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A Prehistoric Metropolis: the first Verulamium

  • R. E. M. Wheeler

Westward across the valley from St. Albans, the horizon is today fringed by a tract of secluded woodland. A part of this woodland has acquired the name of Prae Wood from a small medieval nunnery, dedicated to St. Mary de Pré, that once stood half-a-mile away beside the derelict Watling Street. The nunnery is now a patch of nettles in the meadows by the Ver, and the Street is a channel from which the metalling has been torn; but both are better known to the historian and the antiquary than are the banks and ditches which lie hidden beneath the summer-jungle of Prae Wood. For all that, these banks and ditches are relics of a city which was at one time no less than the metropolis of a considerable part of Britain. It is nearly nineteen centuries since they passed into oblivion, and there is something of ironical irrelevance in the words of a Georgian milestone which chance has set up in their midst: ‘I mile from Gorhambury, 20 miles from Hyde Park Corner The shade of Sir Thomas Browne might find a happy perch upon that milestone.

About the year 30 B.c., king Tasciovanus, suzerain (it would seem) of a large region in central and eastern Britain, struck coins which bear upon them, in one form or another, the name of Verulamium and are, incidentally, amongst the first inscribed coins minted in these islands. His predecessor, Cassivelaunus, had been the elected leader of the British tribes against Julius Caesar in 54 B.c.; and it is unnecessary here to discuss again in detail the plausible identification of Verulamium with the unnamed stronghold of Cassivelaunus which Caesar's legions stormed in that year.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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