Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Maiden Castle

The countryside of Britain is dotted with stone age fortifications dating back thousands of years. Some of them are quite small, others are huge. Arguably the most impressive is Maiden Castle to the north of Weymouth in Dorset.

The huge triple wall earthworks straddle a hill top and would originally have been well over fifty feet high. The area contained within, would hold well over thirty football pitches and is truly breathtaking in its scale.

The Romans noted its impressive size and although one Roman historian of the first century tells of the siege and successful storming of the fort by a single legion there is no archaeological evidence to support such a battle. Indeed, the geography of the place and the steepness of the hillsides belies his account in any event.

If I was a Roman commander tasked with taking it with only a single legion, it would have given a new meaning to ‘Kamikaze’ two thousand years before the Japanese did!

It would certainly have been impressive when the Roman legions arrived in the area, and before the advent of large calibre rifled cannon, it would have been difficult to storm against a determined opposition.

The name “Maiden Castle” is a typical modern corruption of the original name for the place, it was never a castle, and the original name “Mai-Dan” means more of a place of refuge than a fortified place.

The sheer amount of earth moved to build it is incredible, especially when you consider, nowhere within the perimeter did they dig down to bedrock. You can graze some considerable herds of livestock within its walls, and farmers still do.

The ‘Mai-Dan’ forms a central part of my story, as the local tribe becomes an ally to the Carthaginian Hanno, and eventually the much modified hill fort becomes the second centre of the Empire.

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