previous next

HOD HILL Stourpaine, Dorset, England.

A 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 Air (1928) pl. I; I. A. Richmond, Hod Hill II (1968); Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Dorset III, 2 (1971) 263MP.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: