Caistor Roman Town, Norfolk

At the time of the Roman Invasion, Britain was divided and ruled by Celtic tribes. In East Anglia the tribe was the Iceni, who initially submitted to Roman rule, and agreed favourable terms with the Emperor Claudius. However, this peaceful arrangement was soon to change. Rome had a new Emperor in Nero, and the King of the Iceni, Prasutages, died. New terms could not be reached and, in the ensuing dispute, Queen Boudica (the king's widow) was publicly flogged, and her daughters raped.

Outraged and insulted by this public condemnation, Queen Boudica led the Iceni in an uprising against the Romans. Initially, the campaign was very successful, with the three Roman cities of Colchester, St Alban's and London being sacked by the Iceni - with an estimated loss of some 70-80,000 lives. However, the revolt was eventually put down by the Roman army at the Battle of Watling Street c61 AD.

To ensure no further uprising by the Iceni, the Roman authorities built a new town - Caistor St Edmund - just south east of modern Norwich. The Roman name for the town was Venta Icenorum, which translates to 'market place of the Iceni'. Originally laid out c70 AD, the town continued as the area's regional administrative centre for some 300 years.

After the very dry summer of 1928, an aeriel photograph appeared in The Times newspaper clearly showing the street layout of the Roman town within a field of corn. This prompted a major excavation, led by Professor Donald Atkinson, between 1929 and 1935.

Around 150AD, Caistor Roman town was at it largest. By the 3rd century, it had been reduced to about half the original size and surrounded by a massive flint defensive wall, outer ditches and an internal earthen rampart. In both the initial aeriel photograph, and other more recent ones, this reduction in size can be seen clearly by the fact that the earlier street plan extends well past the later town walls. At a modest 35 acres, Caistor Roman town had now become one of the smaller Roman towns in Britain.

Today the remains of the actual town buildings are not visible, having been re-covered to protect them from the effects of the weather. However, much of Caistor's defensive town walls and ditches do survive and, specifically along the northern perimeter, masonry still stands to a height of some 20 feet (6m).


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