previous next

VIROCONIUM CORNOVIORUM (Wroxeter) Shropshire, England.

Roman site on the Severn, dominated by the Wrekin hill 3 km away. On the crest of the hill is the Iron Age fortress of the local chieftains, and a large Roman fort and several marching camps lie near its foot.

Apart from the conquest of the local Cornovii, the Roman army was mainly concerned in the mid 1st c. with the tribes of Wales under Caratacus, and later with the reduction of the whole of Wales. Wroxeter was strategically situated for this purpose, at the point where the Severn emerges from the Welsh foothills. The earliest occupation was probably ca. A.D. 50 under Ostorius Scapula; a little later Legio XIV was moved here, and remained until replaced in 69 by Legio XX from Gloucester. Tombstones from the military cemetery to the N, identifying both legions, are now in Rowley House Museum, Shrewsbury, with other material from Viroconium.

Aerial surveys have shown a number of military sites in the area including large march camps and large and small permanent forts. Excavations in the baths insula have uncovered military structures of several phases: evidently successive legionary fortresses lie buried under the later city. The army remained until ca. 90, although Legio XX had moved to a new base at Inchtuthil in Scotland. This fortress was never finished and apparently part of the Wroxeter unit, perhaps the administrative staff, did not move. But Wroxeter had now ceased to have much strategical significance; and the Viroconium site passed into civil hands and became one of the largest and most prosperous cities of Roman Britain.

Below the forum, a bath of a large and elaborate type was discovered, built at the end of the 1st c. when the town was first laid out, but it was never completed. In ca. 120 a forum was erected. This has been precisely dated by the finely cut inscription found in scattered fragments: the building was dedicated in A.D. 129, in the reign of the emperor Hadrian and under the auspices of the Civitas Cornovii. The forum was a large open market, surrounded by shops and a great aisled basilica for public assemblies and the law court. Attached to the rear were the administrative offices. Excavations in 1923 below the forum uncovered the 1st c. bath already mentioned.

In 1912-14 excavations on the W side of the main N-S road S of the forum disclosed simple rectangular shops of the early 2d c., which had been replaced after a fire ca. 155 by more substantial and complicated structures. These included a temple, which may have had a priests' house and a sacred enclosure at the rear. Outside the forum stood the bath, and beneath it an earlier and unfinished building of uncertain purpose. The bath was not finished until the second half of the 2d c.; by the early 3d c. an additional suite was added, and the original piscina no longer used. Early in the 4th c. use of the baths ceased. Aerial reconnaissance has recovered an almost complete street plan, and has identified houses and temples.

The end of Viroconium is puzzling. At one time it was thought that the Saxons took the city by storm and burnt it to the ground (skeletons found in the bath were cited as evidence), but excavation has produced no destruction layer. A tombstone found in 1967 in ploughing bears an inscription to Cunorix. The use of the word macvs for “son of” is an Irish form and dates the stone to the late 5th c. or later. Probably the man was an Irish mercenary employed by the citizens to protect them from wandering bands of brigands. At some time in the 6th or 7th c., however, the town was abandoned by all but a small community.


Summary to 1908: VGH Shropshire 1 (1908); “The Cornovii,” Culture and Environment (1963) 251-62; excavations: T. Wright, Uriconium (1872); Soc. Antiquaries Research Reports (1913, 1914, 1916); forum: Excavations at Wroxeter 1923-27, (1942); bath house: ArchJ 54 (1897) 123-73; Archaeologia 88 (1940) 175-228; AntJ 46 (1966) 229-39; town defenses: Trans. Birmingham Arch. Soc. 78 (1962) 27-39; town plan: Trans. Shropshire Arch. Soc. 57 (1962-63) 112-31; aqueduct: ibid. 56 (1959) 133-37; Cunorix stone: AntJ 48 (1968) 296-300.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: