A Roman wall in Colchester
|Alternate name||Camulodunon, Colonia Claudia Victricensis|
|Location||Colchester, Essex, England|
|Founded||Late 1st century BC|
|Periods||British Iron Age to Roman Empire|
|OS grid reference: TL995255|
Camulodunum is the Roman name for the ancient settlement which is today's Colchester, a town in Essex, England. Camulodunum is claimed to be the oldest town in Britain as recorded by the Romans, existing as a Celtic settlement before the Roman conquest, when it became the first Roman town, and eventually a settlement of discharged Roman soldiers, known as Colonia Claudia Victricensis. There is archaeological evidence of settlement 3,000 years ago. Its Celtic name was "Camulodunon", meaning "the fortress of Camulos" (Camulos being a British god equated with the Roman Mars). This name was modified to the Roman spelling of "Camulodunum".
Camulodunon was the capital of the Trinovantes, who built an impressive system of earthwork defences to the west and south of the town. It was probably established as their capital by Addedomarus, a king known from his inscribed coins dating to around 25-10 BC (at the time of Caesar's invasions of Britain in 55 and 54 BC, the tribe were probably based at Braughing). For a brief period around 10 BC Tasciovanus, a king of the Catuvellauni already issuing coins from Verlamion, also issued coins from Camulodunon, suggesting that the Trinovantes' capital had been conquered by the Catuvellauni, but he was soon forced to withdraw, perhaps as a result of Roman pressure – his later coins are no longer marked with the Latin REX (for king), but with the Brythonic RICON – and Addedomarus was restored. His son Dubnovellaunus succeeded him, but was soon supplanted by Tasciovanus' son Cunobelinus. Cunobelinus then succeeded his father at Verlamion, beginning the dominance of the Catuvellauni over the south-east. Cunobelinus was friendly with Rome, marking his coins with the word REX and classical motifs rather than the traditional Gallo-Belgic designs. Archaeology shows an increase in imported luxury goods, probably through the port of Camulodunon, during his reign. He was probably one of the British kings that Strabo says sent embassies to Augustus. Strabo reports Rome's lucrative trade with Britain: the island's exports included grain, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves and hunting dogs.
Early Roman Camulodunum
Cunobelinus had died prior to the Roman invasion under Aulus Plautius in 43, and the British defence was led by his sons Caratacus and Togodumnus. Plautius secured a crossing point of the River Thames, halted, and sent word for the emperor Claudius to lead the march to Camulodunon. Claudius arrived with reinforcements, including artillery and elephants, but as Suetonius and Claudius' triumphal arch state, the British kings surrendered without further bloodshed.
A Roman legionary fortress or castrum, the first permanent legionary fortress to be built in Britain, was established at Camulodunum in 43. A veteran colony was established in an effort to subdue the Silures and as part of an attempt at Romanisation. Later it became a colonia – a settlement of discharged Roman soldiers – and the principal city of Roman Britain. A Roman monumental temple was built there c. 44 and was dedicated to Emperor Claudius.
According to Tacitus, in 60/61 when the Iceni and Trinovantes under Boudica revolted against Roman rule, the city was undefended by fortifications, and was only garrisoned by 200 members of the procurator's guard. The rebels destroyed the city. The settlement was a target for the rebels because the veterans who inhabited the city "drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves". The temple, where the citizens had taken refuge, was destroyed after a two day siege. Archaeologists have found layers of ash in the site of the city, suggesting that Boudica ordered her rebel army to burn the city to the ground. After the defeat of the uprising, the administrative centre of the Roman province moved to the newly established commercial settlement of Londinium (London).
Colchester was the only place in the province of Britannia where samian ware was produced (for a short time). Roman brick making and wine growing also took place in the area. Bricks have been made in Colchester (or in the surrounding area) for around 2,000 years.
Many Roman mosaics and artefacts have been found in subsequent archaeological digs in the town and some can be seen at the Colchester Castle museum. The Roman walls still survive and they contain the largest surviving Roman gateway in Britain. Many holes have been cut in the walls over the years and the history of the whole town can be seen in its surviving structure. Medieval buttresses, shops and steps are still present in Colchester, reusing spolia.
In 2005, what is up to now the only known Roman circus in Britain was discovered at Camulodunum. The structure is almost completely buried under current structures and occupations.
- Mike Ibeji. "Roman Colchester: Britain's First City". BBC Online. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
- John Creighton (2000), Coins and power in Late Iron Age Britain, Cambridge University Press; Philip de Jersey (1996), Celtic Coinage in Britain, Shire Archaeology
- Keith Branigan (1987), The Catuvellauni, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, pp. 10-11
- Strabo, Geography 4.5
- Cassius Dio, Roman History 60.19-22
- Suetonius, Claudius 17; Arch of Claudius
- Tacitus (1876), XII:32.
- Tacitus (1876), XIV:31.
- Graham Webster, Boudica: the British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978, pp. 89-90
- Tacitus; Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (translators) (1876). The Annales.
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