Viroconium Cornoviorum

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Viroconium Cornoviorum
Viroconium Cornoviorum 08.jpg
Remains of the public baths, known as "The Old Work"
Viroconium Cornoviorum is located in Shropshire
Viroconium Cornoviorum
Shown within Shropshire
LocationWroxeter, Shropshire, England
Coordinates52°40′26″N 2°38′42″W / 52.674°N 2.645°W / 52.674; -2.645Coordinates: 52°40′26″N 2°38′42″W / 52.674°N 2.645°W / 52.674; -2.645
For the fictional city in the works of M. John Harrison, see Viriconium.

Viroconium or Uriconium, formally Viroconium Cornoviorum, was a Roman town, one corner of which is now occupied by Wroxeter, a small village in Shropshire, England, about 5 miles (8.0 km) east-south-east of Shrewsbury. At its peak, Viroconium is estimated to have been the 4th-largest Roman settlement in Britain, a civitas with a population of more than 15,000;[1] the settlement probably lasted until the end of the 7th century or the beginning of the 8th.[2] Extensive remains can still be seen.


Viroconium is a Latinised form of a toponym that was reconstructed as Common Brittonic *Uiroconion "[city] of *Uirokū". *Uirokū (lit. "man-wolf") is believed to have been a masculine given name meaning "werewolf".[3][4]

The term "Cornoviorum" distinguishes the site as the Viroconium "of the Cornovii", the Celtic tribe whose civitas the settlement became; the original site of the Cornovian capital (also thought to have been named *Uiroconion) was a hillfort on the Wrekin.



Roman ruins at Viroconium Cornoviorum, photographed during excavation by Francis Bedford and digitally restored

The site at Wroxeter was strategically located near the end of the primary Watling Street Roman trunk road that ran across England from Dubris (Roman Dover). During the early years the site was a key frontier position lying on the bank of the Severn river whose valley penetrated deep into Wales and also lying on a route to the south leading to the Wye valley.

The site was first established in about AD 55 as a frontier post for a Thracian legionary cohort located at a fort near the Severn river crossing.[5] A few years later a legionary fortress (castrum) was built within the site of the later city for the Legio XIV Gemina during their invasion of Wales.

They were replaced in about 69 AD by the Legio XX Valeria Victrix which left to fight with Agricola in Scotland in 78 AD although the fortress may not have been completely abandoned until around 88 AD when it was taken over by the civilian settlement (canabae) that had grown up around the fort.

The local British tribe of the Cornovii probably had their original capital (also thought to have been named *Uiroconion) at the impressive hillfort on the Wrekin; when the Cornovii were eventually subdued their capital was moved to Wroxeter and given its Roman name.

When the legion left, an unfinished bath house remained in the centre of the town where the forum was later to be built. In the 90s AD the main street grid was being laid out based around the plan of the fort.[6]

The colonnaded forum was started in the 120s AD covering the unfinished bath house, and with the impressive dedicatory inscription to Hadrian found in excavations dating the completion to 130 AD. By 130, the town had expanded especially under Hadrian to cover an area of more than 173 acres (70 ha), it then had many public buildings, including thermae. Simpler temples and shops have also been excavated. At its peak, Viroconium is estimated to have been the one of the richest and the fourth largest Roman settlement in Britain with a population of more than 15,000,[1] its wealth is surprising for what remained a frontier town and is perhaps explained by its access to Wales and to other trade routes.

Between 165-185 AD the forum was burnt down, including neighbouring shops and houses, and many shop contents were subsequently found in excavations; the forum was rebuilt with several modifications.

After the Romans[edit]

Following the end of Roman rule in Britain around 410, the Cornovii seem to have divided into Pengwern and Powys; the later minor Magonsæte sub-kingdom of the Angles emerged in the area when Oswiu conquered Pengwern in 656.

Viroconium may have served as the early sub-Roman capital of Powys; the city has been variously identified with the Cair Urnarc[7] and Cair Guricon[8] which appeared in the Historia Brittonum's list the 28 civitates of Britain.[9]

N.J. Higham proposes that Viroconium became the site of the court of a sub-Roman kingdom known as the Wrocensaete, which was the successor territorial unit to Cornovia. Wrocensaete means the ‘inhabitants of Wroxeter’.[10]

The Wroxeter Stone or Cunorix Stone, was found in 1967, with an inscription in an Insular Celtic language, identified by the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project (CISP) at UCL as "partly-Latinized Primitive Irish";[11] the inscription, probably on a re-used gravestone, is dated to 460-475 AD, when Irish raiders had begun to make permanent settlements in South Wales and south-western Britain.[12]

Town life in Viroconium continued in the fifth century, but many of the buildings fell into disrepair. Between 530 and 570, when most Roman urban sites and villas in Britain were being abandoned,[13] there was a substantial rebuilding programme; the old basilica was carefully demolished and replaced with new timber-framed buildings on rubble platforms. These probably included a very large two-storey building and a number of storage buildings and houses. In all, 33 new buildings were "carefully planned and executed" and "skillfully constructed to Roman measurements using a trained labour force".[14] Who instigated this rebuilding programme is not known, but it may have been a bishop;[15] some of the buildings were renewed three times, and the community probably lasted about 75 years until, for some reason, many of the buildings were dismantled.[16]

The site was probably abandoned peacefully in the second half of the seventh century or the beginning of the eighth;[17] the court of Powys is believed to have moved to Mathrafal sometime before 717 following famine and plague in its original location.

Reuse of building stone[edit]

According to archaeologist Philip A. Barker, the parish churches of Atcham, Wroxeter, and Upton Magna are largely built of stone taken from the buildings of Viroconium Cornoviorum.[18]

Wroxeter Roman City[edit]

The recreation of a Roman town house at Viroconium

Some remains are still standing, and further buildings have been excavated; these include "the Old Work" (an archway, part of the baths' frigidarium and the largest free-standing Roman ruin in England) and the remains of a baths complex. These are on display to the public and, along with a small museum, are looked after by English Heritage under the name "Wroxeter Roman City"; some of the more important finds are housed in the Music Hall Museum in Shrewsbury. Most of the town still remains buried, but it has largely been mapped through geophysical survey and aerial archaeology.

Reconstructed villa[edit]

A reconstructed Roman villa was opened to the public on 19 February 2011[19] to give visitors an insight into Roman building techniques and how the Romans lived.[20] A Channel 4 television series, Rome Wasn't Built in a Day,[21] showed how it was built using authentic ancient techniques; the builders were assisted by a team of local volunteers and supervised by archaeologist Dai Morgan Evans, who designed the villa.



  1. ^ a b Frere, Britannia, p.253
  2. ^ White, Roger; Dalwood, Hal (March 1995). "Archaeological assessment of Wroxeter, Shropshire" (PDF). The Archaeology Data Service. p. 5. Retrieved 15 April 2016. The occupation in the town seems to have ended peacefully, possibly in the late 7th or early 8th century
  3. ^ Delamarre, Xavier (2012). Noms de lieux celtiques de l'europe ancienne. Arles: Editions Errance. p. 273. ISBN 978-2-87772-483-8.
  4. ^ Wodtko, Dagmar (2000). Wörterbuch der keltiberischen Inschriften: Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum, Band V.1. Reichert-Verlag. p. 452. ISBN 978-3-89500-136-9.
  5. ^ The Towns of Roman Britain, J.Wacher. Anchor Press 1974. p. 358 et seq.
  6. ^ The Towns of Roman Britain, J.Wacher. Anchor Press 1974. p. 359
  7. ^ Newman, John Henry & al. Lives of the English Saints: St. German, Bishop of Auxerre, Ch. X: "Britain in 429, A. D.", p. 92. James Toovey (London), 1844.
  8. ^ Ford, David Nash. "The 28 Cities of Britain" at Britannia. 2000.
  9. ^ Nennius (attrib.). Theodor Mommsen (ed.). Historia Brittonum, VI. Composed after AD 830. ‹See Tfd›(in Latin) Hosted at Latin Wikisource.
  10. ^ Higham, Nick J. (1993). The Origins of Cheshire. Manchester University Press. pp. 68–77. ISBN 0-7190-3160-5.
  11. ^ CISP database, '', recovered 14 Sep 2014
  12. ^ "Cunorix Stone", A History of Ireland in 100 Objects
  13. ^ Loseby, Simon T. (2000). "Power and towns in Late Roman Britain and early Anglo-Saxon England". In Gisela Ripoll, Josep M. Gurt (eds.). Sedes regiae (ann. 400–800). Barcelona. p. 339. The likes of Verulamium and Wroxeter... are the best representatives of a 'post-Roman' phase of activity on town sites, a phenomenon which is not attested beyond the middle of the fifth century elsewhere.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  14. ^ Barker 1998, pp. 121–128.
  15. ^ Barker 1998, p. 125.
  16. ^ Barker 1998, p. 136.
  17. ^ Archaeological assessment of Wroxeter, Shropshire
  18. ^ Barker, A. Philip (1977). Techniques of Archaeological Excavation. Routledge. p. 11.
  19. ^ BBC News Shropshire – Reconstructed Roman villa unveiled at Wroxeter
  20. ^ English Heritage – Properties
  21. ^ Daily Mail: "Channel 4 series build Roman villa using ancient methods"
  22. ^ Uriconium An Ode | The Wilfred Owen Association
  23. ^ Representative Poetry Online – Mary Webb : Viroconium


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