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Exeter is a historic city in Devon, England. It is the county town of Devon and as such is home to Devon County Council. Its current formal status is as a non-metropolitan district, and it is therefore under the jurisdiction of the County Council as well as lying within the ceremonial county of Devon. It is located on the River Exe and is approximately 37 miles (60 km) northeast of Plymouth, and 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Bristol. The city had a population of 111,076 in the 2001 Census.
Exeter was the most south-westerly Roman fortified settlement in Britain and has existed since time immemorial. Exeter Cathedral, founded in 1050 is Anglican.
Exeter has been identified as one of the top ten most profitable locations for a business to be based. The city has good transport links, with Exeter St David's railway station, Exeter Central railway station, the M5 motorway and Exeter International Airport connecting the city both nationally and internationally. Although a popular tourist destination, the city is not dominated by tourism.
The favourable location of Exeter, on a dry ridge of land ending in a spur that overlooks a navigable river that was teeming with fish, and with fertile land nearby, suggests that it would have been a site that was occupied early. The discovery of coins dating from the Hellenistic period in the city indicates the existence of a settlement that was trading with the Mediterranean region as early as 250 BC.
The Latin name for Exeter, Isca Dumnoniorum ("Isca of the Dumnones"), suggests that the city was of Celtic origin. This oppidum, (a Latin term meaning an important town), on the banks of the River Exe certainly existed prior to the foundation of the Roman city in about AD 50, however the name may have been suggested by a Celtic adviser to the Romans, rather than by the original inhabitants of the place.
Such early towns, or proto-cities, had been a feature of pre-Roman Gaul as described by Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico ("Commentaries on the Gallic Wars") and it is possible that they existed in neighbouring Great Britain as well. Isca is derived from a Brythonic Celtic word for flowing water, which was given to the Exe and, elsewhere, to the River Usk on which Caerleon in Monmouthshire stands. The Romans gave the city the name Isca Dumnoniorum in order to distinguish it from Isca Augusta, modern Caerleon.
Significant parts of the Roman wall remain, though most of the visible structure is later. Most of its route can be traced on foot. A substantial Roman baths complex was excavated in the 1970s, but because of its proximity to the cathedral, it was not practicable to retain the excavation for public view. Exeter was also the southern starting point for the Fosse Way Roman road.
More than 1,000 Roman coins have been found in the city indicating its importance as a trading centre. The dates of these coins suggest that the city was at its most prosperous in the first half of the fourth century. However, virtually no coins dated after 380AD have been found, suggesting a rapid decline.
After the Romans left Britain in the early 5th century nothing is known of Exeter for almost 300 years, until around 680 when a document about St Boniface reports that he was educated at the Abbey in Exeter.
The Saxons arrived in Exeter after defeating the Britons at the Battle of Peonnum in Somerset in 658. It is likely that amongst the ruins of the Roman city there was plenty of room for both peoples, and the Saxons allowed the Britons to continue to live in their own quarter of the city under their own laws. This was almost certainly in the same area as the ancient British settlement in the locality of the present-day Bartholomew Street. Until 1637 this street was known as Britayne in memory of the fact that it was once the British quarter.
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