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:




The Wonderful World of Roman Coins

This blog aims to provide a whistle stop tour of Roman coins. However, this by no means represents the entirety of the Roman Coins, denominations, or, designs that can be seen throughout the Empire. Instead we’re aiming to provide a background to the types of coins that have been found in the UK



Just like our current currency system, the Roman system was made up of different denominations of coin, with different materials being used to create the higher status coins.

The Roman currency system underwent a series of changes due to inflation, and the debasement of some of the current coinage of the time. Debasement occurs when the base metal of the coin was reduced, and therefore its’ value was considered to be less. The most popular denominations of coins will be discussed in more detail below;



  • Largest denomination
  • Gold unit
  • First issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century AD
  • Most popular between the 1st and 2nd century AD
  • Equivalent of 25 denarius



  • Silver unit
  • Most commonly found coin by the reign of Septimus Severus (Reece 1975, 300)
  • Equivilant of 10 As
  • Struck between 211BC and 244AD
  • Replaced by the double denarius in the 3rd century (antoninianus)



  • Copper alloy unit
  • Reduced production by the 3rd century


Under Emperor Augustus two additional units were introduced, the dupondii and the sestertii (Crawford 1970, 41). The exact reason for these additional denomination is unknown; however, it has been argued that the Empire was decreasing the fineness of their coins in order to allow their raw materials to go further. Therefore, in order to maintain the values of the coins in their monetary system, additional denominations needed to be added;



  • Equivilant of 2 Aes
  • Copper Alloy unit
  • During the reign of Nero, the obverse image usually wore a radiate crown



  • Copper Alloy unit
  • Equivilant of 4 Aes under Augustus
  • Commonly found in the UK between 50AD to 260AD
  • No longer minted towards the end of the 3rd century




Imperial Coins:

  • Emperor on the obverse
  • Inscriptions feature the name of the ruler, title and honorary titles
  • To read inscriptions start at 6 o’clock (the base of the neck) and follow the writing clockwise

Reading Inscriptions:

  • The first part of the inscription shows the emperors name
  • Emperors may also include the names of emperors before them to align themselves with their successes
  • In this case Marcus Aurelieus choses to identify with his father Antoninus Pius – M ANTONINVS
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website.
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website.




  • Most Emperors also included the name of the first emperor Augustus
  • This became associated with symbols of power
  • AVG – Augustus
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website.
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website.


  • The rest of the inscription usually focuses on religious, political, military or honorary titles
  • Here ARM represents victories in Armenia
  • The last part of the inscription also focuses on victories in the east – PARTH MAX
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website.
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website.





The types of crown on a coin can help us ascertain the denomination and the date of issue



  • Wreath of laurel, oak or ivy branches
  • Most common



  • Spiky crown (associated with the sun god Sol)
  • Used on double denominations (dupondius)



  • Band of metal or cloth (which can often be decorated)



  • Mints refer to where the coins were produced
  • From the 3rd century AD Roman mints began printing mint marks on the reverse of the coin to show where it was made
  • Juno Moneta is the Roman goddess concerned with the personification of money, and sometimes features on coins


Currency System:

  • 1 Aureus = 25 Denarii = 250 aes
  • Following periods of financial instability (debasement) additional denominations were added into this system such as the sestertius in order to try and stabilise coin values



  • Lowers the value of currency
  • Occurs when the precious metal of the coin is reduced and new denominations are added to the currency system to try and counter balance the effects of inflation.


Contemporary Copies:

  • Contemporary copies are coins produced unofficially at the same time as the official coinage is being produced. There is an increased in contemporary copies from the 3rd century due to the monetary instability of the period
  • The most commonly found copies in England are Barbarous Radiates.
  • Barbarous Radiates are usually smaller in size, irregularly shaped and lighter in weight than official issues. They also show poor quality art work, such as inscriptions with errors or below standard portraits and reverse designs
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website. Highlights the differences between a Barbarous Radiate (left) and Official Radiate of Gallienus
Image taken from the Portable Antiquities Website. Highlights the differences between a Barbarous Radiate (left) and Official Radiate of Gallienus


Ribchester Coins:

  • So far at Ribchester we have found over 70 coins
  • There are a range of denominations and dates represented, supporting the interpretation of a long period of occupation in the fort
  • You may have seen one of our coins on the most recent series of Digging for Britain

Ribchester Coin







For a more comprehensive understand of the world of Roman coins, please visit the Portable Antiquities resources here: https://finds.org.uk/romancoins


Artefact Month!

Hi everyone,


As we posted last week, the plans are now all illustrated! Hooray! But the life of a research assistant is never done (or dull for that matter). The next task is to organise our photo archives. Each year our student supervisors are given a camera to document all of the contexts and features they excavate. Over the course of the last 3 years, our students have taken over 1300 photographs! (I could be here some time!)

artefact month


In other news, you may remember in our previous blog post, we hinted that we were introducing ‘themed’ months, to give you a bit more insight into Roman Ribchester, and the work we have done on the project so far. February sees the introduction of our Artefact Month!



Each week throughout February, we will be introducing different groups of artefacts that we have found on site and giving you a bit of background into how we identify them, and what we think they meant to the people that used them. We hope that this whistle-stop tour behind the scenes of our finds will give you a better indication of the work we are doing when we come to the village each summer.  A rough guide of the content we are planning is in the table below;


Week 1 Introduction to Artefact Month
Week 2 Coins
Week 3 The Female – beads, bracelets and females in forts
Week 4 Military – equipment, horse fittings



Check back next week for an introduction to Roman Coins, the images used on them, the types of coins they have, and how we go about interpreting the writing on them!



These photographs won’t organise themselves, until next week,


Happy New Year!

We’re Back!

Our UCLAN students have returned from their Christmas breaks, and are ready to tackle to the second half of the academic year. The Ribchester team have also been busy, since 2017 ended. Our radio silence, o far this year has been because we have been planning some new content for you all to enjoy!
This year we are going to introduce themed months to our blog, to try to give you a bit more background and detail to Ribchester as a site, and our work there. February will see the introduction of our ‘Finds Month’. Throughout February, the blog posts will be focused on the types of objects we have found, and what they tell us about Roman life in Ribchester.
Over the following months, we will be discussing past excavations at Ribchester, what our excavations have told us about the site, introducing some of the team who you may see hard at work this year, and behind the scenes of our preparations for the dig.
Keep checking back in with us for the latest news and updates
Happy New Year!
Until the next time,

Guardhouse Update

An important part of the Ribchester Revisited project is student training. During the dig more experienced masters students run small teams, giving them experience in leadership and team management. As part of their work the masters students then complete reports on their section of the trench. This blog post discussing the guardhouse is by Louise Clempson, the masters student tasked with the guardhouse excavation.

Figure 1. Birdseye image, Identifying the location of the Guardhouse
Figure 1. Birdseye image, Identifying the location of the Guardhouse


Ribchester Revisited 2017 saw the excavation of the guard house floor located in the northern section of the trench: as shown by figure 1 above. As a Masters student, I supervised the team excavating the guardhouse. The perimeter of the clay surface was recorded using specialised equipment (total station) in order to construct an image of the guardhouse in the lab. Furthermore every object found was 3D recorded using this equipment and given its own unique identification number. This allows us to understand exactly where in the guardhouse each type of object was found. From this, connections could be made regarding specific patterns that cannot be detected in the field. All the finds within the guardhouse were mapped using a GIS computer program (QGIS). As you can see there is an obvious pattern emerging from the finds of these first few layers of the guardhouse floor.

The finds seem to be concentrated in certain areas: these being the southern and western edges with a clear lack in finds from the centre and northern edge. This can be explained by looking at the guardhouse more closely. The entrance will have been by the threshold stone as shown and unfortunately the edges of the floor have been truncated by Thomas Mays Trenches which he dug in his 1907 excavation (Buxton and Howard- Davis 2000). Therefore we can assume the guardhouse floor was larger than we discovered. Therefore the current edges of the floor are several centimetres away from the actual edge, whereas some edges may well have been close to their original position. This would explain the pattern showing as normally in a room waste gets confined to the corners, with the centre being reasonably clean as this will be where the main activity takes place. Placement of furniture could also impact the loss and placement of objects. The finds themselves are extremely interesting as one of the main type recovered was animal bone. There was a heavy concentration of animal bone found in the southern side of the guardhouse. We are still awaiting zooarchaeological analysis; however, on first look most seem to be cow or pig. Moreover, two sizeable bones were found in situ; a pelvis and a scapula (shown in figure 2).

Figure 2. Insitu Cow Scapula
Figure 2. Insitu Cow Scapula

The reason for the high concentration of bones in the southern section of this space could be due to how the space was used. For example, the southern area could be where food was consumed therefore small pieces of bone lying around would be normal. The longer bones are more difficult to explain our working theory is that long bones were placed to even out the floor surface and make it more substantial before another layer of clay was added, this has been seen before however needs investigating next year.








Figure 3. Distribution of Pottery within the Guardhouse
Figure 3. Distribution of Pottery within the Guardhouse


Shown above are the pottery finds from the excavation (Figure 3). Again, a similar pattern is emerging with a concentration again in the southern section of the guardhouse. But also some scattered along the eastern edge. Most of these were small fragments with the exception being a base of a pot found with a maker’s mark, discovered in last year’s excavations in the eastern section of the guardhouse and excavated this year much to the delight of the students. The fact that small fragments were found lead us to the conclusion that these were deposited randomly from perhaps several smashed or chipped vessels.


Figure 4. Distribution of Metalworking finds within the Guardhouse
Figure 4. Distribution of Metalworking finds within the Guardhouse


Figure 4 demonstrates all of the material associated with metal working. The dark purple spots representing metal slag which is a bi product of metal working and the light purple represents nails which are associated with building. There is a cluster of slag towards the eastern section which could lead us to believe that metalworking was taking place in this area at one time or another. Perhaps once this space wasn’t being used as a guard house it was repurposed for metal working which isn’t unheard, similar evidence was found for a guardhouse at Birdoswald (Biggins et al 1999).

It will be interesting to see if these same patterns continue to show in the 2018 excavations as the guardhouse when the final floor layers are removed. The finds will continued to be plotted so it will be possible to analyse the patterns in the lab once the excavations have been completed.



Biggins, J. A., Taylor, D. J. A., Coxon, B., Esselmont, B., Frank, A., Hudson, C., McCloy, P., Montgomery, E., and Robinson, J. 1999. A Survey of the Roman Fort and Settlement at Birdoswald, Cumbria. Britannia 30. 91-110.

Buxton, K. and Howard-Davis, C. 2000. Bremetenacum. Lancaster: Lancaster Imprints.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Each year our UCLAN students have to write a field report about their summer excavation when they return to university, and each year we ask for extra elements to be included into this report to demonstrate how much they’ve learned.


Our MSCi students have had to wrap their heads around the complicated archaeology we’ve found on site. They had to produce a Harris Matrix to help them understand the stratigraphy. Stratigraphy was briefly explained in one of our earlier blog posts: http://www.ribchesterrevisted.uk/2017/10/11/and-so-it-continues/



A Harris Matrix is a visual tool that archaeologists use to help them understand the succession of archaeological contexts, this allows us to see the sequence of depositions made over time. Here’s an example below:


harris matrix



Context number 1 was directly underneath the ground surface and is therefore the most modern. Context’s 3 and 4 were found at the same level so they are believed to be buried around the same time. Finally, context 6 is the furthest down so that means it contains older archaeology.


This example was a simple one, but our MSCi students have to piece together each context from this year’s excavations and produced a much larger matrix to cover the entire trench.


To help them do this they will be using the Context Index. Each time something is excavated it is given a unique context number, to distinguish that feature and any of its finds from other features on the site. The Index will tell us a bit about the context itself and where it is in the trench, as well as the date it was excavated. Additional information can be found on the Context Sheet for that number. An example Context Sheet is shown below:


context sheet



As you can see in the red box, each sheet has a smaller Harris Matrix, telling you which context was above and below it, and from these you can piece together the end product, covering the whole site.

That’s enough practical talk for one day. Here’s some pictures of our MSCi students trying to wrap their head around this year’s excavation.


harris matrix task

harris matrix task 2



Rather them than me!

Until next time,


And The Winner Is….

You may remember a couple of weeks ago we posted on Facebook to say that one of our volunteers, Cassie, had been nominated for Young Archaeologist of the Year. We are extremely proud to report that Cassie won the award!

Cassie hard at work on this years excavation!
Cassie hard at work on this years excavation!

On Monday 6th November Cassie was given her award at the Council for British Archaeology’s Day of Archaeology in London. Follow the link below to read Cassie’s interview;

YAC Interview Cassie


I’m sure you’ll join us in congratulating Cassie and all of the other nominees on their achievement!


Until the next time


I Would Walk 500 Miles… (The Fun of Geophysical Survey)

On the 12th October, we took a trip back to Ribchester to present this years’ work to the Friends of Ribchester Roman Museum. A big thank you to those who came to watch Jim’s presentation, and persevered with us despite a few technical difficulties!     IMG_5275

Can everybody see?
Can everybody see?



During the presentation, we aimed to give a roundup of the work we had carried out this year. I’ll bullet point some of the most exciting bits for you;

  • We excavated the two large ditches at the northern end of our trench, we believe these were used to define the grounds of the fort itself and were located outside of the fort wall.
  • We excavated a large proportion of the Guardhouse. After finding the threshold stone last year (some of you may remember it was under our barrow run!), the team were able to work their way down the layers of the guardhouse to try and understand the archaeology (no mean feat as this involves understand multiple layers of compact clay)
  • We were able to find out more about the road running through the centre of the fort
  • We have found evidence of possible structures in the form of post holes and post pads
  • We’ve identified evidence of a workshop; using scientific technology we have found traces of mercury, lead and gold. This suggests that they were using the process of gilding, which involves painting a very thin layer of gold onto the surface of an object.




Before our excavation season began this summer, we had the opportunity to carry out some geophysical surveys in other parts of Ribchester. The aim of this was to identity other possible archaeological features within the village, and it enabled us to try and identity the extent of the Roman activity. This work was carried out in conjunction with Historic England, and once they have finished with the results we will be able to release them on this website.

The technique we were using is called magnetrometry, which records the magnetic changes in the local magnetic field across the area of survey. For more information about magnetrometry and other geophysical techniques please follow the link to the Historic England website; https://historicengland.org.uk/research/methods/terrestrial-remote-sensing/geophysical-techniques/

To avoid contaminating the readings the person carrying out the survey must be completely free of magnetic materials, this means that our clothing couldn’t have any zips! (I couldn’t even wear my fitbit to count my steps!)

The machine can hold results for up to 20 grids, and then the results must be downloaded onto the computer so the data can be cleared from the machine. Using specialist software, we are able to plot the squares and the magnetic variation is shown by lighter or darker areas which can be interpreted archaeologically. On average we recording data for 30 grids a day, which each gride being 20 x 20m, so we walked about 12km a day! (Again, I couldn’t even wear my fitbit for bragging rights!)






That’s all for now,

Until the next time,


And so it continues…

Hi everyone,

My name is Viki Le Quelenec and I’m a PhD student here at the University of Central Lancashire, as well as the research assistant for the Ribchester Revisited project. I’ll be using our blog and social media channels to keep you up to date with what we get up to when our rabble packs up and leave the village.


The 2017 season of excavation came to an end in July, but our work is not yet done! A lot of our archaeology takes place back in the lab, and as we appreciate all the support we have received through social media we wanted to take you along for the ride.


Since the end of our excavation season we have been busy with post- excavation from the dig itself. A large part of this work has been washing the finds from the last few days of excavation. It is important that washed finds have enough time to dry before they are processed to avoid them becoming brittle. Some finds are brought back to university with us in the same condition they were taken out of the ground so that we can process them back at our lab. Below is an image of one of our UCLAN students Micheal washing some of the finds from the guardhouse. This may not seem like the most glamorous job but Micheal has been a real trooper dedicating his time to helping us get this done.


micheal washing finds “Washing finds may seem a simple job, but it lets you have a hands-on experience which can help you understand details of artefacts, which you don’t get to see when you’re excavating”

Micheal, Second year UCLAN student.




An archaeologist’s job revolves around paperwork, and keeping detailed records. Both before and after a feature is excavated scale plans are made. These plans play a crucial part in understanding the archaeology and forming our interpretations (though the students may not always like drawing them at the time!).

For these plans to be usable in publications and presentations they need to be illustrated. From this we can begin to layer the plans to see where each feature fits within the trench and the levels of stratigraphy we are working with. I like to think of stratigraphy like a rainbow cake, each colourful layer is crucial to producing the overall cake, but each layer is different. Stratigraphy in archaeology works the same way, each layer of soil can represent a different action in time, and if we want to understand how the buildings of the fort were constructed or changed over time, we need to understand each layer.

Illustrating plans can be quite time consuming as you must trace over every line and stone on the drawing, but it’s quite satisfying when one is complete. Here’s a video below to show the difference, just like magic!

Before and After

On that note, I better get back to it. 24 down, 169 to go. So many plans so little time!

Check back in two weeks’ time to find out more about what we’re up too,


More than a Dig: Side Courses at Ribchester Revisited

At Ribchester Revisited, we want to give our students the opportunity to get as much experience as possible. In the trench, they practice many aspects of archaeology: planning, trowelling, interpreting, recording, etc. But it’s not just about the digging; there are also optional side courses, where students can leave the trench for three days to help an expert with another facet of archaeology. These courses are Environmental Sampling/Archaeobotany, Finds Washing/Recording, and Outreach. Each of these courses gives students a chance to experience a different type of archaeology and let them explore some specific fields within the broad category of Archaeology.


First, we have Environmental Sampling. On this course, students work with Don O’Meara, science advisor to Historic England and professional archaeobotanist. First working through the wet sieve, students take environmental sample buckets from the trench and run them through several sieves and meshes. These will help sort out materials by size, in addition to letting organic materials float to the top. These can be tiny remains of charred wood or seeds, among other things. Once any organic materials have been collected, the sieves are sorted into trays to dry. Students on this course will then sort through the dried samples and collect any finds that have been missed before sorting the gravels left over. Through this process, we are able to take samples from all around the trench and closely inspect a representative amount of soil. These environmental samples can be hugely important for figuring out who is in the fort, as well as with dating; recently, a sample from the guardhouse yielded what may be some domesticated oat. Oats were not domesticated until the post-Roman period, so evidence like this can help us push back the date of occupation and help us understand how long people are using the fort after the end of Roman Britain.

Don O’Meara instructs some IFR students on the wet siving process


Those who choose to work on finds with Justine Biddle also help us to look at what comes out of the trench. While our experts will be doing the interpreting of what some of the small finds are, students can help with the cleaning and recording. As far as bulk finds – things like bone, pottery, slag, and nails – students will take finds trays from completed contexts and clean off all the finds. This is important so that one can see any identifying marks on the bulk finds that would make them become a special find, like graffiti on a bit of pottery. The finds also have to be free of dirt, so that when they are counted, weighed, and bagged, the extra weight of the dirt does not affect records. Besides washing finds, students also record them; for the bulk finds, that involves weighing and counting each type of find per context and entering those data into the database. For special finds, called small finds, such as coins and jewellery, students will take photographs and carefully record the dimensions, as well as any identifications that have been made, in the database. These detailed records of bulk finds and small finds help us to identify what each context in the trench is, and what was going on at that layer of archaeology. In post-excavation analyses, some of these finds will be sent off to experts; bone specialists can identify which animal bones are from, as well as any significant marking such as cut marks that would indicate the animal was butchered; metalwork specialists can x-ray metal objects to help see past corrosion and tell the original shape of the metal object; pottery experts can say during what period certain types of pots were made, or if there’s a maker’s mark, even who made it and a very specific range of dates in which it could have been produced.

Justine Biddle shows students how to bag and record finds on day 2 of the minicourse


Lastly, students can go on Outreach for a few days. Here, we focus on the interactive part of archaeology. There’s no point of digging if nobody is sharing what happens, so students on outreach will conduct tours for people who visit the trench, make informative videos to post on our YouTube page, and help manage the social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and even this blog! The outreach part of the archaeological process is essential to keeping our dig relevant, so we are happy to welcome visitors to our trench for a tour where we can explain how the dig is being conducted, what is going on in front of you, as well as our current theories and interpretations about what was going on in our Roman fort at this time. Video diaries give everyone with internet connection a chance to see the trench and hear our students speak about the work that they’re doing. Lastly, students will help to manage the social media outlets of Ribchester Revisited, so that we can reach more people and keep those interested up-to-date on the dealings of our dig.

All the tools for Ribchester Revisited’s social media presence, except the camera used to take this picture!