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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites


Camulodunum or Colonia Claudia Victricensis (Colchester) Essex, England.
On the river Colne, 16 km from the sea and 80 km NE of London. It was the tribal town of the Trinobantes, in a promontory fortress some 307 ha in area, bounded on three sides by marshy river valleys, but on the W by four or more massive linear earthworks which are believed to be mostly the work of Cunobeline. The Trinobantes were conquered by Tasciovanus of Verulamium (q.v.) shortly before A.D. 10, and his son, Cunobeline established his royal city and mint here. By A.D. 43 he was known to the Romans as King of the Britons, and his capital was the main objective of the Roman invasion of that year.
  In A.D. 50 Claudius founded a Roman colonia adjacent to Cunobeline's city. An inscription preserved in Rome refers to it as: Colonia Claudia Victricensis which is in Britain at Camulodunum. The two places are thus one, and the identity of the site is beyond question. Camulos was a Celtic war god, and dunum means fortress. The new colonia, including a temple of the emperor, a theater, and a Senate house, was totally destroyed in A.D. 61 by the insurgent Queen Boudicca. After the destruction the government was probably moved to London, but the temple of the emperor seems to have remained in use as such. The town is not mentioned again in history, but one of the three British bishops at the Council of Arles in 314 was from either Colchester or Lincoln.
  The pre-Roman earthworks, largely visible, sometimes imposing, run ca. 5 km N-S. The innermost line was leveled by the Romans, who also made partial use of one other. The site of Cunobeline's city, immediately W of the modern town, was excavated in 1930-39 and 1970. There are no visible remains.
  The Roman town, which had no wall in A.D. 61, may have acquired it ca. 200. Most of the wall, nearly 1800 km, remains; it encloses an area of 43 ha. This could indicate an origin as a double legionary fortress, as recent discovery in final paragraph shows. The walls are 2.7 m thick, with rounded angles, interior towers, and earthen rampart-bank. Part of the W gate, toward London, still stands to a considerable height, including two of its six vaulted archways. The size is exceptional, with two carriageways and two footways, and the plan is unique: the ground plan of each tower is a quadrant.
  Within the walls the cardo maximus ran from this W gate (the Balkerne Gate) to the E gate, which was pulled down in 1675 and is alleged to have had one main arch with two smaller ones for footways. Most of this line is still the High Street of the modern town. The modern Head Street and North Hill also lie on the line of a Roman street running N-S a short distance inside the W wall. Remains of a Roman Northgate have been found on this line, and in mediaeval times the porta principalis lay at the S end, but no trace of it remains. There are, however, remains of a postern gate in the N wall near the NE angle. A fallen block of masonry, from the upper part, has preserved details which allow a close reconstruction. Curiously, no other gates have come to light in the long N and S walls. Sections cut in the earthen rampart have shown that the wall could not have been built before ca. A.D. 150, and a later date is probable. The street grid has been almost completely reconstructed, and shows a large insula occupied by the Temple of Claudius.
  This temple, mentioned by ancient writers, and one of the causes of the rebellion of Boudicca, lies under the keep of the Norman castle, which is built exactly around it. The podium (24 x 31.5 m) had foundations 3.9 m deep, and its original height was probably about the same. It is not solid, but was built with four vaults filled with rammed earth to economize on stone and mortar. These vaults can be visited.
  The temple stood in a court (ca. 180 x 120 m), only the S side of which has been adequately explored. There was a monumental central entrance (only part of it has been seen), built on a concrete raft 1.5 m thick and 8.4 m wide N-S. The remains (underground) stand 1.8 m high in places (i.e. 3.3 m over-all). On each side of this feature the concrete platform runs on, with a reduced width of 4.5 m, apparently for the whole length of the S side. Upon it stood a series of piers which had been cased with ashlar blocks of shelly limestone. The piers were connected by arches turned with specially made brick voussoirs. At platform level they were also connected by thin walls (ca. 0.45 m) with ornamental plaster-work on the outside, of two clearly differentiated periods. Each pier, almost certainly, had a partly engaged column before and behind. It is not possible to say whether or not the thin walls completely closed each archway.
  In front of the platform was a narrow gravel footpath, which had been remade several times (as had the street) and was bounded towards the street by a small open drain. Reused material in the drain included blocks of alabaster and fragments of large fluted columns plastered to resemble white marble (presumably from the first period of the temple). In the filling were found fragments of colored marbles from all parts of the empire, some of it from wall-sheathing and some from flooring. The remains clearly belong to an architectural screen, but we have no proof that it antedates A.D. 61. Between this screen and the temple, before the S face of the keep, remains indicate a large outside altar surrounded on three sides, at a distance of 3-3.6 m, by a vaulted drain which again suggests that there was an architectural screen. To the NE and NW lay oblong masonry pedestals of a size and shape suitable for equestrian statuary.
  There are no other monuments above ground. The site of the theater is almost surely under the site of St. Helens Chapel and the adjacent burial ground. Forum, basilica, and baths have not been found, but massive foundations, so far unparalleled in plan, have come to light directly opposite the temple insula, and in the next insula to the W remains found under St. Nicholas' church are too large for private houses. Many mosaic pavements have been found in the town, and undoubted traces of the sack and conflagration of A.D. 61.
  The finds are preserved in the Castle Museum in the Norman keep, and are particularly rich in pottery and other material from the extensive Roman cemeteries. This is the largest Roman collection in the provinces, and it also covers earlier periods.
  Domestic occupation extended outside the walls, including villas with mosaic floors. Several temples of Celtic type have been found, and one site demands particular attention. At the S end of the earthworks some of the inner line becomes curved instead of straight, following the contour line. Within this on Gosbecks Farm there is a large Celtic temple standing within a double portico 27.87 m square. The original enclosure, however, had been a ditch 9 m wide and 2.7 m deep, with coins and pottery of Cunobeline date. The ditch probably surrounded a sacred tree, and the temple and portico were added later. A theater of most unusual plan lies to the S, and E of it a fair-ground over 240 m wide. This could well have been the tribal meeting-place of the Trinobantes, after the foundation of the colonia.
  Since this entry was written, the excavators have reported the discovery of the outline of a legionary fortress under the W part of the Roman town. It was apparently of the same size as that at Caerleon, but the remains are fleeting for it was occupied for only seven years. If the colonia established in A.D. 50 occupied the area of this fortress, then the temple of Claudius, built in the same year, was built outside the colonia, as indeed it ought to have been.

M.R. Hull, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Feb 2006 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

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