or Colonia Claudia Victricensis
(Colchester) Essex, England.
On the river
Colne, 16 km from the sea and 80 km NE of London.
It was the tribal town of the Trinobantes, in a promontory fortress some 307 ha in area, bounded on three
sides by marshy river valleys, but on the W by four or
more massive linear earthworks which are believed to
be mostly the work of Cunobeline. The Trinobantes were
conquered by Tasciovanus of Verulamium (q.v.) shortly
before A.D. 10, and his son, Cunobeline established his
royal city and mint here. By A.D. 43 he was known to
the Romans as King of the Britons, and his capital was
the main objective of the Roman invasion of that year.
In A.D. 50 Claudius founded a Roman colonia adjacent to Cunobeline's city. An inscription preserved in
Rome refers to it as: Colonia Claudia Victricensis
which is in Britain at Camulodunum. The two places are
thus one, and the identity of the site is beyond question.
Camulos was a Celtic war god, and dunum means
fortress. The new colonia, including a temple of the
emperor, a theater, and a Senate house, was totally
destroyed in A.D. 61 by the insurgent Queen Boudicca.
After the destruction the government was probably
moved to London, but the temple of the emperor seems
to have remained in use as such. The town is not mentioned again in history, but one of the three British
bishops at the Council of Arles in 314 was from either
Colchester or Lincoln.
The pre-Roman earthworks, largely visible, sometimes
imposing, run ca. 5 km N-S. The innermost line was
leveled by the Romans, who also made partial use of
one other. The site of Cunobeline's city, immediately
W of the modern town, was excavated in 1930-39 and
1970. There are no visible remains.
The Roman town, which had no wall in A.D. 61, may
have acquired it ca. 200. Most of the wall, nearly
1800 km, remains; it encloses an area of 43 ha. This
could indicate an origin as a double legionary fortress,
as recent discovery in final paragraph shows. The walls
are 2.7 m thick, with rounded angles, interior towers,
and earthen rampart-bank. Part of the W gate, toward
London, still stands to a considerable height, including
two of its six vaulted archways. The size is exceptional,
with two carriageways and two footways, and the plan
is unique: the ground plan of each tower is a quadrant.
Within the walls the cardo maximus ran from this
W gate (the Balkerne Gate) to the E gate, which was
pulled down in 1675 and is alleged to have had one
main arch with two smaller ones for footways. Most of
this line is still the High Street of the modern town.
The modern Head Street and North Hill also lie on the
line of a Roman street running N-S a short distance
inside the W wall. Remains of a Roman Northgate have
been found on this line, and in mediaeval times the porta
principalis lay at the S end, but no trace of it remains.
There are, however, remains of a postern gate in the
N wall near the NE angle. A fallen block of masonry,
from the upper part, has preserved details which allow
a close reconstruction. Curiously, no other gates have
come to light in the long N and S walls. Sections cut
in the earthen rampart have shown that the wall could
not have been built before ca. A.D. 150, and a later date
is probable. The street grid has been almost completely
reconstructed, and shows a large insula occupied by
the Temple of Claudius.
This temple, mentioned by ancient writers, and one
of the causes of the rebellion of Boudicca, lies under
the keep of the Norman castle, which is built exactly
around it. The podium (24 x 31.5 m) had foundations
3.9 m deep, and its original height was probably about
the same. It is not solid, but was built with four vaults
filled with rammed earth to economize on stone and
mortar. These vaults can be visited.
The temple stood in a court (ca. 180 x 120 m), only
the S side of which has been adequately explored. There
was a monumental central entrance (only part of it has
been seen), built on a concrete raft 1.5 m thick and
8.4 m wide N-S. The remains (underground) stand 1.8 m
high in places (i.e. 3.3 m over-all). On each side of this
feature the concrete platform runs on, with a reduced
width of 4.5 m, apparently for the whole length of the
S side. Upon it stood a series of piers which had been
cased with ashlar blocks of shelly limestone. The piers
were connected by arches turned with specially made
brick voussoirs. At platform level they were also connected by thin walls (ca. 0.45 m) with ornamental plaster-work on the outside, of two clearly differentiated
periods. Each pier, almost certainly, had a partly engaged
column before and behind. It is not possible to say
whether or not the thin walls completely closed each
In front of the platform was a narrow gravel footpath, which had been remade several times (as had the
street) and was bounded towards the street by a small
open drain. Reused material in the drain included blocks
of alabaster and fragments of large fluted columns plastered to resemble white marble (presumably from the
first period of the temple). In the filling were found
fragments of colored marbles from all parts of the empire, some of it from wall-sheathing and some from
flooring. The remains clearly belong to an architectural
screen, but we have no proof that it antedates A.D. 61.
Between this screen and the temple, before the S face
of the keep, remains indicate a large outside altar surrounded on three sides, at a distance of 3-3.6 m, by a
vaulted drain which again suggests that there was an
architectural screen. To the NE and NW lay oblong
masonry pedestals of a size and shape suitable for
There are no other monuments above ground. The
site of the theater is almost surely under the site of
St. Helens Chapel and the adjacent burial ground. Forum, basilica, and baths have not been found, but massive foundations, so far unparalleled in plan, have come
to light directly opposite the temple insula, and in the
next insula to the W remains found under St. Nicholas'
church are too large for private houses. Many mosaic
pavements have been found in the town, and undoubted
traces of the sack and conflagration of A.D. 61.
The finds are preserved in the Castle Museum in the
Norman keep, and are particularly rich in pottery and
other material from the extensive Roman cemeteries.
This is the largest Roman collection in the provinces, and
it also covers earlier periods.
Domestic occupation extended outside the walls, including villas with mosaic floors. Several temples of
Celtic type have been found, and one site demands
particular attention. At the S end of the earthworks
some of the inner line becomes curved instead of straight,
following the contour line. Within this on Gosbecks Farm
there is a large Celtic temple standing within a double
portico 27.87 m square. The original enclosure, however, had been a ditch 9 m wide and 2.7 m deep, with
coins and pottery of Cunobeline date. The ditch probably
surrounded a sacred tree, and the temple and portico
were added later. A theater of most unusual plan lies
to the S, and E of it a fair-ground over 240 m wide. This
could well have been the tribal meeting-place of the
Trinobantes, after the foundation of the colonia.
Since this entry was written, the excavators have reported the discovery of the outline of a legionary fortress
under the W part of the Roman town. It was apparently
of the same size as that at Caerleon, but the remains are
fleeting for it was occupied for only seven years. If the
colonia established in A.D. 50 occupied the area of this
fortress, then the temple of Claudius, built in the same
year, was built outside
the colonia, as indeed it ought to
M. Wheeler, “The Balkerne Gate, Colchester,” Trans. Essex Arch. Soc
. 16 (1923) 7ff; id.,
An Insula of Roman Colchester
(1921); id. & P. G.
Laver, “Roman Colchester,” JRS
9 (1919); F. C.
Hawkes & M. R. Hull, Camulodunum
(1947); M. R.
Hull, “The South Wing of the ‘Roman Forum’ at Colchester,” Trans. Essex Arch. Soc
. 25 (1955) 24; id.,
(1958); id., The Roman Potters'
Kilns of Colchester
M. R. HULL