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MAIDEN CASTLE Dorset, England.

The hill fortress of Maiden Castle, one of the most imposing of Iron Age defensive works surviving in W Europe, lies 4.8 km SW of Dorchester. This region contains a greater number of large hill-forts than any other in Britain and Maiden Castle dominates them all. The site is a saddle-back hill on chalk, overlooking the valley of the Frome to the N. Its height is not commanding; it is the vastness of the defenses which gives the fortress its peculiar strength.

The hill was first occupied by a Neolithic settlement covering ca. 4.8 ha. Later an enormous Neolithic barrow, 537 m long, was erected on the long axis of the hilltop. Abandoned at the beginning of the Bronze Age, the hill was next used by settlers in the Early Iron Age. At the E end of the saddleback they constructed a fortification with a single timber-fronted rampart, enclosing an area of 6 ha. Later, the whole hilltop, some 18 ha, was surrounded by a rampart and ditch, with double gates at the E and W ends. These entrances were shortly afterwards provided with protective hornworks. Later still, probably in the latter part of the 2d c. B.C., the defenses were greatly increased in height and an outer rampart and ditch were added. These massive works were again enlarged in the 1st c. B.C. and there were further changes before the Roman invasion in A.D. 43. The most impressive works of the later Iron Age are still extremely well preserved, notably the powerfully defended W entrance.

This powerful stronghold of the local population, the Durotriges, was attacked and taken by a Roman force, probably under the command of the future emperor Vespasian. A relic evocative of this contest is a cemetery where some of the defenders were buried, amid the out-works of the E gate. The subsequent history of Maiden Castle was more placid. The population left the fortress well before the end of the 1st c. A.D., many of them drawn to the new nucleus of Durnovaria (Dorchester). Others perhaps settled in a peasant village near the stronghold. Within the old defenses the latest known ancient installation is a small RomanoCeltic temple and an associated dwelling, erected about A.D. 370. The finds are in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.


R.E.M. Wheeler, “Maiden Castle,” Dorset Research Reports of the Society of Antiquaries of London 12 (1943).


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