Campus Through the Ages: Iron Age

Published on 12 June 2023

Tracing the history of our campus area from an early Iron Age settlement to a Roman suburb, what happened between 050 BCE - 050 CE?

The Newarke and Castle Precincts which form DMU Campus are steeped in a rich history spanning more than 2000 years. This small, quaint area comes into focus as we trace the origins of our city to the Eastern banks of the River Soar. (Close to West Bridge).

In this post we’re looking into the earliest known inhabitants of the area, the Corieltauvi, who arrived in the Late Iron Age around 100 BCE. The Corieltauvi were formed of several small clans of Celtic origins who controlled most of the East Midlands. In 44 AD the Romans would record the name of the area as Ratae Corieltauvorum after the original settlers.

Reconstruction of Iron Age Leicester circa AD 30. Drawing by Sarah Geeves, courtesy of University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

Although, the pseudo-historian Geoffrey Monmouth provides a more colourful mythology to the origin story, written in 1136.

Monmouth identifies Leir (the King Leir Shakespeare based his play on centuries later) as the founder of Leicester, traced back to his connection with Brutus of Troy. Monmouth wrote that Britain was founded by Brutus, great-grandson of the Trojan hero Aeneas. Interestingly, if you follow that family line backward and you can connect Leicester to the Greek Titans Oceanus and Gaia, but that is for another post!

You can view a digitised version of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae on the British Library website that includes an illustration in the bottom margin of the Leicester skyline: BL, MS Royal 13. A. III, f.18.

Evidence of Iron Age settlement in Leicester has been discovered around campus including flints, pottery, and a single coin located between Mill Lane, Hugh Aston and the Hawthorn Building. Furthermore, a defense ditch was found just under Newarke Houses in 1952 by Leicester archaeological teams.

The Corieltauvi led a rural lifestyle, growing crops and raising livestock. They lived in round huts made of mud and wood with thatched roofs.

Surrounded by dense forest, the settlement sat in a clearing with a winding river, and was enclosed with earthen works for defense.

Iron Age Corieltauvi Tribe of Leicester, illustration by Mike Codd, image courtesy of University of Leicester Archaeological Services.

Alongside the production of pottery and jewellery. Archaeological discoveries also include jewellery that has been imported from mainland Europe, indicating the community was of a high status.

Further evidence of the Corieltauvi's importance is verified by the finding of 'flan-trays', used in the production of coins. This suggests the area was important enough to have a mint in operation from the around 50 BCE.

Flan-trays for coin production, image courtesy of ULAS

The Corieltauvi were a relatively agricultural people with relatively few defensive fortifications that offered little resistance when the Roman Empire arrived by 47CE.

For further reading, visit the DMU Special Collections to read the following sources:

  1. Visions of Ancient Leicester, Morris, Buckley, Codd, 2011, p9
  2. Visions of Ancient Leicester, Morris, Buckley, Codd, 2011, p9
  3. Leicester an Ancient Story, H. A. Pritchard, c1936, p3
  4. The Quality of Leicester, Michael Taylor, 2016, p14
  5. Glimpses of Ancient Leicester in Six Periods, Mrs. T. Fielding Johnson, p3
  6. A History of Leicester, S. H. Skillington, p9-10
  7. The Buildings of England, Leicestershire and Rutland, Nikolas Pevsner, p52
  8. The History of The Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, c1136, translation, 1966, p341

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