DORCHESTER (Town) ENGLAND
Durnovaria (Dorchester) Dorset, England.
The town lies 9.6 km inland from Weymouth Bay, 3.2 km N of the Iron Age hill fort of Maiden Castle. Occupation probably began in A.D. 44 immediately following the destruction of Maiden Castle by Legio II Augusta under the command of Vespasian. There is some evidence to suggest the presence of a military garrison on the site, but by A.D. 70 civilian development had superseded it and Durnovaria became the cantonal capital of the Durotriges. It flourished as a Roman town into the early 5th c. and has continued to be occupied until the present day.
In the 2d c. the town was defended by an earthen bank and ditch system, strengthened in the 3d c. by the addition of a stone wall. The core of the wall is visible at only one point, near the W gate, but the line of the defenses, which enclosed some 28-32 ha, can still be traced. The defended area is now heavily built upon and largely unavailable for excavation, but parts of a regular street grid have come to light together with fragmentary evidence for a number of town houses.
The most substantial area to be explored lies in the NW corner in Colliton Park (excavations 1937-39, 1961-63). Parts of nine buildings have been exposed together with a street and a substantial culvert. Most of the structures were industrial (stores and workshops), and were provided with ovens, hearths, and a smithy. Only one building was definitely a dwelling: it was a house of some quality adorned with seven mosaic pavements. Excavation in the SW quarter (1969-70) has shown that here too industrial buildings predominated. Although structural evidence from elsewhere in the town is fragmentary, and no public buildings have yet been identified, the general impression is that of a densely built-up area containing closely packed buildings most of which were, by the 4th c., constructed in masonry. Stylistic consideration of the mosaic pavements has suggested the presence of a school of mosaicists working in the area in the early years of the 4th c.
The town was served by an aqueduct over 19 km long (the longest in Britain). It was an open leet following the contours of the hills W of the town, entering the walled area in the vicinity of the W gate; thereafter its course is unknown. The amphitheater lay 0.4 km outside the S gate, close to the road to Weymouth Bay. The earthwork had originally been constructed in the Neolithic period as a henge monument. Roman modification entailed lowering the arena floor and heightening the bank, together with the construction of a fenced passage around the arena and chambers for beasts and performers.
Large inhumation cemeteries are known on all sides of the town, particularly outside the E and W gates. At the Poundbury cemetery (W of the town) some of the burials were in stone sarcophagi and lead coffins; one was in a mausoleum with elaborately painted walls. It is likely that some, at least, of the burials here are Christian. Other evidence of Christianity consists of a hoard, found in Somerleigh Court, containing more than 50 siliquae, five spoons, and a ligula, deposited ca. A.D. 400. One of the spoons is inscribed AVGVSTINE VIVAS and another bears the sign of a fish.
While the main function of the town was to serve as the administrative center of the Durotriges, its economic importance is clear. Purbeck stone, marble, Kimmeridge shale, and pottery from the New Forest and Poole Harbour production centers all passed through its markets.
B.W. Cunliffe, 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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