A Guide to Silchester

A Guide to Silchester by the University of Reading

Society of Antiquaries town plan

You can use the interactive Building Locator based on the plan developed by the Society of Antiquaries, London, to explore the guide.

Photo, aerial view of site showing insula visible in cropmarksWhere is Silchester?

The Iron Age and Roman settlement of Calleva Atrebatum lies in the north of Hampshire in the parish of Silchester, roughly midway between the modern towns of Basingstoke and Reading.

The site is remarkable because, unlike most large Roman towns in Britain, it was completely abandoned. The defensive walls still survive, in places more than 4m high, but within the walls there seems, at first, to be nothing but fields, a church and a single house, once a farm.

The Location

Plan of the Roman townThe town was built on an easily defensible spur of gravel about 90m above sea level, with commanding views to the east and south and the only access over level ground from the west.

It was originally surrounded on three sides by woodland, growing on the heavy clay soils, and this aspect of the site is enshrined within the Celtic name, which can be translated as (the town in the) woods of the Atrebates.

While the surrounding woodland provided fuel and building materials and hindered easy access to the settlement, the gravel spur itself was more easily cleared for cultivation and building by the first occupants. As the numerous wells on the site demonstrate, water was abundant from about 3-4m below ground surface and from springs around the edge of the gravel.

This Guide

The Trustees of the Calleva Museum, who have been producing successive versions of the Guide to the Roman Town since the 1950s, have funded the web version of the Guide to Silchester. The printed version of the Guide (ISBN 0 9512509 1 4) is available from several outlets.

See more at the Silchester Town Life Project – The City in Transition

Personal Adornment

A Roman lady

Distributions of dress accessoriess in Periods 3 and 4 (Category 1)

Life is not just about work, what did the inhabitants of Insula IX do during their leisure time and how do we know? What types of lifestyle did people lead and how can we see this in the archaeological record?

The two masonry houses have produced very slight evidence with which to reconstruct the lifestyle and occupations of their inhabitants. Not surprisingly there was little evidence from the buildings themselves, because so few contexts could be linked to the occupation of the buildings as opposed to their construction.

For the status and lifestyle of the occupants of our town houses, we can turn to the proxy evidence from MRTB 1 and the decaying ERTB 1 in the north-east corner. Importantly, finds of styli imply literacy. Otherwise, from the perspective of material culture, the ‘small finds’ emphasise the importance of personal appearance and grooming, including a range of dress accessories and toilet instruments. The presence of numerous glass bottles and an unguent flask indicate a lifestyle with access to scented unguents or cosmetics and whatever other precious commodities the bottles contained. A similar emphasis on dress and toilet accessories, as well as bottles among the glass assemblage, is to be found in the spreads to the south of the houses (Object 701). The pottery assemblage from the timber buildings in the north-east corner includes a variety of imported table wares and drinking vessels, some eight per cent of the assemblage, as well as a large proportion of kitchen wares, characteristics shared by the material from the occupation spreads to the south where imported vessels account for 10 per cent of the assemblage. Altogether, in terms of the range of the finds and their quality, including imports versus local and regional products, the total ceramic finds assemblage from MRTB 1/ERTB 1 and from the occupation spreads to the south appears typical for households from the larger urban communities in southern Britain, with the possible exception of London.

We should emphasise that this picture is one of consumption which includes a very significant proportion of material manufactured in the 1st and early 2nd centuries. Of that significant proportion we should allow for material already discarded before Period 3 and simply re-worked through the excavation of foundations, pits and post-holes into Period 3 stratigraphy. Attempting to distinguish between material which remained in use into Period 3 before discard and that which was re-worked rubbish of earlier date is beyond the scope of this report.

The Silchester IPhone App has been developed to help you enjoy a trip to Silchester Roman Town. Use it to plan your walk, find out more about Silchester and work out where you are, on today’s map and in the Roman Town.

The App can be downloaded from iTunes or through the App Store on your IPhone, please search for ‘Calleva’.

If you have any issues or problems using the app please email silchadmin@googlemail.com

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