The Durotriges were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain prior to the Roman invasion. The tribe lived in modern Dorset, south Wiltshire, south Somerset and Devon east of the River Axe and the discovery of an Iron Age hoard in 2009 at Shalfleet, Isle of Wight gives evidence that they lived in the western half of the island. After the Roman conquest, their main civitates, or settlement-centred administrative units, were Durnovaria (modern Dorchester, "the probable original capital") and Lindinis (modern Ilchester, "whose former, unknown status was thereby enhanced"[1]). Their territory was bordered to the west by the Dumnonii; and to the east by the Belgae.

Celtic gold stater Durotriges tribe
British Celts, gold stater from the Durotriges. Chute type with strongly Celticized, disjointed horse left and abstract head of Apollo on the right.
Aerial photograph of Maiden Castle, 1935
Maiden Castle, Dorset was in the territory of the Durotriges

Durotriges were more a tribal confederation than a tribe.[2] They were one of the groups that issued coinage before the Roman conquest, part of the cultural "periphery", as Barry Cunliffe characterised them, round the "core group" of Britons in the south. These coins were rather simple and had no inscriptions, and thus no names of coin-issuers can be known, let alone evidence about monarchs or rulers. Nevertheless, the Durotriges presented a settled society, based in the farming of lands[3] surrounded and controlled by strong hill forts that were still in use in 43 AD. Maiden Castle is a preserved example of one of these hill forts.

England Celtic tribes - South
The Celtic tribes of Southern Britain showing the Durotriges and their neighbours.

The area of the Durotriges is identified in part by coin finds:[4] few Durotrigan coins are found in the "core" area, where they were apparently unacceptable and were reminted. To their north and east were the Belgae, beyond the Avon and its tributary Wylye: "the ancient division is today reflected in the county division between Wiltshire and Somerset."[5] Their main outlet for the trade across the Channel, strong in the first half of the 1st century BC, when the potter's wheel was introduced, then drying up in the decades before the advent of the Romans, was at Hengistbury Head. Numismatic evidence shows progressive debasing of the coinage, suggesting economic retrenchment accompanying the increased cultural isolation. Analysis of the body of Durotrigan ceramics suggests to Cunliffe that the production was increasingly centralised, at Poole Harbour (Cunliffe 2005:183).

Burial of Durotriges was by inhumation, with a last ritual meal provided even under exiguous circumstances, as in the eight burials at Maiden Castle, carried out immediately after the Roman attack. Most Durotrigian burials are laid down in crouched positions within shallow, oval graves. One such inhumation of a young Durotrigian woman was found at Langton Herring in Dorset in 2010. The burial, which was laid down with a decorated mirror, had a radiocarbon date of between AD 25 – 53.[6]

Not surprisingly, the Durotriges resisted Roman invasion in AD 43, and the historian Suetonius records some fights between the tribe and the second legion Augusta, then commanded by Vespasian. By 70 AD, the tribe was already Romanised and securely included in the Roman province of Britannia. In the tribe’s area, the Romans explored some quarries and supported a local pottery industry.

The Durotriges, and their relationship with the Roman Empire, form the basis for an ongoing archaeological research project directed by Paul Cheetham, Ellen Hambleton and Miles Russell of Bournemouth University. The Durotriges Project[7] has, since 2009, been reconsidering the Iron Age to Roman transition through a detailed programme of field survey, geophysical investigation and targeted excavation. To date the programme of work has concentrated upon an enclosed late Iron Age banjo enclosure containing round houses, work surfaces and storage pits, a Late Iron Age cemetery and two Roman villas.[8]

Territory of the Durotriges
CapitalDurnovaria (Dorchester)
South Wiltshire
South Somerset
RulersNone known

See also


  1. ^ Bruce Eagles, "Britons and Saxons on the Eastern Boundary of the Civitas Durotrigum" Britannia 35 (2004:234-240) p. 234.
  2. ^ "The Durotriges were a close-knit confederacy of smaller units centred on modern Dorset," writes Barry Cunliffe, Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest, 4th ed. 2005:178, in beginning his Part II.8 "The tribes of the periphery: Durotriges, Dobunni, Iceni and Corieltauvi" (pp 178-201).
  3. ^ Several homestead sites have been excavated in Cranborne Chase.
  4. ^ Cunliffe 2005: fig. 8:2.
  5. ^ Eagles 2004: 234 and map, fig. 5.
  6. ^ Russell, M. (2019). "The girl with the chariot medallion: a well-furnished, Late Iron Age Durotrigian burial from Langton Herring, Dorset". Archaeological Journal. 176. doi:10.1080/00665983.2019.1573551.
  7. ^ *[1]
  8. ^ Cheetham, P, Hambleton, E, Russell, M, and Smith, M 2013 'Digging the Durotriges' CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 281, 36-41

Further reading

  • Martin Papworth, (2011), The Search for the Durotriges: Dorset and the West Country in the Late Iron Age. The History Press. ISBN 0752457373
  • Paul Cheetham Ellen Hambleton, Miles Russell and Martin Smith (2013), Digging the Durotriges: Life and Death in Late Iron Age Dorset. Current Archaeology 281, 36-41.

External links

Abbotsbury Castle

Abbotsbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort in south west Dorset, England, situated on Wears Hill above the village of Abbotsbury, seven miles west of Dorchester and the famous hill fort at Maiden Castle.

It is situated on a high chalk hill overlooking the English Channel, and in its day was the front line of defence from invasion. The earthworks cover an area of about 10 acres (4.0 ha), of which about 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) are inside the ramparts.The fort was occupied by the Celtic Durotriges tribe, but when the Romans invaded in AD 43, the second Augustian legion of Vespasian took the fort quickly with little struggle before moving on to Maiden Castle. There is no evidence that the Romans settled at Abbotsbury Castle as they did at some other hill forts.

Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort in east Dorset, England. It was in the territory of the Durotriges. In the Roman era a temple was located immediately west of the fort, and there was a Romano-British town known as Vindocladia a short distance to the south-west.


The Carnonacae were a people of ancient Britain, known only from a single mention of them by the geographer Ptolemy c. 150. From his general description and the approximate locations of their neighbors, their territory was along the western coast of modern Ross-shire. Ptolemy does not provide them with a town or principal place.

Castle Rings, Wiltshire

Castle Rings is a univallate hill fort in the parish of Donhead St Mary in Wiltshire in England. The fort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with a list entry identification number of 1005698. Castle Rings has been dated to the Iron Age and is situated at an altitude of 228 metres (748 ft) upon Upper Greensand sandstone beds. The main bulk of the fort enclosure lies within the boundaries of Donhead St Mary parish but some of the outlying earthworks are situated in the neighbouring Sedgehill and Semley parish. In the mid-1980s a metal detectorist unearthed a hoard of stater coins of the Durotriges tribe within the hill fort.Lady Theodora Grosvenor described the fort in her 1867 book Motcombe, Past and Present:

...a fine encampment, enclosing a space of about 12 acres, and considered to have been originally British, which exists within the angle where the roads from Semley Church and Donhead to Shaftesbury unite by Wincombe Lodge. It bears the name of Castle Rings, and its embankments and ditches are strongly defined, though, from being overgrown with copse-wood, seldom observed.

Cornovii (Caithness)

The Cornovii were a people of ancient Britain, known only from a single mention of them by the geographer Ptolemy c. 150. From his description, their territory is reliably known to have been at the northern tip of Scotland, in Caithness. Ptolemy does not provide them with a town or principal place.


The Creones were a people of ancient Britain, known only from a single mention of them by the geographer Ptolemy c. 150. From his general description and the approximate locations of their neighbors, their territory was along the western coast of Scotland, south of the Isle of Skye and north of the Isle of Mull. Ptolemy does not provide them with a town or principal place.


The Demetae were a Celtic people of Iron Age and Roman period, who inhabited modern Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales, and gave their name to the county of Dyfed.

Dorchester, Dorset

Dorchester ( DOR-ches-tər) is the county town of Dorset, England. It is situated between Poole and Bridport on the A35 trunk route. A historic market town, Dorchester is on the banks of the River Frome to the south of the Dorset Downs and north of the South Dorset Ridgeway that separates the area from Weymouth, 7 miles (11 km) to the south. The civil parish includes the small town of Poundbury and the suburb of Fordington.

The area around the town was first settled in prehistoric times. The Romans established a garrison there after defeating the Durotriges tribe, calling the settlement that grew up nearby Durnovaria; they built an aqueduct to supply water and an amphitheatre on an ancient British earthwork. After the departure of the Romans, the town diminished in significance, but during the medieval period became an important commercial and political centre. It was the site of the "Bloody Assizes" presided over by Judge Jeffreys after the Monmouth Rebellion, and later the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

In the 2011 census, the population of Dorchester was 19,060, with further people coming from surrounding areas to work in the town which has six industrial estates. The Brewery Square redevelopment project is taking place in phases, with other development projects planned. The town has a land-based college, Kingston Maurward College, the Thomas Hardye Upper School, three middle schools and thirteen first schools. The Dorset County Hospital offers an accident and emergency service, and the town is served by two railway stations. Through vehicular traffic is routed round the town by means of a bypass. The town has a football club and a rugby union club, several museums and the biannual Dorchester Festival. It is twinned with three towns in Europe. As well as having many listed buildings, a number of notable people have been associated with the town. It was for many years the home and inspiration of the author Thomas Hardy, whose novel The Mayor of Casterbridge uses a fictionalised version of Dorchester as its setting.


The Dumnonii or Dumnones were a British tribe who inhabited Dumnonia, the area now known as Devon and Cornwall (and some areas of present-day Dorset and Somerset) in the further parts of the South West peninsula of Britain, from at least the Iron Age up to the early Saxon period. They were bordered to the east by the Durotriges tribe.


*Durnovaria is a suggested spelling for the Latin form of the name of the Roman town of Dorchester in the modern English county of Dorset, amended from the actually observed Durnonovaria. Upon the assumption that the name was originally Brythonic, it is suggested that the first element in the name, *durno- may mean "fist" like (Welsh dwrn ‘fist, knob’) and the second may be related to Old Irish fáir ~ fóir denoting a confined area or den. A simpler amendment (one letter instead of two) would lead to *Duronovaria, making this place one of up to 18 ancient British names that contain Duro- and mostly occur at river crossings, while -novaria has two possible ancient parallels in Britain associated with river junctions. That analysis would perfectly fit the geographical situation of Dorchester.


Duropolis is the name of an archaeological site at Winterborne Kingston in the English county of Dorset, believed to be the remains of the first planned town in Britain. The site's first discoveries were made in 2008 led by co-directors Miles Russell and Paul Cheetham. The 32,000 square metres (340,000 sq ft) Iron Age settlement is believed to date to around 100 BCE, making it 70 years older than the Roman town of Silchester.

Hod Hill

Hod Hill (or Hodd Hill) is a large hill fort in the Blackmore Vale, 3 miles (5 km) north-west of Blandford Forum, Dorset, England. The fort sits on a 143 m (469 ft) chalk hill of the same name that lies between the adjacent Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase. The hill fort at Hambledon Hill is just to the north. The name probably comes from Old English "hod", meaning a shelter, though "hod" could also mean "hood", referring to the shape of the hill.The fort is roughly rectangular (600 by 400 m (2,000 by 1,300 ft)), with an enclosed area of 22 ha (54 acres). There is a steep natural slope down to the River Stour to the west, the other sides have an artificial rampart, ditch and counterscarp (outer bank), with an additional rampart on the north side. The main entrance is at the south-east corner, with other openings at the south-west and north-east corners.

The hillfort was inhabited by the Durotriges in the late Iron Age; whether this is the same tribe who fortified the hilltop in the middle Iron Age (radiocarbon analysis suggests a date of 500 BC for the main rampart) is unknown. There is extensive evidence of settlement within the fort, including platforms for roundhouses.

Hod Hill is the second in a series of Iron Age earthworks, starting from Hambledon Hill, and including Hod Hill, Spetisbury Rings, Buzbury Rings, Badbury Rings and Dudsbury Camp. The Iron Age port at Hengistbury Head forms a final Iron Age monument in this small chain of sites.

The hill was captured in AD 43 by the Roman Second Legion (Augusta), led by Vespasian, who had already captured Maiden Castle and other hill forts to the south. Eleven iron ballista bolts have been found on the hill, clustered in the so-called "Chieftain's hut" area (two hut circles, one of which had an enclosure around it) but there are no other signs of a struggle, suggesting the Durotriges surrendered to the superior Roman army.

The Romans built a camp (200 m2 (2,200 sq ft)) in the north-west corner of the original fort, occupied by a mixed force of 720 legionaries and auxiliaries. The fort was used as a base for about 5 or 6 years, but passed out of use by about AD 50, when troops were withdrawn for the campaigns against Caractacus in Wales, and the remaining men were moved to a new fort further west at Waddon Hill.

The site was excavated in the 1950s by Sir Ian Richmond and his final report was published in 1969. Today the hill is an important calcareous grassland habitat, home to spectacular wild flowers and butterflies.

Iron Age tribes in Britain

The names of the Celtic Iron Age tribes in Britain were recorded by Roman and Greek historians and geographers, especially Ptolemy. Information from the distribution of Celtic coins has also shed light on the extents of the territories of the various groups that occupied the island.


Lindinis or Lendiniae was a small town in the Roman province of Britannia. Today it is known as Ilchester, located in the English county of Somerset in the United Kingdom.


The Lugi were a people of ancient Britain, known only from a single mention of them by the geographer Ptolemy c. 150. from his general description and the approximate locations of their neighbors their territory was along the western coast of the Moray Firth. Ptolemy does not provide them with a town or principal place.

Maiden Castle, Dorset

Maiden Castle is an Iron Age hill fort 1.6 miles (2.6 km) south west of Dorchester, in the English county of Dorset. Hill forts were fortified hill-top settlements constructed across Britain during the Iron Age.

The earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on the site consists of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure and bank barrow. In about 1800 BC, during the Bronze Age, the site was used for growing crops before being abandoned. Maiden Castle itself was built in about 600 BC; the early phase was a simple and unremarkable site, similar to many other hill forts in Britain and covering 6.4 hectares (16 acres). Around 450 BC it was greatly expanded and the enclosed area nearly tripled in size to 19 ha (47 acres), making it the largest hill fort in Britain and, by some definitions, the largest in Europe. At the same time, Maiden Castle's defences were made more complex with the addition of further ramparts and ditches. Around 100 BC, habitation at the hill fort went into decline and became concentrated at the eastern end of the site. It was occupied until at least the Roman period, by which time it was in the territory of the Durotriges, a Celtic tribe.

After the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century AD, Maiden Castle appears to have been abandoned, although the Romans may have had a military presence on the site. In the late 4th century AD, a temple and ancillary buildings were constructed. In the 6th century AD the hill top was entirely abandoned and was used only for agriculture during the medieval period.

Maiden Castle has provided inspiration for composer John Ireland and authors Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys. The study of hill forts was popularised in the 19th century by archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers. In the 1930s, archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler and Tessa Verney Wheeler undertook the first archaeological excavations at Maiden Castle, raising its profile among the public. Further excavations were carried out under Niall Sharples, which added to an understanding of the site and repaired damage caused in part by the large number of visitors. Today the site is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is maintained by English Heritage.


The Taexali (or Taezali) were a people of ancient Scotland, known only from a single mention of them by the geographer Ptolemy c. 150. From his general description and the approximate location of their town or principal place that he called 'Devana', their territory was along the northeastern coast of Scotland and is known to have included Buchan Ness, as Ptolemy refers to the promontory as 'Taexalon Promontory'.


The Vacomagi were a people of ancient Britain, known only from a single mention of them by the geographer Ptolemy c. 150. From his general description and the approximate locations of their neighbors, their territory was the region of Strathspey, including that part of the northern coast of Scotland. Ptolemy says that their towns or principal places were called 'Bannatia', 'Tamia', Pinnata Castra, and 'Tuesis'.

When the Eagle Hunts

When the Eagle Hunts is a 2002 novel by Simon Scarrow, set in 44 AD during the Roman invasion of Britain. It is the third book in the Eagles of the Empire series.


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