Gryme's Dyke at Stanway Green: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019992

Date first listed: 10-Aug-1923

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Sep-2002


Ordnance survey map of Gryme's Dyke at Stanway Green: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1019992 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 17-Dec-2018 at 04:43:33.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester (District Authority)

Parish: Stanway

National Grid Reference: TL 96071 23299


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 time 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. 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. At Sheepen, further north, 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 sites, the three most prominent of which are the Lexden Tumulus, a group of excavated funerary 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 society's elite, although 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 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.

The junction of Gryme's Dyke at Stanway Green is one of the best surviving examples amongst the linear earthworks which defined the perimeter of the settlement. The banks remain substantial and will contain evidence for the date and manner of their construction and use. Furthermore, as has been found in excavations further north, the ground surface sealed beneath the banks at the time of their construction may retain evidence of earlier settlement activity related to the oppidum to the east. The line of the external ditch survives well as a buried and partly visible feature. The lower fills of the ditch are unlikely to have been disturbed and will similarly contain valuable archaeological evidence for the date of its construction 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. The area within the angle of the dyke junction is thought to have formed part of the expanded Romano-British settlement at Gosbecks. This area has seen comparatively little modern disturbance and provides a rare opportunity for the study of well-preserved archaeological remains in the immediate vicinity of the dyke.

The Stanway Green segment of Gryme's Dyke, together with its continuations to the north and south, forms the westernmost boundary in a system of some 12 dykes constructed to define and defend the territorial oppidum of Camulodunum and the later Roman colony. It forms part of the archaeological evidence for the development of one of the earliest `proto-urban' settlements in Britain and 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 buried and upstanding remains of part of a late Iron Age or Romano-British linear boundary located at Stanway Green, some 4km south west of Colchester town centre.

The earthworks at Stanway Green form a right angled junction connecting two sections of the westernmost boundary of the Iron Age and Roman settlement at Colchester (Camulodunum). The northern end of Gryme's Dyke South forms the western arm of the junction. The rampart here measures some 0.5m high and 10m across. The ditch, which is known to continue southward towards Maldon Road (where it is scheduled as part of a separate monument), survives buried beneath the track immediately to the west of the bank. Excavations elsewhere along the Gryme's Dyke indicate that this ditch measures about 10m wide and 3m-4m deep.

The junction of the two dyke alignments has been slighted by Heath Road, although the buried outer ditch is thought to survive without significant interruption. The northern section of the dyke (known as part of Gryme's Dyke Middle) runs eastward from this junction for some 140m towards the boundary of Stanway Green Cottage, the bank measuring between 0.5m and 0.8m high and averaging 9m in width. The external ditch, contiguous with the northern slope of the bank, remains visible along this section and measures up to 10m across and 0.7m deep. A north east to south west orientated ditch (averaging 9m across and 0.9m deep) turns back from the eastern end of the northern bank to create the curious triangular shape of the green. Further slight ditches have also been recorded alongside the inner edges of both the northern and western banks.

Excavated evidence for the date of the dyke places its construction in the early Roman period, although theories regarding its age and purpose are equally based on its appearance, location and position in relation to other dykes on the western side of the Iron Age and Romano-British settlement. It is considered that the dyke shows evidence of Roman planning and was added to strengthen the western approach soon after the conquest or as part of the reconstruction which followed the Boudiccan revolt. Stanway Green may reflect the meeting of two phases in its development, with the earlier northern section (Gryme's Dyke North and Middle) built between Kidman's Dyke and the River Colne to protect the western approaches to the Roman town, and the second section (Middle and South) added later to provide additional protection for the centre of native administration at Gosbecks. This required the sharp angle in order to run wide of the settlement on route to the Roman River.

All fences, fence posts, notice boards, litter bins and the modern surface of Heath Road 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: 29454

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 53-56
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 107-115
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 29
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 174
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 Dykes: Archaeological summary, 1997, Colchester Museums Internal Report

End of official listing