Charterhouse Roman Town

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Roman lead mines at Charterhouse, Somerset

Charterhouse Roman Town was a town in the Roman province of Britannia. Its site is located just to the west of the village of Charterhouse-on-Mendip in the English county of Somerset.

Its Latin name may have been Iscalis, but this is far from certain.[1] An alternative, based on inscriptions on a pig of Roman lead BRIT. EX. ARG. VEB, meaning "British (lead) from the VEB... lead-silver works" would suggest the name VEB for the site. This may explain the nearby village of Ubley, as V and U are interchangeable in Latin, Ubley may have derived from Veb-ley, and was originally a settlement where Romano-British lead miners lived.[2]

It is associated with the Iron Age hill fort, Charterhouse Camp. The Roman landscape has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[3]

Mining settlement[edit]

Site of Roman fort

The settlement grew up around the north-western edge of prehistoric lead and silver mines, which were exploited by the Romans.[4] Mendip lead ore had up to 0.4% silver content, which the Romans used to pay the army.[5] Extraction is thought to have begun as early as AD 49[2] (although the evidence of dateable lead ingots found in the neighbourhood has recently been questioned.[6]) At first the lead and silver industries were tightly controlled by the Roman military (in the south-west, by the Second Legion[7]) and there was a small 'fortlet' adjoining the mines during the 1st century, which may, however, have been little more than a fortified compound for storing lead pigs.[8] After a short time, the extraction of these metals was contracted out to civilian companies, probably because of low silver content.[9] Smelting was undertaken on site where industrial workshops have been excavated,[10] and the metal exported along a minor road to the Fosse Way, and probably through a small inland port at nearby Cheddar.[7]


View of the ancient enclosure and site of Roman town

An amphitheatre stood west of the settlement.[11] It is the only one in England to exist at a lead mine and is additional evidence of the importance of Mendip lead to the Romans.[12] It measures 32m x 24.4m and the banks for the seating survive 4.5m above the arena. It was surveyed in 1909. It was probably a place of entertainment for the soldiers at the Roman fort which was established here.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rivet, A L F; Smith, Colin (1979). The Place-Names of Roman Britain. London: B T Batsford. 
  2. ^ a b Havinden, Michael (1981). The Somerset Landscape. The making of the English landscape. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 85. ISBN 0-340-20116-9. 
  3. ^ Firth, Hannah (2007). Mendip from the air. Taunton: Somerset County Council. ISBN 978-0-86183-390-0. 
  4. ^ "Charterhouse on Mendip Roman Mining Settlement". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Elkington, H D H (1976). "The Mendip Lead Industry". The Roman West Country: Classical Culture and Celtic Society. 
  6. ^ Clement Whittick, G (1982). "Roman Lead-Mining on Mendip and in North Wales". Britannia 13. 
  7. ^ a b Aston, Mick; Burrow, Ian (1982). The Archaeology of Somerset. Taunton: Somerset County Council. 
  8. ^ De la Bedoyere, Guy (2006). Roman Britain: A New History. London: Thames & Hudson. 
  9. ^ "Major Romano-British Settlement Charterhouse on Mendip, Avon". Roman Retrieved 2006-10-28. 
  10. ^ "Charterhouse". Big Roman Dig. Retrieved 2006-10-28. 
  11. ^ "Monument No. 194337". Pastscape. English Heritage. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Dunning, Robert (1983). A History of Somerset. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. ISBN 978-0-85033-461-6. 
  13. ^ Adkins, Lesley and Roy (1992). A field Guide to Somerset Archeology. Stanbridge: Dovecote press. pp. 37–39. ISBN 0-946159-94-7.