A Guide to Silchester

Society of Antiquaries town plan

You can use the interactive Building Locator based on the plan developed by the Society of Antiquaries, London, to explore the guide.

Photo, aerial view of site showing insula visible in cropmarksWhere is Silchester?

The Iron Age and Roman settlement of Calleva Atrebatum lies in the north of Hampshire in the parish of Silchester, roughly midway between the modern towns of Basingstoke and Reading.

The site is remarkable because, unlike most large Roman towns in Britain, it was completely abandoned. The defensive walls still survive, in places more than 4m high, but within the walls there seems, at first, to be nothing but fields, a church and a single house, once a farm.

The Location

Plan of the Roman townThe town was built on an easily defensible spur of gravel about 90m above sea level, with commanding views to the east and south and the only access over level ground from the west.

It was originally surrounded on three sides by woodland, growing on the heavy clay soils, and this aspect of the site is enshrined within the Celtic name, which can be translated as (the town in the) woods of the Atrebates.

While the surrounding woodland provided fuel and building materials and hindered easy access to the settlement, the gravel spur itself was more easily cleared for cultivation and building by the first occupants. As the numerous wells on the site demonstrate, water was abundant from about 3-4m below ground surface and from springs around the edge of the gravel.

English Heritage Guidebook: Silchester Roman Town

This new guidebook, authored by Mike Fulford, provides a full tour and history of the site, and brings the story of its rediscovery and excavation up to date. The guidebook is available to order online. 

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