Venta Belgarum

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Coordinates: 51°03′47″N 1°19′01″W / 51.063°N 1.317°W / 51.063; -1.317

Exposed section of the Roman foundations which lie underneath the medieval city walls

Venta Belgarum was a town in the Roman province of Britannia Superior, the civitas capital of the local tribe, the Belgae. The name Venta is Brittonic, meaning 'town' or 'meeting-place'.[1] Today it is known as Winchester and is situated in the English county of Hampshire. But in earlier ages so called Venta Belgarum is named historically as Venta-Bulgarum.

Development[edit]

Roman mosaic found locally, now in the Winchester museum

Although there is as yet no evidence for the presence of a pre-Roman oppidum like Verulamium or town like Calleva, there are several Iron Age hill forts in the near vicinity of the site: St Catherine's Hill, Oram's Arbour and Worthy Down. The settlement was apparently established around AD 70, partially on the site of Oram's Arbour,[2] which had been abandoned for some years. The River Itchen was diverted and a street grid laid out. A defensive bank and ditch was dug around the town in the 2nd century and a hundred years later a stone wall was added. The interior was the home to many fine Roman town houses or Domus, as well as public buildings and Roman temples.

Religion[edit]

The forum-basilica appears to have included a temple to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva along with an accompanying Jupiter Column. Elsewhere, there was a Romano-British style temple dedicated to the Celtic horse goddess, Epona. There was a large Romano-British cemetery to the north of the town, at Lankhills, and another to the east. Excavations of the cemetery were carried out by British archaeologist Julian Richards in 1998, and again in 2013, as part of the BBC television Meet the Ancestors series.[3]

Decline[edit]

Red Roman bricks can be seen mixed with medieval material in this wall on St. George's Street

From the mid-4th century, new development at Venta halted. Houses fell into disrepair and the drainage system collapsed. The population concentrated itself in the higher and drier areas of the town. The defences were however strengthened and the cemeteries remained in use, notably with burials of males wearing so-called military-style mercenary belts. Occupation seems to have ceased in the 5th century. Later, however, Venta, or Wintanceastre as it was then known, became the seat of government of the kings of Wessex, and later the Saxon, Danish, and Norman kings of England.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ranko Matasović. "wentā" in: Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries Online. Edited by Alexander Lubotsky. Brill, 2014. Brill Online. July 24, 2014. < http://iedo.brillonline.nl/dictionaries/lemma.html?id=17429 >
  2. ^ "A Brief History of Winchester". BBC. October 2003. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  3. ^ James Gill (7 January 2014). "Stories from the Dark Earth: Meet the Ancestors Revisited". radiotimes.com. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  4. ^ D. C. Maccarthy (1858). The Physical and Historical Geography of the British Empire. Burns and Lambert. 

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