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Boudica Thetford

The Iceni’s warrior queen uses Thetford as her base in her campaign to defeat the Roman Empire as recorded by Roman historians Tacitus and Cassio Dio.

Iron Age Thetford is most famously associated with the Iceni tribe, whose leader, Boudica – the fierce warrior queen – famously fought against the Roman Empire.

Key Iceni sites can be found at both Castle Hill, where the ramparts raised by the Iceni still tower over the landscape (although now eclipsed by the Norman motte), and Gallows Hill / Fison Way, where the flat land hides the remains of an impressive but mysterious Iron Age site. The Thetford Treasure is one of two important Roman hoards and many internationally important Iron Age and Iceni artefacts have been unearthed in Thetford, some of which are on display in Ancient House Museum. The Thetford Treasure is now in the British Museum and you can discover more about it and see replicas at Ancient House Museum.

Boudica is one of the most recognisable figures in English history – a powerful heroine who stood up for her people and fought with passion and honour – and her people were based right here in Thetford.

Boudica’s story is described by the Roman historians Tacitus and Cassio Dio, from the viewpoint of the invading power. The trouble started when Boudica’s husband Prasutagus named both his wife and daughters and the Roman emperor as heirs, but when he died, the Romans broke their word and his lands and properties were confiscated by the Romans; Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped.

In retaliation, Boudica’s Iceni tribe – just as violent and ruthless as the Romans – destroyed the capital of Roman Britain, Camulodunum (Colchester), before heading down to Londinium (London), slaughtering the residents and burning it to the ground. The Iceni then moved on to Verulamium (St Albans) which had the same fate. The Romans rallied around, however, and even though they were outnumbered, managed to defeat the Iceni. The exact location of Boudica and her tribe’s last battle is unknown.

Castle Hill

Castle Hill is one of only six Iron Age hill-forts in Norfolk, and one of only two that are accessible to the public (the other being at Warham in north Norfolk). Excavations show that the double-ditched ramparts were constructed during the Iron Age, and were then enlarged either during the later part of the Iron Age or in the Norman period. The hill-fort was a sign of power, as such monuments required both significant manpower and materials for their construction and maintenance. However, the ramparts we see today do not indicate the full scale of the site, which would have been larger and grander. While excavations around the site have not uncovered a continuation of the ramparts, it may be that the ramparts did not in fact encircle the site in its entirety: the river could have acted as a natural boundary.

Gallows Hill

At Gallows Hill, the flat land hides the remains of a complex and impressive, but mysterious, Iron Age site. Entrances to the two main enclosures faced the likely route of the ancient Icknield Way path, and later development included the construction of a double-ditched enclosure, new circular buildings and a ceremonial gateway at the entrance to the inner enclosure.

Some of the artefacts found here are high-status and there is evidence of the production of coins. Gallows Hill may have been a focus for the local elite – perhaps ceremonial and ritual in nature, not necessarily religious. By 70AD the site had been largely abandoned, following the failure of Boudica’s rebellion against the Romans in 60AD. After the site was abandoned there is little evidence for further occupation until the end of the Roman period.

Icknield Way

The Icknield Way is an ancient long-distance trackway that some archaeologists have suggested linked Norfolk with the Neolithic cultures responsible for the ritual monuments constructed in Wiltshire and the South Downs. There is, however, some disagreement over the likely route of the Icknield Way, which may have divided at Thetford with an eastern branch running toward the centre of Norfolk and a northern route leading up to the Wash. The route crossed the rivers Thet and the Little Ouse at a ford on the site of Nuns Bridges, the rivers have been crossed there for thousands of years.

  • 40-50AD
    The Iceni build a large ceremonial site near Gallows Hill
  • 70 AD
    Gallows Hill abandoned
  • 380-390AD
    The Thetford Treasure, a hoard of Roman gold and silver, is buried at Gallows Hill