The Durotriges were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain prior to the Roman invasion. The tribe lived in modern Dorset, south Wiltshire, south Somerset and Devon east of the River Axe and the discovery of an Iron Age hoard in 2009 at Shalfleet, Isle of Wight gives evidence that they lived in the western half of the island. After the Roman conquest, their main civitates, or settlement-centred administrative units, were Durnovaria (modern Dorchester, "the probable original capital") and Lindinis (modern Ilchester, "whose former, unknown status was thereby enhanced"). Their territory was bordered to the west by the Dumnonii; and to the east by the Belgae.
Dunium (Hengistbury Head)
The tribe's name can probably be broken down into two parts. 'Duro' may come from 'dubro', which derives from the British word for water ('dour' or 'dwr'), although it is much more likely to be 'duro', which means 'hard', and 'trig' means inhabitant. That would produce something along the lines of 'the inhabitants of the hard [ground]' or the 'hill-top dwellers'. Both meanings would seem to be very appropriate for the chalky soil of the Dorset Downs and the region's many hill forts. However, it is unknown if the tribe referred to themselves as the Durotriges before they arrived in the area now known as Dorset.
The area of the Durotriges is identified in part by coin finds: few Durotrigan coins are found in the "core" area, where they were apparently unacceptable and were reminted. To their north and east were the Belgae, beyond the Avon and its tributary Wylye: "the ancient division is today reflected in the county division between Wiltshire and Somerset." Their main outlet for the trade across the Channel, strong in the first half of the 1st century BC, when the potter's wheel was introduced, then drying up in the decades before the advent of the Romans, was at Hengistbury Head. Numismatic evidence shows progressive debasing of the coinage, suggesting economic retrenchment accompanying the increased cultural isolation. Analysis of the body of Durotrigan ceramics suggests to Cunliffe that the production was increasingly centralised, at Poole Harbour (Cunliffe 2005:183).
The Durotriges were more a tribal confederation than a tribe. They were one of the groups that issued coinage before the Roman conquest, part of the cultural "periphery", as Barry Cunliffe characterised them, round the "core group" of Britons in the south. These coins were rather simple and had no inscriptions, and thus no names of coin-issuers can be known, let alone evidence about monarchs or rulers. Nevertheless, the Durotriges presented a settled society, based in the farming of lands surrounded and controlled by strong hill forts that were still in use in 43 AD. Maiden Castle is a preserved example of one of these hill forts.
The destruction of the Durotriges' ruling families and the extent of Romanisation makes documenting the names of settlements and hillforts occupied by the Durotriges before the Roman conquest difficult, but from a variety of sources several settlements are known. Ptolemy's Geography lists Dunium, speculated to be Hengistbury Head, as an important tribal centre near their Belgae neighbours, but it is unknown whether if it was considered the capital of the tribal confederation, especially as several other settlements appear to be equally important from archaeological evidence. Known places of pre-conquest settlement include:
- Woolsbarrow Hillfort
- Maiden Castle
- Cadbury Castle
- Ham Hill
- Abbotsbury Castle, Allington, Dorset,
- Badbury Rings, Banbury Hill, Bindon Hill, Buzbury Rings
- Chalbury Hillfort, Coney's Castle,
- Dungeon Hill,
- Eggardon Hill,
- Flower's Barrow,
- Hambledon Hill, Hod Hill,
- Lambert's Castle, Lewesdon Hill,
- Pilsdon Pen, Poundbury Hill
- Rawlsbury Camp
Burial of Durotriges was by inhumation, with a last ritual meal provided even under exiguous circumstances, as in the eight burials at Maiden Castle, carried out immediately after the Roman attack. Most Durotrigian burials are laid down in crouched positions within shallow, oval graves. One such inhumation of a young Durotrigian woman was found at Langton Herring in Dorset in 2010. The burial, which was laid down with a decorated mirror, had a radiocarbon date of between AD 25 – 53.
Not surprisingly, the Durotriges resisted Roman invasion in AD 43, and the historian Suetonius records some fights between the tribe and the second legion Augusta, then commanded by Vespasian. By 70 AD, the tribe was already Romanised and securely included in the Roman province of Britannia. In the tribe’s area, the Romans explored some quarries and supported a local pottery industry.
The Durotriges, and their relationship with the Roman Empire, form the basis for an ongoing archaeological research project directed by Paul Cheetham, Ellen Hambleton and Miles Russell of Bournemouth University. The Durotriges Project has, since 2009, been reconsidering the Iron Age to Roman transition through a detailed programme of field survey, geophysical investigation and targeted excavation. To date the programme of work has concentrated upon an enclosed late Iron Age banjo enclosure containing round houses, work surfaces and storage pits, a Late Iron Age cemetery and two Roman villas.
- Bruce Eagles, "Britons and Saxons on the Eastern Boundary of the Civitas Durotrigum" Britannia 35 (2004:234-240) p. 234.
- Cunliffe 2005: fig. 8:2.
- Eagles 2004: 234 and map, fig. 5.
- "The Durotriges were a close-knit confederacy of smaller units centred on modern Dorset," writes Barry Cunliffe, Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest, 4th ed. 2005:178, in beginning his Part II.8 "The tribes of the periphery: Durotriges, Dobunni, Iceni and Corieltauvi" (pp 178-201).
- Several homestead sites have been excavated in Cranborne Chase.
- Russell, M. (2019). "The girl with the chariot medallion: a well-furnished, Late Iron Age Durotrigian burial from Langton Herring, Dorset". Archaeological Journal. 176. doi:10.1080/00665983.2019.1573551.
- Cheetham, P, Hambleton, E, Russell, M, and Smith, M 2013 'Digging the Durotriges' CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 281, 36-41
- Martin Papworth, (2011), The Search for the Durotriges: Dorset and the West Country in the Late Iron Age. The History Press. ISBN 0752457373
- Paul Cheetham Ellen Hambleton, Miles Russell and Martin Smith (2013), Digging the Durotriges: Life and Death in Late Iron Age Dorset. Current Archaeology 281, 36-41.
- Guy de la Bédoyère (2006), Roman Britain: A New History