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VENTA SILURUM Caerwent, Monmouthshire, S Wales.

The cantonal capital of the civitas Silurum, a tribe with a long record of resistance before final conquest by Julius Frontinus in A.D. 74 (Tac. Agric. 17). Today a small village between Newport and Chepstow, the Roman town was about two-thirds excavated, 1899-1912, and subsequent work has thrown light on the chronology. The large collections of material are mainly at Newport Museum, and the National Museum of Wales (Cardiff). In Caerwent church is preserved an important pedestal from a statue dedicated to Ti. Cl. Paulinus, former commander of Legio II Augusta (based at Caerleon, q.v.), shortly before 220 (RIB no. 311). This monument, set up ex decreto Ordinis by the “community of the civitas Silurum,” without mention of the town, is one of the few to refer to local government arrangements in Britain.

The defenses enclose a rectangle, and comprise (as visible today) impressive lengths of wall (3d c.?) up to 5.1 m high: the S wall is the best-preserved section of town wall in Britain, and is notable for the multangular towers added after ca. 335; similar towers have recently been cleared on the N. Since the modern road occupies the same line as its predecessor (Silchester-Carmarthen via Gloucester or Bath), little is left of the E and W double gateways, but single gateways on N and S are visible: they were blocked presumably when the towers were built. Behind the wall is the usual earlier rampart, Hadrianic or later; the ditches appropriate to the rampart and wall periods have largely been silted up. The defenses may have been imposed around a built-up area continuing beyond their line as at Silchester (q.v.). They enclose 20 insulae averaging 84 m square, 10 on either side of the main E-W street, on the N side of which, centrally, stood the forum-basilica (principia type, 1st-2d c.). The basilica (54.6 x 20.1 m) had Corinthian columns 8.1 m high, and on the W of the forum court, 60 m square, a secondary podium may mark the site of a civic temple. Opposite the forum lay the principal baths; another set of baths, a late amphitheater, and two Romano-Celtic temples complete the list of public buildings. One temple stood in a walled temenos next to the forum (visible); the other lay outside the E town wall and was of octagonal plan within a circular enclosure. Religious dedications include one to the Rhenish Mars-Lanus by a collegium of unspecified type. A late structure on the site of the baths has incorrectly been called a church; but Christianity is attested by a sealed deposit of ritual vessels including a pewter bowl with the Chi-Rho monogram.

The excavations revealed about 50 houses (parts of two visible), and the total may be ca. 80-90. They fill the insulae much more densely than at Silchester. In type they range from the usual strip (combined shop, work-shop, and living accommodation) gable-end on to the main street, Flavian and later, to elegant courtyard houses fitted with hypocausts, mosaics, and painted walls of good quality (some are 4th c.). In two cases large latrine accommodation suggests identification as an inn, one presumably the mansio of the Itinerary. There are fairly extensive traces of a water supply carried in wooden pipes; streams rise in the hills to the NE.

The population of Venta cannot well have been more than 2500. In the 4th c. the town appears to have had a garrison of Germanic mercenaries, to judge from equipment found, and became, with the late fort at Cardiff, a strongpoint in the defense of the Bristol Channel region against sea rovers. Occupation terminated, however, by ca. 440.


O. Cuntz, ed., Itineraria Romana (1929-) 74; O. E. Craster, Caerwent Roman City (1951)MPI; C. Barnett, Handbook to the Roman Caerwent Collection (1954ff)I; E. Nash-Williams in Carnuntina (Röm. Forsch. in Niederösterreich III) (1956)MI; G. C. Boon, “A Christian Monogram . . . ,” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 19 (1962)I.

Excavations: Archaeologia 36, 57-64, 80 (1856, 1899-1913, 1930)MPI; Archaeologia Cambrensis ser. 6, 16, 86, 103 (1916, 1931, 1954)MPI; Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies of the University of Wales 13, 15 (1948, 1953)MI.


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