Maiden Castle

 

The English castle, as we generally recognise it, was built of stone during the Medieval era. But the story of the history of the castle goes back to the Causewayed Camps of the Stone Age, the Hillforts of the the Bronze Age ( 1800 - 600 BC ) and the later, more advanced, Hillforts of the Iron Age ( 600 BC - 400 AD ). Maiden Castle was the biggest of all the English Hillforts and originally came into existence as a Causewayed Camp.

Bronze and Iron Age Architecture      The History of the Hillforts

 
 
 
History of the English Castle
Castles Index 
The Location of Maiden Castle
The great Hillfort, Maiden Castle, is located in the English county of Dorset - about 2 miles from the modern town of Dorchester. The origins of the name 'Maiden Castle' are derived from the Celtic words 'Mai Dun' which mean the 'great hill'.

Maiden Castle

Maiden Castle

  • When was Maiden Castle constructed?
  • What did Maiden Castle look like?
  • What was Maiden Castle's purpose?
  • Who were the Durotriges?
  • The defeat of Maiden Castle by the Romans!
  • Maiden Castle a Causewayed Camp

The History of the Maiden Castle
The site of Maiden Castle dates back possibly to the site of a Causewayed Camp of the late Stone Age Neolithic Period (3000 - 1800 BC). The natural landscape afforded an excellent site for these early people. Maiden Castle covers an extensive oval shape area - the hill is 432 feet above sea level. The crown of the hill was originally surrounded by a ditch and bank. With flint and stone tools, and a considerable labour force, this original ditch and bank measured a massive 545 metres, with ramparts reaching a height of 20 feet - 6 metres. The need for Maiden Castle, arose initially because of Tribal disputes and warfare. As time passed more sophisticated and lethal weapons made of Bronze and then Iron were introduced ( including the development of the sling and the war chariot ) and the castle was improved and extended.

The Extension of Fortifications at Maiden Castle
The site of Maiden Castle was considerably extended during the late Bronze / early Iron Age by a defensive ring of ramparts and three additional ditches. The ramparts consisted of chalk, earth, clay and rubble. It was strengthened with stone and timber posts.  A wooden fence would have been built along the ramparts with wooden gates at the entrances. The entrances were not aligned therefore making it more difficult for opposing forces to gain entry.

The Purpose of Maiden Castle
Maiden Castle was built as an enclosed area which was initially used as:

  • A meeting place for formal tribal purposes
  • Trading
  • It was permanently occupied by people
  • It was a safe retreat against intrusion from raids from other tribes
  • Maiden Castle provided shelter for rising population levels against harsh winters and wild animals
  • Provided a place for safe animal compounds or enclosures

Maiden Castle later became a symbol of Power.

Maiden Castle was also a Symbol of Power
During the Bronze and Iron Age the population grew and strong communities developed. Each community, or tribe, was led by a leader, or a King, who was supported by powerful families. Maiden Castle was used as a regional capital, a seat of Government heralding the dawn of the Feudal system prevalent during the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages of the Medieval period.

What did Maiden Castle look like?
The extended Maiden Castle featured the following:

  • Built on  a hilltop 432 feet above sea level
  • Oval Shape
  • Maiden Castle was massive and covered and enormous area of over 300 acres!
  • Maiden Castle had a series of ramparts - an embankment built around a space for defensive purposes
  • The ramparts reached a height of 20 feet - 6 metres
  • Constructed using stone, chalk, clay, soil and wood - Timber was favoured as it was clearly lighter to transport up the hilltop being used for strengthening the ramparts and for interior building construction
  • It also had Palisades - A fence of pales forming a defensive barrier or fortification
  • N.B. A 'pale' was a fence made with a stake or pointed stick which enclosed the area
  • It is believed to have had a parapet - a low wall along the top of the rampart
  • The interior of Maiden Castle, protected by its defences, contained detached buildings -  living quarters, granaries and communal gathering areas
  • There were several entrances to living areas accessed via large wooden gates
  • These wooden gates were the weakest point of Maiden Castle - but there was not enough metal available to effectively enforce the strength of the timber gates - not even metal nails were used
  • This weakness led to the introduction of Guardhouses which were built either side of the gates
  • Separate defensive tower structures, called Barbicans, were eventually added to provide additional cover

Maiden Castle and the Durotriges tribe
The Durotriges were a large tribe of Celtic warriors who inhabited Devon, Dorset and Somerset during the Bronze and Iron Age. They were known to have inhabited Maiden Castle as a mass grave of 38 Celtic Durotriges Warriors was excavated in 1937, near the eastern entrance of Maiden Castle. The Durotriges tribe were among the few tribes of Celtic Britain who issued coinage. The coins did not have images of the Durotrigean Kings and rulers and, as they kept no written records, there are no records of their names or history. There were many other Durotrigean hillforts including remains at South Cadbury Castle, Hod Hill and Abbotsbury Castle.

The Defeat of Maiden Castle and the Durotriges tribe by the Romans
The Roman Invasion! In 43 AD the Roman 2nd Legion under Vespasian besieged the Durotriges at Maiden Castle. The Durotriges warriors used spears or javelins hurled from their chariots and used slings to defend their hillforts from attack. They were used to attacking their enemies using their hillforts, such as Maiden Castle as their base. Enemies were attacked with Spears and Missiles and the war chariots were used to attack fleeing enemies or fighting in open warfare. The Romans were different enemies. They were well trained and fought in an organised and structured fashion. The technology employed by the Romans was further advanced compared to the Celts. They defended themselves with shields which provided cover against the spears and missiles. They employed siege tactics complete with Massive Siege weapons. The Durotriges were defeated in the bloody battle at Maiden Castle and the Romans continued their invasion across all of the Durotrigean lands conquering a further 20 Hillforts.

The Romans at Maiden Castle
The Romans took over Maiden Castle and a Roman temple was built at Maiden Castle following their invasion. The foundations of the Roman Temple can still be seen today. The Romans left their mark in Britain - Roman Forts & Architecture  - with the great Roman Roads, forts and of course, Hadrian's Wall.

The collapse of the Roman Empire started in 410AD when the Visigoths, led by Alaric, sacked Rome. Romans were recalled from all regions of the Empire to defend Rome. And so the Romans left Britain - never to return. The land was left to the Celts. The next major element to the rise of the castles occurred during the reign of Alfred the Great and the introduction of a National Defence system by the formation of fortified towns called 'Burhs' (later changed to Burghs, Bury then Boroughs). Alfred the Great and the Burgh Castles.

Maiden Castle

History of the English Castle

The History of the English Castle

English Causewayed Camps / Enclosures
Stonehenge
Hillforts
Maiden Castle

Roman Forts
The Dark Ages - Alfred the Great - the Burhs

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