Uncovering the forgotten Roman town of Venta Icenorum


Venta Icenorum (market place of the Iceni) was once the Roman capital of Norfolk, England, over 1700 years ago. It was a large and lively market town surrounded by high walls with its own local government, trade and Roman/Briton-style entertainment. In fact it is one of only a few Roman towns in the UK that have not been destroyed or covered by centuries of rebuilding.

Today the site boasts a 20 foot high Roman wall and many other treasures. Sadly, over the centuries, after the Romans abandoned Britain for other ventures, its flint and tiles have been scavenged for other more seemingly pressing enterprises like fixing roads and the construction of new buildings. The only surviving parts are the lower sections of the buildings, the high walls, one tower and other buried secrets.

The mighty walls of Venta Icenorum.

Now a historical site, it is just a pleasant riverside walk away from a convenient car park. However, to truly view many of its treasures, one must detor to Caistor’s (the present town) city center and wander around the Norwich Castle Museum.


The Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD saw the local Anglian/Celtic tribe of the Iceni fighting for its existence and territory. However, in 61 AD, after the death of the King Prasutagus the Iceni in the heat of battle, the tribe was forced by Emperor Claudius to capitulate under what are considered to be by some historians as agreeable terms.

The submission did not last for long, though. After Emperor Claudius’ death at the hands of his fourth wife, his adopted son, Nero, sought total capitulation as any dictator would. During the turmoil that followed, Queen Boudicea (Boudica), widow of King Prasutagus, was beaten publicly by Nero’s soldiers and her two daughters were raped. The resulting, furious rebellion saw the might of the Roman army crush the forces of Queen Boudicea (Boudica) at Verulanium, a Roman city (present day St. Albans) and the re-establishment of Roman rule. Even today the evidence of the Roman military presence in the ruins of Venta Icenorum is a shivering reminder of the seemingly invinceable control the Roman Empire had over many a conquered people – hints of defensive ditches and even army equipment have been uncovered.

The imposition of the new governing, Roman regime must have been the most crippling defeat for the Iceni. One can only imagine the cruelty that it took to force the Iceni, a historically proud people, to work on Roman-style projects.

In 70 AD, one such project may well have been the construction of Venta Icenorum itself. The very location of the town suggests that the Romans had taken the time to survey the area, as they did for every town and city they built.

Venta Icenorum sat on the Tas valley’s eastern slopes with the nearby River Tas supplying needed water, a defensive line and a much needed transportation route. It was also a natural geographical location for a system of link roads that allowed the Romans to travel easily to other towns and cities. Some of these roads are still in use today, including the A140, the main route from Norwich to Colchester and London.


Extensive archaelogical excavations have brought to light a town that bussled with trade. The River Tas was the gateway from Venta Icenorum and surrounding areas to the ports on the North Sea. River boats would have carried corn, which was easily grown in Venta Icenorum, for export to the continental Roman Empire by Roman sea-going ships. Likewise, the boats returned with foreign goods like pottery and wine.

The Tas also provided the town with a Roman-style water and drainage system. The natural incline of the land allowed water to flow easily into what is believed to be a series of wooden pipes. Even visitors and locals alike could have enjoyed the pleasures of the local baths.


By the time the town was completed, massive stone walls with their fortified bastions (towers) protected the town centre from attacks from barbarians, who traveled across the North Sea, leaving the outer lying areas virtually defenceless. A huge 80 foot wide by 17 foot deep ditch surrounded the walls, joining with the river to form a moat. It is probable that huge ramparts (dirt banks) were built against the walls to act as a further defence.

Have you heard about Thrace and the Thrace civilization?

A number of cities in Dacia and Thrace were built on or close to the sites of preexisting Dacian or Thracian settlements. Some settlements in this list may have a double entry, such as the Paeonian Astibo and Latin Astibus. It is believed that Thracians did not build true cities even if they were named as such; the largest Thracian settlements were large villages.[1] The only known attempt to build a polis by the Thracians was Seuthopolis.,[2][3] although Strabo considered the Thracian cities with “bria” ending polises. Some of the Dacian settlements and fortresses employed the traditional Murus Dacicus construction technique. ( source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ancient_cities_in_Thrace_and_Dacia ). One of the biggest personal collection of Thracian and Roman artifacts is owned by the famous philanthropist Vasil Bozkov