Colchester: Britain's First City

Colchester - Why Britain's First City?

In AD49 Colchester was the first place in Britain to be given the status of a Roman Colonia.

A Colonia was a planned settlement for retired veteran soldiers who became citizens of Rome upon discharge, with all the privileges that Roman citizenship afforded. This meant Colchester acted as a focal point for “Roman-ness” in the new province of Britannia and a beacon for transmitting Roman civilisation and values throughout the province. Which is why it was a target for destruction during the revolt against Roman rule led by Queen Boudica in AD60.

The status of being a Colonia can be likened to city status now – certainly the Romans saw Colchester as in the top category of settlements in Roman Britain. In fact, Colchester was also the first capital of Roman Britain, until after the Boudican revolt when the title passed to London.

Camulodunum - Britain's First City

Britain's Oldest Recorded Town or Britain's First City?

Balkerne Gate


As far as we know Colchester’s status as a Colonia, awarded by the Emperor Claudius, has never been revoked. So, while it has yet to achieve modern city status, Colchester's historic claim to be both Britain's first city and the former capital of Britain is genuine and  both a great source of pride to present-day residents and a unique draw for visitors to the town.

In addition, Colchester has long been known as Britain's oldest recorded town, based on a reference by the Roman writer, Pliny the Elder. In around AD77 while describing the island of Anglesey, he wrote that ‘it is about 200 miles from Camulodunum a town in Britain'.

Camulodunum, ‘fortress of the War God Camulos’, was the celtic name for Colchester later adopted by the Romans, making this the first known literary reference to any named settlement in this country.

Pliny died in AD79, one of the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii.

Colchester Through the Ages

Of course, Colchester’s long history predates both AD77 and AD49; a major settlement was present here during the Iron Age over 2000 years ago. The most powerful Iron Age tribal leader Cunobelin (Shakespeare’s Cymbeline) described by the Romans as ‘King of The Britons’, ruled from Camulodunum. Making Colchester the capital of the pre-Roman Britain as well.

Iron Age and Roman Camulodunum literally laid the foundations for today’s modern Colchester, where the visitor can explore over 2000 years of history and a place central to Iron Age tribalism, Roman rule, Saxon and Viking invasion, the Norman Conquest, Magna Carta, Peasants Revolt, the Black Death, the cloth trade, the Reformation and the Civil War!

Colchester Castle