Built on a spur of land bordered by the River Avon, Vespasian's Camp hillfort offered a strongly defensive position, a place of safety in times of trouble.
Despite its name, Vespasian's Camp has no connection with Roman history. In Elizabethan times, William Camden, one of the first people to tour and describe ancient sites, gave the hillfort its name after the emperor Vespasian who subjugated the south-west of England during the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43.
Living in the hillfort
There are suggestions that this riverside location was important before the Iron Age. Excavations have found Neolithic pits, and in the early Bronze Age, some barrows were built on the hill. Recent excavations have led to the discovery of an ancient spring within the hillfort and to suggestions that this location may have been an important part of the Stonehenge ritual landscape.
The Iron Age hillfort has massive earthen ramparts with an entrance at the north end, and possibly one at the south. It was constructed in about 500 BC. A metre-thick layer of domestic waste demonstrates that it was intensively occupied following the construction of the ramparts.
In Later Times
In the 18th century the hillfort became part of the landscaped gardens of the Marquess of Queensberry's house at Amesbury Abbey, later known as the Antrobus Estate. This new phase included landscaping the hillfort with tree planting, ornamental walks, vistas and a grotto.
Today, trees and shrubs cover Vespasian's Camp. This legacy from the garden phase of its history is now a listed Grade II* park and garden.