THE END OF ROMAN VENTA

(Right) A spear which was buried with its Anglo-Saxon owner in a grave at Caistor.

From AD 200 the shores of eastern England were a target for frequent raids by barbarians from northern Europe. These tribes, with their growing populations, were themselves under pressure from tribes further east.

By AD 340 Roman imperial authority was beginning to break down. In the chaos little was done to provide extra defence for Britain. A British uprising in AD 409 overturned Roman rule and took on the task of beating back the invaders themselves. In AD 410 the final links with the Roman Empire were broken, when the Emperor Honorius told the cities of Britain to look to their own defences. The remnants of the Roman army were then withdrawn.

(Below) The homelands of the early Anglo-Saxon settlers around AD 450 - 550.

From the AD 420's, groups from the same tribes as those mounting the attacks, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, were said to have been employed by the British to fight off incoming bands of raiders. These new allies settled with their families in huge numbers. It was, however, only a temporary solution to Britain's problems for, within a few decades, these former allies rebelled and gradually gained control. By the AD 440's the Roman way of life was collapsing. Anglo-Saxon warriors were becoming the new rulers, bringing with them a new life-style, language and religion.

Venta Icenorum was one of the first British towns to come under Anglo-Saxon influence. There is evidence of a community settling close to the town by the mid-400's. The site of one of their cemeteries is on the hill, covered in pine trees, you can see over the road and across the field to your left. The cremated human remains were mainly buried in pottery urns of a style traditional in their continental homelands. Tiw, Woden and Thor were among the gods worshipped by the people buried there.


Part of a burial urn, AD 450 - 550, from the early Anglo-Saxon cemetery which lies on the pine tree-covered hill you can see to your left across the fields. The scene on the urn is from an Anglo-Saxon legend about a ship crewed by giants and a wolf. The same type of wooden ship was used by the settlers to make their hazardous crossings of the North Sea.

By around AD 450 Venta Icenorum had stopped functioning as a town. The Roman town and its defences fell into decay. The name `Caistor' was given to the then ruined Roman town by the Anglo- Saxon settlers, who had learned the Latin word for fort, `Castra'. What happened to the Roman inhabitants of the town remains a mystery, but archaeological evidence suggests that the area surrounding the town remained a focus for smaller-scale settlement for several centuries.



Last updated on 13 August 2009 by John Peterson

(e-mail j.peterson@uea.ac.uk)