Stourpaine, Dorset, England.
large Iron Age hill-fort and the well-preserved earthworks of a Roman fort of the conquest period 5.2 km
NW of Blandford. A remarkable air photograph (1928)
shows extensive remains of Iron Age huts and streets,
except where destroyed by 19th c. ploughing, but extended cultivation during WW II destroyed much of
these. The 3 ha still preserved have been mapped by the
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments and selective excavations in 1951-58 have shown that from perhaps the 4th c. B.C. on the hill-fort had a long history of
development during which the defenses were elaborated.
It was captured by the Romans ca. A.D. 44.
The interior contained at least 200 huts, some with
attached yards outlined by banks. Some contained
hoards of slingstones. Two huts appear to have been
the object of concentrated fire from Roman catapults,
which must have been mounted on a siege tower at
least 15 m high, the position of which can be calculated. The Roman assault came before the strengthening of the defenses could be completed, and the absence
of destruction at the gates suggests that the fort surrendered after bombardment. The inhabitants were
evacuated. A Roman fort of ca. 2.8 ha was built in
the NW corner, but was held for only 5-10 years.
Equipment discovered in earlier ploughing and the plan
of the internal timber buildings, recovered by excavation, both suggest that the garrison was a mixed force
consisting of a cohort of legionaries supplemented by
a detachment of seven turmae from an auxiliary cavalry regiment.
The fort is divided by viae principalis and praetoria.
This plan and the absence of a via or porta decumana
are features found at other Claudian forts; at Hod the
plan is partly controlled by topography, there being no
porta principalis sinistra for this reason, while the precipitous slope scarped by the Stour river would make useless a porta decumana in the normal position. Instead, a
gate was built in the NW angle to facilitate the fetching
of water from the river below. The principia, of simple
plan, occupies the normal place; two praetoria were provided, one for the legionary centurion in charge, the
other for the cavalry commander. Six barracks and
three storage buildings in the rear range S of the principia are identifiable as the quarters of the legionaries.
Stables lie to the N, while the troopers' barracks are
found in the praetentura together with a hospital, cavalry praetorium, and a granary.
The Roman defenses on the S and E sides of the fort
comprised a chalk rampart faced with turf and almost
certainly laced with horizontal timber-framing; in front
lay a Punic ditch system 27 m wide, designed as a firetrap. The porta praetoria was a double gate with projecting six-poster towers; the porta principalis sinistra was
a single carriageway below a tower, as was the NW
gate. A ballista platform flanked the two main gates,
and the terrain shows that a range of ca. 180 m was
anticipated. The approach to each causeway is broken
by tituli, unusual at a fort; behind these the causeways
themselves are subtly designed in a V-shape which is
not immediately apparent, the purpose evidently being
to disrupt a rush on the gates by causing many of the
attackers to jostle each other into the accompanying
side-ditches. No other site illustrates the skills of Roman military science in such illuminating detail.
Crawford & Keiller, Wessex from the
(1928) pl. I; I. A. Richmond, Hod Hill
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Dorset
2 (1971) 263MP
S. S. FRERE