Battlesbury Camp

Battlesbury Camp is the site of an Iron Age bivallate hill fort on Battlesbury Hill near the town of Warminster in Wiltshire, South West England. Excavations and surveys at the site have uncovered various finds and archaeological evidence.

Battlesbury Camp
Iron age earth walls and ditch, Battlesbury hillfort - - 237388
Iron age earth walls and ditch, at the eastern edge of Battlesbury Hillfort
Battlesbury Camp is located in Wiltshire
Battlesbury Camp
Shown within Wiltshire
Coordinates51°12′34″N 2°08′51″W / 51.2095°N 2.1474°WCoordinates: 51°12′34″N 2°08′51″W / 51.2095°N 2.1474°W
Area23.5 acres
PeriodsBronze Age, Iron Age
Site notes
Excavation datesyes
Public accessyes


Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC.[1] The reason for their emergence in Britain, and their purpose, has been a subject of debate. It has been argued that they could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture. The dominant view since the 1960s has been that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in Britain. Deposits of iron ore were located in different places to the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze, and as a result trading patterns shifted and the old elites lost their economic and social status. Power passed into the hands of a new group of people.[2] Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe believes that population increase still played a role and has stated "[the forts] provided defensive possibilities for the community at those times when the stress [of an increasing population] burst out into open warfare. But I wouldn't see them as having been built because there was a state of war. They would be functional as defensive strongholds when there were tensions and undoubtedly some of them were attacked and destroyed, but this was not the only, or even the most significant, factor in their construction".[3]


Battlesbury camp sketch
Pencil sketch of Battlesbury Camp, from The Ancient History of Wiltshire by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 1810

Battlesbury occupies the summit of an irregular point of down, with its defences following the natural contours of the hill, and being by nature of the site almost inaccessible on the west and northeast sides. It has triple ditches and ramparts for the most part, with double on the southeast side. The site encloses 23.5 acres in all. There are entrances at the northwest and northwest corners.[4]

Pits found within the fortifications contained late Iron Age pottery, the hub of a chariot wheel, an iron carpenter's saw, a latch-lifter for a hut door, querns, whetstones, sling stones, and animal bones. These all indicate a permanent occupation and date from the 1st century BC. Unfortunately it is suspected that the hills inhabitants came to a violent end, due to the many graves containing men, women and children outside of the northwest entrance. It can only be guessed at whether Roman legions put people to the sword, or if this was the result of intertribal warfare sometime before the Roman conquest.[4][5]

The southwest area of the hill fort is apparently built over and around preceding Bronze Age burial mounds or tumuli. Part of the inner ditch is occupied by a large circular barrow, which was excavated, but was found empty. A few feet further to the west are two other barrows, over which the great inner rampart passes; these on opening, proved to be sepulchral: in the largest was found a cist containing burned human bones at the depth of two feet; and in the smallest, two skeletons were found, lying from south to north, the head of the smallest reclining on the breast of the other. On the breast of the largest skeleton there was a small ring or bead of stone, which was probably worn as an amulet.[6]

Later excavations and surveys adjacent to Battlesbury Camp hill fort in 1998 have also uncovered late Bronze Age to middle Iron Age settlement activity including for ditches, roundhouses, four-post structures and numerous pits. Some of the pits contained human burials, and other deposits of artefacts and animal bones which appear to have been formally placed.[7][8][9]


The site is at grid reference ST898455, to the east of the town of Warminster, in the county of Wiltshire. The hill has a summit of 208m AOD and is marked by an Ordnance Survey triangulation station. Nearby to the southeast lies the hill fort of Scratchbury Camp on Scratchbury hill. The site and surrounding downs are easily accessible by public footpath, however, care must be taken not to stray into the military firing ranges of Salisbury Plain immediately to the northeast.

See also


  1. ^ Payne, Andrew; Corney, Mark; Cunliffe, Barry (2007), The Wessex Hillforts Project: Extensive Survey of Hillfort Interiors in Central Southern England, English Heritage, p. 1, ISBN 978-1-873592-85-4
  2. ^ Sharples, Niall M (1991), English Heritage Book of Maiden Castle, London: B. T. Batsford, pp. 71–72, ISBN 0-7134-6083-0
  3. ^ Time Team: Swords, skulls and strongholds, Channel 4, 19 May 2008, retrieved 16 September 2009
  4. ^ a b "Battlesbury Camp," The Modern Antiquarian website. Accessed 12/14/10.
  5. ^ "Battlesbury: Warminster, Wiltshire." Roman Britain website. Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 12/14/10.
  6. ^ Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Chapter No. 4 – Station 2: Warminster, The Ancient History of Wiltshire, 1812.
  7. ^ The megalithic portal website, 21 July 2002. Accessed 14 December 2010.
  8. ^ Chris Ellis and Andrew B. Powell, "An Iron Age Settlement outside Battlesbury Hillfort, Warminster and Sites along the Southern Range Road," Wessex Archaeology Report 22;[1] Wessex Archaeology and Defence Estates 2008; Wessex Archaeology Ltd, 2008; ISBN 978-1-874350-47-7
  9. ^ "Battlesbury Camp," Wessex Archaeology website, 4/30/08. Accessed 12/14/10.
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