All  

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ Mobile

Aerial view of the Badbury rings. Source: Aaron King/Wirestock/Adobe Stock

Badbury Rings, the Ancient Legacy of Dorset

Print

One casual stroll through the English countryside is enough to tell you that this is a land brimming with history. Its fields, valleys, and plains are all dotted with the ancient remnants of all the people who called it home in the centuries past. Situated in Shapwick, Dorset, the Badbury Rings Hill Fort is one such ancient monument, a clear glimpse into the history of pre-Roman Britain. It offers visitors a taste of Iron Age life - and holds a wealth of secrets that wait to be uncovered. Whose home was this hill fort? And what was its ultimate fate?

Badbury Rings and the History of Iron Age Britain

East Dorset is such a picturesque, quaint area, full of captivating landscapes and sleeping villages. And just a stone’s throw from the village of Shapwick, lies a series of earthen ramparts that are commonly called Badbury Rings.

Rising proudly from the surrounding fields, these rings are hard to miss. The locals knew of them for a long time, but the site was never properly excavated until recently. This is because the area was in the possession of the Kingston Lacy estate, the ancestral home of the influential Bankes noble family. They discouraged investigation of the rings which were on their lands, and thus they remained unexplored for many long centuries. When Sir Henry John Ralph Bankes died in 1982, his estate was bequeathed to the National Trust, and this finally opened a way towards the exploration of the site.

Aerial view of Badbury Rings, Shapwick, Dorset. (David Matthew Lyons/Adobe Stock)

Aerial view of Badbury Rings, Shapwick, Dorset. (David Matthew Lyons/Adobe Stock)

The first field surveys were conducted in the mid-1990s, while the first proper excavation of the site was conducted in 2004. The hill fort sits at 100 meters above sea level (327 ft) and displays two distinct phases of construction. The earlier phase covers around 7.3 hectares (18 ac) of land, while the second phase is a clear expansion of the site and covers 16.6 hectares (41 ac). The land on which the hill fort sits belonged to the Iron Age Celtic tribe called Durotriges, and could have been one of their formidable, fortified villages.

The 2004 excavations yielded many common finds that confirmed the initial conclusions. Discovered were many pieces of pottery dated to the mid and late Iron Age, silver and bronze coins minted by the Durotriges tribe, many Roman coins, glass beads, bronze pins, bracelets, and such. However, the finds indicate that the hill fort was not inhabited for too long. As a new Romano-British settlement, Vindocladia, began developing nearby, the populace slowly abandoned the Badbury Rings, leaving it to ravages of time.

3D view of the digital terrain model. (Rouven Meidlinger/CC BY-SA 4.0)

3D view of the digital terrain model. (Rouven Meidlinger/CC BY-SA 4.0)

A Shift in the History of Britain

The investigation of the Badbury Rings paints a vivid picture into how the history of ancient Britain was quick to change. With the invasion of the Romans in 43 AD started an unstoppable wave of change. As the Celtic tribes were slowly conquered, the Roman way of life took hold, allowing for the emergence of Romano-British culture. The settlement of Vindocladia grew nearby, built by the Romans and settled by the British.

As the Badbury Rings hill fort quickly lost its role, and the village nearby provided better quality of life, the site was abandoned all too quickly. This just goes to show how fast the life of a tribe could change in those perilous times when Romans were on the path of conquest.

Roman road, now a bridle path. Badbury Rings is on the right. (Chris Downer/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Roman road, now a bridle path. Badbury Rings is on the right. (Chris Downer/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Besides the obvious military function as a fortified hill fort, Badbury Rings was also a possible political or ceremonial center for the local community. Immediately west of the site were the remains of a small Romano-British temple, which could have been erected on the spot of a previous holy place. It is also likely that this temple was in use from the 1st to the 5th centuries AD, likely long after the hill fort was abandoned. All of this indicates that the area around Badbury Rings was definitely important in Roman times, likely valued for its strategic position and good defensive possibilities. And even though the Durotriges recognized this importance, it was of little worth when facing the unstoppable might of the Roman Empire.

Ditches and ramparts at Badbury Rings - looking to the right as you go in through the hillfort entrance. (Jim Champion from Southampton/UK, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ditches and ramparts at Badbury Rings - looking to the right as you go in through the hillfort entrance. (Jim Champion from Southampton/UK, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dorset’s Valuable Heritage

This particular area of Dorset is filled with ancient hill forts. Badbury is the fifth in a series of Celtic fortified settlements, and is followed by Hod Hill, Spetisbury Rings, Buzbury Rings, and Dudsbury Camp. All of them stand out as captivating symbols of Dorset's ancient heritage, offering visitors a glimpse into the distant past and igniting the imagination with their mysteries. Badbury Rings’ strategic location and its impressive architecture and archaeological treasures continue to inspire fascination and further exploration. And as we continue to uncover its secrets, Badbury Rings remain a testament to the enduring legacy of the folk who shaped the landscape of ancient Britain.

Top image: Aerial view of the Badbury rings. Source: Aaron King/Wirestock/Adobe Stock

By Aleksa Vučković

References

Field, N. H. 1992.  Dorset and the Second Legion: New Light on a Roman Campaign. Dorset Books.

Papworth, M. 2011.  The Search for the Durotriges: Dorset and the West Country in the Late Iron Age. The History Press.

Putnam, B. 2000.  Discover Dorset: The Romans. The Dovecote Press.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort and Scheduled Monument in east Dorset, England. It was in the territory of the Durotriges. In the Roman era a temple was located immediately west of the fort, and there was a Romano-British town known as Vindocladia a short distance to the south-west.

Badbury Rings sits 327 feet (100 m) above sea level. There are two main phases of construction; the first covered 7.3 hectares (18 ac) and was defended by multiple ditches, while the second was more than twice the size, covering 16.6 ha (41 ac) and defended by a single ditch and rampart.

Different tribes lived within the protected hillfort, including a Celtic tribe called the Durotriges, who lived in parts of South West England before the Romans arrived in 43 AD.

Aleksa Vučković's picture

Aleksa

I am a published author of over ten historical fiction novels, and I specialize in Slavic linguistics. Always pursuing my passions for writing, history and literature, I strive to deliver a thrilling and captivating read that touches upon history's most... Read More

Next article