Lexden Dyke at Spring Meadow: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019965
Date first listed: 24-Apr-2002
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Colchester (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TL 97362 25271
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
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 period 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 palsiades and gateways, and 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. Further north, at Sheepen, 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 grounds, the most prominent of which are the Lexden Tumulus, Lexden Mount, a group of excavated burial 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 the society's elite; 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 peace re-established 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.
Lexden Dyke is one of the best surviving examples amongst the linear earthworks which defined the perimeter of the Iron Age settlement, and Lexden Dyke North, so called as it lies to the north of the cutting of the later Roman road (London Road), is an integral part of this boundary. The small sections of surviving bank (and scarp) will contain valuable archaeological evidence for the date and manner of its construction. The attendant ditch also survives as a buried feature. The lower fills of the ditch are unlikely to have been disturbed and will similarly contain valuable evidence for the date when this section was built 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. Together with its continuation to the south (Lexden Dyke Middle) and north (Moat Farm Dyke), Lexden Dyke North forms the westernmost boundary of the late Iron Age territorial oppidum, and was later to become one of the inner boundaries within an enlarged system constructed to define and defend the Roman colony and Romano-British civitas. It therefore forms part of the archaeological evidence for the development of one of the earliest `proto-urban' settlements in Britain and for its translation into Britain's first true town in the years following the Roman conquest.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the visible and buried remains of a section of the
northern part of a late Iron Age linear boundary earthwork (the Lexden Dyke)
located to the north of London Road some 2km east of Colchester town
A short section of the boundary bank survives to the east of Tapwoods Road, at the top of the slope leading down to the sunken course of London Road. The bank here measures some 15m in length (orientated north to south) and 1.8m high. The buried ditch, on the west side of the bank, was partly excavated during the construction of Tapwoods Road in 1971. This was found to have a V-shaped profile, 3.8m in depth and about 6m across. A Roman coin of the 4th century AD was discovered in the ditch fill, about 1m above the base. Further north, the Lexden Dyke is represented by a modified natural scarp along the western boundary of the Spring Meadow local nature reserve. This scarp (also oriented north-south) measures approximately 70m in length and 10m in width, and was evidently regularised in the recent past, probably as part of the landscaped grounds of a large house called Bramley Croft (now replaced by houses on Hunard Drive). The ditch alongside this scarp has been infilled, although it is thought to survive as a buried feature with a similar width (6m) to the section excavated to the south.
Lexden Dyke North is similar in design to the middle section of Lexden Dyke which follows the same alignment to the south, beyond the break formed (since Roman times) by London Road and continuing across Lexden Park and through Bluebottle Grove. To the north, beyond the River Colne, a separate dyke (the Moat Farm Dyke) continues in a north easterly direction for a further 1.5km. The Lexden and Moat Farm Dykes are believed to represent a single boundary, which was originally broken only by the River Colne and its flanking marshes. It is thought to be the third boundary constructed during the development of the oppidum of Camulodunum, added to the north of Heath Farm Dyke in the period AD 5-43 to provide a single barrier between the Roman River and the Colne. The boundary would have thus secured the approaches to the high status burial grounds at Lexden (to the west of modern Colchester), the royal farmstead at Gosbecks (to the south west) and the industrial zone at Sheepen (to the north west).
All fences, fence posts, walls and steps are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 29462
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
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 Dyke System: Integrated Management Plan, 1997, Colchester Museum internal report
Title: TL 9725 (25") Source Date: 1953 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Gronds of Bramley Croft (TL 974253)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing