Mai-Dun - Ancient British Great Hill Fort Attacked by Vespasian.
In 43 AD the Roman Invasion of Britain was well underway and led by the Roman Emperor Claudius. There had been a huge raid by Julius Caesar over ninety years prior, but this was mainly to stop a British war chieftain acquiring too much territory in neighbouring Celtic kingdoms and forming a British union of tribes that may have aided Vercingetorix and his Gaul nations.
By 43 AD Emperor Claudius had designs on bringing Britain into the boundaries of the expanding Roman Empire and to this end, he decided to send Roman soldiers to invade the Isle and subjugate Britons to imperial Roman rule. It is fair to say that the Britons had little concept of the might and organisation of the Roman forces and many would learn the hard way as to what mighty Rome was capable of.
To the west of Britain, in today’s county of Dorset, England, UK, the second Roman Legion attacked the British kingdom of the Durotriges. There would have been fighting in many areas of Britain as the Roman conquerors began to systematically take over the lower southern part of the British Isle. This particular campaign was noted because of the siege of Mai Dun Fort, where the Durotriges attempted to secure themselves from the Roman Second Legion, commanded by Vespasian – a man from a noble Roman family who would one day become Emperor during the year of four Emperors in 69 AD. However, this was 43 AD and Vespasian was proving himself as a strong Roman soldier who commanded his men well.
Today Mai Dun Fort is known as Maiden Castle, but its original Celtic name of Mai Dun means ‘Great Hill.’ It was a flourishing centre by the time the Romans arrived and had its beginning back in Bronze Age 1800 BC. For over eighteen hundred years people had come to the great hill fort of Mai-Dun and it went through various stages of progression with earthworks and ramparts being built. It was a huge centre of attraction – perhaps trade and commerce in the form of a market town. Around 450 BC the Celts built more extensive earthworks and the place became a larger more fortified town of dealing among the Britons. It was certainly attractive to the Romans in 43 AD and the Durotriges Britons seemed to have an ill-deserved confidence in their ability to defend Mai Dun against Vespasian and his Second Legion. The Great Hill Fort (Mai-Dun) had a huge palisade that was surrounded by various ditches and ramparts that afforded the defenders a good view of any attacking force. They also had thousands of slinging rocks to propel against the Roman Second Legion.
The defenders came up against advanced Roman ballista siege warfare and were unable withstand the modern engineering of Rome’s more precise technology. A great siege ensued and the Durotriges finally fell to Vespasian’s Second Legion of Roman soldiers. It is believed to have been a fierce and bloody battle with Roman Legions eventually marching upon the fort after heavy ballista bombardment of darts, fire and stone projectiles.
|Model impression of Romans attacking British Durotriges at Mai Dun Fort in 43 AD|
In the 1930s excavators found several buried bodies of Durotriges defenders that were killed during the siege and one person had an arrowhead embedded in his spine, believed to have been shot from a ballista machine equipped to discharge several darts at a time – like a small magazine of multiple arrows. One might imagine a young Durotriges warrior manning the palisade and being taken out of the action by a scattering of high-velocity darts, one of which strikes the young defender in the back and fatally injures him. Perhaps these buried men were killed during artillery attacks and were then laid to rest before the fort fell. So it may have been that the Great Hillfort (Mai-Dun) held for a few days, at least, while Roman ballista weaponry softened the fortifications before the soldiers attacked.
There may have been a Roman military presence for a short time afterwards and there was a temple erected in the fourth century that fell into ruin, but mainly, the site of Mai Dun became an apocalyptic place as the many people that inhabited the thriving and commercial fort left after the fall to Rome’s Second Legion lead by future emperor to be; Vespasian. It became a lonely place of abandoned ramparts and remains so to this day.