The Abandonment of Danebury Ring and other Hillforts

Text by Barry Cunliffe

At some moment in the period 100-50 BC the gate of Danebury Ring was burned, groups of bodies were thrown into charnel pits and most of the population departed from the protection of the defences. Whether or not these events were interlinked is a problem for consideration below. The aftermath saw Danebury still in use but compared with the intensity of occupation in the previous centuries the scene now would have looked very different. There were no gates, but there was a deeply-worn road, winding between the eroding hornworks to the interior of the enclosure where one of the old shrines probably continued in use.

Some sort of community still lived close by but the streets were deserted, the granaries decayed and gone, and where there were once densely packed houses behind the ramparts, silt had obscured everything and bushes were growing. Much of the interior was probably grazed by flocks and herds. By the beginning of the first century AD the settlement, probably nothing more than a single farm, had moved from the centre of the fort to occupy a more sheltered position against the southern rampart where it was to last for a few more decades before the small community eventually deserted the site.

The abandonment of hillforts in the decades following 100 BC seems to have been a widespread phenomenon in much of south-eastern England. Why this should have occurred remains obscure but it was a time of rapid social, economic and political change brought about by the sudden resurgence of overseas trade genera ted as a bow wave in advance of the gradual Roman annexation of Gaul. In the face of such changes the traditional socio-economic system broke down and hillforts became obsolete over large areas of the south. Many saw sporadic use in Roman, sub-Roman, Saxon and medieval times, but by then they had become grass-grown ruins- reminders to succeeding generations of a short-lived but remarkable period in the British past.

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