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Berechurch Dyke: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum

List Entry Summary

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.

Name: Berechurch Dyke: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum

List entry Number: 1019968


The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester

District Type: District Authority


National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 10-Aug-1923

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Sep-2002

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 29466

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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 palisades 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 the return of order 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 and defined 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.

Berechurch Dyke, particularly the stretch through Charlotte's Grove, is one of the best surviving examples amongst the linear earthworks which defined the perimeter of the Iron Age settlement and Roman town. The bank is a substantial earthwork which will contain valuable archaeological evidence for the date and manner of its construction. The attendant ditch also survives well as a visible and partly 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 north (Barnhall Dyke), Berechurch Dyke is believed to have formed the eastern boundary of the late Iron Age territorial oppidum, or its successor - 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 buried and upstanding remains of the southern section of a late Iron Age or Romano-British linear boundary earthwork, located some 3km south of Colchester town centre and known as the Berechurch Dyke.

The section of dyke extends over a distance of about 1.7km, following a narrow zig-zag course (first SSW, then SSE, then south) between Berechurch Hall Road and the Roman River. From Berechurch Hall Road to Park Farm (a distance of about 1.3km) the bank, or rampart, is surmounted by a modern road surface and the ditch remains visible as a marked depression along most of the eastern side. An excavation across the roadway in 1984 demonstrated that the original bank survives to a height of 1m below the road and measures up to 13.5m in width. The depth of the largely infilled ditch was not established, although its width was recorded as 5.5m. The dyke continues southwards beyond the road and survives as a pronounced earthwork running thorough Charlotte's Grove towards the north bank of the Roman River. Here the bank stands some 2m high and 9.5m across and the ditch measures 4m wide and 2m deep.

Excavations immediately to the west of the dyke in 1929 and in 1986 revealed a number of slight ditches which have been interpreted as enclosures. These enclosure ditches (not included in the scheduling) contained pottery dating from the late Iron Age. They appear to have been deliberately sited alongside the bank and this relationship provides some indication of the date of the dyke's construction. The dyke's continuation to the north of Berechurch Hall Road has been established through excavation, although the route is mainly overlain by modern developments and is not included in the scheduling. At Monkwick Cemetery, 1.4km to the north, the dyke was broken by an entranceway before turning east and continuing (as Barnhall Dyke) for at least a further 800m. This change in direction may have been designed to avoid an extensive late Iron Age burial ground to the south of the modern town centre, and provides a further insight into the age of the dyke.

Berechurch (and Barnhall) Dyke, the only earthwork boundary on the eastern side of the territorial oppidum, may have been built to provide defence against attack from the direction of the Colne Estuary. Furthermore, since the Roman empire presented the only sea-borne threat to the oppidum, it has been suggested that the dyke was constructed as a specific response to the invasion planned (but not carried out) at the time of the Emperor Caligula (AD 37-41). Other authors maintain that the linearity of the dyke implies construction in the Roman period (after the successful invasion of AD 43) and suggest that its function was political rather than defensive.

The modern made road surface, together with all fences and fence posts, 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.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 54
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 159
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 24-26
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 137
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
Salvage excavation 1986, PRN 12035, (1988)

National Grid Reference: TL 99605 21030


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This copy shows the entry on 25-Sep-2018 at 06:46:37.

End of official listing