Romano-British Town

Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire

NGRef: SU5794
OSMap: LR164/174
Type: Town, Fort, Pottery Kiln.
Roads
N (18) to Alchester
Via Icknield Ridgeway: NE (26) to North Church
S (21) to CALLEVA ATREBATVM

Dorchester - The Roman Settlement of Dorcic

The settlement lies immediately to the east of the River Thame, north of its confluence with the River Thames. The town defences enclosed a sub-rectangular area of around five-and-a-half hectares. The construction of the turf-built rampart is dated to the late second century. Probably contemporary with this was an external ditch having a V-shaped profile. In the late third century a masonry wall was added to the front of the rampart. A wide, flat-bottomed ditch replaced the earlier V-profiled ditch at around this time. This second ditch was probably kept filled with water, as evidenced by the recovery of mollusc shells from the infill of the broad ditch.

The settlement extended beyond the confines of the defended area; the ground between the settlement's western defences and the Dyke Hills was probably occupied, as several coins have been recovered from this region. To the south evidence of occupation was found dating from the Claudio-Flavian to the Antonine eras, but evidence for occupation to the immediate north of the defended area is lacking.

Romano-British cemeteries lay c.500 metres to the south-east of the settlement in Meadowside Piece, and c.700 metres to the north-west at Queens Mill, where over two hundred graves have been recorded and over seventy excavated, all of them being inhumations. Only one cremation has been recovered, dated to the early third century and found to the south-west of the defences.

Altar to Jupiter by a Beneficiarius

I O M ET NVMINIB AVG M VARI SEVERVS B COS ARAM CVM CANCELLIS D S P
"To Jupiter Best and Greatest and the living spirit of the emperor, Marcus Vari[us?] Severus, Beneficiarius Consularis,¹ has placed this altarstone and enclosure from his own [funds]."
(RIB 235; altarstone)
  1. A beneficiarius was an experienced soldier who was excused the normal tedium of camp duties in order to perform some specialized task, in this case to serve on the headquarters staff of the consular governor. In many cases these Beneficiarii were recruited from among the personal friends and acquaintances of the magistrate in question.

Perhaps the most remarkable find from the settlement is a stone altar, the only inscribed Latin stone recorded in the R.I.B. for Dorchester, which was found in 1731 and bears a dedicatory inscription to the Roman god Jupiter by a beneficiarius consularis (vide supra).

The Dorchester Roman Fort

A Roman fort is suspected to have been on or near the site. Ditches visible on aerial photographs to the south of the settlement may have belonged to a fort. First century buildings of a military nature were found during excavation, and a coin of AD78 was associated with its destruction.

A rectangular ditched enclosure measuring 249.9 by 67 metres, which lies some six hundred metres to the north-west of the defended enclosure, has been dated to the fourth century although no occupation evidence was found prior to the ditches being cut.

Other Sites of Interest in the Area

There are a number of Romano-British villas in the close neighbourhood; one lies almost six miles due west at Sutton Courtenay (SU4993), one about five miles north-east at Ditchend (SP6200) and another eight miles north-north-east at Wheatley (SP6004). A pottery kiln has also been recorded in the outskirts of Dorchester (SU5796) about a mile north-west of the settlement along the road to Alcester.

To the south-west of the settlement is Dyke Hills (SU574935), an iron-age promontory fort and suspected oppidum, thought to be the precursor of the Roman town. A little further to the south-west is Sinodun Camp (SU569924), an iron-age hillfort.

Click here for the RBO Romano-British Walled Towns page

See: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
Roadside Settlements of Lowland Roman Britain by Roger Finch Smith (B.A.R. British Series #157, 1987) pp.250-252;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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