Dumpdon Hill (ST1704), Castle Hill, Wilmington lies about three miles to the east (SY2199), Stockton Great Castle hill-slope fort lies about four miles eastwards (ST2202), Blackbury Castle six miles to the south-south-east (SY1892), and Sidbury Castle about seven miles south-south-west (SY1291).

Hembury Castle Hillfort

Click here for information on the Roman re-use of the Hembury Castle hillfort

It is possible that Hembury Castle appeared only recently vacated by the Dumnonii, and thus was dubbed the ‘Dead (i.e. abandoned) Hill-Fort’ by its Roman occupiers.