Isca Dumnoniorum (now Exeter, Devon), roughly 'River of the Dumnonii', is a Roman frontier town and port in Dumnonian territory. The Latin element of its name distinguishes it from another Isca, Isca Silurium (usually called Isca Augusta; now Caerleon, Wales.) It is apparently not the Tribal Dun of the Dumnonii, which is named in Outcast as Uxella.
- 126 CE (The Eagle of the Ninth) – Uprising against the fort; settlement is razed.
- 129 CE (The Eagle of the Ninth) – Rebuilding begins.
- c. 146 CE (Outcast) – Beric comes to join the Eagles; ships out on the Clio for Rome.
- c. 480 CE (Sword at Sunset) – Unoccupied by Cador of Dumnonia in favour of a private Dun.
- The river [Exe, unnamed in the books]
- The Red Mount, hill on which the fort and town are built
- The fort
- British earthworks, turf ramparts, gates and gate towers, ditch, bridge, cleared ground
- The usual assortment of streets and buildings
- The native quarter, south of the fort in 126, west in 146
- The Golden Tree, a tavern
- The fort, 126 CE
- Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila (commander)
- Fourth Gaulish Cohort, Second Augustan Legion
- Centurion Quintus Hilarion (commander)
- Centurion Drusillus
- Centurion Paulus
- Centurion Galba
- Centurion Fulvius
- Surgeon Aulus
- The Quartermaster
- Dacian Horse, Second Augustan Legion
- Centurion Herpinius (temporary commander)
- Centurion Cassius (commander)
- Third Gaulish Cohort, Second Augustan Legion
- Locals, 126 CE
- Locals, c. 146 CE
- The fat woman in pink, keeper of the Golden Tree
The Eagle of the Ninth (126 CE) Edit
Isca Dumnoniorum is the first command of Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila, where he receives the injury that forces him out of the Legions.
- (1) The road topped a gentle rise, and suddenly Isca Dumnoniorum lay before them, with the fortress-crowned Red Mount dark with shadows against the evening sky;
- (1) The British town was spread below the southern scarp of the Mount; a sprawling huddle of reed-thatched roofs, every colour from the gold of honey to the black of dried peat, according to the age of the thatch; with the squared, clean lines of the Roman forum and basilica looking oddly rootless in their midst; and the faint haze of woodsmoke lying over all.
- (1) The road led straight through the town and up to the cleared slope beyond, to the Praetorian gate of the fort; here and there, crimson- or saffron-cloaked men turned to look at the cohort as it swung by, a look that was reserved rather than hostile. Dogs sat scratching in odd corners, lean pigs rooted among the garbage piles, and women with bracelets of gold or copper on very white arms sat in hut doorways, spinning, or grinding corn. The blue smoke of many cooking-fires curled up into the quiet air, and the savoury smell of many evening meals mingled with the blue reek of woodsmoke and the sharper tang of horse-droppings, which Marcus had by now come to associate with all British towns. Little that was Roman was here as yet, despite the stone-built forum. One day there would be straight streets, he supposed, and temples and bathhouses and a Roman way of life. But as yet it was a place where two worlds met without mingling: a British town huddled under the dominion of the turf ramparts where once the tribe had had its stronghold and now the Roman sentries paced up and down. He looked about him under the curve of his helmet as he marched, knowing that this place would be part of his life for the next year; then looked up to the turf ramparts, and saw a Roman banner drooping in the still air and the tall crest of a sentry burning in the sunset, and heard a trumpet-call ring out, as it seemed, from the fiery sky.
- (1) It was several hours since Marcus had marched his Cohort across the hollow-ringing bridge, answering the sentry’s challenge, “Fourth Gaulish Auxiliaries of the Second Legion, come to relieve this garrison.” Dinner was over, in the officers’ mess, with the Quartermaster, the Surgeon, and the double complement of ranker Centurions. Marcus had taken charge of the pay-chest keys—in a garrison as small as this there was no paymaster; and for the past hour, here in the Commander’s quarters in the Praetorium, he and Hilarion had been going through the office work of the frontier fort.
- (1) Marcus watched them go, out across the ditch and downhill between the crowding hovels of the native town whose reed-thatched roofs were gold-dusted by the morning sun.
- (2) Before many days had passed, Marcus had slipped so completely into the life of the frontier fort that it seemed as though he had never known any other. The plan of all Roman forts was much the same, and the pattern of life lived in them, so that knowing one meant knowing them all, whether it was the stone-built camp of the Praetorian Guard itself, or a baked mud fort on the Upper Nile, or this one at Isca Dumnoniorum, where the ramparts were of rammed turf, and the Cohort Standard and the officers were all housed together in one small square of wattle-and-daub buildings round a colonnaded courtyard. But after a few days Marcus began to know the individualities that made every camp different, after all, from every other; and it was these differences, rather than the samenesses, that made him feel at home in Isca. An artist of some long-departed garrison had scratched with his dagger a beautiful leaping wild cat on the bathhouse wall, and someone less gifted had scratched a very rude picture of a Centurion he had not liked; you could tell that it was a Centurion, by the vine-staff and the Centurion’s mark > scored beneath it. There was a martin’s nest under the eaves of the shrine where the Standard was housed, and an odd and untraceable smell behind Number Two storehouse. And in one corner of the officers’ courtyard, some past Commander, homesick for the warmth and colour of the South, had planted a rosebush in a great stone wine-jar, and already the buds were showing crimson among the dark leaves. That rosebush gave Marcus a sense of continuance; it was a link between him and those who had been before him, here on the frontier, and the others who would come after. It must have been there a long time, and it was becoming pot-bound; he thought that in the autumn he would see about having a proper bed made for it.
- (2) As he threaded his way among the crowding huts beyond the forum, it struck Marcus again how untouched this place was by Rome. The Tribe found the forum and basilica useful to hold their markets in. One or two men had laid aside their hunting-spears to become Roman officials, occasionally one even saw a Roman tunic. There were wineshops everywhere, the craftsmen of the town made things to please the garrison, and everybody else sold them dogs, skins, vegetables, and fighting cocks, while the children scrambled after the Auxiliaries for denarii. But all the same, here in Isca Dumnoniorum, Rome was a new slip grafted on to an old stock—and the graft had not yet taken.
- (2) Marcus was turning over in his mind the question of getting in extra grain supplies when he arrived at the appointed meeting ground, a wide stretch of level land in the curve of the river, to find the other waiting for him. Cradoc flung up an arm in greeting as he appeared from the woodshore, and springing into the chariot, turned the team and came thundering towards him through the swaying fern at a gallop.
- (2) Cradoc’s hand caressed the smooth shaft. “It was my father’s war-spear,” he said. “It was in his hand when he died—up yonder under our old ramparts where the fortress walls stand now. See, the mark is still upon it…his own blood, and the blood of his enemy.” He parted the heron’s feathers to show the neck of the shaft blackened by an old stain.
- (3) “The sentries on the south rampart report sounds of movement between us and the town, sir.”
- (3) Then the sounds came again, and with the sounds, blurred forms moved suddenly on the darkness of the open turf below the ramparts.
- (3) The attack came with a silent uprush of shadows that swarmed in from every side, flowing up to the turf ramparts with a speed, an impetus that, ditch or no ditch, must have carried them over into the camp if there had been only the sentries to bar the way. They were flinging brushwood bundles into the ditch to form causeways; swarming over, they had poles to scale the ramparts, but in the dark nothing of that could be seen, only a flowing up and over, like a wave of ghosts.
- (3) The attack was thundering on the gates, pouring in over the dead in the ditch with a mad courage that took no heed of losses. In the gate towers the archers stood loosing steadily into the heart of the press below them. The acrid reek of smoke and smitch drifted across the fort from the Dexter Gate, which the tribesmen had attempted to fire.
- (3) The second attack drew off at last, leaving their dead lying twisted among the trampled fern.
- (3) [signal towers] In the pause that followed, eyes and hearts were strained with a sickening intensity toward those distant hills. A long, long pause it seemed; and then a shout went up from the watchers, as, a day’s march to the east, a faint dark thread of smoke rose into the air.
- (3) Barely an hour later, word came back to Marcus from the northern rampart that the missing patrol had been sighted on the track that led to the Sinister Gate.
- (4) The British town a smoking ruin and the little fields salted by order of the relief force Commander. (Wattle-and-daub huts were easily rebuilt, and salted fields would bear again in three years, but not all the years in eternity would bring back the young men of the tribe, he thought, and was surprised to find that he cared.)
- (4) “I think there will be no more trouble in these parts,” Marcus said. “Centurion Maximus took good care of that.”
“Ah, you mean the burned villages and salted fields? A punitive expedition is never pretty.”
- (21) Uncle Aquila looked up again from mending the broken pen. “Oh, by the way. I have a piece of news that may interest you, if you have not heard it already. They are rebuilding Isca Dumnoniorum.”
Beric, a Roman orphan adopted by a Dumnonian family, arrives in Roman territory at Isca when he is exiled from his tribe at sixteen. Though the dating of this book is somewhat inconsistent, the burning of Isca, presumably that of The Eagle of the Ninth, is said to have been about twenty years earlier.
- (2) ‘What have I to do with the Red Crests, that I should go to them now? You are my people, my own people, by hearth fire and bread and salt, and I will not go to Isca Dumnoniorum and learn a trade; I will learn to be a hunter and a warrior with the rest of my kind.’
- (4) THREE days later, in the first fading of the spring twilight, Beric stood before the north gateway of Isca Dumnoniorum, watching the few people who still came and went through the archway, wanting to go in himself, but hesitating, wary as a wild animal that scents a trap. The battlemented walls of the frontier town looked unpleasantly strong, as though once inside there might be no getting out again … . But that was stupid, of course, and he could not stand here all night. A man went past him leading a string of three ponies with bales of merchandise on their backs, and Beric straightened his shoulders and, joining the tail of the string, followed it in under the massive arch, past the men in leather tunics and steel caps, with long spears in their hands, who stood on guard there.
Just within the gates he came to another halt. So this was a town! A town such as his own people built! His first impression was of straight lines everywhere, straight walls and roof-edges, a long street running away from him straight as a spear-shaft until it lost itself in a confusion of deepening shadows. And the people! The shifting, busy, many-coloured crowd!
- (4) He turned in towards it, but where the few houses ended under the shoulder of the little hill, halted again, looking up the steep flinted road that lifted between vegetable plots to the gate of the fort. He had seen the fort from a long way outside the town, but somehow it had not looked so large and formidable as it did now: a lean, red, frowning fort, its gate-towers sharp edged against a watered sky. [...] In the gathering shadows the fort seemed to crouch, watchful and faintly menacing, on its hill-top.
- (4) This was the place where the Tribe had risen against the Eagles, a few years before he was born. The Eagles had been too strong for them, and they had been beaten back, with the loss of many men, so that even to-day there were thin places in the Men’s Side of the frontier Clans.
- (4) For a long time he wandered about Isca Dumnoniorum. He found parts of the town that were only half built, so that he realized afresh that this was a new town rising from the blackened ruins of the old one that had been burned down after the rising. He looked in at lamplit shops where they sold red pottery, or loaves, or goldsmith’s work that seemed to him most beautiful, or leather goods, or meat. How odd to buy meat instead of hunting for it, he thought. He caught glimpses of lantern-lit courtyards where men strolled about or lounged at tables and women were going round with wine-jars. Those must be wine-shops; he had heard of such places. In one he saw a man sitting, with a great crimson-crested helmet on the bench beside him, and stopped to stare his fill. The soldiers at the gate had had only steel caps with a knob on top; this was his first real Red Crest.
- (4) [the forum] Presently he found himself again in the centre of the town, standing on the edge of an open square surrounded by colonnades, from the far side of which rose a building that seemed to him huge almost past believing.
- (4) Beric went with him thankfully down the sloping street to the West Gate, the River Gate, which was still open, though the other gates of the town had been shut since dark. ‘The River Gate stays open most of the night; that’s because half the town is outside it,’ his companion told him. And after a cheerful exchange of insults with the guard, in the unknown tongue which most of Isca Dumnoniorum seemed to speak—but that would be Latin, of course, the tongue of his own people—they passed out through the narrow, lantern-lit archway.
- (4) The half of the town outside the River Gate was not the respectable half; that was clear even to Beric; but as they plunged into the maze of narrow ways, instantly he was more at home than he had been in the respectable half within the walls. It was a mere huddle of turf-and-timber bothies between the town walls and the river, dark save for the occasional gleam of a fire-lit doorway. Poor quarter; seamen’s quarter, but also native quarter; and mingled with the other smells, the familiar smell of wood-smoke and horse-droppings about it, that was the smell of home.
- (4) Now that his eyes were used to the light, and he had leisure to look about him, he saw that the building that enclosed the courtyard was reed-thatched like a British house-place; but right across one plastered wall there was daubed in yellow paint a sprawling tree—that was why the place was called the Golden Tree, he supposed—with many birds in its branches, oddly shaped birds, but jewel-coloured.
- (4) They strolled in a bunch down the twisting alleyway, exchanging a passing word here and there with others of their kind, and came out on the river bank, where a rough jetty thrust out into the water.
Sword at Sunset (c. 480 CE) Edit
Isca is mentioned during a visit to Dumnonia, but no scenes of the story are set there. It is perhaps the port from which Artos sails to Gaul.
- (4) Well before spring had given place to summer, I and my small band were in Dumnonia, and lodged with Cador the Prince, while we waited for a ship. I had thought to find him in the old frontier town of Isca Dumnoniorum, or at his summer capital on the Tamara River; but it seemed that Cador had as little liking for cities as have the Saxons, and so those few waiting days were spent up on the skirts of the high moors where he had his Dun with his warriors and his women and his wealth of cattle gathered about him, like any wild Hibernian chieftain.