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Magna, HER 121

About five miles west of Hereford and half a mile south-west of Kenchester is the site of a small Roman town, which the mileage of the Antonine Itinerary identifies as Magni or Magna. Close to this site is the Iron Age camp at Credenhill (HER 906), and only a mile to the west is a Roman villa at Bishopstone (HER 7223).

The site is well defined by hedgerows, and is an irregular kite shape covering an area between 17 and 20 acres. It was once surrounded by a stone wall with four gates, of which the foundations could once be traced. A part of the stone wall could be seen as late as 1861, when the last remaining section was taken down.

At the west end, in the garden of the Post Office, a high bank marks the line of the walls and some of the stonework was visible at the turn of the 20th century. It is also said that the route of the main street through the town can be traced in the crop growth, with the soil in this area being darker. The main street was about 15ft wide and ran from east to west. It has also been noted that in times of dry weather the outlines of houses can be traced by the growth difference in the crops.
The town, though small, shows evidence of Roman civilisation and technology, demonstrated by the existence of tessellated pavements, hypocausts (under-floor heating), drainage, glass and pottery.

H.B. Walters, in the Victoria County History, has stated that from the fact that the soil in this area is black (while that in the rest of the county is red), and that considerable quantities of charred and molten substances have been found, it is likely that the town was destroyed by fire. Many of the stones from the buildings are said to have been re-used in neighbouring villages and in Credenhill Church.

In 1669, a great vault with a tessellated pavement and a stone floor was found. This mosaic has recently been dated as c. AD 350. Until the early part of the 19th century the ruins appear to have been quite considerable, but the site was later cleared for cultivation. In 1877, a Mr. Thompson Watkin stated that the sites of the four gates were until recently quite visible. In 1840-2 Dean Merewether made a partial exploration of the site. A street was traced out by the remaining foundations of the walls on either side. The lower level of a suite of rooms and passages, forming a house of some size, was laid bare and there were traces of decorated wall plaster, as well as tessellated pavements and a hypocaust.

The tessellated pavements had mosaic patterns in red, blue and white, and some had images of fish and seahorses. Some of these mosaics are now held by Hereford Museum.
Only two inscriptions have been found at Kenchester - one was an oculist's stamp and the other a milestone dating from AD 283, which was discovered in 1795-6 in the foundations of the town's north wall. It is of local sandstone, 2ft high by 1ft 6in wide and 5in thick. The bottom had been broken off and the upper part was damaged.

The inscription on the stone read (interpretation on the right hand side):

IMP. C                  Imp(eratore) C(aesare) 
MAR AVR             Mar(co) Aur(elio) 
NVMORIAN          Num(e)rian 
O                         O 
RPCD                  Respublica Civitatis Dobunorum

This inscription is important as it is said to be the only one in Britain bearing the name of the Emperor Numerian, who ruled in AD 283-4.

The oculist's stamp is inscribed on four sides as follows:



On the top of the stamp is the word SENIOR in reverse and on the lower the word SEN. The name of the oculist Ariovistus does not occur elsewhere and is thought to be of German origin.

Anicetum may be another word for aniseed, whilst nardinum is an aromatic plant (also known as matweed) and chloron was a type of eye salve. So it is likely that all these names referred to common remedies for eye problems, and the side of the stamp used depended on which remedy needed to be labelled.

When the site at Kenchester was first cultivated numerous items were turned up by the plough. Coins found on the site and later donated to Hereford Museum include a variety of copper ones dating to the reigns of the Emperors Carausius (AD 287-93), Allectus (AD 293-6) and Constantine the Great (AD 306-37), plus silver coins of Domitian (AD 81-96), Nerva (AD 96-8) and Trajan (AD 98-117). The mints represented by these coins are London, Lyons, Treves, Arles, Siscia and Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

Another collection of coins included six silver coins: a denarius of Gaius Vibius Pansa; two of Trajan; and one each of Augustus (27 BC - AD 14), Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61), and Philip (AD 244-9). Other remains include a bronze key and some small bronze figures.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2004]