Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Roaming with the Romans

A column from the loggia of the Town House, Dorchester

Bank Holiday weekend and off we went to spend some time with invaders and occupiers - the Romans that is. Looking around at the surviving evidence of Roman occupation (surprisingly, a great deal of it) I was thinking how it contrasts to the next great invasion and occupation, by the Normans. After the Roman administration and army left around AD410 life in Britain went on quite normally, with Romanised Britons in towns governing themselves and country dwellers living, in many ways, the same as they had done for centuries. If the Anglo-Saxons had not made their impact the Celtic communities may have evolved a distinct island culture over the next few centuries. The impact of the A-S 'invasion' is now under review in academic circles and is being downgraded in terms of its being seen as a dramatic change to the culture and population of this country. What cannot be argued is that the Normans did change the lives of all the peoples here after 1066, with fire and sword and language. Many tens of thousands were to die in the twenty odd years between invasion and Domesday. We still live with this today, with the same elites and hierarchies in positions of governance, nearly a thousand years later. Never let it be said that history is irrelevant to today.     

Sunday saw myself and 7 Heritage Hunters discovering the story of Roman Dorchester, including the Town House, aquaduct, Maumbury Rings and the town wall. It is little known that outside of London Dorchester is one of the very few towns extant in Roman Britain to have had a stone wall built around it. But I think that Maumbury is the most remarkable space in the town, in that it has been used for several thousand years. Firstly a Neolithic henge, then a Roman ludus, or training ground, a Civil War fort, a place of execution and finally, on Sunday, the location of the Dorchester Gay Pride festival! What other space in a town can boast such a history?!

Monday, and 7 more Heritage Hunters met me in Thorncombe Woods to tread in the footsteps of the legions. Apart from being the location of Thomas Hardy's birthplace there is a surviving section of Roman road running through the wood connecting Salisbury (or Old Sarum) to Exeter. We walked on the road and admired the views before arriving at the Rainbarrow group of Bronze Age barrows. Being rather overgrown it was easy to take the group through the undergrowth without them even knowing that they were standing on top of one of the largest burial mounds in the county! Back to my car and I took them through the signs one must look for when finding a possible flint tool (very common if you know what you are looking at) and some other artefacts of interest.

All in all a very enjoyable weekend and the weather was not half bad too.    

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