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Gryme's Dyke at Stanway Green: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum

A Scheduled Monument in Stanway, Essex

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Latitude: 51.8737 / 51°52'25"N

Longitude: 0.8467 / 0°50'48"E

OS Eastings: 596058.22013

OS Northings: 223294.077776

OS Grid: TL960232

Mapcode National: GBR RLY.JVW

Mapcode Global: VHKG4.M5GF

Entry Name: Gryme's Dyke at Stanway Green: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum

Scheduled Date: 10 August 1923

Last Amended: 2 September 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019992

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29454

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Stanway

Built-Up Area: Colchester

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Shrub End All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes buried and upstanding remains of part of a late Iron Age
or Romano-British linear boundary located at Stanway Green, some 4km south
west of Colchester town centre.

The earthworks at Stanway Green form a right angled junction connecting two
sections of the westernmost boundary of the Iron Age and Roman settlement at
Colchester (Camulodunum). The northern end of Gryme's Dyke South forms the
western arm of the junction. The rampart here measures some 0.5m high and 10m
across. The ditch, which is known to continue southward towards Maldon Road
(where it is scheduled as part of a separate monument), survives buried
beneath the track immediately to the west of the bank. Excavations elsewhere
along the Gryme's Dyke indicate that this ditch measures about 10m wide and
3m-4m deep.

The junction of the two dyke alignments has been slighted by Heath Road,
although the buried outer ditch is thought to survive without significant
interruption. The northern section of the dyke (known as part of Gryme's Dyke
Middle) runs eastward from this junction for some 140m towards the
boundary of Stanway Green Cottage, the bank measuring between 0.5m and
0.8m high and averaging 9m in width. The external ditch, contiguous with
the northern slope of the bank, remains visible along this section and
measures up to 10m across and 0.7m deep. A north east to south west
orientated ditch (averaging 9m across and 0.9m deep) turns back from the
eastern end of the northern bank to create the curious triangular shape
of the green. Further slight ditches have also been recorded alongside
the inner edges of both the northern and western banks.

Excavated evidence for the date of the dyke places its construction in the
early Roman period, although theories regarding its age and purpose are
equally based on its appearance, location and position in relation to other
dykes on the western side of the Iron Age and Romano-British settlement. It is
considered that the dyke shows evidence of Roman planning and was added to
strengthen the western approach soon after the conquest or as part of the
reconstruction which followed the Boudiccan revolt. Stanway Green may reflect
the meeting of two phases in its development, with the earlier northern
section (Gryme's Dyke North and Middle) built between Kidman's Dyke and the
River Colne to protect the western approaches to the Roman town, and the
second section (Middle and South) added later to provide additional protection
for the centre of native administration at Gosbecks. This required the sharp
angle in order to run wide of the settlement on route to the Roman River.

All fences, fence posts, notice boards, litter bins and the modern surface of
Heath Road are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these
features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Latin term `oppidum' usually refers to a town, although in the context
of the Roman invasions of Britain, its use in the writings of Julius
Caesar and Suetonius encompassed a wider range of fortified settlements
and native strongholds. In archaeological terminology `territorial oppida'
is used to describe a settlement phenomenon of the later Iron Age - areas
of farmsteads, field systems and nucleated settlements of various kinds
covering wide areas bounded by substantial earthworks. Such sites are
considered to have been tribal capitals or focal places for communities
between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, serving as centres of
trade, manufacture and social prominence. Only a handful of sites in
England have been identified under this term (principally Colchester,
Bagendon, Silchester, St Albans, Chichester, Grims Ditch and Stanwick),
all of which lie in southern, central and western parts of the country.
They all share the common characteristic of boundaries defined by massive
linear banks and ditches, sometimes intermittent and positioned to include
natural barriers such as rivers and marshes. The enclosed areas vary from
between 30 sq km and 90 sq km, some marked out by curvilinear boundaries,
others by more rectilinear patterns. Activities within the enclosed areas
may vary considerably and, given that Iron Age society in southern England
was not homogeneous, there is no reason to suppose that all territorial
oppida exhibited the same status or served identical purposes. In addition
to farmsteads, areas of nucleated settlement and related field systems,
other known features of the enclosures include storage pits and wells,
areas set aside for burials (sometimes extremely elaborate), temple
complexes and areas of pottery manufacture, metal working and the minting
of coins. Some, particularly those positioned in coastal or estuarine
locations, provide evidence of widespread trade in the form of imported
goods, notably Gallo-Belgic pottery, from the continental mainland and the
western Roman Empire.
Territorial oppida reflect the development of complex social organisation and
increased permanence of settlement in the late Iron Age. They also provide
some of the most valuable evidence for the impact of Roman conquest and
government on native society. Given the rarity of this settlement form and its
importance for our understanding of the period, all territorial oppida are
viewed as being of national, if not international importance, and all
surviving elements are considered worthy of protection.

The territorial oppidum surrounding Colchester (`Camulodunum' in antiquity)
encompassed an area of about 25 sq km mainly located between the
converging courses of the River Colne and the Roman River to the west of
the Colne estuary. In addition to the rivers, the settlement was defined and
protected by the largest group of linear earthworks of the time in Britain.
These developed over a period of about one hundred years from the foundation
of the settlement in the early first century BC and mostly take the form of
large V-shaped ditches with banks constructed from upcast on the sides facing
the settled area. The dykes may have been made still more formidable by the
addition of timber palisades and gateways. They have been interpreted as an
expression of the settlement's status, as a means to control and protect
grazing stock and as an effective defence against chariots - one of the
principal features of later Iron Age warfare. If placed end to end, the
dykes would extend over a total distance of about 25km. Some 6km now
survive as extant earthworks and many other sections are known to survive
as buried features.

The interior of the oppidum is thought to have been largely agricultural - a
mixture of enclosed fields, pasture and woodland - with small occupation sites
scattered throughout and two particularly large and complex areas of activity
located to the west and to the north. At Gosbecks, to the west, an extensive
farmstead has been identified. This has been associated with Cunobelin (one of
the most famous British kings prior to the Roman conquest) and interpreted
as a centre of political authority and religious practice. At Sheepen, further
north, excavations in the 1930s and 1970 revealed widespread evidence of
industrial processes, the minting of coins and continental trade. Associated
with the settlement sites are burial sites, the three most prominent of which
are the Lexden Tumulus, a group of excavated funerary enclosures at Stanway
(beyond the western dykes), and a similar (unexcavated) enclosure at Gosbecks.
These sites reflect the beliefs and complex burial rituals afforded to the
society's elite, although a large number of less elaborate burials have been
discovered across the oppidum.

The rulers and occupants may have fluctuated according to the relative
fortunes of two rival tribal polities - the Trinovantes centred on modern
Essex and the Catuvellauni based in modern Hertfordshire. An alternative
suggestion is that the oppidum served as a Catuvellaunian colony within
Trinovantian territory, maintained through political agreements or the warlike
ascendancy of the former in order to provide this otherwise landlocked tribe
with access to coastal trade. In either case, the oppidum was clearly of
central importance to the region in AD 43 when it formed the primary military
objective for the invading Roman army. After the collapse of local resistance
the Emperor Claudius personally led his victorious forces into the oppidum,
which was subsequently reorganised to provide a centre of provincial
government and bridgehead for the further conquest of Britain. A small Roman
fort was constructed within the Gosbecks complex, and a larger legionary
fortress was established on the hill to the east (now the centre of modern
Colchester). As the focus of military activity shifted towards the north and
west of Britain, the fortress was redesignated as a `colonia', a chartered
town for a colony of retired soldiers. `Colonia Victricensis' (City of
Victory) was the first Roman town established in Britain and thus the earliest
truly urban settlement in the country. The burgeoning town was destroyed in
AD 60-61 - the first major casualty of the tribal revolt led by Boudicca,
queen of the Iceni. In the aftermath of the revolt the town was rebuilt with a
protective wall (based on the perimeter of the earlier fortress), and with the
return of order the colonia developed in a manner apparently calculated to
integrate the old and new social orders. Native settlement and burial
practices continued within the territorial oppidum (now probably a `civitas'
or self governing town) which was protected with additional dykes. A temple
and a theatre were constructed at the Gosbecks site, and the Sheepen
industrial zone was maintained, enlarged and extended to include a further
religious complex.

The collapse of Roman government in the early fifth century signalled the end
of Colonia Victricensis. Medieval Colchester emerged within the walls of the
former Roman town, leaving the greater part of the extended settlement and
oppidum to disappear beneath its rural hinterland. As a consequence the
archaeological remains in this area are remarkable for the lack of later
disturbance and present a unique opportunity for the study of the Iron Age and
Roman past.

The junction of Gryme's Dyke at Stanway Green is one of the best surviving
examples amongst the linear earthworks which defined the perimeter of the
settlement. The banks remain substantial and will contain evidence for the
date and manner of their construction and use. Furthermore, as has been found
in excavations further north, the ground surface sealed beneath the banks at
the time of their construction may retain evidence of earlier settlement
activity related to the oppidum to the east. The line of the external ditch
survives well as a buried and partly visible feature. The lower fills of the
ditch are unlikely to have been disturbed and will similarly contain valuable
archaeological evidence for the date of its construction and the period over
which it was maintained. The silts may also contain environmental evidence
illustrating the appearance of the landscape in which the dyke was set. The
area within the angle of the dyke junction is thought to have formed part of
the expanded Romano-British settlement at Gosbecks. This area has seen
comparatively little modern disturbance and provides a rare opportunity for
the study of well-preserved archaeological remains in the immediate vicinity
of the dyke.

The Stanway Green segment of Gryme's Dyke, together with its continuations
to the north and south, forms the westernmost boundary in a system of some 12
dykes constructed to define and defend the territorial oppidum of Camulodunum
and the later Roman colony. It forms part of the archaeological evidence for
the development of one of the earliest `proto-urban' settlements in Britain
and its translation into Britain's first true town in the years following the
Roman conquest.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 53-56
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 107-115
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 29
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 174
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995)
Radford, D and Gascoigne, A, The Colchester Iron Age Dykes: Archaeological summary, 1997, Colchester Museums Internal Report
Radford, D and Gascoigne, A, The Colchester Iron Age Dykes: Archaeological summary, 1997, Colchester Museums Internal Report

Source: Historic England

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