Antonine Itinerary XIV: 3) Verlucio to Cunetio

This stage is the longest one on Iter XIV – xx mpm – and therefore the one to test any theories about the accuracy of the Itinerary‘s distances most severely. Like the two stages just previously considered, the stations where this stage begins and ends have been pretty firmly identified,  Verlucio as Sandy Lane in Wiltshire, which stands on the site of the Roman road designated Margary 53; at the other end, Cunetio stood just south of Mildenhall (My-null), near Marlborough.

Time Team artist’s impression of the Cunetio mansio

If you can bear the Time Team banter, their episode on the archaeology of Cunetio is here and is interesting because they identified a 2nd-century mansio. Mansiones were travellers’ ‘coaching inns’, in settlements near the main roads, where there would be food and accommodation, and where horses could be changed – an additional sidelight on the Itinerary‘s Cunetio.

The archaeologists speculated that Cunetio might have been a Roman tax collection centre (perhaps explaining the huge hoard of 55,000 Roman coins found there); and perhaps a market town, where agricultural produce from the area would be brought in to be sold.

The site is alongside the River Kennet which presumably gave its name to the Roman town. A 10th-century source names the villages of East and West Kennet, just under 10 miles down river, as Cynetan.

Early Ordnance Survey maps trace the Roman road from just outside Bath through to Sandy Lane (Verlucio), then passing  south of Beckhampton and on to Silbury Hill where a Roman village was discovered in 2007. The track is lost here, though it points to a route straight through Marlborough on a line which which would lead directly to the site of Cunetio, still roughly corresponding to Margary road 53.

The site of Verlucio lies just at the point where there is the slight dip southerly at Chittoe, so the route from Verlucio to Cunetio is as clear as it can be, visible or guessable, the road distance measuring c.24.8km. It is as near direct, Roman road style, as it could be, so as the crow flies it is a similar distance, 24km.

OS map: the site of Verlucio, close to the Roman road

However, the 20 mpm of the Antonine Itinerary would be 29.6 km so there is some discrepancy there. Either it was measured inaccurately, or the manuscript tradition could be corrupt, recording xx mpm for xv mpm (22.2km) for example.


Antonine Itinerary XIV: 2) Aquae Solis to Verlucio

This section of the iter is one of the most straightforward: signs of a Roman road are distinguishable at least from Bathford, just east of Bath. This is the Margary road 53 which carries on to Verlucio/Sandy Lane and beyond in an almost straight line. As a result, the ‘as the crow flies’ distance is virtually the same as the road route. From the satellite view the line of the road can be made out by the stright line forming the division between the fields.

Red dots are just below the route of Margary road 53, indicated by the field boundaries. Click to enlarge.

As on Margary 53, the road seems to dip southwards near the supposed site of Verlucio, and then continues east to Cunetio. The ‘as the crow flies’ distance between Aquae Solis and Verlucio is 22.43 km, as against the possible road route from the very centre of Bath, which would be about 23 km. The Itinerary‘s  15 x 1.48 = 22.2 km is close.

Like Caerleon to Caerwent, where there is a predicted,  direct Roman road, the Itinerary is fairly accurate; on this stage very accurate.

And so to the stage between Sandy Lane/Verlucio and Mildenhall/Cunetio …




Antonine Itinerary, Iter XIV: 1) Isca Silurum to Venta Silurum

For the calculations in kilometres and modern miles in what follows, the equivalents used are the commonly accepted 1,000 Roman paces = 1.48 km or 0.92 modern miles. The edition of Itinerarium Antonini Augusti consulted is that of G.Parthey and M.Pinder, Berlin, 1848. Iter XIV is on p. 233.

How accurate the Itinerary’s distances ever were, and whether/where the manuscript tradition might – perhaps – be corrupt, are problems to acknowledge rather than linger over at this stage. Iter XIV, on which Traiectus lies, starts at Caerleon (Isca Silurum) and ends at Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum), and is an alternative route (alio itinere) to the one via Gloucester. The total distance is recorded as CIII (103,000 paces or 103 Roman miles); and the separate distances given between each stopping point, satisfyingly, add up to exactly CIII. So far, so good.

The first stage of the iter, Isca Silurum (Caerleon) to Venta Silurum (Caerwent),  is given as VIIII mpm or 9,000 paces – c. 13.32 km or 8.28 miles. As the crow flies, the distance between the two is 13.23 km or 8.22 miles. Is that what the Itinerary’s measurements mean, or is it just a coincidence? A coincidence, surely, since mille passus must refer to a distance walked (rather than flown), mustn’t it? [But see future blog on this.] The ‘predicted’ Roman road route between Isca and Venta is roughly along the A48, though little archaeological evidence seems to exist.¹ Following that route (and cutting out some of the wiggles), the distance would be at least 14.42 km or 8.96 miles.

Measured distances: Top, along the A48, bottom, as the crow flies. Click on image for clearer view

There are reasons to think that the measurement of this stage, at least, of the journey ought to be fairly accurate. Firstly, the terrain is easy: along a flattish coastal plain, gently undulating but with no deep valleys, wide rivers, mountains or steep hills to negotiate. It’s therefore not too surprising that the as-the-crow-flies distance is almost exactly as recorded by the Itinerary. Secondly, at 9,000 paces it is one of the shorter stretches between stopping points on this iter (the shortest is 6,000 paces, the longest 20,000). Longer stretches can present more possible deviations and uncertainties; and there are always the unknowable variables introduced by the marching army or whoever measured the distances used by the Itinerary.

The A48 road just past the turning left to Parc Seymour, travelling east.

We can infer that the Itinerary was very accurate in its measurement here if:

a) it was measuring the ‘as the crow flies’ distance or

b) 1,000 paces represented c. 1.6 km/0.99 miles, instead of the commonly accepted 1.48m/0.92 miles. These revised equivalents can be used for calculating the other stages.

Not very much more can be learned from this stretch: there are certainties and uncertainties. Old Somerset, not for the first time, has wandered off the beaten track; but Traiectus may bring us back a little closer to home.

¹ “West of Crick, the road is assumed to follow the route of the modern A48 through Caerwent, though the section between Crick and Cat’s Ash is almost all purely conjectural, except where it passes through Caerwent where it is confirmed by the position of the gates. Although [the] modern A48 consists of a series of straight alignments, these may owe their origin at least in part to turnpiking. To the west of Penhow Castle, Ordnance Survey fieldworkers excavated a short section of agger but little further information was recorded about the results of the excavation”, Roman roads in Southeast Wales. Desk-based assessment, p. 17, report for Cadw by A. Sherman and E. Evans, Sept 2004.


That old chestnut (Chapter Two)

The Roman historian (i.e. scholar of Roman history) and archæologist FJ Haverfield, back in 1906, wrote:

It would at first sight seem natural to identify Traiectus with Bitton and Abone with Seamills. This solution, however, raises serious difficulties. Seamills is indeed not much more than nine miles from Bitton. But Bitton is ten or eleven, not six, Roman miles west of Bath, and no ‘station’ except Bitton exists on this part of the route. Again, no ‘traiectus’ worth the name occurs near Bitton nor indeed anywhere on the route except at the crossing of the Severn. The first difficulty can be solved by supposing a corruption in the text, and reading xi. for vi.”


Is Haverfield’s calculation correct? The Roman mille passus is roughly 1.48km, or 0.92 miles, so vi, (or 6000 passus) as the Itinerary says, is about 8.9km or 5.5 miles from Bath, and, by my calculation, following the Roman road through Hanham, it is … 8.9 km and 5.5 miles (courtesy Google).

The distance from Sea Mills to Bitton is slightly more problematic, as the exact route is less clear;  the Itinerary distance of 9,000 passus, or 13.32 km, 8.3 miles, is somewhat shorter than Google’s suggestion of 14.35km, 8.92miles. But Sea Mills and Bitton make reasonable sense in terms of distances.

SeaMillstoBittonHaverfield then goes on:

“The second [difficulty] has caused much perplexity. The remedy most often suggested is to transpose Abone and Traiectus, making Abone the name of the village at Bitton, which is within half a mile of the Avon, and identifying Traiectus with Seamills. Perhaps it would be better to suppose that Abone is Seamills and that Traiectus was put against it in the Itinerary: the double entry then was by error extended into two lines and Traiectus extruded the name corresponding to Bitton.”

So the main problem: Why is the Itinerary silent about the need to cross the Severn Estuary in order to reach Abone from Venta Silurum? Iter XIV is, after all, supposed to be an alternative to Iter XIII, a route from South Wales to Silchester via Monmouth and Gloucester, thus avoiding the crossing over the estuary. Here Haverfield’s suggestion initially makes sense: not to transpose Abone and Traiectus, thus making Traiectus Sea Mills, ‘the place at the crossing’ from Venta Silurum, and Abone being Bitton; but that Abone-Traiectus was a single place: Sea Mills. Which does then play havoc with the distances as given, and has already necessitated, in Haverfield’s view at least, amending one of the distances.

Other locations have been proposed for Traiectus: Aust, Oldbury-on-Severn, Keynsham, but this proposal would be that ‘traiectus’ is not a particular place at all, simply a verbal noun, indicating ‘here a crossing takes place’. Which is the next subject for investigation.


That old chestnut (Chapter One)

Much examined, not yet solved is the puzzle of the placename ‘Traiectus’, referred to in the Antonine Itinerary of the 2-3rd century. In the section on Britannia, Itinerary XIV starts at Isca (Silurum), or Caerleon, and ends at Calleva (Atrebatum) – Silchester.

Most of the stations along the way have been identified, with more or less certainty; but very roughly fourteen miles on from Sea Mills (Abone) and six miles short of Bath (Aquis Solis) is the mysterious ‘Traiectus’. The figures xiiii and vi mean 14,000 passus and 6,000 passus. Given the modern computation of a passus, that would be roughly 13 miles from Sea Mills and 5 1/2 from Bath. The common view is that it coincides most closely with Bitton, on a stretch of the old Roman road between Bath and Hanham on the outskirts of Bristol. The distances match closely enough, but it remains the least certain of the identifications of this Iter.

The River Boyd, taken from the A361 as it passes through Bitton

So, why would it not be? Well, firstly, a traiectus is a crossing, so the argument is that this could be the River Boyd. If so, it must have been a bigger river than it is now – by some considerable margin.

At present it looks like the kind of small waterway which might or might not have needed a stone ford. Wheeled carts or wagons could splash in and out the other side, hardly noticing it. To designate the place ‘Traiectus’ would be to dignify it beyond its obvious desserts.

The River Frome at Frenchay

After leaving Sea Mills and before arriving at Bitton, the traveller would also have to cross the River Frome, not the widest river in all Britain, but this is still (at the present time, it must always be remembered) only the size of river that could be easily forded, without even the need of a bridge.

Traiecti must have been ten a penny if river crossings the size of that over the Boyd merited the name.

The other point is that Bitton has no very strong Roman connections. A nearby camp, once considered to have been Roman, seems more likely to have been medieval and there are no more than a few odds and ends in the way of Roman remains. So for the Romans, the most notable aspect of Bitton would have been – its river crossing …

On the other hand, more puzzling than that, the Itinerary as it survives makes no mention of the fact that to get from Caerwent to Sea Mills a rather wider stretch of water must be crossed than the River Boyd. An alternative suggestion for Traiectus is that it referred to the crossing of the Severn Estuary itself. Can that be supported?

How it evolved: A View …

… on the west Devon connection. In fact, I may by now have forgotten a lot that I once found out, but this is a summing up of what I remember.

Camden’s first edition of Britannia in 1586 mentions the possibility that ‘Chimligh’ might have been the location of Asser’s arx Cynuit where the Viking leader Hubba Danus met his death – a suggestion which Camden confesses he isn’t certain about. But where did the suggestion originate? – Camden was mainly based in London, and his visit to Devon was apparently in 1589, three years after the publication of the first edition.

He is known to have used John Leland’s earlier research which dates from about 1543 – but Leland seemed mainly concerned with the local topography, the rivers, the hills, bridges and churches, the local gentry and where they lived … He writes of the rivers Taw and Turidge, of Berstaple, Bedeford and Apledour/Appledre, of Taringtun, Litle Tarington.

Stevenstone, the ‘fair brik house’ of Mr Rollys, is north west of St Giles in the Wood; Risdon’s Winscott is south east

He refers to ‘a very fair brik house at S Giles half a mile by est out of Taringtun’: this was Stevenstone, abode of the Rolle family (as Leland states) since about 1524. The Risdon home was also as St Giles in the Wood, at nearby Winscott, on the opposite side of St Giles. But Leland has nothing here to say about Ubba, castrum Kinuith or Chimligh/Chulmleigh, about 12 miles away.

However, these Renaissance historians were known to ‘network’ closely with each other and some (for example, John Hooker, Sir William Pole – both Devon men) were at work on their separate surveys of Devon at the end of the 16th century. Camden and William Lambarde, the Kent antiquarian, were among the first members of the College of Antiquaries, founded in about 1586 and the immediate predecessor of the 18th-c. Society of Antiquaries.  Furthermore, as Professor Richardson has written (‘William Camden and the Rediscovery of England’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archæological and Historical Society, 78 (2004), p 119):

“Localism was one of the most deeply ingrained characteristics of the Tudor and Stuart age and the country gentry were its most ardent exponents and followers. For them local history – especially the history of counties – was not a digression, a pastime, a second-best kind of history, a poor relation of historical studies. It was the most relevant and important kind of history of all so far as they were concerned – the kind of history that coincided most closely with the miniature worlds which the gentry knew intimately, dominated, and to a large extent effectively controlled.” 

Frontispiece, Matthew Parker’s 1574 edition of Asser’s Life of King Alfred

The publication in 1574 of Bishop Parker’s edition of Asser’s Ælfredi regis res gestae – the sole contemporary source for the description of the Viking siege of ‘arx Cynuit’ – may well have sparked off the interest and speculation regarding the precise location of the event. Asser simply says that the invading Danes sailed ‘ad Domnaniam’. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which would have been known to some through the manuscripts – though there was no printed edition until 1644 – specified ‘Defenascire’.

Parker’s Asser would have found a place in the library of many educated country gentlemen and they, repositories of local knowledge, communicated with the burgeoning antiquarian ‘movement’. One of these ‘local historians’ seems a likely source for the Chulmleigh connection.

This – 1586 – was too early for Tristram Risdon himself to have suggested a connection with Chulmleigh, but perhaps another member of the local gentry? There is always a hope that these unidentified places lie close to where we ourselves live and we are able to explore them.

The only apparent connection with Chulmleigh is that it was a Saxon centre. In Domesday it was Calmonleuga or Chalmonleuga. It seems agreed that this derives from the common Saxon name Ceolmund, though the version reported in Chumleigh village (Heritage) that: “In the year 815 AD Ceolmund , a 24 year old Saxon thegn, was charged by King Egbert of Wessex to go forth and settle in the land of the Dumnonii with a royal bride, as a reward for distinguished service in the field of battle’ is not given any source. Given that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests that the area would have still been something of a battlefield, with the ‘West Welsh’, it seems an unlikely place for a young man to take his royal bride and set out to look for a place to settle down – unless he took a strong militia with him and was prepared to fight for it.

There is no reason to doubt that the personal name Ceolmund is at the root of the name, but the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England knows of no such Ceolmund associated with Devon at that date, so one is is left to wonder where the appealing story of young Ceolmund, the 24-year-old thegn, originated. But that need not detain us here … More to the point, what part of Chulmleigh resembles the topography of arx Cynuit as Asser so memorably described it? Would arx Cynuit really have been so far inland?

The medieval castle just outside Chulmleigh: perched on a hill but otherwise not at all like Asser’s description

Verdict on Chulmleigh: wishful thinking by a local person with antiquarian interests.

Without there being any manuscript survival, oral ‘suggestions’ regarding the history of the local area seem likely to have been the source of Camden’s 1586 edition. By 1607, he may well have been in contact with Tristram Risdon whose own speculative suggestion was that the elusive arx Cynuit was Hennaborough – Henny Castle. While this was only a conjecture, Risdon was more certain that Hubba the Dane landed at or near Appledore – ‘Apultreo in Saxon’. His reasoning is unclear.

Camden changed his mind about Chulmleigh between the 1600 edition and that of 1607 when he appears to have switched his attention from Chulmleigh to the confluence of the Taw and the Torridge. It is estimated that Risdon began to work on his Chorography in about 1605 …

As for Risdon’s text, he seems to have been influenced by William Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent, where Apultreo is given as the ‘Saxon name’ for Kentish Appledore, the site of a slightly later Danish invasion. If mere conjecture was valid, he preferred to speculate on a site somewhat more likely (and very slightly closer to where he lived): not Chulmleigh but, perhaps, Hennaborough?

“And hereabout it was that [Hubba the Dane] laid siege to the castle of Kenwith [sic], which place some have sought for, as it were for ants’ paths, but found it not, unless they guess Hennaborough, a fort not far hence …”

Risdon’s reference to ‘Chimleigh’, however, retains the faintest reference to Asser: “Within the tything stands a castle, of stone [sic italics in the 1811 printed edition, p 302], for scite on all quarters (except the east) very defensible” – but no suggestion here that this is arx Cynuit.

[NB For comments on Risdon’s text, it should be pointed out that no reliable text, based on an original manuscript, has yet been published of what Risdon actually wrote. Until a manuscript source has been studied, no comment can be considered definitive]

Camden seemed to keep an open mind on this later idea too, not least because he knew of no precise location for the stronghold (Risdon had not at this point worked long on his Chorography, and he too was, seemingly, conjecturing). Nevertheless, the chase was pointing in the direction of the mouth of the river Taw and a place called ‘Hubbastow’ (that certainly came from a local source – perhaps Risdon – who adds that ‘the stones were long since swept away by the sea’s encroaching’). In 1702 William Baxter began work on his Glossarium (published in 1719). In a slightly obscure passage he appears to consider Barnstaple as the site of ‘Asserii nostri Arx Kinchüith’, subsequently(?) called Ubbonis Sedes or Ubbestow. This famous place, said Baxter, had long since been swallowed up by the sea and was no longer visible. It seems clear that both Risdon and Baxter were referring to Ubba’s burial mound having been swept away by the sea, not arx Cynuit itself.

That appeared to have been the state of knowledge and conjecture until Robert Studley Vidal wrote his influential paper in 1804 for the Society of Antiquaries’ publication Archæologia. In pressing the case for Kenwith Castle (Henni-borough or Henni Castle) he was opting for a site virtually on his own doorstep, since he himself lived in Cornborough House, no more than a mile away. He had therefore examined the site and ‘proved’ the case where Camden and Baxter had doubted (‘That [their] conclusions, however, were by far too peremptory, and probably drawn in a moment of negligence or haste, will, it is presumed, evidently appear from the circumstances I am about to adduce, in order to prove that not only the site of this castle, but also the enemy’s intrenchments, and the line by which the defeated Danes sought to regain their ships, may clearly be ascertained even at this day.’)

His own certainty convinced his readers and posterity – fellow antiquaries, romantic novelists, local historians, the tourist industry. From then on Ubba landed at Appledore, arx Cynuit was ‘Kenwith Castle’ – and Bloody Corner, just beyond Northam, was the very place where that battle took place in which the Danes were defeated and their raven standard captured.

Verdict on Hennaborough: This seems wishful thinking too, though could arx Cynuit be somewhere else in the area?

Well, the fleet led by Ubba (or whoever) in 878 consisted of 23 ships. The one that rowed up to Appledore in Kent in 892 had 250 ships and was followed by a further 80. These were invading forces, ‘Ubba’s’ was still a mere raiding party. It would follow that the Danes would have expected there to be something to raid and it’s not easy to see where there was sufficient Saxon wealth to tempt them in west Devon. On the north coast, especially in (present) west Somerset there were a number of documented raids; there were also at least three supposed royal estates – at Carhampton, Williton and Cannington – and therefore many ministri regis to maintain and defend them. One, at least – Carhampton – was raided twice in the 9th century. On the basis of likelihood – though no more evidence! – this seems a better guess.

In the Saxon tongue Apultreo (1)

The explanation as to when (and why) this corner of Devon became associated with Hubba and arx Cynuit predates Tristram Risdon. But Risdon’s own contribution is (a bit) clearer.

He seems to have been the first to name the village of Appledore as the place where the Danish fleet landed in 878. The text below is from the earliest edition (1714) of his Survey which, though generally unsatisfactory, differs little from the equivalent paragraph in the more reliable 1811 edition:

APLEDORE is in the Saxon Tongue APULTREO, [ … ] it is the Outlet of two notable Rivers into the Sea, and the next Harbour for Ships within the Bar. In this Place it was that Hubba, the Dane, in the Days of King Alfred that Saxon monarch, landed with 33 Sail of Ships, coming out of South Wales, where he had wasted all in his Way with Fire and Sword. And hereabout it was he laid Siege to the Castle of Kenwith; which Place some have sought for, as it were for Ants Paths, but found it not, unless they guess Hennaborough, a Fort not far hence …

His source would seem to be, in part, Asser (for the mention of the slaughter in South Wales). But ‘Appledore, in the Saxon’s tongue Apultreo’ is puzzling. Appledore isn’t mentioned at all in the Post-Conquest Domesday Book, and its first recorded name, 1335, is given as le Apildore in the manor of Northam. Neither Asser nor the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the two sources dating from Saxon times, mentions where the raid took place,  so what was Risdon’s source for saying that Appledore had been called ‘Apultreo’ in Saxon times? Where was this recorded?

In fact, there is evidence of it as a name for Appledore in John of Worcester’s 12th-century Chronicon ex chronicis. He records the arrival of a Danish fleet at the river mouth and how they constructed a fortress ‘in loco qui dicitur Apultreo’. Was Risdon’s source John of Worcester? It’s possible, though John, following the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was recording a Danish landing in 892 at Appledore in Kent, not Appledore in Devon. Lord William Howard published his edition of John’s chronicle – attributed then to Florence of Worcester – in 1592, though the name appears there as ‘Apultrea’ rather than ‘Apultreo’, so is less likely to be the source.

William Lambarde (1536-1601)

William Lambarde (1536-1601)

The antiquarian William Lambarde, of the circle of Archbishop Matthew Parker and a scholar of Anglo-Saxon, describes this same event in his Perambulation of Kent (1576).  Lambarde writes:  ‘Apledore, corruptly,  for the Saxon Apultreo: in Latine Malus, that is, An Apletree’. This seems a more likely source for Risdon’s own ‘Appledore, in the Saxon’s tongue Apultreo’.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself records the 892 raid on Appledore: a large fleet of 250 ships sailed from Boulogne into the mouth of the Lympne, followed soon after by a smaller fleet – 80 ships led by the Danish chief Hæsten – which entered the mouth of the Thames.

þa comon up on Limene muþan. mid .ccl. (hunde) scipa. Se muþa is on easte weardre Cent …  Þa sona æfter þæm com Hæsten mid .lxxx. scipa up on Temese muðan, 7 worhte him geweorc æt Middeltune, 7 se oþer here æt Apuldre [ … ] Wæs Hæsten þa þær cumen mid his herge, þe ær æt Middeltune sæt. 7 eac se micla here wæs þa þærto cumen, þe ær on Limene muþan sæt æt Apuldre .

The larger fleet landed at Appledore, which was a port at that time; but the Saxon name given here is not Apultreo but Apuldre (in all the extant manuscripts, or Apuldran in the Latin Annals of St Neots). Apultreo looks like apul + treów and Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary records the forms æpel-tre, æppel-treów, along with æppelder, æppeldor, apulder, apuldor, apuldur, all in the sense of apple-tree.

However, these are not Apultreo, the exact form common to John of Worcester, William Lambarde – and Risdon. Since the first two refer to Appledore in Kent, it looks as if Risdon made an  assumption: that since the place-name Appledore in Kent derived from the Saxon Apultreo, Appledore in Devon must have the same origin. Perhaps the raid on the Kentish Appledore at the mouth of the river Lympne/Limene caused him to realise that the mouth of the river Taw was a likely place for the raid of 878 …

However, one other fact suggests that Risdon was not the onlie begetter of this Devon legend. To whom was he referring when he wrote: ‘And hereabout it was he laid Siege to the Castle of Kenwith; which Place some have sought for, as it were for Ants Paths, but found it not, unless they guess Hennaborough, a Fort not far hence …’? Who had already been speculating that Hennaborough, or Henny Castle, was this ‘Castle of Kenwith’? Or was Risdon inventing them to add support to his own theory?