The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Segontium Roman Fort, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, Wales

Segontium (Barrack Blocks) by Alan Fryer (Wikipedia)

Segontium Roman Fort(Barrack Blocks) by Alan Fryer (Wikipedia)

    OS grid reference: SH 4854 6243. The fort of Segontium lies in a well-defended position at the tip of a ridge between the rivers Seiont and Cadnant, some 150 feet above sea-level, commanding wide views of the surrounding area. Today the remains of the Roman fort look down over Caernarfon Castle.  The fort lies on the A4085 road to Beddgelert on the outskirts of Caernarfon.  The name ‘Sego’ is Celtic for ‘strong’, while the Roman name Segontium means ‘forceful river’; the name may, therefore, have links with the names of the two rivers, Seiont and Cadnant. Segontium Roman fort was built in AD 77-78.

    The fort has had an interesting 20th Century history. The site was saved from builders in 1913, excavated by (Sir) Mortimer Wheeler from 1920-23, purchased by a John Robert’s of Caernarfon who was responsible for erecting the museum, and in 1937 willed by him to the National Trust who in 1958 placed it in the guardianship of Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, who also bought the vicarage area of the site to the south – with a view to further excavation. The SE section was subsequently excavated during the year’s 1975 to 1979. Responsibility for the site now lies with CADW the Historic Environment Service of the Welsh Government. The Museum seems to be managed by a local trust Segontium Cyf. There are references on-line to visitors finding it closed. A Guidebook can be bought at other CADW sites including Caernarfon Castle.

Plan of Segontium Roman Fort (after Collingwood, 1930)

Plan of Segontium Roman Fort (after Collingwood, 1930)

    Segontium fort faces south-east. In shape it is an imperfect rectangle with rounded corners 550 ft by 470 ft with four gateways. The buildings within are of a standard pattern with some exceptions and closely packed though a clear space (intervallum) which runs around the foot of the rampart separating the buildings from the wall. The buildings are arranged in three lateral blocks with the administrative buildings in the centre. Like other forts of its date the defences were originally of earth and timber as would have been the buildings. Coins relating to the reign of Edward I show the fort was used as a quarry for the building of Caernarfon Castle. A Roman Road connected Segontium with the legionary fortress at Chester (Deva).

    There are several elements to the visible remains: A wall with backing mound (the original rampart), counterforts on the interior face of the wall, corner turrets, and three gateways – the fourth at the SE having been lost during the laying of the A4085 which crosses the site. The wall dates from about AD 150 and is about 4’ thick at the base. The wall would originally have had a parapet standing in total about 18 feet high. Evidence of the original holes for scaffolding is still visible. The so-called ‘counter forts’ in base of the wall probably allowed access to the parapet via steps or ladders. Some of the turrets are, or would have been solid to carry the weight of a heavy ballista, a spring mechanism to discharge stone balls. The gateways would have been arched to carry the weight of the gatehouse. The gatehouses structure changed over the centuries as threats and needs varied.

    The internal buildings are of various dates though none earlier than 150 AD. Most show a rebuilding phase in the 4th century AD.

Segontium Roman Fort (The Principia) by JThomas (Wikipedia)

Segontium Roman Fort (The Principia) by JThomas (Wikipedia)

    Taking the middle section the Headquarters Building (Principia) succeeded an earlier timber structure. It includes an enclosed courtyard with porticoes and flagging, a roofed assembly hall later subdivided to provide additional office space, and a row of five rooms at the rear – the central room being the regimental chapel where the standard was kept. In the 3rd century an underground strong room was built into the chapel. Also in the 3rd century an apsidal room was added at the back of the building possibly to store fort records as it is the only part of the fort to have a hypocaust. The building seems to have suffered from damp much as some buildings do today. There is evidence that the builders tried to find ways of dealing with this!

    Next to this and to the NW is the Commandants House (Praetorium). Again part of the standard plan. At Segontium the house consisted of rows of rooms opening off porticoes arranged around a small internal courtyard or garden. A room at the rear, which contains a plinth, may have been the base of a shrine. Again traces of the original timber building have been found. Adjoining this building was a large yard and workshop (Fabrica) with a long subdivided shed at the far side.

    On the other side of the Headquarters Building lay two large granaries (Horrea) measuring 90ft by 19ft built to an unusual design without buttresses and the floor beams taking the entire weight of the grain above. The aim was to store a years worth of grain at each fort. The Roman Soldiers staple diet was bread and biscuits.

    There were eight long buildings to the rear at either side of the street leading to the northwest gate. Of these buildings most seem to have been barrack blocks (Centurie). The buildings were much altered over the centuries. A similar building in the NE corner may have been an additional granary or store. It was rebuilt in the 4th century as living accommodation. The barrack blocks are of a common design (an L shape) with the officer accommodation at the end and the long section for the men. Wooden particians would have further divided the walled areas. The intention was to house a century of men (actually 80 men) in each block or two troops of 30 horsemen with their equipment.

Segontium Roman Fort (Bath-House) by Wolfgang Sauber (Wikimedia)

Segontium (the Bath-House) by Wolfgang Sauber (Wikimedia)

    Excavation of the SE corner revealed a surprise. The largest structure was revealed to be a large building with a courtyard, built about AD 140, with en-suite bathhouse. It has been speculated that this was the residence of the Procurator Metallorum who would have been responsible for the extraction of metal ore in the area. The building and bath-house were demolished in the 4th century and replaced by another bath-house complex. Internal bathhouses are a feature of 4th century rebuilding so this in itself was not a surpise. However, it does not seem to have been ever finished in that a hypocaust system was never installed.

    Archaeological investigations have found a flourishing civil settlement (Vicus) outside the camp. An external bath-house has also been found. A walled enclosure built around 200 AD (230 foot by 165 foot) known as Hen Wallen (‘Old Walls’) may have had something to do with Segontium’s role as a port. The remains of this structure can be viewed 300 yards west of the fort along the A4085, turning left at Segontium Road South, then right at Hendre Street. 150 yards east of the fort near the church of St Peblig, a temple of Mithras was excavated in 1959. The building measured 48 foot by 21 foot, was partly dug into a slope, and had a slate roof. Again it dates from about AD 200. Mithras an Eastern Religion was popular amongst soldiers. It promoted the fight for good over evil and assured a life beyond the grave. There are no visible remains of the external bath-house, Temple of Mithras, or the Vicus.

    Taking the historical context Governor Agricola finally defeated the Welsh tribes in Anglesey in an unexpected lightning strike using Auxiliarie Troops, who swam across the Menai Straights with equipment and horses in AD 78. Segontium housed auxiliary troops from about AD 78. The auxiliary troops complimented the legionary troops who were stationed at Chester and Caerleon. Auxiliary troops often retained the traditional fighting skills and arms of their homelands and were not normally Roman citizens – an honour given to them after 25 years service. Auxiliary troops could be infantry usually 500 to 1000 strong or cavalry up to 500 strong.

The Segontium Museum Building by Eric Jones (Wikipedia)

Segontium Museum Building by Eric Jones (Wikipedia)

    The archaeological evidence suggests that at the very least Segontium was intended as a part mounted military cohort, both by its size, and the existence of what appears for some of the time to be an additional granary. In the early period of the occupation the auxiliaries at Segontium would have been detailed to keep the peace and to ensure continued mineral extraction. An inscription from the time of the Emperor Sepitimus Severus AD 193-211 indicates that, by the beginning of the 3rd century, Segontium was garrisoned by 500 men from the Cohors I Sunicorum, which would have originally been levied among the Sunici, who lived in the Rhine-Musse area, now Belguim. The size of the fort continued to reduce through the 3rd and 4th centuries. In the 4th century Segontium’s main role was probably the defence of the north Wales coast against Irish raiders. Coins found at Segontium show the fort was still occupied until at least 394 AD.

    Finally we enter the world of legend covering the late 4th century. Segontium is generally considered to have been listed among the 28 cities of Britain in the History of the Britains traditionally ascribed to Nennius, a 9th century writer, either as Cair Segeint or Custoient – and who stated that an emperor’s inscribed tomb was still present in his day. This monument such as it existed is now ascribed to Constantine, a son of a St Elen, the patron of the Sarn Helen – a series of road networks across Wales. The story of Elen also features in the 12th century Mabinogion Tales featuring one Maximus – in Welsh Macsen Wledig (possibly a reference to the late 4th century Gallic Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus 383-388). According to legend, Macsen saw Elen or Helen in a dream while he slept in Rome or in Wales, then sent out messengers to find her. Some of them eventually reached Snowdonia. Recognising the mountains and valleys Macsen had seen in the dream, they or “he” found Helen.

    Elen his future wife was the daughter of a Welsh chieftain called Eudaf Octavius. The tomb of her son Constantine (Cystennin) is said to have been moved by Edward I. The legend such as it is probably relates to whatever defences were available to the Romano-British peoples’ after the withdrawal of troops in 410 AD – under pressure from Saxon settlers from the east and Irish invaders from the west. A Celtic saint – St Peblig (Publicius) is said to have established a monastery and church at Llanbeblig – in the late 4th century? And St Peblig is recorded as being another son of Elen and Maximus. St Peblig’s remains the parish church for Llanbeblig. The building we see today is essentialy a 14th-century update of an earlier church built close to the Pagan Temple of Mithras and on a Roman graveyard. The tower was added in the 15th and 16th centuries. Other alterations were made in later centuries, including a major restoration in 1894.

Sources:

Segontium Roman Fort, G.C. Boon, Ministry of Public Buidings and Works, 1963

A Guide To The Roman Remains In Britain, Roger J. A. Wilson, Constable, 2002

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kastell_Segontium

Click on:   https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Segontium_-_Therme_1.jpg

Video Link   http://www.dailypost.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/watch-caernarfon-segontium-roman-fort-7570310

 


Haken’s Mound, Preesall, Lancashire

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

   OS grid reference SD 3601 4822. This is one of those strange curiosities that do seem to crop up every so often. Haken’s Mound, also known as ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and ‘The Mount’ is, in fact, the Preesall war memorial near St Oswald’s church on the B5270 Lancaster road. The large, grassy mound always has well-tendered flowers at its entrance and up to the monument, and on top of the large mound there is a substantial memorial cross which commemorates the fallen of the two World Wars. According to ‘the’ local legend and, to some extent “myth” Haken or Haakon, an early 10th century Viking chieftain, who settled half a mile or so up the road at Hakensall in Knott-End-On-Sea, was buried inside the mound that is today known as ‘The Mount”. Whether there is any real truth in this I do not know – we will probably never know. The war memorial is located halfway between St Oswald’s church and the B5377 Stalmine turning, while the very pretty sea-side village of Knott End is half a mile in the opposite direction along Lancaster road.

   The story goes that: At some point in the early 10th century AD Haken, an invading Viking chieftain, sailed up the Wyre estuary (maybe in a longboat) and, just inland between Fleetwood and Knott End, founded a settlement at a place now called Hackensall – today the medieval Hackensall Hall on Whinny Lane (OS grid ref: SD 2874 5394) stands more or less on that site. The original hall (a defensive moated building) was built in 1190 – the building there today is of 1656; it was built by the Fleetwood family. In the 19th century the hall was greatly renovated by Sir James Bourne. According to “the” Legend, it is said from his settlement Haken laid siege to the area, pillaging and murdering, but I feel that here we have much embellishment added to the actual legend itself – and one “must” be very wary of this fact. Conversely, it may be that Haken was simply a seafaring Norseman who had come to the area and wanted to lead a quiet, unassuming life there.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

    As to whether Haken or Haakon was still a pagan I don’t know, but I suppose it’s possible that he was a Christian, or had recently become one? After his death this Viking chieftain was buried nearby and a large mound built over his grave. Today this burial mound near St Oswald’s church, Preesall, is locally called ‘The Mount’ or ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and it still looks very impressive, made more so ‘perhaps’ by the war memorial cross standing on top. Alas, today, there are no visible signs (earthworks) of Haken’s settlement at Hackensall, only Hackensall road and Hackensall Hall are reminders. But we will never know archaeologically whether the Viking chieftain lies buried within the mound, due to the fact that it is protected as a war memorial.

    There are a few historians that have tried to link King Cnut, himself a Norseman, with Knott End with regards to the meaning of the place, but it seems that that is ‘not’ the case as most tend to agree “now” that it takes its name from a “knot”- a hillock that is located above the estuary. This knot or hillock probably refers to the golfcourse above the shoreline at Knott End, just to the north-west of Hackensall Hall. A ghostly horse (boggart) is ‘said’ to haunt the hall.

   In the delightful little book ‘The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way’, by Ian & Krysia Brodie, we are enlightened about the possible meaning of Knott End: “The large sandbank off Knott End is called Bernard’s Wharf – reputedly after St Bernard. Many small birds, including knot and dunlin, feed here in the nutrient-rich mud. One story says Knott End derives from these birds, another that the Norse marked the channel of the Wyre with a chain of knots or cairns, the final one being the Knott End!” There is a church named for St Bernard on Hackensall Road.

   In 1926 a hoard of Roman coins was dug-up in the vicinity of Hackensall Hall, 500 to be precise, which later came to be known as the Hackensall Hoard. The coins were found beneath a stone and had been placed inside a leather bag. “Whilst the bag was originally found to contain around 500 coins, only 339 now have their whereabouts known” (Ian & Krysia Brodie, 1993). Some of the coin hoard was eventually given to The Revoe Museum in Blackpool, while more coins went to museums and galleries across the north-west of England.

   In the work ‘Romans in Lancashire’ by D. C. A. Shotter, we are told of the possibility that the mouth of the Wyre estuary, a safe and sheltered anchorage between Fleetwood and Knott End, was in use as a port in Roman times and that the great Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century AD, referred to it as such: “More important, however, for the present purpose is the reference in Ptolemy to the site which he names as PORTUS SETANTIORUM……this could have been the Roman name for Lancaster; alternatively, many have felt that the site has at some time been overwhelmed by the sea, and lies off the coast at the mouth of the Wyre.”

Sources:

Brodie, Ian & Krysia., The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way, Lancashire County Books, Preston, 1993.

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=39399&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=1306799&district=None&parish=None&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=465&move=n&nor=6188&recfc=4000

http://www.preesalltowncouncil.org/about-preesall.pl

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973.


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The Saxon Shore Forts Of South-East England And East Anglia

Map of The Saxon Shore Forts (Wikipedia)

Map of The Saxon Shore Forts (Wikipedia)

   There were originally 10 or possibly even 11 ‘Saxon Shore Forts’ (Litus Saxonicum) commanded by an officer with the title of ‘Comes litoris Saxonica per Britanniam’ or ‘Count of the Saxon Shore’. Most were built in the late third century though others have an earlier origin. Richborough incorporates older buildings, as does Reculver. Dover was already a militarised site. Nine are referred to in the Notitia Dignitatum, a military text from the late 4th early 5th century. A 10th fort may have existed at Walton Castle, near Felixstowe, but this has now been lost to the sea.

   The forts are all similar in that they are located near sea harbours or river estuaries, suggesting that their purpose was to prevent sea-borne invaders getting inland. Each could support a substantial garrison either infantry or sailors. All are of a similar structure – massive walls with bastions for mounting ballistae and surrounding ditches and, ramparts for extra protection.

    A parallel defence system contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts the Litus Saxonicum exists on the other side of the Channel from Mardyck near Calais to the estuary of the Garonne. However this system is not as close knit with five of these forts not on navigable rivers. Rather the issue here seems to be the defence of key positions rather then a shoreline.

    From the north we have Brancaster (Branodunum) OS grid ref: TF 7821 4404 located between Burnham Market and Hunstanton, covering 6 ½ acres of standard trapezoidal shape, and with walls 9 foot thick of which nothing now remains above ground.

Mid-19th Century Illustration of Burgh Castle (Wikipedia).

Mid-19th Century Illustration of Burgh Castle (Wikipedia).

   Then Burgh Castle (possibly Gariannonum) OS grid ref: TG 4745 0461 is now well back from the sea with walls 11 foot in width and in places still 15 foot in height enclosing 5 acres. Three sides of the walls remain. Six bastions appear to have been added at a later date after the fort was constructed.

    Further south in Essex lies Bradwell (OS grid ref: TM 0313 0810) on the Blackwater Estuary (possibly Othona) with sections of 3 walls originally surviving, one with a bastion.

    On the Watsum River in Kent lies Reculver (Regullium) OS grid ref: TR 2274 6930 which was once on a broad waterway between the Isle of Thanet and the coast, but now sadly eroded by the sea. The walls of this fort were 8 feet thick surrounding an enclosure of standard Roman shape and protected by a ditch and earth rampart. Much has been lost to the sea. Also of note at Reculver are the ruins of a church founded about AD 669 by Egbert, King of Kent. There was a nave 37 feet long and a chancel with an apse. The towers, which remain, were added in the 12th Century.

Richborough Roman/Saxon Fort (photo credit: Midnightblueowl for Wikipedia).

Richborough Roman/Saxon Fort (photo credit: Midnightblueowl -Wikipedia).

   Richborough (Rutupiae) beside the river Stour at (OS grid ref: TR 3245 6018) has perhaps the most imposing remains, and the longest history. It is possible that this is where the Romans landed in AD43 under the command of Aulus Plautius. Defensive ditches have been found enclosing a large area. And 40 years later a marble monument in the form of a triumphal arch 82 feet tall with a façade of Italian granite was erected ‘possibly’ to commem-orate the event. The foundations remain. There is also evidence of occupation in the 2nd Century, when it seems to have been a civilian settlement with temples, an amphitheatre and a mansio (hotel). A fort with earth ramparts with triple ditches remains of which are extent dates from the second half of the third century with a stone walled fort of standard Roman shape and bastions replacing it soon after. At this time also the monument was converted into a look-out post. Finds from archaeological digs are housed in the site museum.

    Dover (Dubris) OS grid ref: TR 3193 4133 lies buried under the modern town (Queen Street) and is more famous for its Pharos (lighthouse) explored elsewhere on this web site. The Fort dates from the 2nd Century – being reused later as part of the ‘Saxon Shore’ defence.

    Lympne (Portus Lemanis) lies on Romney Marsh (on private land) OS grid ref: TR 1170 3420 and is marked by a few walls tilted at odd angles and, an east gate. The fort appears ho have been constructed as an irregular pentagon rather than of the usual trapezoidal shape.

Pevensey Castle Roman Walls (photo credit: Mortimer - for Wikipedia).

Pevensey Castle Roman Walls (photo credit: MortimerCat – for Wikipedia).

   Pevensey (Anderida) OS grid ref: TQ 6388 0504 lies at the mouth of the River Ashbourne in Sussex. Excavations here have shown evidence of wooden buildings. Pevensey is unusual in that the walls defer from the usual square plan into an irregular oval enclosing some 10 acres. The 12-foot thick walls initially look Medieval, but are in fact largely Roman. Bastions were placed at intervals around the wall and still look very imposing today. Not only did the Normans reuse the castle building, a keep on the south eastern side, but it was again reused in the second world war; a pair of machine gun posts can be seen as can a ‘pillbox’ on top of one of the bastions.

    Porchester (Portus Adurni) in Hampshire. On Verne Hill overlooking Portland Harbour OS grid ref: SU 6242 0452, completes the group. Of a square shape the walls have gates on the west and east and a defensive ditch surrounding them. There were originally 20 bastions and 14 survive. Archaeological evidence shows that a high status Anglo Saxon residence was established later within the walls. Again the building seems to have impressed the Normans. They resurfaced the walls and built a keep in the northwest corner. Other buildings followed in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. In the Southwest corner there is also a large church – part of an Augustan Priory built in 1133.

    For most of the 19th and 20th Centuries two theories held sway over the reasons for the development of the Saxon Shore defences. The first was that they were there to control an existing settlement of Saxon migrants (there is some evidence of Saxon settlers in the archaeological records), the second to prevent Saxon marauders from plundering that part of the coast. Whilst this was probably the case with the second half of the 4th Century, it was not really the case with the 3rd Century, and archaeological evidence (coins) now suggests they were built in the late 3rd Century when the Saxons were presenting as troublesome pirates rather then invaders intent on plunder. It is more likely that they were established by the Gallic Emperor Cariusus – mentioned elsewhere on this website. It has also been suggested the forts were established to protect the supply of goods back and forth from and to the continent. All four theories may have merit at different times during the 3rd and 4th Centuries.

Antoninianus Carausius Coin (photo credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. - for Wikipedia).

Antoninianus Carausius Coin c 290 AD (photo credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. – for Wikipedia).

   Carausius reigned from 286 to 293. According to the 4th Century writer Eutropius Carausius was of Belgic origin, had joined the fleet and had rapidly risen through the ranks bringing him to the attention of the Tetrarch – the two emperors and their two assistant Caesars who ruled the Roman world. He was put in charge of dealing with the Saxon Pirates but allegations were made against him that he had been allowing the Saxons to continue their piratical activities apprehending them and seizing their loot for himself. Recalled and fearing the worst he set himself up as Emperor in Northern Gaul and Britain. This theory suggests the forts were built by Carausius to defend his territory against the might of Rome. But the Tetrarch’s resources were stretched and Cariusius was tolerated instead. In 293 the Tetrarchy recovered Northern Gaul weakening Carausius’ position and leading to his assassinated by his Chief Minister, Allectus. Constantius Chlorus took his time but recovered Britain for the Empire in 296/7; Allectus being defeated and killed near Farnham.

    Archaeological evidence shows that during the 4th Century the forts continued in use probably supplanted with a series of signal-stations, which could have provided warnings of incursions, using fire and smoke. When Rome withdrew from Britain at the beginning of the 5th Century the forts fell into disrepair. Internal buildings were mainly of wood so they disintegrated leaving just the walls as a reminder of what had been. 700 years later the walls were still standing and some of the forts were requisitioned by the Normans as defensive positions, as status symbols and, as accommodation for the elite of the new invaders.

Sources: Cottrell, Leonard., ‘The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore’, HMSO, 1964.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Shore

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richborough_Castle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderitum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carausius


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The Old Frontier (Hadrian’s Wall), Scottish Borders, United Kingdom

A section of Hadrian's Wall (photo by Moldovian1 for Wikipedia)

A section of Hadrian’s Wall (photo by Moldovian1 for Wikipedia)

In the Autumn 2008 edition of the magazine ‘Beautiful Britain’ there is an excellent article by the author Jock McKinnon called ‘The Old Frontier’. In this article the author tours Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient Roman frontier that stretches from the Tyne in the east to the Solway Firth in the west, a distance of 80 Roman miles (73 normal British miles!), and he uncovers the history behind the Roman wall and its stones. Here I have “quoted” in full the article which appears in the magazine. Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium), also called the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani, was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, according to Wikipedia.

   “Standing on the stretch of Hadrian’s Wall west of the remains of Housteads Roman fort, it is still possible to imagine a Roman sentry shivering in the cold. Squinting into the distant landscape, he must have wondered what on earth he was doing in such a ‘gods-forsaken’ place, so far from the centre of his ‘civilized’ world. It is an image that has been handed down to British schoolchildren for generations. But who really were the people who built and guarded the Wall? And why was it built? The answers, if they exist at all, lie buried in ancient records as well as in the stones and soil around the Wall.”

   “The story begins with just one line of Hadrian’s biography, which describes the Emperor as ‘the first to build a wall, 80 [Roman] miles long, to separate the Romans from the barbarians’. In 117 AD, Hadrian succeeded the Emperor Trajan, whose conquests had stretched the Roman empire to its furthest reaches, from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the south-east to Scotland in the north-west. It was clear to Hadrian, however, that the empire had just reached its limits. With military resources and communications stretched to their maximum, Hadrian decided to consolidate Roman hegemony by withdrawing wherever necessary to manageable borders. He knew it was more important to be able to control what the empire had conquered rather than attempt to stretch its frontiers further. And so he began a tour of the empire, including Britain, to see the problems for himself.”

McKinnon goes on to say: “Although much of Britain had been subjugated, and revolts by local tribes – such as Boudicca’s – had been brutally put down, it was clear that there was still trouble ‘up north’ caused by ‘insurgents’, to use a modern term, from the northern tribes. Although we do not know the nature of such warfare – no detailed accounts of the fighting exist – we do know that the building of the Wall began immediately after, or even during, Hadrian’s visit to the province, from 122 AD onwards.”

Section of Hadrian's Wall (photo by Velela - for Wikipedia)

Section of Hadrian’s Wall (photo by Velela – for Wikipedia)

    “Stretching 73 miles from Wallsend on the Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west, the Wall and its forts were built from locally quarried stone and made good use of natural features such as Whin Sill, a lengthy rocky outcrop forming a north-facing cliff. A long line of forts also stretched west, down the coast of Cumbria. Wall inscriptions show that construction was mostly undertaken by troops from three legions, one of which – the Six Victrix – had come to Britain with Hadrian himself. The construction project may well have served the additional purposes of keeping the troops occupied and boosting competition and morale, as well as indicating to the locals that the Romans were deadly serious about imposing their will on the region.”

   “Conceived as a wall up to 15 ft high and 10ft thick, with a forward ditch to make attack more difficult, the design was changed before completion, with later sections adopting a much thinner width, in places only 7ft thick. It is not known why there was this change of plan; perhaps it was to make more efficient use of the materials, or simply to speed up construction. Either way, it suggests that the need for the barrier was pressing. Indeed, it is believed that territory to the south of the Wall was just as troublesome at the time.”

  “The Wall was therefore more than a defensive barrier to keep out northern raiders. In certain spots along the route of the Wall, such as at Heddon alongside the B6318, you can still make out large earthworks. Known as the ‘vallum’, these works consisted of a flat-bottomed ditch south of the Wall, about 20ft wide and deep, flanked on either side by mounds 20ft wide and 10ft high. The vallum often diverts around the forts, showing that it was built around the same time. Crossings were built opposite the forts, through the ramparts and across the ditch, with a gate. This indicates that the system of earthworks was used to control the flow of traffic through the Wall.  So it seems that another purpose of the Wall was quite literally to divide and rule, and to control the cross-country movement of people and goods.”

The author asks: “So what do we know about the soldiers who manned the Wall? From inscriptions on the Wall and at nearby forts, it is clear that, although the legions – which consisted of men with Roman citizenship – helped with the construction of the Wall, and fought in the area, often manning forts to the north and south of the Wall, they did not form its main garrison. This was the job of auxiliaries – infantry and cavalry units of non-citizens recruited from all around the Roman empire. Amongst the remains of the fort at Chesters is a stone reused as a step on which in inscribed the name of the First Cohort of Dalmations, infantrymen originally from the region which is now Croatia. Other inscriptions record the presence of troop units from France and Germany.”

   “Chesters is a good place to begin to take in the skill of the military engineers. Because of the layout of the site, the fort is difficult to imagine, but the bath-house, with walls still reaching up to 10ft high, and the monumental foundations of the bridge that carried the Wall and traffic across the Tyne, are impressive. Also worth a visit is the small museum, which contains many of the most important inscriptions found along the Wall.”

   “Chesters was one of a series of large forts that were constructed every six to eight miles along the Wall, sometimes after its construction, to house troops. These were in addition to the much smaller milecastles, which were built  into the south side of the Wall once every Roman mile, and turrets. The purpose of the turrets and milecastles was to provide look-outs and to aid communication from fort to fort.”

   “Housesteads was another large fort and its remains are imposing even today. It occupies a commanding position, on a south-facing slope, with its north side abutting the Wall and overlooking Whin Sill. Here it is possible to see the remains of gates, granaries, a headquarters building and the commanding officer’s house.”

Hadrian's Wall from Housesteads Fort (photo by Jamesflomonosoff - for Wikipedia)

Hadrian’s Wall from Housesteads Fort (photo by Jamesflomonosoff – for Wikipedia)

   “There are still also visible remains of cultivation terraces outside the walls of Housesteads, and excavations have revealed the streets, workshops and shops that clustered around the forts of Chesters and Vindolanda. Local tradesmen would have supplied the armed forces and the expanding local civilian economy that would have gravitated towards the troops and military to serve their various needs.”

   “Amongst the most remarkable finds from Hadrian’s Wall are the famous tablets of Vindolanda. Painstaking archeology has pieced together fragments of military records and personal letters which were inscribed on the wooden tablets at the fort and then discarded, left to decay in wet, clay soil. Fortunately for us, they were miraculously preserved by the anaerobic conditions, and the retrieved texts now provide tantalizing glimpses of the everyday.”

The author, Jock McKinnon, in his article makes mention of the other Roman frontier, the Antonine Wall, about 100 miles to the north. He says of this: “Another frontier, this time of earth banks, ditches and wooden palisades, was built about 100 miles further north 20 years later, during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus. The purpose of this second barrier may have been to create a controllable ‘neutral zone’ to Hadrian’s Wall further south, indicating that there was still a threat from unrest, but it would have doubled the military forces needed to patrol both frontiers and the region and it was abandoned by about 170 AD.”

   “Hadrian’s Wall itself was finally abandoned much later, not until the late fourth century, although finds at Birdoswald fort show that it continued to be used by a community, probably as a defensive enclosure, into the fifth or six centuries, long after the Romans and Hadrian had become a distant memory. Subsequently, much of the stonework was dismantled and reused for building work, and it’s only the remote stretches of the Wall and forts that can be seen today.”

   “It is sobering today to stand on the Wall, where that imagined soldier once stood, knowing that although it was obviously important at the time to emperors, their troops and local people – whether they supported it, hated it, or earned money as a result of it – it really matters little now whether the Wall was successful or not. All the time, money and manpower spent to quell a distant province proved fruitless. Except, that is,  for what the Wall can still tell us about our distant past.”

Sources:

McKinnon, Jock., The Old Frontier, Beautiful Britain, Vol 3 Number 3 Autumn 2008, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 2008.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian’s_Wall

http://www.hadrians-wall.org

 

 

 

 


Blackstone Edge Roman Road, Littleborough, Lancs-Yorks Border

Blackstone Edge Roman Road.

Blackstone Edge Roman Road.

OS Grid Reference: SD 9617 1680. Blackstone Edge Roman Road is located 2 miles east of the town of Littleborough – running almost parallel to the A58 Littleborough to Halifax road. Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ is a cobbled ‘road’ surface traversing the bleak moorland for about 2 miles or so along Blackstone Edge on the Lancashire-West Yorkshire border. The road has a deep groove running down the centre. It is a Scheduled monument initially thought to be of Roman Origin. This road is still marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a Roman Road but nowadays the most widely accepted theory is that it is an early turnpike road from circa 1735.

Until recently popular opinion had it that before the Romans there were no roads in the British Isles. This is not a correct interpretation of the situation. Ancient routes such as the Ickneld Way existed long before AD43. The Romans did build roads and this was one of the reasons for their great success. Roads aided administration as the Empire became ever larger. Roads aided the quick movement of troops to deal with insurgencies and incursions, and they helped to facilitate trade. However the evidence shows that similar structures usually of timber existed from Neolithic Times. More sophisticated structures existed in the Bronze Age using stone and Timber. The Iron Age saw the introduction of gravelled streets as at Danbury and Silchester.

Roman Roads typically consist of a consolidated embanked and cambered core of earth, chalk or stones (the agger), which was then surfaced with compacted stone or gravel. The wider zone was then often defined by boundary ditches, and sometimes further drainage ditches, or trenches from which material for the agger was dug.

Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ (at almost 6 metres in width) does not conform strictly to this approach and the other problem with Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ is that the groove running down the centre is unusual, and has therefore led to other theories about its origin, though similar grooved drainage ditches are known from Roman sites around the country.

It has been suggested that this channel may once have accommodated a cable that was used to winch vehicles up the incline. In keeping with this theory a circular foundation block can still be seen at the top of the incline this solution to the problem being hinted at in the Turnpike Act of 1734. On the other hand, some experts believe that the central channel was used to help vehicles brake as they descended the steep incline down towards Littleborough and others propose that it was merely a drainage duct.

Blackstone Edge Roman Road, today.

Excavations first took place in 1923/24 under Ian Richmond. In 1965 James L Maxim ‘A Lancashire Lion’ proposed that it was a turnpike road dating from 1735 – immediately following the Turnpike Act of 1734. Possibly built on or next to an earlier, probably Medieval Packhorse Route. Maxim proposed that the central groove was for cables assisting cables to negotiate the steep incline with the circular “foundation” acting as a pulley. However, a further survey in 2012, which involved fieldwork and reviewing the evidence, questioned some of these assumptions. Why was work undertaken to create deep and wide cuttings, and what appears to be a terrace on one side? Further the packhorse way closely follows the road using one of the cuttings. The survey came to the conclusion that it might have to be reconsidered as a Roman Road. Another possibility is that none of these apply and it is, in fact, a more modern, perhaps 19th century moorland track that has long been associated with the quarrying of stone.

The Roman road that runs over Blackstone Edge linked the large Roman legionary fortress of MAMVCIVM (Manchester) to the smaller fort of VERBEIA (Ilkley) and is some 36 miles long. Some historians have, perhaps, wrongly called the fort at Ilkley (OLICANA).

About a mile up the moorland path from the A58 (where the Roman road officially begins) stands Aiggin Stone, a boundary-stone that is inscribed with some Latin letters and a cross; its name is perhaps a derivation of “agger” the material from which the Roman road was constructed.

                                                         © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.

 

 


Sudbrook Camp, Portskewett, Monmouthshire

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: ST 5053 8732. About half a mile south of Portskewett, Monmouthshire, on the cliffs overlooking the Severn Estuary, is the Iron-Age Sudbrook Camp, a promontory fort with its well-defined earthworks still largerly intact, although suffering somewhat at its south-side due to coastal erosion. It is known to have been inhabited from roughly the mid-2nd century BC up to at least the 1st or perhaps mid-2nd century AD – at which time it may well have been in use as a Roman trading post. The earthworks are located by going along Sudbrook road and, at the end of Camp road, they are some 50 metres to the south-west, close by the ruins of a 13th century church, some railway buildings, and the Severn Railway Tunnel (Gwent Levels). A coastal path traverses the camp. Caldicot village is 1 mile to the west, while the M4 motorway and the Severn Bridge, are half a mile to the east; the town of Chepstow is roughly 4 miles to the north.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Sudbrook Camp is made up of triangular-shaped earthworks. The whole site is 1.4 hectares: the inner section is approx 78 metres between the cliff and the first ditch, 109 metres across south to north and 280 metres in width west to east, but a section at the south-side has eroded away due to cliff falls, and so the camp would have been larger. A section at the north-side ‘may’ have been destroyed due the houses and also Sudbrook and Camp lanes . However, the rest is still resonably well-preserved, in particular the fairly deep ditches, three ramparts at the west and two ramparts at the east – indeed the defensive ramparts still stand up to 5.2 metres high, according to the work ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash. At the far south-western side of the camp stands a World War II concrete lookout post. Rather oddly the interior of the camp is sometimes used as a football pitch!

Camp road to the north-west cuts-off the earthworks, as do the ruins of Holy Trinity Church at the far south-eastern side. The entrance to the camp can clearly be made out at the north-side between the ditches and ramparts; this connected up to an ancient trackway which was used by the Silures tribe, and later by the Romans, linking the site to their newly established town at Caerwent ( Venta Silurum) ‘market town of the Silures’, which later became Caer Guent (Fortress Venta), some 5 miles to the west.

Sudbrook Camp would have been inhabited by an ancient Celtic tribe in the Iron Age (150 BC) and, later in 30 or 31 AD, by the Silures, a fierce tribe who worshipped a cat-like diety. The Silures ruled the south-eastern part of Wales. But at this time they were being put under pressure by the Roman legions making their way up the Severn estuary – led by one Julius Frontinus – who set out to invade Siluria, and at which time the Celtic chieftain Caradoc (Caractacus) had fled from north Wales to Sudbrook Camp, or maybe Llanmelin hill-fort, one-and-a-half miles north-west of Caerwent. Caractacus eventually ended up in Rome where he was pardoned by the emperor Claudius (after 51 AD). The Silures were ‘allowed’ to remain at Llanmelin hill-fort until about 70 AD. However, Frontinus did not make much of an inpact, and it was not until 51 AD that the Silures tribe had their so-called ‘last stand’ when attacked and routed by Ostorius Scapula and the XX legion, according to Roy Palmer in his book ‘The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire’.

There is evidence to think that after the routing of the Silures tribe from the camp the Romans used the place as a trading-post and, 17 metres below the cliffs in the estuary, there was a natural harbour facility that was used by the newly conquering Roman legions as ‘a possible docking facility’ and naval base (beach-head) for their sailing vessels – up until at least the late 1st century AD, or even the mid-2nd century AD – Bryan Walker’s work ‘The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley’.

Archaeological excavations were carried out at Sudbrook Camp between 1934-36 at which time many artefacts were found including: bones of oxen, pigs, sheep and goats and, also fragments of iron, glass, Roman bricks and coins. During the excavations the remains of two V-shaped ditches were discovered between the ramparts (north-west side) of the main bank which, would have been done in four stages. Two steep-sloping revetments of uncoursed drystone walling were uncovered on the inner scarp – ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash.

The sad-looking grey ruins of the 12th or 13th century Holy Trinity Church stand at the far south-eastern side of the earthworks, now alas almost hidden by ivy, bushes and trees, with only the front bell-tower gable-wall and a few ruined rear walls still standing; its graveyard has nearly gone over the cliffs. But the main part of the ruin dates from the 17th century, other earlier parts being from the 13th-14th centuries, notably the chancel, while the nave walls may be 12th century. Sadly the church was abandoned and left to the elements in the 1790s, due probably to the erosion of the nearby cliffs – Fred Hando ‘Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute’.

Fred Hando says of the ruin: “There is no great charm in the grey ruins of Holy Trinity, Sudbrook. It is difficult to account for its erection here, unless it was a private chapel for John Southbrook, who is mentioned in the Wentwood Survey of 1276”. He goes on to say that: “Holy Trinity at Sudbrook was in use, it seems, to the end of the Eighteenth Century. Bradney tells us that one of the last to be buried there was Captain Blethin Smith of Sudbrook, who left instructions that his corpse was to be borne to the grave by six seafaring men”. Captain Smith’s will was dated 1755.

Sources:

Barber, Chris., Exploring Gwent,  Regional Publications (Bristol) Limited, Clifton, Bristol, 1984.

Children, George & Nash, George., Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1996.

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute, (Ed by Chris Barber), Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 1987.

Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.

http://www.sudbrook.info/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbrook,_Monmouthshire

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

Walters, Bryan., The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley, Thornhill Press, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 1992.

 


London Stone, Camden, Greater London

London Stone (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

London Stone (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: TQ 3267 8090. Hidden-away in a recess at the front of what was the Bank of China on Canning Street, Camden, London, close to the Cannon Street Underground Station, is the so-called London Stone, a relic perhaps of Roman Londinium. Sometimes also called ‘the Brutus Stone’ or ‘Britto Stone’ after the Celtic leader of the same name who was hailed as king of what would become London, according to The Legend. It is actually a squat round-shaped stone that is now much diminished in size and which may, in fact, have been a 15th century boundary stone? The stone’s location is close to the corner of St Swithins Lane and nearly opposite Bush Lane. St Paul’s Cathedral is 1 mile to the west while the river Thames and London Bridge are about a quarter of a mile to the south of Canning Street.

London Stone and its former stone surround (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

London Stone and its former stone surround (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

At the front of the W.H.Smith building at no.111 Canning Street in a specially designed stone recess stands the curious ‘London Stone’, a round-shaped stone that could be part of a Roman altar that was dedicated to the goddess, Diana, so says Geoffrey Ash in his great work ‘Mythology Of The British Isles’. It was apparently set-up by Brutus, grandson of Aeneas of Troy, a self-styled king of what would become “London”. Brutus is said to have had a palace on the site of the present Guildhall about 1 mile to the south-west, beside the river Thames. The stone is 1 foot 5 inches high by 1 foot 9 inches wide and is made of Limestone that was quarried in Rutland, though it has been suggested that it is Bath stone? It sits securely behind a decorative iron grill, fronted by a very nicely-carved outer recess made of Portland stone, at the top of which there is an information plaque; the inner recess is surrounded by thick glass for extra security.

The stone originally stood at the north-side of Canning Street – where it was set into a niche in the south wall of St Swithin’s Church, close to the Mansion House, according to Janet & Colin Bord ‘Mysterious Britain’. St Swithin’s church was demolished after it suffered from being bombed during the 2nd World War; the stone was moved to the Guildhall museum, then eventually to its present site in Canning Street.

According to documentary evidence the stone was in existence in 1100 and 1188, and in the 16th century it was mentioned again by the antiquary John Stow, who was to describe it as: a great stone called London Stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so stronglie set that if carts do runne against it through negligense the wheeles be broken, and the stone itself unshaken”. In the work ‘Mysterious Britain’ the Bords say that: “Although there is no tradition of it being used as a stone of initiation, the London Stone is of great intiquity and was held in veneration by the citizens who would make binding pacts across it and issue proclamations from it”.

It would appear, therefore, that over many hundreds of years folk, maybe travellers and pilgrims, have been chipping away and breaking pieces off the London Stone to take away as a relic in case it possessed some sort of magical healing power – it may well have done so – and if that be the case it would have originally been a much bigger block of stone, maybe even some sort of pagan altar in the time of the Romans, or maybe from ancient Britain, long before the Romans ever came to Britain but, Brutus who was a Celtic leader – had set his eyes on our shorline! If he did ever come to Britain and reside at London, then it would have been roughly 1100 BC?

The author James MacKillop says in his ‘great tome’ ‘Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology’ says that Brutus was a progenitor of the British people. He was leader of the Trojans and had “dreams” of the Temple of Diana beyond the setting sun. After invading the island [Britain] he defeats the mythical giant Gogmagog and then establishes law upon the land named for him – Britain (Prydain). But actually Gogmagog was killed by being hurled over a cliff by another giant called Corineus of Cornwall who was a champion wrestler of great strength and valor – Reader’s Digest ‘Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain’. Very gruesome-looking stone effigies of Gogmagog and Corineus stand inside the Guildhall in King Street. Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions the legend of Brutus and the giants in his work ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ (1136). More likely than not London Stone was a ‘Milliarium’, a stone that was used to measure road distances in both Roman times, and long after that. And there is the famous saying: ‘So long as the Brutus Stone is safe, so long shall London flourish’.

Sources:

Ash, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London, 1993. 

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing), London, 1984.

MacKillop, James., Dictionary Of Celtic Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

Photo Credits:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Stone

Reader’s Digest,  Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, ( Second Edition), Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

The Megalithic Portal:  http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=8349