Although prehistoric communities left us no written history they did leave a wealth of constructions which give us some clue as to how and where they lived. But for a thousand years after we come to a period where our knowledge is even more fragmentary than it is of prehistoric periods, with only a few tantalising fragments of evidence to help us understand the occupation of this area.
About 2000 years ago, just after Caesar's expedition to Britain, British tribes in the South-East of the British Isle, mainly the Atrebates, were happily trading with and paying taxes to the Romans just across the channel in Gaul (NW France). But by AD 25 tribes from north of the Thames, who were not so enamoured of the Romans, took the Atrebatic capital Calleva (Silchester) and displaced the Atrebates to the the region around Chichester. Verica, the Atrebatic king, went to Rome to enlist support - support that Rome was only too keen to provide since the usurpers were not paying tax. Thus the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 and the restoration of their territory to the Atrebates.
Although the Atrebates welcomed the Romans it is not surprising that other British tribes resisted an invasion that was likely to impose a foreign government and insist that they pay taxes to Rome. Unlike the people in the South-East, the Iron-age peoples in this area (the Durotriges) still maintained their Iron-age hillforts. The Romans successfully stormed the large hillfort at Maiden Castle near Dorchester and also, apparently, Cadbury hillfort (near Yeovil) about 7 years after the invasion 1. Similar battles may have occurred at our three hillforts. In the first years of the "Pax Romana" the need for hillforts would have disappeared - and indeed would have been strongly discouraged by the occupying power. However, towards the end of the Roman era, the defences of some hillforts were strengthened - indicating a weakening of Roman power and a return to lawlessness.
People in this area found themselves part of the new Roman province of Britannia. Regions very quickly returned to the status quo with the re-establishment of tribal kingdoms based on the previous territories. The Roman occupation created an aristocracy, not of Italian origin, but descended from the ethnically diverse ranks of the Roman army, and the local British chieftains.
After the Roman invasion this part of England was not under military control hence the absence of Roman forts. Most of the Roman legions moved out to the Welsh and Northern frontiers where fighting continued.
The nearest sizeable Roman settlements to Mere were at Bath and Old Sarum (both former Iron-age British sites).
North of Mere, through Kingston Deverill, ran the Roman Road from the lead mines of the Mendips to Old Sarum and to the sea, while a minor road ran from it southwards through East Knoyle to Poole. (needs map)
Archi , the database of Archaeology UK lists finds which may indicate Roman villas at Kilmington and Longbridge Deverill.
A dig in 2014-16 found what appeared to be a large high-status villa at Brixton Deverill. Crop marks on aerial photographs (see Google Maps) indicate an ancient field system on the downs 1.5km NE of this site. It is possible that these fields were the productive estate of the villa. Roman villas were usually built within easy reach of the road system - the Roman road mentioned above, passes only 1.2km SW of the site.
Mere itself does not seem to have been prosperous enough for aristocratic villas to have been built. In 1856 when the new Mere cemetery was being laid out, an urn was found with a hoard of coins of the Romano-British period, some of which are now in Mere Museum. (ref and photo needed) Also Romano-British burials and jewellery. (ref and photo reqd) The coins could well have been hidden away from the owner's house during the less secure times at the end of the Roman occupation or after and cannot be regarded as evidence of settlement at the find spot. Field walking has turned up fragments of what would appear to be Roman tiles on Mere Down, but further investigation is needed before this can be regarded as evidence of occupation at that spot. (ref needed)
In Rome, Christianity was not officially recognised until c.313 - by Constantine. Although the Romans in Britain did adopt Christianity it appears to have come too late to make much impact on our area. Yet by this date, the development of Roman Towns and villas in Britain was already coming to an end. It appears that when the ruling class withdrew back to Rome, only relicts of Christianity remained. For the mass of the local peasantry we can assume that Celtic paganism survived the 'visit' of the Romans.
Towards the end of the fourth century, the Roman empire weakened. Precariously positioned on the north-west extremity of the empire, Britannia became increasingly isolated. Cast adrift by Rome, the legions declared their own emperor in 407 who promptly ordered their withdrawal from Britain to fight in Gaul. In 410 AD the Goths sacked Rome and the game was up.
Without the protection of the Romans, the British found that the villas and towns were too vulnerable to raiders. Chieftains began to move back to the hillforts. Without the towns, there was no use for the Roman roads that connected the towns - and thus the roads also decayed.
The Dark Age began.
|1||Alcock, Leslie (1972). Was this Camelot? Excavations at Cadbury Castle 1966-70. New York: Stein and Day. ISBN 0-8128-1505-X.|