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Pre-history gives way to the Romans

The Iron Age (800 BC to AD43) saw the introduction of working with iron, a stronger and more durable material than the copper alloys used in the preceding Bronze Age. During the later Bronze Age and Iron Age, the Fens east of Peterborough continued to grow wetter.  Reed swamps gradually enveloped the old burial mounds perched on the fen edge and small fen islands, and eventually the Flag Fen timber platform was submerged. The layers of peat, clay and silt laid down in wet conditions protected these remains, hiding them from view until modern times.

Photo of an Iron Age dug out found in the mud below the River Nene near Town BridgeIron Age people worked the landscape more intensively than their predecessors; their ploughs could cope with heavier soils and their settlements were larger and more numerous. Around Peterborough were clusters of timber-built, thatched, round dwellings surrounded by small fields or paddocks. Such 'open' settlements used mixed farming methods, relying heavily on livestock such as cows and sheep. However, discarded animal bones found at an Iron Age settlement site in the Fengate area in the 1970s showed that wild animals such as deer and otter, and wildfowl including swan, pelican, crane and stork, were caught in the surrounding Fens.

Late Iron Age Britain was divided into distinct tribal areas or kingdoms. Peterborough lay between the Catuvellauni to the south and the Corieltauvi to the north, with the Iceni to the east. After their arrival on the south coast in AD43, the Roman army pushed north.

An interpretation of the Longthorpe Roman fortressSouthern tribes such as the Catuvellauni and Iceni generally adapted more readily to Roman rule than those of the north. In AD60, however, when Rome attempted to exert greater control over their 'client kingdom', the Iceni revolted. Led by Boudicca, the Iceni and other tribes 'had no thought of taking prisoners or selling them as slaves but only of slaughter, the gibbet, fire and cross.'

The main north-south route of eastern Roman Britain, Ermine Street, ran through the Peterborough area. Another major Roman route, the Fen Causeway - actually a system of roads, causeways and canals - ran across the fens from Norfolk. A fort was built to guard Ermine Street's crossing of the Nene at Water Newton, and a larger fort was constructed at Longthorpe. It is possible that it was from the Longthorpe fort that the ill- fated Ninth Legion set out to relieve Boudiccas siege of Colchester. Tacitus, the Roman historian, describes their infamous defeat and the survivors' hasty retreat to the safety of their fortification.