Romans ate porridge, pasta and bread, imported opium poppy and had fleas at a fort near Glasgow

By Culture24 Reporter | 06 June 2016

Archaeologists have used 2,000-year-old sewage to deduce that Romans enjoyed carbs and battled with worms and fleas on the Scottish frontier

A photo of a dark red Roman head found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
This head of a Roman goddess was discovered in the Scottish town of Bearsden during the 1970s© Historic Environment Scotland
Romans ate porridge and fruit and suffered from worm and flea invasions a few miles from the centre of Glasgow, according to archaeologists studying building remnants, insect remains and sewage at a former fort along the Antonine Wall.

The army occupied Bearsden for a generation, creating “complex” trade networks and a long-term infrastructure in the East Dunbartonshire town. Professor David Breeze, the author of a new book revealing decades of excavations and scientific analysis, says the plan and history of the fort were originally uncovered during the 1970s.

“The bath-house and latrine discovered at that time are now on public display and are an important part of the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site,” he says, discussing the 40-mile most northerly frontier of the once-mighty Roman Empire.

A photo of a stone slab found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
A stone signpost© Historic Environment Scotland
“We were very fortunate to discover sewage in a ditch which was analysed by scientists at Glasgow University and demonstrated that the soldiers used wheat for porridge and to bake bread, and possibly to make pasta.

“It also told us that they ate local wild fruits, nuts and celery as well as importing figs, coriander and opium poppy from abroad, and that they suffered from whipworm, roundworm and had fleas.”

The frontier was built as a physical barrier on the orders of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the years following AD 140.

A photo of a large Roman fort found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
The wall ran from modern Bo'ness, on the Firth of Forth, to Old Kilpatrick, on the River Clyde© Historic Environment Scotland
“Despite their distance from Rome, the soldiers at Bearsden seem to have been far from detached from the rest of the empire,” says Dr Rebecca Jones, of research co-funders Historic Environment Scotland.

“Evidence shows they regularly received commodities like wine, figs, and wheat from England, Gaul and Southern Spain – as well as some locally gathered food.

“I’m sure that when the excavations were first taking place in the 1970s and 80s, nobody foresaw that the fort would become part of a World Heritage Site.”

Dr Jones describes the book as “essential reading for anybody interested in the Roman occupation of Scotland.” Its chapters also contain expert analysis of pottery, plant remains, soils and glass found in the trenches.


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a large Roman fort found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
The frontier was a symbol of the Roman Empire's power and control© Historic Environment Scotland
A photo of a large Roman fort found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
The other five World Heritage Sites in Scotland are the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, St Kilda, New Lanark and the Forth Bridge© Historic Environment Scotland
A photo of a large Roman fort found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
A reconstruction of the site's latrine from the book© Historic Environment Scotland
A photo of a large Roman fort found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
How the bath-house might have looked© Historic Environment Scotland
A photo of a large Roman fort found during excavations on the Antonine Wall in Scotland
© Historic Environment Scotland
Three places to discover Roman Scotland in

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
The permanent gallery at the Hunterian Museum showcases the collection of spectacular monumental sculpture and other Roman artefacts recovered from the Antonine Wall, including richly sculptured distance slabs which are unique to the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

Kinneil Museum, Falkirk
A short walk from the museum takes visitors to a Roman fortlet, a medieval Church and the site of the medieval village, Kinneil House and James Watt's cottage.

Elgin Museum
Possibly the oldest independent museum in Scotland. Established in 1836, the purpose built museum opened in 1842. The Italianate style building underwent a £500,000 refurbishment in 2003.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.
    image
    advertisement