Our business now lies with the Route IX. in Antonine’s Itinerary, the text of which, after a most exhaustive recension of MSS. by the latest editors, stands thus;
|Item a Venta Icinorum Londinio||mpm||cxxviii|
A full discussion of the sites of Venta Icinorum and Camolodunum is better suited to treatises on Norfolk and Essex than to these pages. The former I take to be Norwich, and the latter Leiden, two miles on the London side of Colchester, which accords with the Itinerary. Caistor, a Roman camp near the river Tase, appears to be Ad Taum, communicating with Suffolk by a post Antonine road, to which we shall have to refer. With regard to our starting-point, the arguments of Hudson Gurney and others in favour of Norwich seem unanswerable, save for the general absence of Roman remains at that city ; but the recent discoveries of fictile fragments, some- thumb-marked, and apparently of Romano-British make, on the north side of the cathedral, may probably prove the precursors of others. He that stands on the grounds of Carrow Abbey, and surveys the water-protected character of that position, with the Tase in front, and the Wensum curling behind, so as to leave only the east without a river-front, will see that no more suitable position could have been chosen fora settlement by the Britons. They had, indeed, to learn at the hands of the Romans the futility of such defences against organized warfare ; but for intertribal struggles Norwich must have been a place of unusual strength.
The roads are older than the record of them, and I should regard this Route IX, in the Itinerary as gradually improved from old British tracks by straighter cuts in places and bolder treatment of water-crossings. And I think that the time for earlier improvements would be that of P. Ostorius Scapula, who in A.D. 51 settled a colony at Camulodunum after the defeat of the Iceni, subdued the Brigantes of Yorkshire, and the Silures and Ordovices of Wales.20
Between Norwich and Lexden the distance is under fifty miles as the crow flies ; but between Venta Icinorum and Camolodunum we have to account for seventy-five Roman miles, and consequently there must have been a great deflexion either eastward or westward. If we adopt the former theory, Sitomagus is Dunwich, and Combretonium is Burgh, near Woodbridge. The westward course will give us Thetford and Brettenham, near Lavenham, respectively for those stations ; and this was the solution of Camden and his followers.21 ‘ Sit’ in Sitomagus he identified with ‘Thet’ in Thetford, assuming without any evidence the former syllable as a variety of the latter, while ‘ Bret’ in Brettenham was undoubtedly a strong temptation for Combretonium.
The latter spot is not to be passed over without mention. There are traces of a camp, yearly growing more faint, and about three-quarters of a mile from it is a rather commanding situation, called Castle Hill. But there seems to be no knowledge -or tradition of coins, pottery, etc., found here.22
In the Peutinger Tabula Convetni.23, which no doubt represents Combretonium, is close to the coast. Written against it is xv., the Antonine mileage between it and Ad Ansam.
Suckling’s remark that the adoption of the eastward course would charge the Romans with having left the heart of the county of Suffolk unprotected may be disposed of by the fact that Route V. traversed that very district. Camden’s preference for the western course has no other basis than the supposed identity of `Sit’ in Sitomagus with I Thet’ in Thetford. He speaks of the river Sit or Thet, but there is no other proof of the existence of the first name.
The balance of evidence seems to me to incline eastward, and such remarks as I have to make from local knowledge are based on that theory. Assuming this, let us look to the first stage. And first of all its length (thirty-two miles) is remarkable, being rarely surpassed. We have thirty-five-mile stages twice in the very obscure Iter V., and one thirty-six-mile stage on Iter XV. be tween Durnonovaria and Muridunum, on the road from Silchester to Exeter, and these are the only British instances in excess of the stage between Venta Icinorum and Sitomagus. And as it was undoubtedly long, so it was presumably difficult. Three rivers, the Tase, the Waveney, and the Blyth, had to be forded. On the inland side lay, for the greater part of the way, an ancient and deep forest, which also extended occasionally beyond the road on the sea side. The lighter lands on the sea side were covered with thickets and scrub, and excellent shelter was afforded to marauders, whether sea-rovers or salvagers. The character of the soil was hostile to traffic for a great part of the year, and so far as the record of Antonine’s Itinerary goes, the road was no thoroughfare. I am not denying the existence of other roads out of Norwich at the time ; none of them, however, were thought worthy of a place in the Itinerary. If the centurion M. Favonius, whose monument remains at Colchester, ever made the journey, he would have had occasion to contrast the stage with others, to its disadvantage.
The passage of the Waveney was the most critical point in the road, and at no place are the conditions more favourable than at Wainford, or Wanney-ford, already mentioned, there being an especially strong glacial deposit on the Suffolk side. Afterwards the name passed on to the hundred of Wangford, the ford, as a place of common concourse, being suitable for the hundred mote.
The extent of marsh is here reduced by the presence of a twofold patch of higher ground, called Pirnough Street. Below Wainford the Waveney is not fordable. On August 2, 1889, 1 examined the way between Ditchingham Station and the church of Ilketshall St. John’s. The turns in the road at first are quite accounted for by the advantage of keeping on these patches of gravel in the marsh. The second of the two patches ends a little more than 100 yards before the first of the two present bridges; but everything here has been cut about for milling and malting. The old road ran to the east of the malthouses, and herein 1856 were found Roman coins and a flint arrow-head.
Moreover, in 1893, two coins were discovered, one of Philip the Arabian – sen.,obv., IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG. ; rev., PAX AETERNA, with a standing figure of Peace bearing olive branch and caduceus between the letters s c. This reverse, which seems to have indicated the Emperor Philip’s discreditable peace with Sapor, resembles one of Alexander Severus, struck after a genuine victory over the Persians. The other coin was a large brass of T. Antoninus Pius. Rev. SALVS … , a sitting figure.
Very likely, if the mill were ever to be pulled down, we might have a second edition of the Bassingbourne discovery. The gravel on the south side of the river is about 5 feet from the surface, so that the little bit of marsh could not have been very formidable. I have little doubt that the present nearly-deserted road which continues the route straight away indicates Iter IX. It is a watercourse road, and probably the Roman road lay just to the east of it, detail being thus arranged for carrying off the water. On the top of the ridge there is a well-defined double elbow, the middle about 5o yards long, quite level, and at right angles to the general course of the road. This way is described as the Packway, between Wangford Cross and Wangford Green. It seems to be an excellent instance of the method called I double spanning’ so well known to colonists. Waggons bound for Sitomagus, en route perhaps for Colchester or London, would be halted after crossing the river, and a double service of beasts would be put on to tug the first wagon to this level, at the further end of which it would be left while the animals returned for the next, and so on, till the troublesome hill was worked. ‘Wangford’ Green, between Mettingham Castle and the slope of the hill, was all open common till the enclosure of 1817. No trace therefore can be found here, save that land between Mettingham Castle and Wainford Bridge is described as ‘ abutting on a certain street called Wangford Street.’ I think, however, that at the north-west comer of the Mettingham Castle property the Roman road appears again, and goes away for Ilketshall St. John’s Church, with another double elbow before the dip for the little stream which has there to be crossed. There are some suspicious-looking pieces of brick in the outer wall of this church. Here the road assumes its most important aspect, and begins to bear the high title of Stone Street.
The church and churchyard of Ilketshall St. Laurence, on the left of the road, stand on an artificially-raised platform. At St. Laurence’s Green the road is crossed by another, leading to Rumburgh, westwardly, which westward road is called St. Margaret’s Street ; and eastwardly, avoiding all brooks in a truly British fashion, coming out on the piece of ‘corduroy road,’ described by Mr. Edwards in his pamphlet dealing with the question whether the Waveney ever reached the sea at Lowestoft. The dame of Stone Street belongs to the road, even after passing the Triple Plea, when it turns towards the right for Halesworth. The farm called Harley Archer’s lies on the left after this turn. Part of it is described in the title deeds as abutting 1 upon the Queen’s Highway and turnpike road leading from Halesworth aforesaid to Bungay, formerly called Stone Street, or the broadway, towards the south.’ Broadway Farm is on the right of the road. On the other side the road turns eastward for Holton, but the name of Stone Street no longer belongs to it, a piece of copyhold land hard by being described in the court books of the manor of Dame Margaries, in Halesworth, as situate in Holton, and I abutting upon the common way, leading from Holton towards Stone Street.’
This, however, may have been part of Iter IX. Leading down to Holton, and so by the present road, nearly parallel to the river, to Blythford. Or it may be that the road worked more easterly from the Triple Plea, by the village of Wangford – not to be confounded with Wainford. Here the names of ‘Streetwalk Comer,’ ‘One Mile Field,’ and I King’s Lane’ are noticeable.
At Blythford the circumstances of crossing are most favourable. I am convinced that I thought too well of Blythburgh. For the rest of the way there would be an easy course over the heaths to Dunwich.
It appears to me that great efforts were made to deal effectively with the worst parts of the road.
Sticking in the mud time after time, between Holton and Ilketshall St. John’s, and attacked by parties of plunderers when in these straits, the great necessity was to get clear of this middle section of the stage. Hence not only was this grand Stone Street laid down, but little redoubts were thrown up at some distance from the route, not as summer camps, but rather to be occupied occasionally, when some baggage train was to pass to or from Norwich. Such was Rumburgh, a highly suggestive name. There seem to have been earthworks here, but I am not bold enough to discriminate between them and the foundations of the house of the Augustinian canons. Such was Mells, a little scarped position guarding a ford just above Blythford. Such was the little square rampart in which stands that venerable building known as the Old Minster, while Alburgh24, the great mounds at Bungay, and others of British origin, may have been turned to useful account. I have a first-brass Clodius Albinus dug up in Mr. Lait’s garden at the `back of the hills’, At Bungay, and a good Vespasian with incuse reverse, found near that town, is in the possession of Mr. R. Walesby.
Passing out of the first stage, we must not linger on the ruins of Dunwich, where, though the sea has destroyed the old town, Roman coins, pins, etc., are found in abundance, but pursue our journey over the little Minsmere stream at Fordley, probably by Kelsale and Saxmundham, to Stratford St. Andrew, where the name reassures us. Once more probability has to be our guide, as to the road originally passing close to Glemham Hall, and being turned northward for the improvement of that park. We leave Wickham Market on the left, and are on what looks like a British track straightened out, with Charsfield on the right and Debach on the left, till we strike into the valley of one of the Deben feeders just above Clopton, which seems to be the Com, or hollow, pointed out by Combretonium. On the east side of this little ravine stand within a very short distance of each other the churches of Clopton and Burgh ; the former just to the north of a square camp, and the latter within it. Burgh churchyard is well scarped to the south and west, and at about 200 yards to the south the remains of a trench, now filled in, may be clearly seen. This, at a point east-south-east of the church, turns northward, and then between the two churches westward till it meets the scarp. The name Castle Field is still preserved, and the late Major Rouse of Woodbridge could remember the ruined walls. Here, a few years ago, a gold Roman bracelet was found, and at the further end of Clopton, in 1883, a boy named John Gardiner found a gold Roman coin, which he sold to a watchmaker in Woodbridge. Fictile remains are found strewn on the ground, and Burgh tower contains much suspicious brick. Certainly no outward sign of a Roman station is wanting in this place, and the measurements suit Combretonium.
Returning to the point where we first struck into this valley, we follow a road which leaves Otley Church on the right and Swilland on the left. This will bring us to Henley and Barham, near to the Orwell Valley, and by some ford we cross the stream, and find ourselves on Route V., by which we reach the next station, Ad Ansam, or Stratford St. Mary. There are three interpretations of this peculiar name. Ansa in classical Latin means a handle or clamp, and the roads and paths which meet here, then the lowest fordable point of the Stour, may have been regarded as gathered up in a handle. But ansaria is a low-Latin word for market produce, and the existence of Chipping Hill, or Market Hill, in Stratford parish, suggests to Mr. Coote that a British market gives the name to the station.25 The French derivation from ansa, anse, means, among other things, a creek, which suits well with the situation.
This is the second Stratford, or paved ford, on Route IX., the first being Stratford St. Andrew, already mentioned. The well-known ‘Stratford atte Bowe’ is a third; and though it lies far beyond our limits, I will not leave the conjoined Routes V. and IX. without quoting what Defoe said in 1722 :
There seems to be lately found out in the bottom of the Marshes (generally called Hackney Marsh, and beginning near about the place now called the Wick, between Old Ford and the said Wick), the remains of a great stone causeway, which, as it is supposed, was the highway, or great road from London into Essex, and the same which goes now over the great bridge between Bow and Stratford.
That the great road lay this way, and that the great causeway landed again just over the river, where now the Temple Mills stand, and passed by Sir Thomas Hickes’s house at Ruckolls, all this is not doubted ; and that it was one of those famous’ highways made by the Romans there is undoubted proof, by the several marks of Roman work, and by Roman coins and other antiquities found there, some of which are said to be deposited in the bands of the Rev. Mr. Strype, vicar of the parish of Low Leyton. 25
The Ravenna cosmographer of the seventh century, -himself, apparently, an indifferent copier, or possessed of imperfect information – has not been happy in his transcribers. We have in him this sequence, puzzling enough:
The suggestion is that the fourth, fifth, and sixth names have been inserted from another route, perhaps Route Ill. of Antonine, representing DUBRIS, DVROVERNO, DVROCOBRIVIS (Dover, Canterbury, Rochester) respectively. Whatever may be the reading of the riddle, it will add nothing to our knowledge of Roman East Anglia.
The last document which tells us of the Roman occupation is the survey entitled Notitia ImPerii, made shortly before the division of the Empire into the Eastern and Western Empires under Arcadius and Honorius in A.D. 395.
Suffolk at that time, with the exception of the coastline, was a portion of the third province, Flavia Cawriensis26, which included the country between the Humber and the Thames. The province was governed, as to fiscal matters, by a Prases, subject to the Vicar of the Britains – himself one of the six vicarii or deputies of the Pro-consul of Africa. The Praetorian Prefect of the Gauls had also a jurisdiction here, which gave him the responsible position of judge in a Court of Final Appeal ; and the Count of the Saxon Shore through Britain – a man spectabilis, though not illustris – guarded the Suffolk coast as a portion of the littus Saxonicum, which extended from Brancaster in Norfolk, to the mouth of the Adur, in Suffolk.
The Saxons were well known in these parts long before the days of Hengist and Horsa; and if anybody has found a good character for them, except as regards the purity of their women, it will be just as well to let the world have the references, for the passages at present known depict them as pirates of a terribly ferocious nature, and no less skilful seamen than desperate fighters and ruthless victors27 The earliest notice of them is about A.D. 285, when in conjunction with the Franks they were ravaging the northern coast of France. The noted Carausius was set to look after them, but allowed them to enrich themselves with plunder that they might be the better worth handling afterwards – a piece of management which led to a decree for his execution, and a temporarily successful assumption of the purple by him, as a preferable course28. In him we see in fact, though not perhaps in title, the .first recorded Count of the Saxon Shore. We learn from Ammianus Marcellinus of one Nectaridius, Count of the Maritime District, who is killed in a general uprising of the barbarians in A.D. 368, of the defeat of these insurgents in the following year near ‘London, an ancient town which men of the latter days have called Augusta’, of a fresh assault of sea-rovers in the year after that on the Count Nannenus, and of their destruction during a truce – perfidious, but excusable in its perfidy, in the historian’s opinion-arranged by Severus, Count of the Body-guard to the Emperor Valentinian29,.
The nature of their keels is so preserved to us as to prove the penetrating power of these flat bottoms, and to suggest to us how often the crushed remnants of the Iceni or the settling military colonists had been wont to plunge themselves into inaccessible woods, and caves in the scrub, when the accursed snake-like head of the pirate craft had been reported as making for the shore.
We must say a little about the staff of the Count of the Saxon Shore. That so wide a jurisdiction should have required a lieutenant is only natural. This officer, called Princeps, came from the Count’s Chief, who is called the Master, of the Foot-guards in the West. The revenue. officers are styled numerarii, or reckoners. From what we can learn from other sources, they were an objectionable set of men, as several of the emperors put forth rescripts to restrain their pride, greediness, fraud, and sloth. If they were suspected of falsifying their accounts, they might be tortured by a kind of rack called the horse, and when their time of office was up they were to wait awhile in their provinces to answer any charges which might be brought against them. Nor does the Superintendent of Prisons (Commentariensis) show up better. He is especially ordered to bring up for trial no abject and base person in place of the real prisoner. Another officer is called the Regerendarius. I can find nothing about him, but suppose from the form of the word that his business was to block out fresh work, arrange expeditions, etc.
Another surprise for the general reader will be to find shorthand writers (singulares) on the Count’s staff. They were so called from writing each word with one mark, instead of using letters. These marks were called notae, and thus the shorthand writers were called notarii as well as singulars. Hence our ‘notary.’
The nine stations of the Count of the Saxon Shore were Brannodunum, Gariannonum, Othona, Regulbium, Ritupiae, Dubri, Lemanni, Anderida, and Portus Adurni, of which only the second, Gariannonum, known as Burgh Castle, is in Suffolk, where a Provost (Prapositus) of Stablesian horse was posted. We find these Africans also at Pelusium, in the Delta of the Nile, and in Scythia and Moesia. They would have a busy time of it, scampering over the country when a small party of pirates appeared, and rearing their turrets and preparing for a siege in case of a more serious irruption.
The dimensions of this camp are, internally, 620 feet by 383 feet, and the average height is from 14 to 15 feet, according to measurements made by me September 13, 1886.
The question at once arises as to whether Burgb Castle originally had four walls, or was protected on the west-north-west side by what was then an arm of the sea. To this question Mr. Harrod’s labours were largely directed by desire of the late Sir John Boileau, to whose spirit the preservation of this splendid monument is due.
The opinion of those who denied the existence of a fourth wall was defended on the ground that the sea would form an adequate protection at the back. No doubt the whole of the marsh might be flooded at an exceptionally high spring tide, or under the influence of a north-westerly gale, or by heavy freshets, or by a combination of these causes ; but a dry, still season and the absence of unusual tides would bring about a different state of things ; and, indeed, the most unfavourable condition of the marshes would offer no fatal obstacle to the pirates who swarmed up the estuaries and creeks of this part of the country. On this ground there is really no presumption against the hypothesis of a fourth wall. Rather, the existence of a British tumulus on the spot where Norwich (Thorpe) Station now stands, and the salting mound just above the present average water-level in Herringfleet, would favour the idea that there has been but little change in that level since the days of Roman occupation. But Mr. Harrod’s excavations went to the extent of affording strong positive evidences as to the fate of the fourth wall. The ragged ends of both north and south walls and the broken bonding courses convinced him that both walls must have been extended beyond their present terminations, and thus he was led, at his first visit in 1850, to make a series of trenches on the low ground to the west, separated by a hedge from the present path leading to the cement works. He began nearly opposite to the Praetorian Gate, but a little further to the north, and worked steadily southward. Very little reward he met with at first broken mortar, loose flints, and fragments of tiles ; but in one place he found a layer of flints placed on the clay, with a thin covering of gravel sifted over them. One of Sir John Boileau’s gardeners, James Kettle, drew Mr. Harrod’s attention to this, as the same thing had been observed in the foundations of a small building within the walls, to be noticed presently. But this faint indication of the foundation of a wall was soon excelled by that which was found in the trench numbered 3. Here, 4 feet below the surface, a fragment of the wall was reached, which in its fall had retained its continuity. Penetrating a little below this, a number of oak piles about a foot apart were discovered. On these the walls had originally rested, and further investigations in the trench No. i showed the piling precisely in the line of foundation indicated in the other trenches. The piles, Mr. Harrod tells us, ‘were about a foot apart, and had clay, chalk stones, mortar, etc., very firmly rammed in between them to the depth of about iS inches, after penetrating which space black mud was thrown out, speedily followed by the water, which then rose a little above the top of the piling, and, as I judge, to the level of the water in the adjacent drains.’ The obvious difficulty of carrying out extensive diggings in such a position as that of the footpath below the camp prevented Mr. Harrod’s inquiries from being pushed much further. In one trench, marked 15 on his plan, a solid mass of mortar was found 7 feet below the footpath, but the hole had to be filled up, and from that day to this no further excavation has been made on that special spot.
Where, then, is the west wall? Its fragments have doubtless been dispersed over the vicinity of the camp. Some, perhaps, underlie the oozy bed of the Waveney, or even of Breydon. Some may be looked for in the farm buildings, cottages, or in the walls of the parish church of Burgh Castle. Much, very likely, has been ground to powder on the roads of the Lothingland Hundred. But Mr. Harrod’s investigations will carry conviction to most minds that at Burgh Castle, as at Richborough, the camp originally had four walls.
Indurate flint, and brick in ruddy tiers With immemorial lichen frosted o’er,
require no notice here ; but it may be a question whether the overhanging of the walls is not to a certain extent intentional, and the higher level of the ground inside the camp is to be remarked.
Six cylindrical bastions remain, of which one on the west side has fallen,
Undergnaw’d by years.
The diameter is about 14 feet, and only the upper part is at all bonded with the walls, which circumstance suggests that the bastions were built at a time between the commencement and the completion of the walls. Down the middle of each is a round hollow space, apparently for the insertion of the centre timber of a temporary wooden turret, to be raised in case of an attack upon the camp. Adjoining the west wall was a room, 16 feet 6 inches square, the foundation resting on a layer of flints with fine gravel sifted over them, as described above. The flue formed by the usual flanged tiles was found, with some indications of a furnace.
On each side of the Praetorian Gate the remains of a wall were discovered, turning inwards at right angles to the main wall. Mr. Harrod conjectures this to be merely intended to keep the roadway clear of earth. No other discoveries were made hereabouts, save a narrow trench just within the gate, apparently for the reception of a wooden threshold ; but Mr. Harrod expressed his conviction that he was wrong in not digging to a greater depth, and in adhering too closely to a straight line.
Roman roads not recorded are of course more hypothetical than those of which we have treated, but as two centuries elapsed between Antonine’s Itinerary and the recall of the legions, much development of traffic must have taken place during that period. From Stoke Ash a gravel road goes northward by Scole, Dickleburgh and Long Stratton to the great camp Ad Taum at Caistor, near Norwich. Those who work at the pick and shovel on this road say that there is a great difference in its character north and south of Stoke White Horse. The road from this point to Eye, connecting two villas, can hardly escape being Roman. The roads from Norwich to Felixstowe; from Woodbridge to Debenham by Burgh; from Stratford St. Mary by Hadleigh, another, to Ixworth and Thetford ; ‘ Stone Street’; from Thetford by Barton Mills to Newmarket, the old coachroad ; from Brandon to Mildenhall, and thence into Cambridgeshire ; from Bury St. Edmunds – which, though forbidden to be Villa Faustini by the measurements, must still have been an important centre before it was Beodricesworth–to Stowmarket and to Sudbury ; and pieces of coast road-these and others suggest their origin, but this is all that we can expect of them. We have notes of villas at Eye, Great Thurlow, Coddenham, West Row in Mildenhall; hoards of coins at Undley in the parish of Lakenheath, at Cardale Head in the parish of Eriswell, at Stowlangtoft, Ickworth, Felixstowe and a great many other places ; strigils at Covehithe and Great Thurlow ; bronze ornaments at Icklingham, where the discoveries are more than we can here record ; and surveyors’ shafts at Felixstowe and Covehithe. Roman Suffolk, however, would require a treatise by itself, in spite of the poverty of the county in inscriptions.
- 1 Tac., `Ann.,’ Aim 3r, etc.
- Camden only identified Sitomagus with Thetford. William Burton in his `Commentary on Antoninus his Itinerary’ (1658), P. 229 adopts Brettenham, but in rather dubious language.
- The Rev. C. J. Betham, Rector of Brettenham, to the author May Z2, 1894.
- Various readings are Comvretonum and Ad Coverin
- just over the Norfolk border.
- ‘Tour through the Eastern Counties’ (Cassells) p. 17.
- ‘Not. Imp.,’ in loc.
- Paull. Diac., xi. 3 ; Amm. Marc., set infra; Claudian, ‘ Sidon. Apollin.,’ viii. 6; SaIv. Gab., iv. 14.
- Eutrop., ix. 13.
- Amm. Marc., xxvii. 8; xxviii. 5.