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stanwick

By any measure, Stanwick would have been an impressive sight in the mid 1st century AD. The outer earthworks girding the complex were stone faced and ran for 6.8km, enclosing a staggering 270ha. Within them, a low rise now known as the Tofts was sheathed within a second rank of earlier defences, creating an enclave evocative of a modest citadel. Despite the extraordinary effort invested in these defences, their setting was not spectacular. Instead of clinging to a dramatic hilltop, the ramparts were raised in gently undulating farmland. This was still a prime location, though. As well as commanding the route north through the Vale of York to Northumberland, Stanwick was well placed to control east–west movement over the Pennines via the key pass at Stainmore. But what was this site for?

Stanwick has always lacked close parallels in the Iron Age north. Comparisons can more easily be made f London f Antiquaries o iety o

: Soc photo below One of the outstanding discoveries of Wheeler’s excavations was this sword, deposited in its scabbard and aligned along the axis of the ditch at the north-west entrance. Isue 325

with southern sites like Colchester, St Albans, and Chichester, where large swathes of land were partitioned by sizable, if discontinuous, lengths of rampart. These complexes were not vast urban areas as we understand them today, and instead featured living, industrial, and burial spaces as well as areas used for agriculture or ritual gatherings. Iron Age coins and snippets of information in the surviving ancient histories make it clear that at least some of these sites were home to powerful dynasties in the decades leading up to the Roman conquest. These so-called royal sites are frequently seen as an expression of left Stanwick in its landscape. It lay within the route north from the Vale of York to Northumberland, and east of the major Pennine pass over Stainmore, making Stanwick well placed to control movement north-south and eastwest. The site was, though, bypassed by the later Roman highway leading north into Scotland: Dere Street.

the increasing centralisation of power within Iron Age society between the invasions of Caesar (55 and 54 BC) and Claudius (AD 43). Mortimer Wheeler was mindful of these southern comparanda when he set about solving the riddle of Stanwick in the 1950s. Although Wheeler’s excavation results duly prompted him to propose a link with the royal house of the Brigantes, whose writ seems to have run through much of northern England, he envisioned Stanwick serving as a focus of resistance to Rome. In this, Wheeler was heavily influenced by the ancient historian Tacitus’ account of the intrigues at the Brigantian court. Queen Cartimandua was a Roman client ruler – and therefore a trusted ally – who had handed over the British resistance leader Caratacus in AD 51, and secured Rome’s northern flank during the Boudican revolt. But when she jilted her consort, Venutius, for his armour bearer, her former lover revolted. Ultimately, Cartimandua had to be rescued by Roman military units. As Tacitus lamented: ‘Venutius inherited the throne, and we the fighting.’ This led Wheeler to identify Stanwick as Venutius’ stronghold. Vanquishing Venutius Despite the appeal of explaining Stanwick’s exceptional nature as a response to Roman military might, recently published excavations at

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