defending an area of about 12 acres (4.8 hectares). It was followed after half a century by a 1,750-foot-long (537-meter) bank barrow, crossing the center of the fort from east to west. About 1,000 years later settlers built burial mounds on the site, after which it seems to have been abandoned for some time.

After about 700 b.c. various tribes settled Britain, and most of the southwestern region now known as Somerset and Dorset was occupied by the Durotriges. They secured their lands against rival tribes with hill forts: such places as Hambledon Hill, Hod Hill, South Cadbury, Spettisbury Rings, and of course Maiden Hill, which some scholars suggest was their capital. Around 600 b.c. these Iron Culture settlers incorporated the existing earthworks into their own defenses—an earth rampart augmented by a timber palisade—enclosing about 15 acres (6 hectares) at the east end of the saddleback. There was continual growth: limestone walls were added to parts of the ramparts, and it seems that around 450 b.c. a westward extension was constructed. Sometime before the third century b.c., the encircling fortifications were enlarged, and entrances with double gates were constructed at the east and west ends; the entire hilltop—some 45 acres (18.2 hectares)—was secured. The height of the earth walls was increased, perhaps late in the second century b.c., and yet another rampart and ditch were built around the perimeter. Further enlargement took place a century later. Although it may be that not all Dorset hill forts were continuously occupied, and that some were simply used as havens in times of danger, evidence suggests that Maiden Hill was a permanent settlement, and at the middle of the first century a.d. perhaps 5,000 people were living within what they believed to be the safety of its walls. There were made streets, and archeologists have discovered graves, storage pits, and other pits for refuse—it might be said, sanitary landfill.

The Romans launched a full-scale invasion of Britain in a.d. 43, moving westward across the country. The Roman historian Suetonius claims that twenty of the southwest hill forts fell quickly to the II Augusta Legion, come from Strasbourg under the general Titus Flavius Vespasianus (later to become Emperor Vespasian). They reached Maiden Castle within the year. The Durotriges were renowned warriors, accustomed to hand-to-hand combat. At longer range, they used slings and were prepared to defend their town with them: ammunition dumps within the ramparts held a reserve of 40,000 large pebbles brought from Chesil Beach. The Romans chose to turn their war machines against the well-defended east gate, defended by slingers on its four ramparts. Overwhelmed by the weight of numbers and the superior tactics and weapons technology of the invaders—especially the catapults that launched missiles from beyond the slingers’ range—Maiden Castle surrendered, although not before offering savage resistance.

After three millennia the huge, spectacular hill fort had become obsolete, and it was abandoned within about thirty-five years. Many of the former inhabitants moved to the new Roman town of Durnovaria (Dorchester), others to the century-old Celtic village in the shadow of Maiden Castle. In about A.D. 370 the Romans built a temple in the precincts of the fort, but it too was abandoned when they withdrew from Britain only 100 years later. The site is now maintained and managed by English Heritage.

Further reading

Peddie, John. 1987. Invasion: The Roman Conquest of Britain. New York: Saint Martin’s.

Sharples, Niall M. 1991. Maiden Castle. London: Batsford/English Heritage.

Wheeler, R. E. M. 1943. Maiden Castle, Dorset. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Maillart’s bridges

The Swiss engineer, architect, and artist Robert Maillart (1872–1940) exploited the structural strength and expressive potential of reinforced concrete to generate a modern form for his bridges. By using simple construction concepts he developed graceful structures based on flat or curved reinforced concrete slabs. Amongst his radically innovative ideas were the mushroom slab, the deck-stiffened arch, the open three-hinged arch, and the hollow-box arch. Maillart’s biographer David Billington (1997, 2) asserts that the engineer’s “elegance arose from structure itself and not from an extraneous idea of beauty.”