The Boudican revolt

In AD 61, the native Britons revolted against the Roman occupation of Britain and burned the Roman towns of Colchester, London and St Albans to the ground. Archaeological evidence for the Boudican revolt in AD 61 has been found throughout the site of the colonia and earlier fortress, and also at settlements around Balkerne Lane and at Sheepen. The revolt left behind a remarkable red and black destruction layer which varies in depth from a few centimetres to up to half a metre in some parts of Colchester. This deposit consists of the stumps of burnt clay walls of buildings buried beneath a mass of broken and collapsed fragments of clay from the upper parts of the walls.  

Burnt assemblages have been recovered from many excavations across the town. Amongst the first were excavations for a new shop on the High Street in 1927 which revealed a mass of broken pot, glass and charcoal from a Roman pottery shop. Large quantities of carbonised wheat, bronze scales, flagons, amphorae and mortaria were found during excavations ahead of the construction of a car park on North Hill in 1965. The building within which these charred remains were discovered is thought to have been a supply depot, destroyed in the Boudican revolt. In a timber-framed building excavated on Lion Walk in 1971-4, neatly placed in the corner of a room were the burnt remains of a bed, and in another building excavated at the same time were the remains of burnt dates and a plum.

Recent excavations at the Williams & Griffin store in 2014 recovered more burnt food, including dates, figs, wheat and peas, all of which had been turned to carbon by the intense heat of the fire. These excavations revealed that in this building food had been stored on a wooden shelf, and the dates appear to have been in a square wooden bowl or platter. This building was also where a cache of gold and silver jewellery known as the ‘Fenwick hoard’ was found buried in a small pit, presumably for safekeeping in anticipation of the revolt. Interestingly, this site also revealed some of the very few human remains that are associated with the Boudican revolt. Across the town, human remains are very rarely found amongst the debris of the revolt, but the discovery of a jaw bone and a shin bone which appears to have been cut by a sharp implement such as sword, suggest that at least one person fought and died in this building during the revolt. Excavations at the Telephone Exchange in 1964 revealed the charred remains of a skeleton, thought to be associated with the Boudican revolt. Tacitus records a huge number of deaths amongst both Romans and natives during the revolt, so the relative lack of human remains dating from this period is surprising.