Evidence of Roman reprisals in Essex?

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More than 17 roundhouses were uncovered within a defensive enclosure at Cressing, near Braintree in Essex. CREDIT: Oxford Archaeology East

A recently revealed Iron Age settlement in Cressing, near Braintree in Essex, appears to have been almost completely destroyed during the second half of the 1st century AD. Dating to around the time of the Boudican uprising of AD 60/61, could this be evidence of Roman reprisals against local groups who had supported the rebel queen’s campaign?

The site of the settlement was excavated last year by Oxford Archaeology East in advance of residential development by Countryside Properties. Located on a prominent ridge overlooking the Brain Valley, the settlement’s position, along with some of the artefacts recovered from the site, suggest that it may have been of some regional importance during the late Iron Age and early Roman period.

A large enclosure appears to have been first constructed during the late 1st century BC, with more than 17 roundhouses built within its defences. The gullies of some of these roundhouses were over half a metre deep and probably would have enclosed buildings up to 15m in diameter. Aligning with the central roundhouse was a large avenue-like entrance leading from the enclosure.

After the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, the settlement appears to have expanded and the enclosure was enlarged. This rise in activity did not last long, however, as subsequently the main enclosure seems to have been cleared and many of the larger roundhouses burnt down. While post-excavation analysis will, it is hoped, be able to provide more evidence, it could be that this settlement was destroyed in the wake of Boudica’s failed revolt or, alternatively, it could be that the settlement was abandoned with the local elite moving to nearby villas.

While the 1st century AD signalled the end of this site as a settlement, part of the western end of the enclosure appears to have continued in use. There, a mix of intercutting gullies and pits were excavated, which contained numerous animal bones and oyster shells (perhaps representing evidence of feasting), as well as many artefacts which may represent votive offerings, including over 100 brooches, both Iron Age and Roman coins, hairpins, beads, finger-rings, and a copper-alloy cockerel figurine. Located close to the Roman Stane Street, it could be that this area functioned as some sort of shrine throughout the Roman period.

This news article appears in issue 372 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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