Roman Military

Roman Forts and the Military

 

General Information About Roman Forts:

These spaces were permanent or semi-permanent bases for Roman troops. Most fort spaces occupy around 20 hectares. The Roman troops occupying these spaces were often auxiliary’s. They were not Roman citizens, but instead were drafted from other provinces within the Roman Empire (Historic England, 2011).

Many of the earliest forts had turf ramparts and timber internal buildings, these were usually constructed during the initial conquest and are common in the first century. The dominant shape for forts is rectangular, and these would have been surrounded by outer ditches. Forts often went through a second phase of construction where the timber fort would be replaced with a stone fort, this would often be surrounded by stone walls rather than timber ramparts

 

Internal Layout of Forts:

Forts would have been divided by internal roads/streets, with administrative centres in the middle of the fort as one of the central buildings. There also would have been workshops and equipment stores, and the Granaries, which were long narrow buildings with raised floors supported on posts

Plan of the standard layout of an Auxiliary Fort. Including the Latin terms for the parts of the fort (Historic England 2011).

Plan of the standard layout of an Auxiliary Fort. Including the Latin terms for the parts of the fort (Historic England 2011).

 

Function:

Forts were spaces used to house troops who were responsible for controlling the surrounding territory (Historic England 2011). Forts were linked together by the Roman road system, which provided a network to strengthen their control

 

The brief overview above gives you a bit of background information about the fort space itself and its internal layout, but, what about the people who occupied these spaces? We have already seen that auxiliary units most likely wouldn’t have been Roman citizens themselves, and the fact they travelled from other provinces outside England suggests that they may have had different ways of displaying their identities to the Pre-Roman and Roman Britons. Below are a few artefacts found at Ribchester, with some of them coming from our excavations.

 

Evidence for Roman Soldiers at Ribchester:

Ribchester Helmet:

  • Any look at Roman military artefacts from Ribchester has to start with the famous Ribchester Helmet.
  • The Ribchester Helmet was discovered in 1796 by children playing on the waste-ground behind their cottage.
  • Experts have suggested that the Helmet originates from the 1st-2nd century and was not likely to have been used in combat as it was such a finely crafted piece of equipment. Instead the interpretation is that it would have been used in mock battles (British Museum, 2018)
Image of the Ribchester Helmet discovered in 1796 (British Museum, 2018)

Image of the Ribchester Helmet discovered in 1796 (British Museum, 2018)

 

 

The next few artefact types are examples of the types of objects we have found during our excavations, and don’t necessarily represent the most common artefacts associated with the Roman military.

 

Hobnails:

  • A common find at fort sites, and something we have found a lot of during our excavations at Ribchester, are hobnails.
  • Hobnails are associated with Roman shoes, and at some sites, they have even been discovered in the pattern of a shoe shape, with the leather having worn away.
  • There has been research into the pattern of the hobnails and the types of shoe that they would have comprised!
  • So far during our excavations at Ribchester we have found over 80 hobnails!
Image of one of the hobnails found at Ribchester

Image of one of the hobnails found at Ribchester

 

Horse Fittings:

  • Decoration on horse harnesses were one of the main ways that an individual could show off their rank or wealth
  • During our excavations so far we have found evidence of 3 objects associated with horse fittings
  • We have also found 1 example of a terret ring. Terret rings are metal loops, which would be part of a horse harness. When in use the reins would run from the drivers hand, through a terret ring, and attach to the horses bit to all the horse to be guided without becoming tangled up.
  • We also have an example of a hipposandle, which would protect the hoof of a horse and was the predecessor of the horseshoe.
Image of the Terret Ring found at Ribchester in 2017

Image of the Terret Ring found at Ribchester in 2017

 

Image of the Hippoesandle found at Ribchester in 2017

Image of the Hipposandle found at Ribchester in 2017

 

  • Button and Loop Fastener:
  • These fasteners would have been used to hold two pieces of fabric together, and are often associated with the fastening of a dress or cloak
  • Fasteners are quite common finds during the excavations of Roman forts suggesting that they were associated with the military
  • So far during our excavations we have found 2 fasteners
Button and Loop fastener found at Ribchester in 2017

Button and Loop fastener found at Ribchester in 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Further Reading:

https://content.historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/iha-roman-forts-fortresses/romanfortsfortresses.pdf/

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