Lexden Tumulus Iron Age barrow and associated cemetery area: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Colchester (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TL 97537 24712
Reasons for Designation
The Iron Age barrow known as `Lexden Tumulus' lies within the borders of an
extensive late Iron Age settlement surrounding modern Colchester
(`Camulodunum' in antiquity). This settlement, or territorial oppidum (after
the Latin `oppida' for town), encompassed an area of about 25 sq km
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 dykes 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. 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 at
Gosbecks to the west and Sheepen to the north. Associated with the
settlement sites are burial grounds, prominent among which are the Lexden
Tumulus, a group of burial enclosures excavated 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 also been discovered
clustered and scattered across the oppidum.
Camulodunum 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. As the focus of military activity shifted further north and west the fortress established at Colchester 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. Native settlement and burial practices continued within the territorial oppidum which was probably run as a `civitas' or self governing town.
The excavation of 1924 provided ample evidence for the significance of the Lexden Tumulus, with no other Iron Age grave found then or since containing such a diverse and impressive assemblage of funerary artifacts. The contents of the grave provide a significant indication of the funerary rites accorded to the highest echelons of late Iron Age society, and illustrates not only wealth but also the cultural influences of the period. The use of a circular mound to cover the grave is unusual, the custom having declined in Britain some 1,000 years prior to this date. Although a few Iron Age round barrows are known in England, barrows on the scale of the Lexden Tumulus generally appear only after the Roman conquest, following trends developed amongst the occupants of Roman Gaul. The Lexden Tumulus appears to be ahead of this fashion, and thus reflects a considerable interest in the activities of contemporary tribes under Roman rule across the English Channel. The medallion of Augustus provides further compelling evidence that the occupant, whether Addedomaros or not, held the Romans in high esteem and perhaps still honoured (or at least remembered) the treaty established with the Trinovantes tribe at the time of Julius Caesar.
The central area of the mound has been throughly examined, but the greater part of the mound remains substantially undisturbed. This, together with the encircling or partly surrounding ditch, will retain further valuable evidence for the date and manner of the barrow's construction, and may contain environmental traces indicating the appearance of the landscape in which the monument was originally set.
The mound is believed to fall within the area of an unenclosed cemetery, or urnfield, which extended along the western side of the Lexden Dyke after its construction in the last quarter of the 1st century BC. These burials follow the common practice of the time - cremated remains buried in wheel-thrown pottery vessels, accompanied by further vessels (perhaps containing offerings of food and drink) and items of personal value. Burials in this fashion continued after the construction of the barrow and through the period of Roman rule up to the 3rd century AD. Together with the barrow, these burials provide significant insights into the social structure, beliefs and economy of the late Iron Age and, furthermore, for the continuity of tribal customs under Roman government.
The monument includes an earthen burial mound, or barrow, situated in the
adjoining gardens of Nos 30 and 36 Fitzwalter Road, some 200m east of
the Iron Age linear boundary known as Lexden Dyke and some 1.6km west of
the centre of modern Colchester.
The mound was constructed in a prominent location overlooking the valley of the River Colne to the north. It now stands to a height of about 1.5m and, having spread somewhat beyond its original, near circular plan, measures some 38m NNW to SSE by 35m. The barrow was partly excavated in 1924 by P G and H E Laver, who revealed one of the richest Iron Age burials ever discovered in Britain. The main burial was arranged in a central pit, some 8m in diameter, which may have contained a timber chamber similar to those discovered more recently to the west at Stanway. The deceased's remains had been cremated and placed on the floor of the pit surrounded by an impressive array of domestic and personal goods; virtually all of these had been broken prior to burial, or as a result of the partial disturbance of the grave in antiquity. Amongst the grave goods were at least 17 wine jars (amphorae) imported from the Mediterranean; the copper alloy figurines of a griffin, a bear, a bull and a cupid, all of which appear to have been attached to metal vessels or items of furniture; sheet alloy and cast fittings representing a casket or chest; a chain mail tunic and leather under-jerkin; an iron folding stool (reminiscent of those used by Roman generals); a Bronze Age axehead (already over 1,000 years old) which may have been an heirloom or cult symbol, and fragments of gold thread from articles of clothing. A particularly significant item is a silver medallion, created from a cast of a coin of the Emperor Augustus. The original coin can be dated with some accuracy to the period 18-16 BC, and thus provides the earliest possible date for the burial. The most probable date of the burial, based on modern analysis of the total assemblage, is around 15-10 BC. The elaborate contents of the grave and the unusual practice of barrow construction (largely unknown in Britain at this date) indicates a person of notable power and wealth, and it has been suggested that the individual concerned may have been Addedomaros, a king of the Trinovantes tribe who were, at that time, in control of the defended settlement surrounding modern Colchester - the oppidum of Camulodunum. The 1924 excavation included two trenches radiating out from the centre of the mound which revealed the core to be mainly gravel overlying a loamy soil previously stripped of turf. The excavators also recorded a ditch, 3m wide and 1.2m deep at the foot of the mound to the north east and a slightly smaller ditch (2.5m wide and 0.9m deep) to the south west. This feature may have completely encircled the barrow, although a trench placed to the west of the mound in 1973 found no evidence to support this theory.
The barrow stands within an area to the east of the Lexden Dyke which is known to have developed as a flat cemetery, or urnfield, prior to the construction of the Lexden Tumulus, and to have continued or resumed this use in the period after the Roman conquest. The earliest phase of the cemetery is represented by cremation vessels dating from around 50-10 BC. The first burial to be discovered (in 1904) contained six pottery vessels and an ornate bronze mirror. Other graves, totalling some 27 urns, have since been discovered in piecemeal fashion mainly clustered to the west of St Clare Road (about 150m NNW of the Tumulus). A burial belonging to this phase was discovered directly north of the barrow in 1938 during the laying of a sewer pipe along the south side of Fitzwalter Road, and a second burial assemblage was discovered in a nearby electricity cable trench in 1973. Further burials are expected to survive within the immediate vicinity of the barrow, and a sample of this area is therefore included in the scheduling in order to protect the archaeological relationship between these two funerary practices.
All garden fences are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Crummy, P, City of Victory, (1997), 22-25
Crummy, P, City of Victory, (1997), 23
Crummy, P, 'Essex Archaeology News' in Archaeology in Essex 1973-4, (1975), 11
Foster, J, 'BAR' in The Lexden Tumulus: a reappraisal of an Iron Age burial, , Vol. 156, (1986)
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 164-69
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 85-6
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 127-130
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 85-94
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 127-30
Laver, P G, 'Archaeologia' in The Excavation of a Tumulus at Lexden, Colchester, , Vol. 76, (1927), 241-54
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