Women and Children in Roman Forts


Women and Children In Forts:


Previous Arguments:

The traditional argument for the presence of women in forts is that they simply were not there.

These traditional models advocate that forts were male/military dominated environments and that officers families would not be present within them. As such, the mobility of the military is focused solely around the movement of soldiers. Previously, it has been understood that women and children would have been associated with settlements outside of the fort structure, but not present within the fort space itself. Evidence in support of this has been interpreted from Roman laws. Under Augustus there was a ruling banning soldiers from marrying, this was eventually lifted in the second century under Septimus Severus.


Archaeological Evidence:


It has been suggested that the commander’s house in particular was designed to house a family unit. These structures were large and Mediterranean in style. Evidence from Vindolanda features a correspondence between Flavius Cerialis, which implies he was accompanied by his wife (Campbell, 2010). Within the commanders house structure at Vindolanda there is also evidence of multiple small shoes, thought to belong to children (Campbell, 2010). A tombstone has been discovered in High Rochester, thought to have come from just outside the fort space. The inscription is written by Julia Lucilla in memory of ‘her well-deserving husband’ implying that they would have been living in the same space (Roman Inscriptions of Britain, 2018). Another tombstone from Corbirdge was erected in memory of Ertola aged four years and sixty days, thought to be a child of one of the soldiers within the fort (Roman Inscriptions of Britain, 2018).


Arguably, this evidence would suggest that women and children were associated with fort spaces, and it can be implied that their presence is not just restricted to the surrounding vicus’ outside of the forts.



Figure 1. Tombstone dedicated to Ertola aged 4 (English Heritage, 2016)
Figure 1. Tombstone dedicated to Ertola aged 4 (English Heritage, 2016)





At Ribchester:

So far, the presence of women and children in forts at Ribchester is unclear. During our recent excavations, we have found fragments of a shale bracelet, as well as multiple blue glass beads. In general terms these types of artefacts would be associated with women, however, there is no definite answer and it is quite possible that they would have belonged to the men



Jet bead found at Ribchester
Jet bead found at Ribchester




I hope that from this brief overview you can see that the evidence for women and children inside fort spaces is still open to much debate. However, it is entirely possible that family life played a much greater role within the military than previously thought.




Further Reading: