In the run-up to the publication of my novel, An Accidental King, set in southern England in the 1st Century AD, I have already begun exploring some of the places (Fishbourne Roman Palace, the temple on Hayling Island, Rome itself) that will feature in the book. A significant part of the action, however, will take place in Norfolk, and for good reason. It is the heartland of the Iceni, whose queen, known to history as Boudicca (although it is unclear whether this is a name or a title) instigated the revolt of 60/61 AD, in the course of which Britain was almost lost to the Roman Empire.
Judging from the amount of Iron Age gold-work that has been found in Norfolk, the Iceni seem to have been among the wealthiest of the British tribes, a wealth that was undoubtedly based on agriculture, but also, perhaps, on the breeding and raising of high-quality horses (the horse features on almost all Iceni coins, and bridle fittings are found on many sites). Prior to the revolt, the Iceni are recorded as having been Roman allies, but clearly something happened to change this (a theme to which I will return at a later date).
I knew, when I started researching the book in 2009, that the relationships between the Iceni, the other tribes of Southern England, and the Roman administration would be a key theme, and that, consequently, Norfolk would feature quite prominently. John Davies's book, The Land of Boudica (Oxbow Books), was a useful starting point for my research. The location of the Iceni capital prior to the revolt is unknown. Stonea Camp, in modern Cambridgeshire, is one possibility, but I was drawn to another place, in the heart of Norfolk itself, the modern village of Thetford. There are two sites, within a short walking distance of each other, which seem to have had particular significance during the Iron Age. Both are places that the woman who became "Boudicca" is likely to have known well, and I am using them as the settings for some of the most dramatic scenes in the novel.
The first is Thetford Castle. The castle itself (of which only the motte - an artificial mound - survives) dates to the early years of the Norman occupation of England, but it is surrounded by the massive banks and ditches of an earlier hill-fort. This probably pre-dates the Roman invasion by several centuries, but I decided to explore the notion that it may have retained some significance, and been used for certain ceremonies.
The second is at Gallows Hill, to the west of the modern village. Nothing can be seen of this site today, but excavations by Tony Gregory in the 1980s revealed an enclosure which, in its final phase (perhaps around 50 AD, mid-way between the Roman invasion and the revolt) had three buildings within a rectangular enclosure, surrounded by an artificial "thicket" or "grove."
Nearby is a third site which, perhaps more surprisingly, will also feature in the novel. I first visited the Neolithic flint-mines of Grime's Graves as a Cambridge undergraduate thirty years ago but, when I revisited in the course of my research, I found that some of the mine-shafts had been re-opened during the Late Iron Age or Early Roman period and, since I was in search for a location for a particular scene, this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
More photographs (coins, gold torcs, sites) relevant to this post can be seen at http://pinterest.com/markpatton/norfolk-the-heartland-of-the-iceni.
Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.