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Historic England Research Records

Venta Icenorum

Hob Uid: 132757
Location :
Norfolk
South Norfolk
Stoke Holy Cross, Caistor St. Edmund and Bixley
Grid Ref : TG2282303248
Summary : A Roman civitas capital with defensive walls, extra mural settlement and asssociated features and structures. It was described by Ptolemy in the second century as the one noteworthy town of the Iceni. The civitas capital was founded about AD 70 on the site of a larger Iron Age and Romano-British settlement. It was laid out with streets and insulae on a grid pattern and became an important trade centre, its increasing wealth reflected by the presence of early second century masonry houses containing painted wall plaster and major public buildings including the forum and basilica complex and public baths. By the 3rd century the town had reduced in size and enclosed with walls, each side accessed by a central gate with bastions. The excavations have also located evidence for industrial processes including glass making within the settlement. Cropmarks to the south of the walls and to the west of the River Tas indicate the presence of extra mural settlement, an amphitheatre and a late Roman cemetery. Further to the south are ditches and enclosures thought to be Roman and earlier in date, which represent landuse adjacent to the settlement. Excavations have also recorded 5th-6th century sunken floored buildings and artefacts dating to the 7th-8th century indicating occupation continued until the 8th century. Two Palaeolithic hand axes have been recovered as surface finds from the site.
More information : (TG 231035) Venta Roman Town (R) (1)

Venta Icenorum (2) was founded about AD 70 after the repression of Boudicca's revolt. The street plan (6) was located on RAF Air Photographs taken in July 1928, and the site was excavated by Prof. D. Atkinson between 1929 and 1935 with the exception of 1932.

Early in its existence a Forum and Basilica were built, probably about AD 125; and pre AD 140 a set of Public Baths. The town wall dates from about AD 200, they enclose an area of 34 acres, slightly smaller than the originally occupied area. About the same time as the walls were constructed two stone temples were built north of the Forum, but other than public buildings, the remainder were still being built of wattle and daub until the C3rd. The Forum was rebuilt on a smaller scale about AD 270-290, and the occupation of the town held steady until after 360.

Then, everywhere it appears much diminished and from the evidence of a burnt building containing 36 human skulls and coins, the end occurred about AD 400 or later.

The final report of the 1929-35 excavations was being written by Prof. Atkinson when he died in 1963, the notes passed to Sir Ian Richmond and after his death in 1967, they went to Prof. Frere who writes (6) "one of the difficulties of writing a report on any part of the Caistor excavations at this late date is the inadequacy of the surviving records, .......... only re-excavation can now discover the exact truth". (2-8)

Though nothing is visible within the defences, the latter are prominent in their entire circuit. See annotated 25" survey. (9)

Venta Icenorum is situated on a gentle slope on the east side of the River Tas. The earthworks enclose an area of about 12ha and are best preserved on the north and east where the rampart rises some 1.6m above ground level and the ditch is 2.1m deep. Elsewhere the rampart survives as low bank, but walling is exposed along most of the north side where it attains a height of 5.0m, and on the south side too. The ditch, however, has been destroyed by ploughing on all but the east side. The four, opposing, gates, are indicated by breaks in the earthworks but no masonry or other evidence is visible. Apart from St Edmund's Church (in the SE corner of the earthwork), the enclosed area is under pasture and no evidence for the street pattern could be seen.

Published 1:2500 survey revised on MSD. (10)

Scheduled area revised and new national number (formerly Norfolk 148) assigned. (11)

Two Palaeolithic handaxes were found on the surface within the site. (12-13)

Two significant locations of evidence for glass-making or working were discovered during the excavations:

TG23000365 (Insula IX) Possble annealing furnace found during the 1929 excavations. The identification of this must remain tentative because the residues are not available for examination.

TG22770350. glass waste found during the 1965 excavations.

TG22800390. Glass waste found during the 1822 excavations. (14)

Recent archaeological evaluations, a geophysical survey programme and the examination of aerial photographs have identified an extensive area of activity comprising prehistoric field boundaries, enclosures over lain by the civitas capital. The civitas capital was laid out, in about 70 AD, with streets and insulae on a grid pattern, possibly on the site of an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement as evidenced by enclosures and round house platforms identified south of the walled town. This settlement covered an area twice the size of the later walled town. Also recorded was a triple ditched defensive system enclosing a kite-shaped area. This has been interpreted as a possible defended Iron Age settlement.

By the second century the civilas was documented by Ptolemy as the noteworthy town of the Iceni, it had become an important centre trading, its wealth evidenced from the excavation of masonry houses with painted wall plaster and major public buildings including the forum and basilica complex and public baths. By the3rd century the contracted town was enclosed by flint and stone walls. Each side had a central gateway with either semi-circular or rectangular bastions. Cropmarks to the south of the walled area indicate the continuation of the town grid, buildings, roads and ditches. Also present is an oval amphitheatre which survives as a slight earthwork. A geophysical survey found it to measure 40 metres by 33 metres, of stone or brick construction, with an opening to the south. A Roman cemetery, 4th-5th century in date was recorded to the east and northeast of the amphitheatre. Cropmarks to the west of the River, Tas comprising trackways, rectilinear enclosures, buildings and boundary ditches aligned with the town's grid indicate that the Roman settlement extended into this area.

Further to the south are ditches and enclosures thought to be Roman and earlier in date, which represent landuse adjacent to the settlement. Excavations have also recorded 5th-6th century sunken floored buildings and artefacts dating to the 7th-8th century indicating occupation continued until the 8th century.

The civitas capital was the largest and most important town in northern East Anglia and is only one of three to survive in a completely greenfield location in England. (15)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 1:10 000 1977
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Figs. :
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Source Number : 2
Source : The place-names of Roman Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 492
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 11
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 07-Jun-90
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 12
Source : The Palaeolithic sites of East Anglia
Source details :
Page(s) : 69
Figs. :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 13
Source : The English Rivers Palaeolithic Project, report no. 3, 1996-1997 : [Regions 8 and 11] East Anglian rivers and the Trent drainage
Source details :
Page(s) : 65
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 14
Source : English Heritage Monuments Protection Programme Industrial Monuments Assessment, Step 3 Reports
Source details : The Glass Industry Vol.2 Norfolk 1
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 15
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 04-Jan-11
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : The Archaeological Journal
Source details : (C F C Hawkes)
Page(s) : 62-5
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 106, 1949
Source Number : 4
Source : Norfolk archaeology : a journal of archaeology and local history
Source details : (R R Clarke)
Page(s) : 146-8
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 30, 1952
Source Number : 5
Source : The civitas capitals of Roman Britain. Papers given at a conference held at the University of Leicester, 13-15 December 1963
Source details :
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 6
Source : Britannia : a journal of Romano-British and kindred studies
Source details : (Frere)
Page(s) : Jan-26
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 2, 1971
Source Number : 7
Source : Town and country in Roman Britain
Source details : (Rivet)
Page(s) : 176-7
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 8
Source : The Anglo-Saxon cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall, Norfolk
Source details :
Page(s) :
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Plates :
Vol(s) : no.30
Source Number : 9
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 BHS 12-AUG-1970
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F2 RSC 21-NOV-1980
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Palaeolithic
Display Date : Palaeolithic
Monument End Date : -10000
Monument Start Date : -500000
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence : Find
Monument Period Name : Iron Age
Display Date : Iron Age
Monument End Date : 400
Monument Start Date : 70
Monument Type : Settlement, Field System, Defended Enclosure
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit, Cropmark
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Pre 70AD
Monument End Date : 70
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Settlement, Field System
Evidence : Cropmark, Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : C4-C5
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Cemetery
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : From 70AD
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 70
Monument Type : Civitas Capital, Extra Mural Suburb, Field System, Amphitheatre, Annealing Furnace
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit, Cropmark, Earthwork, Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Early Medieval
Display Date : C5-C6
Monument End Date : 600
Monument Start Date : 410
Monument Type : Cemetery, Grubenhaus, Settlement
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Early Medieval
Display Date : C7-C8
Monument End Date : 800
Monument Start Date : 601
Monument Type : Settlement
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Period : Palaeolithic
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : HANDAXE
Object Material : Flint
Period : Roman
Component Monument Type : Civitas Capital, Extra Mural Suburb, Field System, Amphitheatre, Annealing Furnace
Object Type : GLASS WORKING DEBRIS
Object Material :

Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NF 148
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Norfolk)
External Cross Reference Number : 9786
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Norfolk)
External Cross Reference Number : 148
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 11502
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : English Rivers Palaeolithic Project
External Cross Reference Number : W&Y 4/13
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Norfolk)
External Cross Reference Number : 9819
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Norfolk)
External Cross Reference Number : 9788
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 35641
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TG 20 SW 19
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1923-01-01
End Date : 1923-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM, (INSULA IX)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1929-01-01
End Date : 1929-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1930-01-01
End Date : 1930-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1931-01-01
End Date : 1933-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1934-01-01
End Date : 1934-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM, (INSULA XIV)
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1935-01-01
End Date : 1935-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM,SITE XXV
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1956-01-01
End Date : 1956-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TG 20 SW 19
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1970-08-12
End Date : 1970-08-12
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TG 20 SW 19
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1980-11-21
End Date : 1980-11-21
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1989-01-01
End Date : 1989-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1992-01-01
End Date : 1992-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND ROMAN TOWN
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1993-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND ROMAN TOWN
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1993-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, VENTA ICENORUM, INSULA XVII
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1994-01-01
End Date : 1994-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, OLD HALL BARN
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 1994-01-01
End Date : 1994-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND AMPHITHEATRE
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1995-01-01
End Date : 1995-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THE ENGLISH RIVERS PALAEOLITHIC PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1995-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND (VENTA ICENORUM)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1996-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND (VENTA ICENORUM)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND (VENTA ICENORUM)
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND (VENTA ICENORUM)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1999-01-01
End Date : 1999-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CAISTOR ST EDMUND (VENTA ICENORUM)
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 2001-01-01
End Date : 2001-12-31