Verulamium

Verulamium
Mortared wall with stacked thick stone layers over thin red brick layers, with a triangular tunnel through
Remains of the city walls
LocationHertfordshire
Coordinates51°45′00″N 0°21′14″W / 51°45′00″N 0°21′14″W / 51.7500; -0.3539

Verulamium was a town in Roman Britain. It was sited in the southwest of the modern city of St Albans in Hertfordshire, Great Britain. A large portion of the Roman city remains unexcavated, being now park and agricultural land, though much has been built upon.[1] The ancient Watling Street passed through the city. Much of the site and its environs is now classed as a scheduled ancient monument.[2]

History

Before the Romans established their settlement, there was already a tribal centre in the area which belonged to the Catuvellauni. This settlement is usually called Verlamion. The etymology is uncertain but the name has been reconstructed as *Uerulāmion, which would have a meaning like "[the tribe or settlement] of the broad hand" (Uerulāmos) in Brittonic.[3] In this pre-Roman form, it was among the first places in Britain recorded by name. The settlement was established by Tasciovanus, who minted coins there.

The Roman settlement was granted the rank of municipium around AD 50, meaning its citizens had what were known as "Latin Rights", a lesser citizenship status than a colonia possessed. It grew to a significant town, and as such received the attentions of Boudica of the Iceni in 61, when Verulamium was sacked and burnt on her orders: a black ash layer has been recorded by archaeologists, thus confirming the Roman written record. It grew steadily; by the early 3rd century, it covered an area of about 125 acres (0.51 km2), behind a deep ditch and wall. It is the location of the martyrdom of the first British martyr saint, Saint Alban, who was a Roman patrician converted by the priest Amphibalus.[4]

Verulamium contained a forum, basilica and a theatre, much of which were damaged during two fires, one in 155 and the other in around 250. One of the few extant Roman inscriptions in Britain is found on the remnants of the forum (see Verulamium Forum inscription). The town was rebuilt in stone rather than timber at least twice over the next 150 years. Occupation by the Romans ended between 400 and 450.

There are a few remains of the Roman city visible, such as parts of the city walls, a hypocaust still in situ under a mosaic floor, and the theatre, as well as items in the Museum (below). More remains under the nearby agricultural land which have never been excavated were for a while seriously threatened by deep ploughing.

Verulamium is mentioned in a Latin inscription on a Wax tablet, dated to AD 62, discovered in London during the Bloomberg excavations, 2010-14:[5]

P(ublio) Mario Ce<lso=XIII> L(ucio) Afinio Gallo co(n)s(ulibus) XII Kal(endas) Nove//mbr(es) M(arcus) Renn[iu]s Venusrus me condux{s}isse a C(aio) Valerio Proculo ut intra Idus Novembres perferret a [[Londi]] Verulamio penoris onera viginti in singula |(denarii) quadrans vecturae ea condicione ut per me mora |(assem) I Londinium quod si ulnam om[n]e[m]

Roman Theatre

Roman theatre packed-earth entryway and central stage surrounded by grass-covered seating hillocks (ruins)
Roman theatre

Although there are other Roman theatres in Britain (for example at Camulodunum), the one at Verulamium has been claimed to be the only example of its kind, being a theatre with a stage rather than an amphitheatre.[6]

Sub-Roman times

St Albans Abbey and the associated Anglo-Saxon settlement were founded on a hill outside the Roman city. The site of the abbey may have been a location where there was reason to believe that St Alban was executed or buried. More certainly, the abbey is near the site of a Roman cemetery, which, as was normal in Roman times, was outside the city walls. It is unknown whether there are Roman remains under the medieval abbey. An archaeological excavation in 1978, directed by Martin Biddle, failed to find Roman remains on the site of the medieval chapter house.[7]

David Nash Ford identifies the community as the Cair Mincip[8] ("Fort Municipium") listed by Nennius among the 28 cities of Britain in his History of the Britains.[9] As late as the eighth century the Saxon inhabitants of St Albans nearby were aware of their ancient neighbour, which they knew alternatively as Verulamacæstir or, under what H. R. Loyn terms "their own hybrid", Vaeclingscæstir, "the fortress of the followers of Wæcla", possibly a pocket of Romano-British speakers remaining separate in an increasingly Saxonised area.[10]