About Venta Icenorum
Venta Icenorum, or ‘market-place of the Iceni’, is in the valley of the River Tas and the Romano-British predecessor of the modern town of Caistor St Edmund, south of Norwich. It was the largest Roman town in East Anglia.
History of Venta Icenorum
It was the civitas, or capital city of the Iceni tribe led by perhaps the famous queen, Boudica. The town came into being around 60-61 AD after the tribe’s revolt against Roman rule and the sacking of Colchester (Camulodunum) and London (Londinium) although there are suggestions it grew from an earlier Iron Age settlement.
Alongside Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) and Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornorviorum), they are the only three towns from the Roman era that weren’t sacked, destroyed or built over by more modern towns and cities.
The town’s ramparts, ditch and defensive walls can still be seen and in aerial shots, cropmarks can be seen depicting a grid-like system of streets, laid out in the latter part of the 1st century according to Donald Atkinson who excavated the site from 1929-1935. Those excavations also uncovered domestic buildings, a temple, the forum and the baths as well as a kiln that pre-dated the flint defensive walls.
As well as authorised archaeology, a number of amateur metal detectorists have found pieces dating from prehistoric, Roman, Middle Saxon and medieval times but the whole site remains much of an enigma, in that aside from the headline facts, little is known.
Post-Iceni, there is evidence that Venta Icenorum evolved into a Saxon market town post-Roman rule and through studying currency, evidence points to a town existing there a little way into the 5th century. In the surrounding areas, 8th century cemeteries have been discovered before the whole area was reclaimed by nature, having been abandoned when Norwich became the civic centre for the county.
Venta Icenorum today
Today, the ancient town of Venta Icenorum is free to visit and you can learn more at the Boudicca Gallery in Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. While you’re there, don’t forget to take a peek at the Snettisham Treasure, the largest hoard of Iron Age gold ever found in Europe and considered to be of a good enough quality to have been once owned by Iceni royalty – perhaps even by Boudica herself…
Getting to Venta Icenorum
The site lies on the southern edge of the present-day village of Caistor St Edmund, approximately 3.5 miles to the south of Norwich.
If travelling by car, the nearest road is Stoke Road – drivers arriving at Norwich via the A47 Norwich Southern Bypass can turn off at the A140 (Ipswich Road) intersection and follow signs to Caistor St Edmund. There is a car park nearby.
Bus service 587 goes to Caistor St Edmund village centre, close to the north of the site, departing from St Stephen’s Street in Norwich.