Possible Roman Camp
First observed from the air and reported in J.R.S. 1953 (see below), this small, suspected camp lies in farmland overlooking the valley of the river Stiffkey just east of Copy’s Green, North Norfolk, near the centre of an imaginary triangle formed by the villages of Binham, Great Walsingham and Wighton, being slightly closer to the latter village. The site lies on a gentle, natural summit which commands wide views in all directions save the south-east, where the ground rises slightly (Bartholomew ½-inch series sheet 26, Norfolk).
Elsewhere in the south evidence of early Roman military sites is of the slightest. It has long puzzled air observers why more early temporary forts and camps have not come to light … Only near Dorking … in Surrey, and at Wighton in north Norfolk have enclosures been seen that may be small temporary camps. … Three-quarters of a mile east-south-east of Wighton (TF 956392), at the highest point in an almost level field, is a rectangular enclosure, measuring some 300 ft. from east to west by 200 ft. from north to south. The angles are rounded, and there is at least one gate, in the centre of the east side. Excavation is needed to reveal the nature of these sites.” (J.R.S. 1953 p.82)
Although the Wighton enclosure has undoubtedly Roman characteristics, i.e. parallel sides with centrally-placed gateway(s) and rounded corners executed through right-angles, its small size is sufficient to have housed only a fraction of a standard cohort of five-hundred troops, and its remote location well away from any known Roman roads does not bode well in its identification as a Roman military work. In addition, as the suspected camp lies in the territories of the Iceni, a one-time client-kingdom of Rome, the area should not have required a Roman military presence at all, and there are very few historical contexts which may explain such a camp:
- The unrest of the native Iceni tribe following the general disarmament ordered by Publius Ostorius Scapula in A.D. 47 was quickly put down by the propraetor’s son Marcus Ostorius, admittedly using auxiliary forces only, but the Wighton camp does not fit the scene of the battle and is simply too small to have housed an effective policing force in the incident’s aftermath (Tacitus Annales XII.xxxi; Webster Invasion map.v p.119).
- Likewise during the full-blown revolt of the truculent Iceni under Queen Boudicca in the winter of 60/61 which required governor Suetonius Paulinus gather the combined might of both auxiliary and legionary forces in order to put down, the site lies far from the scene of the final confrontation in the Midlands and again, cannot have housed an effective force in the face of such overwhelming numbers of discontented natives as are quoted in the historical sources (Dio Historia LXII.i-xii; Webster Boudicca chap.5 and map fig.4 p.92).
- An alternative scenario could be as part of the “Saxon Shore” fortifications of the 3rd century, by which time the Roman army was utilising, as well as the old legionary-style cohorts, much smaller auxiliary units such as the cuneus or numerus, either of which could have been comfortably housed in the Wighton camp. Although a later construction date would effectively solve the camp-to-unit-size problem, the enclosure still lies almost 3½ miles from the modern shore-line and it is unsure how it could have fitted into the known system of forts and observation posts of the period, the nearest known fort being at Brancaster (Notitia Dignitatum; Pearson p.104 ff.).
In light of all this negativity, I am personally inclined to think that the identification of this site as Roman must be viewed as speculative at best.
References for Wighton
- The Roman Shore Forts – Coastal Defences of Southern Britain by Andrew Pearson (Tempus, Stroud, 2002);
- Boudicca by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993);
- The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993);
- Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. XLIII (1953) pp.81-97;
- Annales by Cornelius Tacitus, translated by J. Jackson (Loeb, Harvard, 1937);
- Ρωμαικη ιστοια by Cassius Dio translated by Earnest Cary (Loeb, Harvard, 1914);
Map References for Wighton
NGRef: TF9539 OSMap: LR132
Roman Roads near Wighton