Cunetio was a large walled town located in a river valley of the River Kennet in modern-day Wiltshire, England. The settlement, which is near the village of Mildenhall, was occupied from the 2nd century CE by Romano-British people until the post-Roman period. It was abandoned in the early 5th century.
Cunetio within the River Kennet valley
|Location||Situated on a Roman road between Durocornovium and Venta Belgarum|
|Altitude||130 m (427 ft)|
|Part of||Britannia Superior|
|Length||265 m (869 ft)|
|Width||213 m (699 ft)|
|Area||30 hectares (74 acres)|
|Founded||2nd century CE|
|Abandoned||Late 5th century CE|
|Excavation dates||1960 - 2000s|
|Condition||no extant remains|
The entire town lay undiscovered until it was identified from aerial photos in the 1940s. Archaeological excavations have revealed that the town was a substantial urban area defended by large masonry walls. Artefacts recovered from the site include kitchenware, personal effects, and two hoards of Roman coinage.
Its location was identified from aerial photos of crop marks taken in 1940, and the site has been sporadically excavated since the 1950s. In the 1960s, a small coin hoard was found, followed in 1978 by the much larger Cunetio Hoard of over 55,000 coins. The site was dug in 2009 by Channel 4's archaeological television programme Time Team, which found many more coins and other objects.
The town grew around a mansio that had been built near a crossroad of two minor Roman roads. As the town grew, it developed a regular grid of streets and stone buildings on its eastern side but retained less regular and substantial structures in the west part. The settlement's original defences were earthworks and an outer ditch; in the 4th century CE, these were replaced by massive stone walls 4 m (13 ft) wide, a large western gateway, and 17 semi-octagonal, external wall-towers. The masonry walls ran inside and parallel with the original defences on the east side but outside of them on the south and west sides. The stone towers were approximately every 36.7 m (120 ft) apart. Excavations of the west gate show it was flanked by two towers and possibly possessed a set of iron-gates similar to a portcullis, because grooves were found in the remains of the towers' footings.
Archaeological examinations of the site do not reveal why Cunetio deserved so much expenditure on upgrading its defences, an act that was a very rare occurrence for inland Britannia at the time when most Roman military engineering projects were focused on the Saxon Shore forts. Two theories have been suggested: first that the town was being converted into a Legionary fortress to reestablish Roman authority in this part of the province of Britannia. Second, that the improvement work was being orchestrated by an ambitious local British governor – the type of man who would, within a generation or so, be setting himself up as a war-lord or regional chieftain. Interpretation therefore swings between the Roman Empire re-establishing its authority after various rebellions and uprisings, or Roman authority breaking down.
By the 4th century, the town had planned streets outside its stone walls. A century later Cunetio had been entirely abandoned in the post-Roman period.
- Time Team Series 17 | Episode 7 | Cunetio
- "Cunetio, Wiltshire: archaeology and history (notes for visitors, prepared by the Royal Archaeological Institute, 2017)" (PDF). www.royalarchinst.org. Retrieved 4 April 2019.