Identified in the early 1930s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler during investigations concurrent with those at Roman Verulamium (St Albans) 8km to the south, this site is located on a gravel plateau above the river Lea. An enclosure of around 40ha is partially defined on three sides by earthworks, some of massive dimensions. A section across the western earthwork (Devil's Dyke) and some minor excavation inside the enclosure, produced evidence of occupation in the second half of the first century BC but apparently ending before 20–10 BC (pottery dating). An identification of this site with that at which chieftain Cassivellaunus made a final stand against Caesar, was proposed by Wheeler. Impossible to prove, even the identification of this site as a late Iron Age oppidum has been questioned (Dyer 1976).

This site is believed to form, either part of, or a precursor to, a larger late Iron Age territorial organisation characterised by linear earthworks, the massive “Beech Bottom Dyke” and a second “Devil's Dyke”, this latter extending south of the river Ver. This second ditch may have been constructed at the time of a transfer of settlement from Wheathampstead to a site known as Prae Wood (see St Albans). An extensive area of settlement of early first centry AD date has been found on the opposite side of the river Lea (Bryant 2007).

The term oppidum is attributed to both the Wheathampstead and the St Albans sites, and at least one commentator (Thompson 1979) distinguishes between the “hill fort” of Wheathampstead and the “oppidum” of St Albans. The linear “territorial” earthworks are embanked to the south and presumed to defend northward.

The earthworks at Wheathampstead
The site is bounded to the West by the massive “Devils Dyke”, a ditch which at its maximum is 130 ft wide lip to lip and 40 ft deep. To the East, a curvilinear feature of apparently lesser dimensions know as “the Slad” and “the Moat” in its different parts, defines the South-Eastern and Eastern sides. Affirmed by Wheeler to be an artificial feature, Dyer, in an article proposing a different location for Casivellaunus’ stronghold, claims the eastern ditches to be merely a natural feature and the enclosure therefore nonexistant..
The Wheathampstead Devil’s Dyke and the St. Albans Beech Bottom Dyke are amongst the more major earthworks in Britain.

It is postulated that the Wheathampstead/Verulamium complex declined in political and military importance with a transfer of Catuvellaunian power from this centre to Camulodunum during the first quarter of the first century AD (Wheeler 1936). The extensive linear earthworks observed at Verulamium could then be considered precursors of the developments at Camulodunum (Cunliffe 1991).

The pottery and a brooch found by Wheeler are dated to the pre-Augustan phase of the Late Iron Age (Bryant 2007; Haselgrove 1997).


Nom usuel : Wheathampstead

Commune : Wheathampstead

Lieu-dit : -

Nom antique : -

Département : Hertfordshire

Région : East

Pays : Royaume-Uni

Civitas : Catuvellauni


Superficie : 40 ha

Topographie :  Enceinte de contour

Nb de phases du rempart : 1

Nb de portes connues : -

Nb de portes fouillées : -

Architecture de rempart : 


Voirie place


Agglomération | Habitat rural | Nécropole | Tombe aristocratique


Chronologie relative :  LT D2

Occupation du site : 
La Tène finale (LT D)

Chronologie absolue : -


Bryant S., Central places or special places? The origins and development of ‘oppida’ in Hertfordshire, in C. Haselgrove and T. Moore (eds), The later Iron Age in Britain and beyond. Oxford, Oxbow, 2007, 62-80.
Bryant S., Niblett R., The late Iron Age of Hertfordshire and the North Chilterns, in A. Gwilt and C. Haselgrove (eds), Reconstructing Iron Age Societies. Oxford, (Oxbow Monograph 71), 1997, 270-81.
Collis J.R., Defended sites of the Late La Tène in Central and Western Europe, (British Archaeological Reports, Intl. Ser. 2), Oxford, 1976.
Cunliffe B., Book of Iron Age Britain, Batsford/English Heritage, 1995.
Cunliffe B., Iron Age communities in Britain, An account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest, Routledge, London and New York, 2005 (4th edition).
Dyer J.F., Ravensburgh Castle, Hertfordshire, in D.W. Harding (ed.), Hillforts, Later prehistoric Earthworks in Britain and Ireland, Academic Press, London, 1976.
Harding D.W., The Iron Age in Lowland Britain, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and Boston, 1974.
Haselgrove C., Millett M., Verlamion reconsidered, in A. Gwilt and C. Haselgrove (eds), Reconstructing Iron Age Societies. Oxford, (Oxbow Monograph 71), 1997, 283-96.
Niblett R., Verulamium The Roman City of St.Albans, Tempus, 2001.
Rodwell W., Coinage, Oppida and the rise of Belgic power in south-eastern England (Appendix IV), in Cunliffe B., Rowley T., Oppida : the Beginnings of Urbanisation in Barbarian Europe, (British Archaeological Reports, suppl. series 11), Oxford, 1976, 181-366.
Wheeler R.E.M., Verulamium, A Belgic and two Roman Cities, (Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London No 11), Oxford, 1936.
Wheeler R.E.M., A Prehistoric Metropolis: the first Verulamium, Mortimer Wheeler, 1932.


L'oppidum de Wheathampstead est en partie accessible. Les vestiges des remparts forment une  importante levée de terre de 470m de long, 40m de large et 12m de profondeur appelée « the Devil's Dyke ».  D'autres structures défensives ont disparu.  

À l'entrée du site se trouve un petit parking qui marque le début d'un sentier de randonnée  de 7km qui suit les fortifications. Des panneaux d'information évoquent  la prise de l'oppidum par César et le don du site par la reine en 1937 à un lord local.

Des objets de Wheathampstead sont exposés au musée Verulamium de Saint Albans : http://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/Sites/Verulamium-Museum

(Camille Daval – ArchéoMédia, avril 2008)



Pip Stephenson / Colin Haselgrove