Sunday, April 13, 2008

Roads and Rivers


The above map shows the roman road that came from London to Bath (Aqua Sulis). In a previous blog I mentioned Mildenhall (Cunetio) a roman walled town that grew in prominence in later years. Cunetio can be viewed also as a posting station, a change of horses on the way to Aqua Sulis. The next substantial settlement would have been at Sandy Lane (Verlucio) just before Aqua Sulis. The name Verlucio can be broken down to Ver (spring) and Lucio, there is no eqivalent to lucio but there is a Lucina, one of the roles attributed to Diana the Hunter, who had many aspects to her nature, including childbirth., and is found in statuary at Nettleton Shrub and Aqua Sulis. But it still leaves no settlement appearing at Silbury on the roman itineraries, although Silbury is midway between the two larger settlements. Excavation can only prove what type of settlement it was.
Verlucio has never been properly excavated, but it is about a 12 acre site, with now depleted springs, one near one of the banks, and another apparently coming up through a pond. There is, an interesting old building in the farmhouse, a small chalk building which houses a well, some 70 feet in depth, the springs seem to lie near the Hayfield Copse. There was an old coaching hostelry not far from the farm, and presumably adjacent to what was the roman road, Bear Hotel though now it is private property - Bear House.


The roman map shows the road going through Aqua Sulis with its sacred spring and then going on route to Abonae (Sea Mills) a port. But just outside Aqua Sulis, was another small roman settlement at Bitton, and this has a lot in common with Silbury. Saxon evidence is strong with the two great fields Micklemead and Holm Mead running alongside the River Avon and a Saxon burial ground across the river. The Roman Via Julia runs straight through Bitton, while the River Boyd flows down into the larger river. It is at this conjunction that a large barrow can be found, about 50 metres from the local church - St.Mary. Roman evidence is strong in this area, material having been found round the church, and it is reputed to stand on the site of a 'heathen' temple. What also is fascinating is the stones found in the Micklemead field, as shown on this old map.....
http://www.old-maps.co.uk/indexmappage2.aspx

All gone now, probably under the road, but evidence surely that at this point there could have been some sort of megalithic structure or circle, given the near proximity of the large barrow and the rivers.
Bitton seems to closely parallel Silbury, similar roman settlements near old sanctified shrines and stones, with water being an important link.


And now to a somewhat larger look at the area. There are one or two important celtic-romano temples in the area. Firstly, The Uley shrines on West Hill in Gloucester, the following quote gives some idea of the longevity of a sacred site;

Beneath the Roman temple are the remains of an earlier shrine, a square timber structure in a subrectangular ditched enclosure, constructed in the half century preceding the Roman conquest (AD 43). This earlier shrine itself reused earlier ditches, possible traces of a Neolithic long barrow like nearby Hetty Pegler's Tump. A temple was constructed in stone in the early second century AD, along with other buildings round about. The sanctuary continued to be maintained and modified for almost three hundred years, but showed signs of decline by the final decades of the fourth century. The temple was in much reduced form following demolition or partial collapse. Around the temple other structures too were ruinous or had been demolished by the early fifth century.However the Uley complex was not abandoned, since the site continued in use as a cult place, a rare instance of continuity from the Roman to early medieval periods. An aisled timber building with a semicircular annexe was erected on the site of the temple during the fifth century and was rebuilt in stone in the early sixth century. These structures have been interpreted as a church and baptistery, but the form and parallels of the buildings are uncertain. Carefully buried outside the annexe was the head of the cult statue of Mercury from the temple, which must have been curated for at least a century after the collapse of the building. .... taken from
http://curses.csad.ox.ac.uk/sites/uley-home.shtml

As can be seen this site was sanctified over many centuries, another site towards Cirencester is the Chedworth Villa, a small villa found by the side of the River Coln, and having an unusual valley situation with steep banks around the villa. There was a small water shrine in the garden but 800 metres away from the villa was a celtic-romano temple.
Chedworth from Wikipedia;..
'Iron age votive pit producing human remains and the bones of a red deer show that the site had been sacred since pre-Roman times. A stone relief of a hunter with a dog and stag was one of the most notable finds from the site....'


One of the things noted by historians in this part of the country, is the fact that when the romans colonised Britain, great tracts of land such as Salisbury Plain and Cranbourne Chase, were farmed as Imperial Estates. They were there to feed the soldiers and perhaps export the food back to the continent. After all, as Caesar says, they came to Britain for our corn, dogs, horses and cloth. Roads were built and sited on particular landmarks such as barrows, in all probability some of the Roman roads followed the old prehistoric tracks, that in turn would have gone past prehistoric stones, barrows and natural shrines, water being an obvious stopping place, especially when that water had some sort of unusual strange power, the meeting of two rivers, a waterfall, etc.. The Romans invoked their own gods at these places, but also included the resident native gods as well.

previous notes;
J.W.Brooke 1908– site of well immediately opposite Silbury Hill about 105 yards from the hedge on the south side…This well was dug by Cunningtons 1882 –WAM XXIX p.166. When Brookes uncovered this excavation, he found a mass of small stones of various sizes (backfill presumably), then at a depth of 5 feet came across a sarsen weighing about half ton, this sarsen must have stopped the earlier Cunnington Dig. Brookes removed it, roman finds were under it – perforated roofing tiles, square headed nails, iron bucket handle clip, moulded freestone corbelling, base of column. It took 6 days to reach the chalk bottom of the well 26 feet depth, encountered more largish sarsens…Dames goes on to say quantity of clean sandy deposits from stream containing water worn stones……???

http://tinyurl.com/6fr6nj Wikipedia -Chedworth, Roman Villa with water shrine, and associated Romano- Celtic temple 800 metres away.





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