‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ – Colchester!

In AD 43, Claudius led his army in triumph into Camulodunon, stronghold of the late British king Cunobelin. Could Julius Caesar have done the same a hundred years earlier? It’s an intriguing question, but only one of many that concern Colchester’s earliest years. When, how and why was Camulodunon established? What did it look like? Could it be called a town? What of the relationship between the Catuvellauni and the Trinovantes? And was it a Trinovantian settlement or a Catuvellaunian one? Luckily, there have been various opportunities in recent years for some large-scale excavations, and answers to some of these questions are starting to emerge.

Until recently, the start date for Camulodunon could not be pushed further back than c 25 BC. The evidence for this date comes from various sources. The Lexden Tumulus is the starting point. Excavated in 1924, it is the burial place of a British king who died c 15-10 BC (but no earlier than 17 BC). A group of cremation burials close by the tumulus seems slightly earlier and pulls the date for Camulodunon back to c 50-15/10 BC, on the basis that the cremation burials did not contain any Gallo-Belgic imports. Then there are early coins of the Catuvellaunian king Tasciovanus which were mint marked ‘CAM’ for Camulodunon and are dated numismatically very approximately to 25 BC. The name Camulodunon means ‘fortified place of Camulos’, a British god of war. Thus its appearance on the coins of Tasciovanus shows that, by c 25 BC, Camulodunon must have been an important place and must have had defences.