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Venta Icenorum: Roman town and associated prehistoric, Anglo-Saxon and medieval remains

A Scheduled Monument in Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.581 / 52°34'51"N

Longitude: 1.2906 / 1°17'26"E

OS Eastings: 623038.338057

OS Northings: 303218.858609

OS Grid: TG230032

Mapcode National: GBR VH0.348

Mapcode Global: WHMTT.SDS5

Entry Name: Venta Icenorum: Roman town and associated prehistoric, Anglo-Saxon and medieval remains

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1925

Last Amended: 26 September 2018

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021463

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35641

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Caistor St. Edmund

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Caistor St Edmund with Markshall

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument includes the Roman civitas capital of Venta Icenorum together
with associated prehistoric and medieval deposits within or in the vicinity
of the town, surviving as earthworks and buried archaeological deposits over
an area of c.75 ha. The monument lies 5 miles south of Norwich on rising
ground to the east and west of the River Tas and is defined by the Norwich to
London railway to the west and Stoke Road to the east. The extra-mural
settlement continues further eastwards to Markshall Lane (South).

In the northern area of the monument, the enclosing ramparts, ditches and
masonry walls of the shrunken C3 town, mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary of
that date, survive well for most of the circuit; much of the north wall and
fragments of the west and east walls are exposed. Despite frequent
cultivation in the past, partial excavation during the 1930s within the
walled town (scheduled in 1925) has demonstrated good survival of
archaeological structures and deposits beneath the ploughsoil. The scheduled
area was extended by a strip to the south of the walled enclosure in 1971 and
then to the north of the enclosure when the scheduling was revised under the
Monuments Protection Programme (SM 11502) in 1990.

Further archaeological evidence comprises data from limited excavations in
the extra-mural zone to the east where an early medieval cremation and
inhumation cemetery was discovered in 1932, part of which is scheduled as
Norfolk 234. Recent archaeological evaluation to the south of the walled
town, a programme of geophysical survey and mapping of the accumulated aerial
photographic evidence under the National Mapping Project, have revealed
extensive survival of buried archaeological remains, visible as crop marks.
This new evidence has added considerably to our understanding of the Roman
town and prompted the current revision to the scheduling. The crop marks
represent prehistoric field boundaries, enclosures and possible Iron Age
settlement remains overlain by Roman buildings and townscape features within
the town walls and to the south, east and west of them. To the west of the
River Tas, features representing continued occupation of this part of the
monument into the early medieval period have been identified. In addition to
the buried remains, the monument has yielded a rich array of artefactual
evidence pertaining to a range of activities from the Late Iron Age,
throughout the Roman and early medieval periods.

In approximately AD 70 the civitas capital was laid out with streets and
insulae on a grid pattern, probably on the site of an Iron Age and
Romano-British settlement of the Iceni tribe, suggested by the survival of
enclosures and round house platforms south of the walled town. The buried
remains of a triple-ditch defensive system, of uncertain date but earlier
than the C3 town, enclosed a larger, broadly kite-shape area which may
represent a defended Late Iron Age tribal centre similar to that at
Colchester. The early Roman settlement covered an area approximately twice
the size of the later walled town and was accessed by a number of minor and
principal roads; one from the civitas capital of Camulodunum (Colchester) and
others leading to small Roman towns such as Billingford (SM 35557). The late
C1 buildings were constructed mostly from timber with wattle and daub

Ptolemy, the geographer writing in the C2 AD, describes Venta Icenorum as the
one noteworthy town of the Iceni suggesting, perhaps, an increase in
prosperity and architectural prowess; certainly the town became an important
hub for river and land-borne trade. This is confirmed by the excavation of
early C2 masonry houses with painted wall plaster and major public buildings
including the forum and basilica complex and public baths. The first forum
lay near to the centre of the later walled town in insula X, but was rebuilt
probably in the Antonine period. This later phase was constructed of flint
and brick on layered chalk foundations. It provided a large open space, or
piazza, of approximately 30m square for public meetings and markets,
surrounded by an internal colonnade on three sides. Beyond the colonnade on
the north and south sides were long halls and a range of eight rooms lay
behind the east side. The basilica with one aisle lay on the fourth, west,
side approached by three flights of steps from the piazza. The baths in
insula XVII, not far from the west gate, were probably contemporary with the
forum. The eastern end of the building was excavated. It contained a partly
covered palaestra (a public place for athletics or wrestling) with a single
entrance from the street to the east. From it three doors gave access to the
frigidarium (cold bath), with a tessellated floor, which ran the full width
of the building. Beyond lay the tepidarium (the warm room) and, on the south
side of the building, a circular laconium (dry heat treatment or sauna) was
located at the junction of the tepidarium and frigidarium. The baths were
supplied with water from the river which also facilitated the towns water and
sewerage system. It is unknown whether the water supply system incorporated
an aqueduct. No other public buildings are known, but the buried remains of
two temples of the late C2 are located in insula IX immediately north of the

The contracted town of the C3 was enclosed with walls built of flint and
stone with tile coursing which are probably contemporary with the rebuilt
forum and basilica complex. Each side had a central gateway and additional
semi-circular or rectangular bastions. Internally, they were supported by an
earthen bank and crop mark and earthwork evidence suggests the presence of a
deep external ditch breached at the position of the gates.

To the south of the walled area, crop mark evidence of the town grid,
buildings, roads and ditches is apparent. Immediately south of the wall, the
ditch is flanked by a roadway with evidence of roadside buildings and
enclosures. Approximately 90m to the south-west of the walls are the buried
remains of the oval amphitheatre which is visible as a slight rise in the
ground surface. Geophysical survey has revealed that it measures 40m x 33m
and is constructed in stone or brick with an opening to the south. The
outlines of rooms beneath the tiered seating banks surrounding the arena have
been discerned. A late Roman cemetery of the C4 or C5, established after the
contraction of the town into the walled area, has been discovered to the east
and north-east of the amphitheatre.

Crop mark evidence west of the River Tas strongly indicates that the Roman
settlement extended into this area. The buried remains of trackways,
rectilinear enclosures, buildings and boundary ditches aligned with the
town's grid and Roman roads to the west, east and south attest to a
significant survival of Roman deposits. The roads apparently converge at a
fording point over the river which appears to respect the location of the
western gate into the walled town. Further to the south of the settlement are
the buried remains of ditches and enclosures, probably of Roman and earlier
date, which represent the land-use adjacent to the settlement, important for
its economic prosperity. Two silver Iceni coins, over 5000 Roman coins and
other artefacts further indicate long-lived occupation particularly near to
the roads. Overlying the Roman archaeological deposits are possible
sunken-floored buildings of the early medieval period (C5 to C6). Numerous
metal artefacts of the C7 to C8 including a gold tremissi minted in 650AD at
the great trading port of Dorestadt in the Netherlands attest to occupation
of parts of the monument until the C8.

The Church of St Edmund, a Grade II* listed building, and its surrounding
churchyard in the south-east corner of the walled town are not included the
scheduling. The sewerage disposal works (centred at grid reference
TG2290702975) and the terraced housing at nos.1 to 4 Stoke Road and their
gardens (centred at grid reference TG2315002970) are also not included in the
scheduling. All track surfaces, fences, fence posts, hedges, field ditches,
signage boards and telegraph poles are excluded from the scheduling, although
the ground beneath them is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Five types of Roman towns are known to have existed in Roman Britain;
coloniae, municipia, civitas capitals, Roman provincial capitals and Roman
small towns. The first four types can be classified as 'public towns' because
each had an official status within the provincial administration system.

Civitas capitals are towns which functioned as the principal centres of the
civitatae or regions of Roman Britain. They were official creations,
generally established in the later C1 or early C2 AD in newly pacified areas
where the process of Romanisation had been successfully inaugurated. They
were typically established on the sites of earlier tribal centres or
settlements and were populated largely by native Britons rather than Roman

Civitas capitals functioned as economic, cultural and administrative centres
for their respective regions. In terms of civic administration, a civitas
capital would either have had magistrates and a council or it may have been
administered directly for a time through officials known as 'praefecti
civitatis'. Defensive walls usually defined the areas of civitas capitals,
these ranging in size from c 14has to c 58ha. Within the walled area the main
features included: the forum-basilica, other major public buildings, private
houses, shops and workshops, piped water and sewerage systems, a planned
rectangular street grid and, in some cases, waterfront installations. Beyond
the walls, an area of extra-mural settlement can often be identified. This
area can be extensive and may include features such as an amphitheatre,
quarries, cemeteries, temples, rubbish dumps, commemorative monuments,
potteries and roads. Sixteen civitas capitals are known in England showing a
relatively even distribution through the southern and eastern lowland zone of
Roman Britain. They were set up in the wake of the advancing army as it moved
progressively north and westwards and it was in the south and east that
Romanisation had the earliest and most successful impact.

Venta Icenorum was the largest and most important Roman town in northern East
Anglia and is one of only three civitas capitals to survive in a wholly
greenfield location in England. The town is documented in the Roman period
and the results of limited archaeological excavation and evaluation, as well
as non-intrusive investigation provide a sound evidence base for assessing
the importance of the town. The circuit of the upstanding town wall provides
an impressive visual feature and although none of the buildings within or
beyond the walls survive above ground, the diversity of buried archaeological
deposits such as masonry foundations, tessellated floors, roads and defensive
ditches are known from excavation, geophysical survey and aerial photographic
evidence to survive well below ground. The known, continued survival of
important public buildings such as the amphitheatre, forum and basilica and
bath complex adds considerably to the significance of the monument as does
the crop mark evidence of the Late Iron Age settlement. As the site was not
comprehensively resettled in the post-Roman period, the extensive survival of
archaeological deposits has the potential to increase understanding on the
pre-Roman settlement, the foundation and development of the civitas capital
and the decline of urban Roman life in the province. The evidence for
continued occupation into the early Medieval period adds significantly to the
importance of the monument on a less well understood period of our history.
Venta Icenorum comprises a palimpsest of multi-period settlement with
considerable group value.


Davies, J. Venta Icenorum, 2001
Wacher, J The Towns of Roman Britain, pp236-238, 1974

Source: Historic England

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