A Roman mosaic in the Corinium Museum in Cirencester
|Location||Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England|
|Abandoned||Possibly around 430|
A Roman fort was established at Corinium, in the friendly territory of the tribe of the Dobunni, about a year after the Roman conquest of Britain. The local centre continued at the oppidum at Bagendon until the early AD 60s. However, by the mid-70s, the military had abandoned the fort, and the place became the Dobunni's civitas or capital.
Over the next twenty years, a street grid was laid out and the town was furnished with an array of large public stone buildings, two market places and numerous shops and private houses. Development continued until the 4th century. Three main Roman roads met in Corinium, underscoring the importance of the town. These were the Fosse Way, Akeman Street and Ermin Street. In the fourth century the town became capital of the new province Britannia Prima.
The forum and basilica were bigger than any other in Britain, apart from that in Londinium. The basilica was decorated with beautifully carved Corinthian capitals, Italian marble wall veneers and Purbeck marble mouldings. Unfortunately, it was built over the ditch of the old fort and the walls cracked and sank, forcing a major rebuilding project in the mid-2nd century.
There appears to have been a cattle market adjoining the forum with a market hall and several butchers' shops. No public baths have been identified, but there may possibly have been a theatre. A system of wooden water pipes indicates there was also an aqueduct. As yet, no temples have been located either, although numerous fine sculptures show much religious activity in the town. The missing Christian bishop, represented by a deacon at the Council of Arles in 314, may come from Corinium. The town was fortified in the late 2nd century. There were five gates and polygonal towers were later added to the walls.
The amphitheatre (illustration, above) stood to the south-east of the town in the area now called the Querns. It was built on the site of an old quarry, aligned with the street grid, an unusual feature. Stone walls were added in the early 2nd century, but about fifty years later there appears to have been a partial collapse and the complex was largely rebuilt to include small chambers around the circuit. These may have been animal or convict cells, or small shrines.
Domestic and industrial life
Corinium seems to have been the home to a number of very early private stone houses of wealthy individuals. Some date from the AD 110s. Such buildings continued to be built and occupied throughout the life of the town, but were particularly luxurious during the 4th century, when mosaic floors and fine sculpture were much in evidence. Indeed it has been suggested that the town was the centre of both a stone carving industry, under a certain Sulinus son of Brucetus, and a mosaic industry with two schools of art, based on images of the saltire and Orpheus. There were also bakers, glass makers, blacksmiths and goldsmiths within the walls.
The town walls were still being repaired early in the 5th century and the forum continued to be swept clean until finally abandoned, perhaps around AD 430. The amphitheatre, however, became the site of a large timber building associated with 5th or 6th century pottery. It may have been the fortified retreat of King Cyndyddan who fought at the Battle of Dyrham in 577.
- The grass-covered bowl of the amphitheatre, also known as the "Bull Ring", is in the care of English Heritage.
- A small section of the old Roman wall can be seen in the Abbey Park.
- A large collection of artefacts from Corinium are on display in the Corinium Museum, Cirencester.
- Wacher: The Towns of Roman Britain, 87
- McWhirr: Cirencester Excavations III, Houses in Roman Cirencester
- Wacher, John (1995). The Towns of Roman Britain. London: B T Batsford.
- Alan McWhirr: Roman Gloucestershire, Gloucester 1981 ISBN 0-904387-63-1, 21-58
- Alan McWhirr: Cirencester Excavations III, Houses in Roman Cirencester, Cirencester 1986 ISBN 0950772224
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