by Michael Fulford
T HE plan of Roman Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) is very well known, and the current excavations are the third on the site of the Forum/Basilica. Large scale exploration first began under the direction of the Rev. James Joyce in 1866. The site then remained open until 1892, when the Society of Antiquaries carried out further work as part of a major research project of excavating the whole of Silchester, which lasted from 1890-1909. The site of the Forum/Basilica, open all this time, was finally re-buried in 1908/9. After this Silchester was handed back to agriculture until in 1972 the owner, the then Duke of Wellington died, and in order to pay death duties, it was put up for sale. For some time various plans were put forward for its future, including an amazing plan to sell off the whole of the Roman town to Americans in 1/8 acre lots—which would have made it somewhat difficult to obtain permission for future archaeological work, to say the least. Eventually, however,
The forum and basilica at Silchester, as revealed in the 19th century excavations. The current work is taking place in the top left sector. 326
the whole site was bought by Hampshire County Council in 1979, and it became possible to pursue a viable research programme.
The early excavations left many fundamental questions unanswered. In particular we know very little indeed about the nature of the preRoman settlement and how it subsequently developed into a major Roman town. For a long time it seemed as if the old excavations had destroyed the opportunity for worthwhile re-excavation, but in the 1950s George Boon discovered the midfirst century defence, known as the 'inner earthwork', and it became increasingly clear that opportunities for furthering our understanding of Calleva are almost unlimited. With support from the British Academy and the Society of Antiquaries the Forum-Basilica has been chosen for re-examination and work is currently in progress on the Basilica itself, the great hall measuring some 82 metres by 17.5 metres, ranged along the western side of the Forum.
Before the excavations began, it was noted that the Forum/Basilica stood on a somewhat higher level than the rest of the town. A preliminary trench dug in 1977 showed that it was in fact set on a platform up to a metre high. It thus provided an excellent opportunity to examine the remains of the pre-Roman and early Roman settlement underneath the dump on which the Forum was built. However the Victorian excavators had not been nearly as destructive of even the superficial late Roman layers as had once been feared, and as a result the first two seasons have concentrated on the later Roman occupation, and we have scarcely begun to learn more of the early structural sequence of the Basilica, let alone what lies beneath it. Although the Victorians had removed much of the general occupation spread within the buildings, and made some deeper sondages, most of the features, such as pits, post-holes and slots cut into the underlying make-up, survived intact. Altogether the later Roman occupation has now been examined over an area of 1200m2.
Already, however, we have solved