A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Burned to the ground by the Celtic warrior-queen Boudica, Camulodunum might have remained Britain's capital city had the Romans rebuilt it in the right place.
Any real estate agent will tell you that location is everything. So will archaeologist Philip Crummy, who has been digging in and around the under-celebrated town of Colchester in southeastern England for the past 30 years. On paper, the town is a tourism board's dream, from its beginnings in the first century B.C. as Camulodunum, a formidable fortress dedicated to the Celtic god of war and ruled by a native king celebrated by Shakespeare, to its designation as "Britain's first recorded town" after the Romans established a colony on the site in A.D. 50. In what Winston Churchill called "probably the most horrible episode which our Island has known," Colchester was burned to the ground during a native uprising led by the famous Celtic queen Boudica and rebuilt by the Romans, who incorporated their destroyed buildings into the defensive wall that encircles the town to this day.
It was the Romans who sealed Colchester's fate when they established their colony in a location that was perfectly adequate for local native farmers, but not for colonists who expected wine from Spain and figs from Italy. And it was the demand for such products that led to the meteoric rise of Roman Londinium at the expense of Colchester, which to this day remains a small town with a big reputation in British history. In City of Victory, his book on the archaeology and history of the town that has been his focus for the past three decades, Crummy sums up Colchester's sweeping history with a final sentence: "A few miles closer to the mouth of the Colne would have made a lot of difference."
Kristin M. Romey is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.