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VENTA ICENORUM (Caistor St. Edmund) Norfolk, England.

Capital of the Roman civitas of the Iceni ca. 5 km S of Norwich. This tribe occupied Norfolk and part of NW Suffolk, as is shown by the distribution of their pre-Roman coinage. The position of the capital before the Conquest is unknown: Venta itself was a foundation of the Flavian period. Until 60 the tribe was ruled by Prasutagus who was recognized as a client king by Rome. After his death and the rebellion of his wife Boudicca the period of independence ended and the tribe was formed into a civitas peregrina within the Roman province. Venta was its capital, but very little civic development is apparent before the 2d c., no doubt because of the poverty and backwardness resulting from punishment for the rebellion. It was one of the smallest civitas capitals in the province.

Apart from the wall, rampart, and ditch which enclose only 14 ha, nothing of the town remains on the surface, which has been ploughed for centuries. Attention was first attracted to the site by some vertical air photographs taken in the dry summer of 1928: these showed in brilliant clarity the street grid and some of the buildings. Excavations in 1929-35 explored three town houses, some pottery kilns, two temples, the public baths, and the forum, as well as the defenses. The original air photographs proved that the visible defenses were later than the street system, for streets could be seen truncated by them; it was not until 1959 that further air photography revealed an outer and no doubt earlier line of defenses on the S side, with which the street system conformed. The date of the early defenses has not yet been established; the reduced system has been dated to the 3d c., but the very broad ditch and external towers hint at a later phase of reinforcement probably datable to 369.

The forum was constructed perhaps as late as 150-160; it occupies an insula central to the early town. The building is of modified principia type with a courtyard (30.9 x 29.1 m) surrounded on three sides by rooms and on the fourth by the basilica, which lay at the back of a narrow terrace reached by steps. The basilica (53.1 x 12.75 m) consisted of a nave with a single aisle; a tribunal lay at one end and the curia at the other, and on the narrow axis was a transept, best interpreted as the civic shrine. The forum was damaged by fire but repaired late in the 2d c.; during the 3d c. a second fire destroyed it completely. A new forum of simpler plan was erected perhaps ca. 270-290.

The public baths were only partially excavated: a colonnaded palaestra with disrobing room beside it adjoined a frigidarium (ca. 26.7 x 12 m), beyond which was a tepidarium and laconicum; there were traces of several reconstructions. Immediately N of the forum two Romano-Celtic temples were found to date from the early 3d c., a date also attributed to three nearby houses built of half-timber on stone foundations. These replaced earlier houses wholly in half-timber, though one was found to occupy the site of some pottery kilns of the first half of the 2d c. A glass kiln of the early 4th c. was excavated, but the most inexplicable discovery was that of 36 human skulls and bones in the ruins of a small room burnt down at the end of the 4th c. This has suggested a massacre of the inhabitants, possibly in a revolt of foederati for whom there is evidence in a 5th c. cemetery close to the town; but the room in question is too small to hold 36 persons, and photographs show that it lies so close to the surface that doubts must remain about the circumstances of burial.


S. S. Frere, “The Forum and Baths at Caistor by Norwich,” Britannia 2 (1971) 1-26; J.N.L. Myres & B. Green, The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at Caistor by Norwich and Markshall (1973).


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