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The Roman town of Venta Icenorum ‘market place of the Iceni’ was established c.70 AD as the capital of the Iceni tribe – the tribe made infamous in 61 AD when their queen, Boudicca, led a revolt against Roman rule. During the Roman occupation large parts of Britain were organised into civitas reipublicae, which were political communities formed from the local citizens in a district. This process formalised the Iron Age tribal districts into permanent Roman administrative units which were ruled and managed from the civitas capital. In response to the Boudiccan revolt, the Romans decided it would be prudent to establish a new civitas capital, Venta Icenorum, in this troublesome area to prevent further issues.

Whilst Venta Icenroum was never elaborate, it became an important trading centre. Trade allowed the town to grow in wealth, thereby permitting the construction of major public buildings, such as a forum, basilica and baths. Similarly, Venta Icenorum was not so modest that it did not benefit from the mod-cons of the day, the town was also supplied with running water, evidenced by the discovery of wooden water pipes and drains uncovered during excavations at the site.  

Whilst much of Venta Icenorum lays preserved under the ground, visitors can view the remains of the town’s defensive walls and ditches, which still protectively encircle the site. The remains of tower-like bastions, designed as both watch towers and as platforms to mount artillery, indicates the walls were not merely there to demarcate the town’s boundaries, they were also a means of defence should there be further local uprisings. Of these bastions, only one now survives, near the site of the west gate, however evidence of others can still be glimpsed in front of the south wall. 

Venta Icenorum remained occupied throughout the Roman occupation, however once Rome’s forces were withdrawn in 5th century AD, the town was abandoned and remained uninhabited during subsequent historical periods. 

The site is in the care of Norfolk Archaeological Trust and is open all year round – entrance is free. Visitors can follow several walks around the Roman defences and the Caistor Roman Town free augmented reality app (available of Google Play and the App Store) allows visitors to see a reconstruction of the town on the landscape and examine some of the artefacts found there. Free parking is available a short walk from the site, however additional facilities can be found only 3.5 miles away in the city of Norwich.

Secondary sources

De la Bedoyere, G. (2013) Roman Britain: A New History, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.

Historic England (n.d.) ‘Venta Icenorum’, Pastscape, online https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=132757 

Norfolk Archaeological Trust (n.d.) Caistor Roman Town, online https://www.norfarchtrust.org.uk/caistor 

Roman Britain (n.d.) ‘Venta Icenorum’, Roman Britain, online http://www.roman-britain.co.uk/places/venta_icenorum.htm 

The University of Nottingham (n.d.) Caistor Roman Town, online https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/humanities/departments/classics-and-archaeology/research/research-projects/current-projects/caistor.aspx 

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