The cantonal city of the Dumnonii, the Iron Age tribes inhabiting the modern counties of Cornwall, Devon, and West Somerset. The city was named from the river Exe, Celtic Eisca, Wysc, meaning river abounding in fish. The position is given in road-books in the 2d c.: Antonine Itinerary, Iter XV, in the Peutinger Table fragment, and is twice mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography. Excavation has demonstrated that the site began as a Claudian military post, a fort, probably of 2.4 ha, S of the later city and supplemented by a lookout fortlet on the crest of Stoke Hill, 3.2 km NE. About A.D. 47-48 this was replaced by a legionary fortress, probably the headquarters of the Second Augustan legion. Remains of roads, timber barracks, workshops, officers' houses and an imposing stone bath building have recently been identified in the center of Exeter. A reduction in the garrison took place during the reign of Vespasian, when the caldarium of the baths and the barracks were altered. By A.D. 80 there was a general military withdrawal from the SW consequent on the need to garrison Wales and the North, and the fortress was converted for civilian use. The military bath house became part of the municipal offices with a new entrance and an extensive forum. New public baths, of which a plunge bath in the frigidarium and a stone conduit for the waste have been located, were built on an adjacent site.
The defenses, a rampart and ditch with stone gates, were begun after A.D. 160 and supplemented by a massive stone wall during the early 3d c. The 3.2 km circuit of the wall mostly survives, apart from the gates, enclosing a city of 36.8 ha. The Roman masonry consists of a facing of rectangular blocks of local volcanic stone on a core of grouted rubble 3 m thick; a chamfered plinth indicates the Roman ground level. Bastions were added in mediaeval times, and there is much later repair with different stone.
The road grid, only partly known, is irregular because of the hilly character of the interior. Little is known of domestic buildings; 10 tessellated pavements have been recorded but fragments of only two with geometric designs survive. Trade with the Mediterranean in the 3d c. is indicated by Alexandrian coins, and the existence of a Christian community by a Chi-Rho inscribed on a cooking-pot sherd.
The forum was in disuse by A.D. 375 and the coin series ends effectively with Gratian A.D. 383. Finds of imported amphorae show that part of the municipal offices were altered and occupied into the 5th or 6th c. It is likely that an impoverished city was still inhabited when the Saxons arrived in the mid 7th c. The finds are in a museum in Rougemont House, Exeter.
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