(Dorchester) Dorset, England.
The town lies 9.6 km inland from Weymouth Bay,
3.2 km N of the Iron Age hill fort of Maiden Castle.
Occupation probably began in A.D. 44 immediately following the destruction of Maiden Castle by Legio II
Augusta under the command of Vespasian. There is some
evidence to suggest the presence of a military garrison
on the site, but by A.D. 70 civilian development had
superseded it and Durnovaria became the cantonal capital of the Durotriges. It flourished as a Roman town
into the early 5th c. and has continued to be occupied
until the present day.
In the 2d c. the town was defended by an earthen
bank and ditch system, strengthened in the 3d c. by the
addition of a stone wall. The core of the wall is visible
at only one point, near the W gate, but the line of the
defenses, which enclosed some 28-32 ha, can still be
traced. The defended area is now heavily built upon and
largely unavailable for excavation, but parts of a regular street grid have come to light together with fragmentary evidence for a number of town houses.
The most substantial area to be explored lies in the
NW corner in Colliton Park (excavations 1937-39,
1961-63). Parts of nine buildings have been exposed
together with a street and a substantial culvert. Most of
the structures were industrial (stores and workshops),
and were provided with ovens, hearths, and a smithy.
Only one building was definitely a dwelling: it was a
house of some quality adorned with seven mosaic
pavements. Excavation in the SW quarter (1969-70)
has shown that here too industrial buildings predominated. Although structural evidence from elsewhere in
the town is fragmentary, and no public buildings have
yet been identified, the general impression is that of a
densely built-up area containing closely packed buildings most of which were, by the 4th c., constructed in
masonry. Stylistic consideration of the mosaic pavements has suggested the presence of a school of mosaicists working in the area in the early years of the 4th c.
The town was served by an aqueduct over 19 km
long (the longest in Britain). It was an open leet following the contours of the hills W of the town, entering
the walled area in the vicinity of the W gate; thereafter its course is unknown. The amphitheater lay 0.4
km outside the S gate, close to the road to Weymouth
Bay. The earthwork had originally been constructed in
the Neolithic period as a henge monument. Roman modification entailed lowering the arena floor and heightening the bank, together with the construction of a
fenced passage around the arena and chambers for
beasts and performers.
Large inhumation cemeteries are known on all sides
of the town, particularly outside the E and W gates. At
the Poundbury cemetery (W of the town) some of the
burials were in stone sarcophagi and lead coffins; one was
in a mausoleum with elaborately painted walls. It is likely
that some, at least, of the burials here are Christian.
Other evidence of Christianity consists of a hoard,
found in Somerleigh Court, containing more than 50
siliquae, five spoons, and a ligula, deposited ca. A.D. 400.
One of the spoons is inscribed AVGVSTINE VIVAS and another bears the sign of a fish.
While the main function of the town was to serve as
the administrative center of the Durotriges, its economic
importance is clear. Purbeck stone, marble, Kimmeridge
shale, and pottery from the New Forest and Poole
Harbour production centers all passed through its markets.
C. D. Drew & K. C. Collingwood Selby,
“The Excavations at Colliton Park, Dorchester,” Proc.
Dorset Nat. Hist. and Arch. Soc.
59 (1938) 1-14; 60
(1939) 51-65; R.A.H. Farrar, “The Roman Wall of
Dorchester,” ibid. 75 (1953) 72-83; Royal Commission
on Historic Monuments (England), An Inventory of
Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset
(Part 3) (1970) 531-92.
B. W. CUNLIFFE