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Durham University

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A biography of power: Bagendon ‘oppidum’ and the Late Iron Age-Roman transition

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.

Background

The large earthwork complexes, known as oppida, remain an enigma – what role did they play in transformations at the turn of the 1st millennium BC and how was power articulated at such centres. This project is examining one of the least well-known of these complexes in Britain: Bagendon in Gloucestershire. It provides a major reappraisal of the complex’s role and chronological development, bringing together the results of previously unpublished excavations and a major new campaign of geophysical survey and excavation undertaken between 2008 and 2017. Alongside recent publication of the excavations at nearby Ditches ‘hillfort’ (Trow, James and Moore 2009), this project is allowing a major reassessment of the nature of the Iron Age-Roman transition in central-western England and enabling new insights on the nature of social centres in the Late Iron Age.

Results

The project has included high-resolution magnetometry survey of c. 170ha of the Bagendon complex, revealing numerous new archaeological features and clarifying the extent of Late Iron Age occupation. Excavation was undertaken at two newly identified Iron Age enclosures between 2012-2014, at a newly identified Roman villa in 2015, and conducted one of only 3 excavations of the Iron Age earthworks themselves. Combined, with analysis of the unpublished excavations conducted between 1979-1981 by Richard Reece and Stephen Trow, this has provided major new insights into the nature, chronology and origins of the complex.

The excavation of two morphologically unusual, banjo-like enclosures, dating to the Middle-Late Iron Age and the unexpected discovery that one of the, previously unexamined, dykes dates initially from the Middle Iron Age, provide exciting new evidence for why this location was chosen as an important Late Iron Age social centre. Integrating a range of detailed specialist studies, the project has reassessed Late Iron Age occupation at the complex, revealing evidence for important artisanal activities, such as coin minting and iron smelting, and enabled reassessment of its chronology, demonstrating that activity commenced before the Roman conquest. A variety of scientific analysis reveal the complex exchange networks Bagendon was connected to in the Middle and Late Iron Age, with animals and people coming from west of the Severn. The discovery of two previously unknown Roman villas at Bagendon, including partial excavation of one, also demonstrate how this landscape continued to be significant in the early Roman province.

Collectively, this evidence is allowing the project to re-evaluate the Bagendon complex and resituate it within dialogues about the nature of Late Iron Age oppida in Britain (Moore 2012; 2014). It suggests that Bagendon, and perhaps other ‘oppida’ (Moore 2017), should be redefined as a ‘powerscape’: a landscape for the enactment of power, one which offers important insights into the changing nature of societies from the Middle Iron Age to Roman period. The results of the project will be published in a forthcoming monograph.

Funding

The different elements of the Bagendon project have been supported by a range of organisations, to which we are most grateful: post-excavation analysis of the 1980s material was supported by the Roman Research Trust (2012; 2015) and Society of Antiquaries of London (2012); geophysical surveys have been supported by the Roman Research Trust (2008), Royal Archaeological Institute (Bunnel Lewis Award) (2009, 2010), Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (Irene Bridgeman grant) (2009/2013) and British Academy (2012-13) and Reading University (2015-16). Excavations in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were supported by funding from the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. Excavations in 2012 and 2013 were also supported by the Howard Community College, USA. Excavations in 2015 were funded by Durham University and the Roman Research Trust.

Aerial photograph of excavations in 2015 (taken by Mark Woolston-Houshold)

Published Results

Authored book

  • Trow, S., James, S. & Moore, T. (2009). Becoming Roman, Being Gallic, Staying British. Research and excavations at Ditches 'hillfort' and villa 1984-2006. Oxford: Oxbow.
  • Moore, T. (2006). Iron Age societies in the Severn-Cotswolds: developing narratives of social and landscape change. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Journal Article

  • Moore, T. (2012). Beyond the Oppida: Polyfocal Complexes and Late Iron Age Societies in Southern Britain. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 31(4): 391-417.

Chapter in book

  • Moore, T. (2014). The birth of a capital? Bagendon 'Oppidum' and the impact of Rome on the British countryside. In The Impact of Rome on the British Countryside: a conference organised by the RAI, Chester, 11-13 October 2013. Breeze, David J. London: The Royal Archaeological Institute. 26-30.
  • Moore, T. (2007). Life on the edge? Exchange, community and identity in the later Iron Age of the Severn-Cotswolds. In The Later Iron Age in Britain and Beyond. Haselgrove, C. & Moore, T. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 41-61.

Staff

From the Department of Archaeology

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