Prae Wood


Location: just west of St Albans, Hertfordshire

OS map reference:  TL 123 068

Celtic name: probably Verlamion

Source: Ravenna Cosmography (96) - Virolanium

            Ptolemy - Urolanium

            Antonine Itinerary – (Iter II)  Verolamio

                                             (Iter VI) Verolami

                                          (Iter VIII) Verolamo 

            Coin inscription - Verlamio

The earthworks in Prae Wood are generally considered to define a late Belgic oppidum. The ditches of the oppidum form a somewhat complex pattern but define a generally rectangular space extending SW-NE. The northwestern boundary appears to straddle the 130 metre contour, while that on the southeast side is around the 125 metre contour. The oppidum appears, therefore, to stand on the slope of the hill, near the top of the hill but not actually extending up to the highest point.

The name Verlamion is a compound in three hill-letters, so the name will have been coined before the Romans ever set foot in that part of the country. The Ver element means “side of hill, slope” and is thus entirely appropriate for the site. The earliest hill-letter in the name will be m, and this was most probably applied at a time when old-style names were being coined, as in the Cam of Camuloduno (at Colchester). The hill-letter l in Verlamion will be used in an inversion-type manner and indicates that the site was settled by the Trinovantes, albeit later than Colchester since the l in Camuloduno is used in the old-style manner. Since the Catuvellauni used the hill-letter n2 there is no indication in the name Verlamion that the site was actually settled by the Catuvellauni. Presumably the r-people living around Prae Wood and nearby Dunstable (Durocobrivis in the Roman period) were simply absorbed into the Catuvellaunian kingdom, the centre of which was apparently at Wheathampstead prior to Caesar’s invasion in 54BC. Nonetheless it would appear that the Catuvellauni moved the inhabitants of Verlamion into a new settlement on the lower slopes of the hill and that they selected that settlement as their new base on abandoning Wheathampstead after Caesar's invasion. It was this Catuvellaunian Verlamion which was later romanised to become Romano-British Verolamium. But note that whilst the site in Prae Wood may have become an oppidum, at an earlier date, when the hill-letter m was applied, and perhaps even later when it was taken over by the Trinovantes, it was probably just a hillfort, most likely at the northeastern end of the site, where the pattern formed by the ditches is somewhat confusing.


[This page was last modified on 11 November 2019]