Tour of a fortified site Danebury

Although every hill-fort is different, the easiest way to understand what they looked like and how they functioned is to conduct a tour of one particular site as it looked in its heyday. Hill-forts remained in use for long periods, often several centuries, so this will do little to explain the development of the site, although it will offer a snapshot of what it would have looked like at one particular stage of its development, just before it fell into disuse. For the purposes of this exercise...

England

Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset The largest Iron Age hill-fort in Britain, the imposing fortifications of Maiden Castle were excavated during the 1930s and 1980s. The site is now maintained by English Heritage. Maiden Castle is open throughout the year, and a self-guided trail is provided. Website Danebury, near Stockbridge, Hampshire The Iron Age hill-fort of Danebury was extensively excavated over some 20 years, making it the most closely studied hill-fort site in Britain. Danebury is...

Design and construction

Celtic Fortifications Britain

The small hill-fort of Caburn, Sussex was built during the early Iron Age, although archaeologists now believe its defences were strengthened around the mid-1st century AD, possibly in response to the Roman invasion of Britain.The site was abandoned soon afterwards. Courtesy of Steve Danes Today, Celtic fortifications, particularly hill-forts, are readily identifiable by the remains of their ramparts and ditches - a still formidable system of fieldworks which serve as visible reminders of an...

The Forts of Celtic Britain

Celtic Fortifications Britain

Angus Konstam Illustrated by Peter Bull Angus Konstam Illustrated by Peter Bull First published in 2006 by Osprey Publishing Midland House. West Way. Botley. Oxford OX2 OPH. UK 443 Park Avenue South. New York, NY 10016. USA E-mail info ospreypublishing.com All rights reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988. no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a...

Introduction

Before beginning any discussion of 'the forts of Celtic Britain', it is important to try to define just what constituted a Celtic fort, and who the Celts actually were. We also need to know when they built the fortified structures which still dot the landscape of modern Britain - if indeed they were responsible for such structures. Archaeologists and historians are unable to define whether Britain truly was Celtic, who the Celts actually were, or whether many of their 'forts' were really...

Building the hillforts

Ditch Celtic

Although archaeology can rarely tell us exactly why a hill-fort was built in a particular location, or even who built it, it can usually reveal something of the way the fort was built, and how it developed over time. In addition we can draw on other archaeological evidence to improve our understanding of the people At Caburn, Sussex there is evidence that a second rampart and a broad but shallow ditch were added to the earlier defensive works in response to the Roman threat.Traces of both...

Scotland

Belgae Fortifications

The finest surviving broch structure, standing over 13m high. Owned by Scottish Heritage. Located on the island of Mousa, accessible by ferry boat from Sandwick, 14 miles south of Lerwick, Shetland. See the Historic Scotland website www.historic-scotland.gov.uk for ferry information and opening times. Alternatively call the Historic Scotland office in Skara Brae, Orkney for up-to-date information 01856 841815. Clickhimin Broch, Shetland Broch tower and associated settlement and outer defences....

Hillforts form and function

The term hill-fort is defined as a fortified enclosure, designed to take advantage of a hill or rise for its defensive advantage. The fortification could consist of one or more circular or part-circular earthen or even stone ramparts, built to follow the contours of the hill the fort was sited on. In many cases these ramparts are often associated with attendant external ditches. The structures date from the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Beyond this rather general definition, the variation...

Types of fortified sites

Barry Hill Angus Fort

This map of the promontory fort at Burghead, Moray was drawn up by the 18th-century military surveyor General William Roy. Although the fort was associated with the Picts, it was almost certainly built earlier, during the Late Iron Age. Much of the fort was destroyed during the expansion of the town soon after Roy produced his drawing. Society of Antiquaries, London Although hill-forts and brochs are the most commonly found type of Celtic fortification in Britain, other types of fortified sites...

The development of the fortifications

Maiden Castle Hut Excavation

Wheeler's excavation was the first large-scale scientific study of a British hill-fort, and helped shape our understanding of the people who built these fortifications. He proved that the fort was built in several phases, the first being concentrated on the eastern half of the ridge. An earlier Neolithic camp and raised causeway or barrow had already been built on the same site, but by the time the fort-builders arrived around 500 BC the traces of this earlier settlement and bank had all but...

Aftermath

Mortimer Wheeler

The Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 sounded the death knell for Celtic culture in southern Britain. We have already seen how hill-forts like Maiden Castle continued to be used for two or even three decades afterwards, before they were replaced by a Roman provincial town a few miles away. In the case of Maiden Castle there is evidence that the population began to drift away from the old fortified settlement during this period, so that in the space of one or two generations the population...

The settlement

Lordenshaws Hill Fort

The one feature that both excavations at Maiden Castle failed to reveal in any detail was the configuration of the hill-fort's interior. After all, the reason the fortifications existed in the first place was to protect the Iron Age community who lived and worked there. Archaeology has revealed a little about how these people lived, and how their settlement was organized. The first settlement there was a Neolithic one, established around 4000 BC. However, the community there was relatively...

The living site

Celtic Fortifications

The major hill-fort ofTraprain Law, East Lothian is still an impressive location, despite the damage caused by 20th-century quarrying. Excavations have shown that the site was occupied after the Roman invasion of southern Scotland in AD 80-81, thereby strengthening the belief that the hill-fort was a stronghold of the Votadani, a tribe who allied themselves with the Romans. RCAHMS Having examined the regional spread of these fortified sites in Iron Age Britain, and looked at the varieties of...

The design of brochs

Fortified Farm

Unlike the hill-forts found elsewhere in Britain, the brochs of northern Scotland were defensive works designed to protect a relatively small number of people. The term 'broch' is generally used to refer to a free-standing, round, stone-built tower, although several of these may also have been built as a centrepiece of a fortified settlement. Their origins remain something of a mystery. One early theory was that they were built by an influx of newcomers - refugees from the Roman invasion of...

The principles of defence

Fighting Positions Fortifications

The most basic form of defensive work was a simple timber palisade, often associated with a bank and outlying ditch. Archaeological evidence shows that these were usually built by sinking a series of upright posts into the top of the bank, then linking these together to form a rail-type fence. This then supported the upright stakes that formed the frontage of the palisade. In almost all known examples the timbers were slotted, pegged or tied together the use of iron nails was extremely rare....

The defence of a hillfort

Iron Age Hillfort Studies Scotland

The Celtic fortifications of Britain were certainly not designed to withstand an attack by a professional standing army such as the one fielded by Rome in the 1st century AD. The Greek historian Strabo said of the Celts that they 'were war mad, high spirited, and quick to battle, but otherwise straightforward, and not of evil character'. By necessity the way they designed their fortifications was influenced by the manner in which they waged war. In particular, their ability to defend brochs,...

Maiden Castle

Celtic Fortifications

To better understand the way hill-forts developed with the passage of time we could do worse than to look at probably the most famous example Maiden Castle in Dorset see pages 38-39 . This, the largest hill-fort site in Britain, was subject to two large-scale scientific investigations, allowing us to trace its development and to understand the way it functioned as a settlement with more certainty than many other smaller sites. Maiden Castle was first excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler between...