Instead of looking back on the past year, let’s go even further back and take a look at Seaton’s incredible history, particularly as a base for the Romans during their occupation of Britain.
If you know your history, you’ll know that Seaton has been occupied since before the Iron Age, as evidenced by the still visible forts across the region in places like Blackbury Camp. Prior to the Roman invasion, Seaton formed part of an area occupied by Celtic tribes, most notably the Durotriges and the Dumnonia. But how did the Romans shape Seaton into the town we know and love today?
Britain became part of the Roman Empire in around 43 AD. As Seaton is on the coast, it, like most of England’s coastal areas, was one of the first places in the southwest to have been occupied. Even prior to the Roman invasion, Seaton formed part of the most important harbour and port area of the West Country.
The Roman invasion wasn’t initially a success – at first the legions were under the Emperor Claudius and Aulus Plautius. Plautius was replaced for their second attempt with General Titus Flavius Vespasian, who would later become Emperor in his own right. Under Vespasian, Roman forces conquered the south coast and overcame the two biggest tribes living in the south. It is believed that they reached Seaton and established a military base there in around AD 49.
As the General of the 2nd Augustan Legion, Vespasian made use of Seaton, using the harbour area to ferry troops and supplies as part of his preparation for taking Exeter. From this stronghold, he was able to conquer the whole of the West of England. We know that for a time, Vespasian and his forces used Seaton as their base, and some believe that the town could be the site of the lost settlement of Mordunum – one of the more famous of the Romans’ sea forts. Archaeologists did discover evidence during their excavation of the Honey Ditches, a Roman site, that Seaton was the headquarters of the 2nd Legion. Other possible locations of Moridunum are Hembury Fort, Woodbury Farm and even Peak Hill in Sidmouth. Whatever the true location, we do know that a substantial military base was located in the Seaton area.
Perhaps the biggest discovery in the search for Seaton’s Roman history was at Honey Ditches. This Roman villa commanded much of the landscape and was created in a fashion that was unique to the Roman areas of Devon. Many structures were discovered in the late 1960s, including bath houses, gate structures and villas, as well as an enormous horde of coins and other artefacts. It is the vastness of Honey Ditches that gives credence to Seaton or somewhere nearby being the site of Moridunum, as those working around the fort would need places to live. The landscape around Seaton has also provided proof of Roman villas, including one near Uplyme and another near Membury. The Seaton Down Hoard, which was discovered in 2013, saw over 22,000 Roman coins being found, the coins were displayed at various museums around the UK, including at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
Find out more about Seaton’s history by visiting the town’s museum.
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