When you make a trip to the Maiden Castle in Dorset, which is around 2 miles south of Dorchester, you are bound to be in for a surprise if youve not done your homework. The first question youll be asking people will be Wheres the castle, dude?
The Maiden Castle is the most famous of the pre-Roman fortresses in Britain. It is also the largest. But its not a castle in the conventional sense of the term. It is a hilltop with a huge enclosure which has a natural defense system in place – with its ditches and high banks. The castle is around 47 acres in size and has banks that tower up to around 80 feet.
Christening The Castle
The name maiden for this castle could be quite misleading. It is important to remember that it was originally called mai dun and not maiden. Mai dun is a pre-Celtic term, and can be translated to great hill, but it could also be interpreted as principle fort.
Construction Of The Principle Fort
The construction of the Maiden Castle is believed to be done around 3000 years back. Archaeologists have found flint tools and other objects that date back to that time. A causeway camp of sorts was built on the hill. This, according to the studies conducted on the place, would date back to around 3500 BC. Much later, a bank barrow with a measure of about 1800 feet was added; which is definitely impressive for the time period that it was built in.
The Durotriges tribe was the dominant Celtic tribe of this region at that point in time. Around 350 BC the hill was finally turned into a full-fledged hill fort. This must have been done under the guidance and direction of the Durotriges.
The ramparts that are visible may have been erected at a later date, say by around 1st century BC. There are 3 clear concentric rings made up of ditches and banks. The entrance present through each bank is offset. This was done as a defense mechanism to isolate any invaders who managed to penetrate through the first line of defense.
The Romans Take Over
When the castle was being inhabited by the Durotriges, the Romans under the leadership of Vespasian besieged it. The battle that had ensued between them is said to have been really bloody. Recently conducted excavations have discovered the bodies of around 38 warriors that date back to the Iron Age. They had been buried there with drinks and food for their journey into after life.
In The Present
A Roman temple that was constructed at the Maiden Castle still has some remains at the site today. The fort was abandoned soon after the Romans took over. There are cues to suggest that the fort may have been inhabited during the Saxon times. It definitely has been deserted for the last 1400 years or more now.
The Maiden Castle site is currently being managed by English Heritage; and is open through the year. You do not have to pay any entrance fees to enter the place. But the mere size of the site will leave you in awe.