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VERULAMIUM Near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England.

A pre-Roman and Romano-British town and chief center of the Catuvellauni, 33 km NW of London on Watling Street. The Roman town now lies beneath open country and has been available for excavation: there is a good museum on the site. The name Verlamio first appears as mint mark on coins of Tasciovanus (ca. 20 B.C-A.D. 5), and the pre-Roman oppidum is today represented by various earthworks extending well beyond the Roman walls: one of its cemeteries was excavated in 1966-68.

The Roman site was first occupied by a military post ca. A.D. 43-44; civil buildings and a rectangular street-grid were laid out ca. A.D. 50, and were probably from the first surrounded by a bank and ditch enclosing 47.6 ha. The town may well have had the status of a Latin municipium (Tac. Ann. 14.33). Excavation in Insula XIV has revealed a row of shops, originally under a single roof and therefore probably under single ownership. The building technique, timber framing filled with clay, was new to British builders and is evidence for the part played by the Roman army in the government's urbanizing program in the new province. Some of the shops were occupied by bronzeworkers. These buildings and others were destroyed in the rebellion of Boudicca in A.D. 60-61. The shops were not rebuilt for 15 years: they rose again under Vespasian, to whom the large new forum was dedicated with an inscription of A.D. 79, mentioning the governor Julius Agricola (cf. Tac. Agr. 21). It was a building of unusual plan, more closely resembling the forums of Roman Gaul than the normal principia type of Roman Britain. The Flavian period also saw the construction of a masonry shopping precinct and temple; domestic and commercial buildings were still half-timbered.

Towards the end of the reign of Antoninus Pius Verulamium was again devastated by fire; the remains of the half-timbered buildings roofed in thatch or shingles have yielded frescos now in the museum. The city, however, was full of vigor; it had already expanded beyond its 1st c. defenses, and now the forum was rebuilt, a theater of Gallo-Roman type was provided for the temple ceremonies, and for the first time large courtyard houses of 30 or 40 rooms are found. It is possible that there was a local firm of mosaicists at this date, whose products have also been found in nearby villas and at Colchester. Towards the end of the 2d c. a new defensive bank and ditch with masonry gateways was laid out to enclose 90 ha, but not finished; this may date from the rebellion of Albinus. Though no material traces of Christianity have been found with the exception of a possible cemetery church outside the London gate, it is certain that the martyrdom of St. Alban occurred at Verulamium, possibly in A.D. 208-209. In the 3d c. a town wall was built, excluding part of the area formerly embanked and enclosing only 80 ha. Earlier theories about the devastating effects of the 3d c. economic crisis have not been confirmed by recent excavations.

In the early 4th c. many 2d c. structures were replaced, and again many mosaics were laid. Substantial houses continued to be built or altered until almost 400, and only with the 5th c. is there any sign of decline. During that century a corn-drying oven was inserted into a large mosaic in Insula XXVII, suggesting insecurity in the surrounding farmlands; but the same site yielded evidence for two further structural phases that leave no doubt that urban life was maintained behind the walls until at least 450. Thereafter evidence ceases, for the upper levels have been mostly ploughed away. In time, with the breakdown of commerce and of the food supply, the city became deserted, but the absence of early Saxon settlements and burials in the neighboring region points to the maintenance of Romano-British rule during the 5th c. Later, with the revival of the shrine of St. Alban on the opposite hill, a new town sprang up on a different site.


R.E.M. & T. V. Wheeler, Verulamium, a Belgic and Two Roman Cities (1936); S. S. Frere, interim reports in AntJ 36-42 (1956-62); id., “Verulamium, Three Roman Towns,” Antiquity 38 (1964) 103-12; id., Verulamium Excavations 1955-61 I (1972); I. Stead, “Verulamium 1966-8,” Antiquity 43 (1969) 45-52.


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