THE BUILDING OF CIRENCESTER
Thirty years after the Roman invasion, in about AD70, the wooden frontier fort that had been constructed in Watermoor was dismantled. This was simply because the area had been conquered, resistance to Roman rule quashed and the process of winning the hearts and minds of the local Dobunni tribe well under way. The settlement that would become Corinium had initially grown up to service the fort.
Most of the population of the growing settlement would have been members of the local tribe which was based in a hill fort at Bagendon. People moved to provide goods and services to the fort, perhaps as bakers, market gardeners, butchers and so on. After the soldiers moved on and the fort removed, the settlement continued to thrive. This was helped by its location on the junction of the Fosse Way, Ermin Street and Akeman Street. Also as a centre for trade in sheep, cattle and wool, within a short time it became the tribal capital (civitas) of the Dobunni. Hence the Roman name of Corinium Dobunnorum.
The first recording of Cirencester as Corinium Dobunnorum was not until AD 150 when it was mentioned in the writing of Ptolemy (the Geographia). No doubt the inhabitants would have been aware of a name for the settlement soon after the fort was established but no written records before Ptolemy have been found.
By the turn of the First Century the street grid was laid out and stone buildings constructed. It is thought that the quarry at the site of the amphitheatre was a major source of the building stone for the town. Large public buildings were constructed plus two market places and numerous shops and private houses. About this time the forum, basilica and amphitheatre were built, all the largest in size in Britain apart from those in Londinium. The forum or public square tended to be used as a market place supplementing the surrounding shops. Archaeology tells us that there was a cattle market adjoining the forum with a market hall and several butchers’ shops.
In addition the forum would have been a gathering place where news and proclamations were read out and a space for political discussions and debates. On the edge of the forum was the basilica: this was a large public building used by town officials, magistrates and others for business and legal transactions. In the Roman Empire any settlement which included a basilica could consider itself to be a city. Hence in Corinium, possibly to emphasise its status, the basilica was decorated with beautifully carved Corinthian capitals, Italian marble wall veneers and Purbeck marble mouldings.
Within the town, from about AD110 a number of private stone houses for wealthy individuals were constructed and probably occupied for the life of the town. As time progressed these homes became more luxurious with mosaic floors and sculptures. It is suggested that, apart from evidence of bakers, glass makers, blacksmiths and goldsmiths, there is also an indication of Corinium being a centre for stone-carving and a mosaic industry with two schools of art.
About the time of Hadrian (Emperor 117 – 138) there was a move for more civil development and the town walls were constructed. Five gates provided access to the town, a similar configuration to the present day road network. The walls were improved with towers and raised higher about AD 211. Not only did the walls provide extra security but demonstrated to all the importance of the town.
The busy population of the town were also provided with excitement and entertainment through the construction of the amphitheatre. More on this next time.