Calleva Atrebatum (or Silchester Roman Town) was an Iron Age oppidum and subsequently a town in the Roman province of Britannia and the civitas capital of the Atrebates tribe. Its ruins are located beneath and to the west of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, which lies just within the town wall and about to the east of the modern village of Silchester in the English county of Hampshire.
Most Roman towns in Britain
continued to exist after the end of the Roman era, and consequently their remains underlay their more recent successors, which are often still major population centres. Calleva is unusual in that, for reasons unknown, it was abandoned shortly after the end of the Roman era and local political and commercial activity moved to nearby Reading
. As a consequence, Calleva has been subject to relatively benign neglect for most of the last two millennia.
The site covers a large area of over 100 acres (400,000 sq. metres) within a polygonal earthwork. The earthworks and, for much of the circumference, the ruined walls are still visible. The remains of the amphitheatre, added about AD 70-80 and situated outside the city walls, can also be clearly seen. By contrast, the area inside the walls is now largely farmland with no visible distinguishing features, other than the enclosing earthworks and walls, together with a tiny mediaeval church in one corner.
Calleva was partially excavated
by the Society of Antiquaries of London
between the years 1890 and 1909, and this excavation provided valuable information about civic life and daily life in the first centuries of the Common Era
, as well as a map of the Romano-British
town. Whilst the excavation techniques of the time were adequate to deal with buildings with stone foundations, work in other towns of Roman Britain has revealed that timber construction predominated in the first and second centuries AD, and the early excavations were not capable of recovering evidence of these buildings.
Additionally, this early excavation was believed to have destroyed evidence that might have been analysed in more careful detail not only with current technology and practices, but with the tools and knowledge of future generations. As archaeological study of this kind can be a destructive process, the excavation of Calleva is frequently mentioned as an example of why complete excavation should not be performed.
However, since the 1970s the University of Reading has become increasingly involved in new excavations. Work has been undertaken on the amphitheatre and the forum basilica, which revealed remarkably good preservation of items from both the Iron Age and early Roman occupations. In (2004) exploration of one of the central insulae of the town was undertaken. Results indicated that the scope for further work inside and outside the walls is enormous.
The site of Calleva is adjacent to the modern village of Silchester
, in the English
county of Hampshire
adjacent to the border with Berkshire
is some to the north-east, whilst Basingstoke
is to the south. The grid reference
of the site is .
Now primarily owned by Hampshire County Council
and managed by English Heritage
, the site of Calleva is open to the public during daylight hours, seven days a week and without charge. The full circumference of the walls is accessible, as is the amphitheatre. The interior is farmed and, with the exception of the church and a single track that bisects the interior, inaccessible. Current excavations are sometimes open for visitors, and occasional organised open days are held; see the Reading University web site ('External links' below) for details.
The Museum of Reading, located in the Town Hall in central Reading, has a gallery devoted to Calleva, displaying many archeological finds from the various excavations.
- Clarke, A., Fulford, M., Rains, M. & Shaffrey, R. (2001). Silchester Roman Town - The Insula IX Town Life Project: The Victorian Excavations of 1893. Retrieved December 20, 2005.
- Clarke, A., Eckardt, H., Fulford, M., Rains, M and Tootell, K., (2005). Silchester Town Life Project: Late Roman Insula IX. Retrieved December 20, 2005.