Verulamium is next to the city of St Albans and was one of the largest Roman towns in Britain. It is approximately 20 miles north-west of London.

Short history

On Julius Caesar's second visit to Britain in 54 B.C., he marched against the Catuvellauni, an indigenous tribe in the area to the north of the Thames, and their leader, Cassivellaunus. The locals were defeated, possibly at their stronghold, Wheathampstead. Or at least, the result was a draw, for Caesar, having gained enough glory, sailed for home.

The park occupies about a half of the site of the walled civitas of Verulamium
Because of these events, or for some other reason, the Catuvellauni moved their capital a few miles away, on the banks of the River Ver. They called this place "Verlamiom", meaning "the settlement above the marshes".

By about 5 B.C., the Catuvellauni were ruled by Tasciovanus, who was by now minting coins with his name on. By 10 A.D., he was succeeded by Cunobelin (Shakespeare's Cymbeline) who took over the territory of the Trinovantes, which was situated in modern-day Essex and Suffolk. Although he moved his base to Camulodunum (Colchester), Verlamiom still enjoyed great prestige and coins in gold, silver and bronze were minted there.

During the rule of Cunobelin's sons, Togidumnus and Caractacus, who succeeded him in about 40 A.D., the Emperor Claudius decided to invade Britain. This took place in 43 A.D., but the Catuvellauni seem to have welcomed the Romans and consequently, the Celtic town of Verlamiom, became the Roman Civitas of Verulamium.

The town developed rapidly, but the revolt by the Queen of the Iceni around 60 A.D., led to the pillaging and burning of the town, an event confirmed by burnt material in archaeological excavations. The town recovered and public buildings in the Roman manner, including a forum and basilica, were constructed.

A short section of the southern section of the Roman city walls
At some date unknown, a Roman citizen name Alban was beheaded "500 paces" outside Verulamium for refusing to make an offering to a "pagan idol". (Maybe during the persecutions of Diocletian c. 297 A.D.?) At any rate, Alban became Saint Alban, Britain's first Christian martyr.

After the withdrawal of the Roman legions in 410 A.D., the town declined and fell to the Saxon invaders. Eventually it was abandoned, though it may have been occupied up until 600 A.D.

However, Alban's martyrdom was not forgotten, and in about 940 A.D. a monastery church was built on the site of his execution. This church was to become St Albans Abbey and Cathedral. Like any monastery in Saxon times, it attracted people and houses to it, and the new town became the city of St Albans.

The site

The Abbey of St. Albans, overlooking Verulamium
The city and cathedral of St Albans sit on a low hill overlooking the site of Verulamium. Approximately a half of Verulamium is now a splendid public park. The rest stretches off across agricultural land. The main entrance and car parking for the park is close to the site of the Roman basilica. Here also is an excellent museum, displaying the many finds from archaeological excavations. In the centre of the park is a hypocaust (a heated mosaic bathroom floor) in a purpose-made building, but sadly it is currently closed due to vandalism. Not far from the museum, across a main road, is the excavated remains of the amphitheatre. The Roman walls and buildings are, of course, long gone, used for building material in the Middle Ages. However, there are some short stretches of the town walls on the southern side, and the foundations of the southern, "London" gate. One of the main Roman roads, Watling Street, passed through Verulamium. The course of Watling Street is still followed in parts by modern roads.


The museum has to be visited to appreciate the wealth of Celtic and Roman items there. It has several very well preserved mosaic floors and wall paintings, not usually found so intact in northern climes.

Mention must be made of the moulds used for making coin blanks - a clay tray with small "pots" where scraps of metal were placed for melting. Also on display, as well as coins of all periods, is a coin die, used for making the coins.

A longer stretch of the southern walls. This stretch includes the foundations of the London Gate. A closer view of St. Albans Abbey/Cathedral
An even closer view of St. Albans Cathedral The "Fighting Cocks" inn. This building was part of the medieval Abbey's watermill complex. The mill itself is long gone, but the mill-race remains There would have been fish ponds there originally, to feed the merry monks. Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have stayed a night at the inn, presumably before or after fighting the battle of St. Albans.

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