There has been quite a lot of interest in the tribal grouping which the Romans referred to as the Durotriges – most notably, recently, among the Bournemouth University archaeologists who have been uncovering the Iron Age ‘town’ at Winterborne Kingston, on the Icknield Way, and which they’ve nicknamed ‘Duropolis’. This has proved to be one of the largest such settlements yet found in Britain, an ‘open settlement’ rather than an occupied hillfort.
Others have been examining the Durotrigan coin finds. I have ‘refined’ a map in Costen’s Origins of Somerset which suggests that they made their way further west than Dorset, most probably to the Severn estuary coast.
I suppose the coin locations could just indicate trading activity, but it seems unlikely that any other tribe (e.g. the Belgae) would have occupied the western Levels, squeezing between the Dobunni and the Durotriges (while leaving little or no evidence of their presence). But somebody was there because the Iron Age relics are abundant.
So Ptolemy, writing c. 150AD, was indeed a little adrift when he grouped Iscalis, Bath and Winchester together as towns of the Belgae. Bath was almostly certainly a Dobunnic town, Winchester was definitely in the territory of the Belgae. Which leaves the mysterious Iscalis – certainly not a settlement of the Belgae; just possibly of the Dobunni, if it was Charterhouse on Mendip or near the course of the old River Axe.
However, if the Durotriges were the grouping which reached the Severn estuary, it’s strange that Ptolemy gave them only one town: Dunium (presumed to be Hod Hill). They would surely have had a town somewhere further west than east Dorset (Ilchester is presumed by those who know better than me/I to have gained its importance at a later date).
But, in the way that it does, the internet seems to have spread the word – before me – that Bawdrip, in Somerset, was a possible location. There was a single common source for all these references because they place Bawdrip on the River Axe.
It isn’t now and wasn’t then: it’s close to a now silted up meander in the River Parrett, some 10 miles south of the Axe – and in the area singled out as one of the most heavily Romanised areas of Somerset. If Iscalis wasn’t actually Burnham-on-Sea and wasn’t actually Bawdrip, it could well have been somewhere near this Romanised, watery place. Iscalis by name and Iscalis by nature.