The Romans in the Nene Valley

Review by CH.

This engaging overview of archaeological evidence in the Nene Valley spans the Iron Age to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. Although relatively slim at 72 pages, it is packed with information and richly illustrated, drawing on the author’s more than 40 years of experience excavating and researching the region.

We begin with a summary o f antiquarian activity, and readers may envy these early explorers, who could apparently still encounter upstanding Roman ruins in the 16th/17th centuries. In the 17th century, Camden describes a field with ‘such quantities of Roman coins that one would think they had been sown there’, and a century later Stukeley reports Castor churchyard being ‘full of foundations and mosaics’. Thankfully, the more carefully documented investigations that followed proved just as fruitful; more detailed discussion is dedicated to the work of Edmund Artis, who carried out the first scientific excavations in the area in the 1820s and 1830s.

Upex then leaps further back into the past, landing in the Nene Valley before the arrival of the Romans, when it lay within the territory of the Catuvellauni. Hundreds of Iron Age farms and settlements have been identified here, many still visible from the air as parch- or cropmarks. Roman occupation itself is thought to have begun within a year of the Claudian invasion, and a large fort was built at Longthorpe to bolster this campaign. We also visit Durobrivae, a prosperous town and trading centre beside a bridge over the Nene. Its walled area enclosed c.18ha, but its suburbs sprawling over another 182ha make it one of the largest built-up areas in Roman Britain – something illuminated in spectacular fashion thanks to a wide-ranging geophysical survey in 2018.

Subsequent sections explore high-status villa sites, the experiences of children and families, religious beliefs, and evidence from burials. Upex even names some of the people who lived in this area, thanks to three potters who signed their wares, and the spectacular Water Newton silver hoard, which preserves the names of a group of 4th-century Christians.

Ending with the impact of the Anglo-Saxons, this clearly written book is an enjoyable read, and a very useful introduction to this region in the Roman period.

The Romans in the Nene Valley, Stephen G Upex, Nene Valley Archaeological Trust, £15, ISBN 978-1739875602.