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The Romans come to Ilchester
Only six years after the Romans successfully landed on British soil in 43CE they had reached Ilchester.
Under their commander Vespasian, later to become Emperor, the Second Augusta legion had marched down the coast to Exeter quelling the local tribes as they went. They returned inland clearingout hill forts en route. For a short time they built a 'marching fort' in a field to the north east of the present town. Although nothing can be seen on the ground an aerial search identified what is believed to be evidence of a small fort in Kinghams field.
The Romans named the settlement 'Lindinis' translating as 'little marsh', well describing the surrounding terrain before modern land drainage was installed. The settlement was on the high ground surrounded by marsh land in winter, providing some protection against surprise attack.
It was in the aftermath of the Bouddica rebellion, 60-61 CE and following local unrest that a vexillation fort housing 1,000 legionnaires was built to control the use of the Fossway from Lincoln to Exeter . The fort was protected by a bank and wooden palisade. Remains of the bank were unearthed during excavations by James Stevens Cox, who devoted much of his life to collecting together documents and artefacts telling of Ilchester's rich history.
By 160 CE the fort is being built over and Lindinis becomes a town.
In the 2nd century a detachment from Lindinis (or 'Lendenis') went north to help build Hadrian's wall as recorded by inscriptions found on the wall. Lindinis became the capital of the Northern Durotrigians and a bustling trading centre. By this time Roman coinage was in common use.
By the 3rd century villas decorated with painted plaster and mosaics are being built in and around the town. Remnants of these can be seen in the Ilchester Museum. It is believed that a school of Mosaicists was established in the town with its own distinctive lozenge pattern as its signature. In recent years evidence of many mosaics has been found as well as column bases indicting a courtyard house. A part of a large roman building has been identified lying under St Mary Major, the medieval parish church. It is thought that it may be remains of the basilica. Beyond this was discovered the remains of a wall which may have been part of the forum.
The town is now governed by Roman laws. A defensive wall was built into the bank to replace the wooden palisade. External towers were added to the walls in the 4th century, and a large cemetery containing pagan and Christian burials was established on the northern outskirts to the north of Lindinis. A small excavation has revealed both stone and lead coffins, one of which, complete with a skeleton of a woman of middle age, is held in Ilchester Museum. There are believed to be as many as fifteen hundred burials in the plot.
By the 5th century living standards were in decline, and in 409 the Roman military left Somerset.
Soon the Angles and Saxons began raiding and then settling the West Country.
There have been many archaeological finds in Ilchester but because it has been built over many times and has always been a working community, little can be seen without guidance. The Museum, Post Office and other commercial premises hold leaflets guiding visitors around the historic locations of Ilchester. A more in-depth look at the story is available through free guided walks booked through the Museum. If you are a lover of Ilchester's history or just want to know more, why not plan a visit.