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Venta Icenorum: Roman town and associated prehistoric and medieval remains

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: Venta Icenorum: Roman town and associated prehistoric and medieval remains

List entry Number: 1021463


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

County: Norfolk

District: South Norfolk

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Caistor St. Edmund

County: Norfolk

District: South Norfolk

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Stoke Holy Cross

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 30-Nov-1925

Date of most recent amendment: 04-Jan-2011

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 35641

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

Five types of Roman towns are known to have existed in Roman Britain; coloniae, municipia, civitas capitals, Roman provincial capitals and Roman small towns. The first four types can be classified as 'public towns' because each had an official status within the provincial administration system. Civitas capitals are towns which functioned as the principal centres of the civitatae or regions of Roman Britain. They were official creations, generally established in the later C1 or early C2 AD in newly pacified areas where the process of Romanisation had been successfully inaugurated. They were typically established on the sites of earlier tribal centres or settlements and were populated largely by native Britons rather than Roman citizens. Civitas capitals functioned as economic, cultural and administrative centres for their respective regions. In terms of civic administration, a civitas capital would either have had magistrates and a council or it may have been administered directly for a time through officials known as 'praefecti civitatis'. Defensive walls usually defined the areas of civitas capitals, these ranging in size from c 14has to c 58ha. Within the walled area the main features included: the forum-basilica, other major public buildings, private houses, shops and workshops, piped water and sewerage systems, a planned rectangular street grid and, in some cases, waterfront installations. Beyond the walls, an area of extra-mural settlement can often be identified. This area can be extensive and may include features such as an amphitheatre, quarries, cemeteries, temples, rubbish dumps, commemorative monuments, potteries and roads. Sixteen civitas capitals are known in England showing a relatively even distribution through the southern and eastern lowland zone of Roman Britain. They were set up in the wake of the advancing army as it moved progressively north and westwards and it was in the south and east that Romanisation had the earliest and most successful impact. Venta Icenorum was the largest and most important Roman town in northern East Anglia and is one of only three civitas capitals to survive in a wholly greenfield location in England. The town is documented in the Roman period and the results of limited archaeological excavation and evaluation, as well as non-intrusive investigation provide a sound evidence base for assessing the importance of the town. The circuit of the upstanding town wall provides an impressive visual feature and although none of the buildings within or beyond the walls survive above ground, the diversity of buried archaeological deposits such as masonry foundations, tessellated floors, roads and defensive ditches are known from excavation, geophysical survey and aerial photographic evidence to survive well below ground. The known, continued survival of important public buildings such as the amphitheatre, forum and basilica and bath complex adds considerably to the significance of the monument as does the crop mark evidence of the Late Iron Age settlement. As the site was not comprehensively resettled in the post-Roman period, the extensive survival of archaeological deposits has the potential to increase understanding on the pre-Roman settlement, the foundation and development of the civitas capital and the decline of urban Roman life in the province. The evidence for continued occupation into the early Medieval period adds significantly to the importance of the monument on a less well understood period of our history. Venta Icenorum comprises a palimpsest of multi-period settlement with considerable group value. SOURCES: Davies, J. Venta Icenorum, 2001 Wacher, J The Towns of Roman Britain, pp236-238, 1974


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the Roman civitas capital of Venta Icenorum together with associated prehistoric and medieval deposits within or in the vicinity of the town, surviving as earthworks and buried archaeological deposits over an area of c.75 ha. The monument lies 5 miles south of Norwich on rising ground to the east and west of the River Tas and is defined by the Norwich to London railway to the west and Stoke Road to the east. The extra-mural settlement continues further eastwards to Markshall Lane (South). In the northern area of the monument, the enclosing ramparts, ditches and masonry walls of the shrunken C3 town, mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary of that date, survive well for most of the circuit; much of the north wall and fragments of the west and east walls are exposed. Despite frequent cultivation in the past, partial excavation during the 1930s within the walled town (scheduled in 1925) has demonstrated good survival of archaeological structures and deposits beneath the ploughsoil. The scheduled area was extended by a strip to the south of the walled enclosure in 1971 and then to the north of the enclosure when the scheduling was revised under the Monuments Protection Programme (SM 11502) in 1990. Further archaeological evidence comprises data from limited excavations in the extra-mural zone to the east where an early medieval cremation and inhumation cemetery was discovered in 1932, part of which is scheduled as Norfolk 234. Recent archaeological evaluation to the south of the walled town, a programme of geophysical survey and mapping of the accumulated aerial photographic evidence under the National Mapping Project, have revealed extensive survival of buried archaeological remains, visible as crop marks. This new evidence has added considerably to our understanding of the Roman town and prompted the current revision to the scheduling. The crop marks represent prehistoric field boundaries, enclosures and possible Iron Age settlement remains overlain by Roman buildings and townscape features within the town walls and to the south, east and west of them. To the west of the River Tas, features representing continued occupation of this part of the monument into the early medieval period have been identified. In addition to the buried remains, the monument has yielded a rich array of artefactual evidence pertaining to a range of activities from the Late Iron Age, throughout the Roman and early medieval periods. In approximately AD 70 the civitas capital was laid out with streets and insulae on a grid pattern, probably on the site of an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement of the Iceni tribe, suggested by the survival of enclosures and round house platforms south of the walled town. The buried remains of a triple-ditch defensive system, of uncertain date but earlier than the C3 town, enclosed a larger, broadly kite-shape area which may represent a defended Late Iron Age tribal centre similar to that at Colchester. The early Roman settlement covered an area approximately twice the size of the later walled town and was accessed by a number of minor and principal roads; one from the civitas capital of Camulodunum (Colchester) and others leading to small Roman towns such as Billingford (SM 35557). The late C1 buildings were constructed mostly from timber with wattle and daub walling. Ptolemy, the geographer writing in the C2 AD, describes Venta Icenorum as the one noteworthy town of the Iceni suggesting, perhaps, an increase in prosperity and architectural prowess; certainly the town became an important hub for river and land-borne trade. This is confirmed by the excavation of early C2 masonry houses with painted wall plaster and major public buildings including the forum and basilica complex and public baths. The first forum lay near to the centre of the later walled town in insula X, but was rebuilt probably in the Antonine period. This later phase was constructed of flint and brick on layered chalk foundations. It provided a large open space, or piazza, of approximately 30m square for public meetings and markets, surrounded by an internal colonnade on three sides. Beyond the colonnade on the north and south sides were long halls and a range of eight rooms lay behind the east side. The basilica with one aisle lay on the fourth, west, side approached by three flights of steps from the piazza. The baths in insula XVII, not far from the west gate, were probably contemporary with the forum. The eastern end of the building was excavated. It contained a partly covered palaestra (a public place for athletics or wrestling) with a single entrance from the street to the east. From it three doors gave access to the frigidarium (cold bath), with a tessellated floor, which ran the full width of the building. Beyond lay the tepidarium (the warm room) and, on the south side of the building, a circular laconium (dry heat treatment or sauna) was located at the junction of the tepidarium and frigidarium. The baths were supplied with water from the river which also facilitated the towns water and sewerage system. It is unknown whether the water supply system incorporated an aqueduct. No other public buildings are known, but the buried remains of two temples of the late C2 are located in insula IX immediately north of the forum. The contracted town of the C3 was enclosed with walls built of flint and stone with tile coursing which are probably contemporary with the rebuilt forum and basilica complex. Each side had a central gateway and additional semi-circular or rectangular bastions. Internally, they were supported by an earthen bank and crop mark and earthwork evidence suggests the presence of a deep external ditch breached at the position of the gates. To the south of the walled area, crop mark evidence of the town grid, buildings, roads and ditches is apparent. Immediately south of the wall, the ditch is flanked by a roadway with evidence of roadside buildings and enclosures. Approximately 90m to the south-west of the walls are the buried remains of the oval amphitheatre which is visible as a slight rise in the ground surface. Geophysical survey has revealed that it measures 40m x 33m and is constructed in stone or brick with an opening to the south. The outlines of rooms beneath the tiered seating banks surrounding the arena have been discerned. A late Roman cemetery of the C4 or C5, established after the contraction of the town into the walled area, has been discovered to the east and north-east of the amphitheatre. Crop mark evidence west of the River Tas strongly indicates that the Roman settlement extended into this area. The buried remains of trackways, rectilinear enclosures, buildings and boundary ditches aligned with the town's grid and Roman roads to the west, east and south attest to a significant survival of Roman deposits. The roads apparently converge at a fording point over the river which appears to respect the location of the western gate into the walled town. Further to the south of the settlement are the buried remains of ditches and enclosures, probably of Roman and earlier date, which represent the land-use adjacent to the settlement, important for its economic prosperity. Two silver Iceni coins, over 5000 Roman coins and other artefacts further indicate long-lived occupation particularly near to the roads. Overlying the Roman archaeological deposits are possible sunken-floored buildings of the early medieval period (C5 to C6). Numerous metal artefacts of the C7 to C8 including a gold tremissi minted in 650AD at the great trading port of Dorestadt in the Netherlands attest to occupation of parts of the monument until the C8. The Church of St Edmund, a Grade II* listed building, and its surrounding churchyard in the south-east corner of the walled town are not included the scheduling. The sewerage disposal works (centred at grid reference TG2290702975) and the terraced housing at nos.1 to 4 Stoke Road and their gardens (centred at grid reference TG2315002970) are also not included in the scheduling. All track surfaces, fences, fence posts, hedges, field ditches, signage boards and telegraph poles 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.

Selected Sources

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details

National Grid Reference: TG 22823 03193, TG2282303248


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End of official listing