Archaeologists reveal more about Roman marching camp found at sports stadium excavation in York

By William Axtell | 07 July 2015

Ankle breakers show how well-organised Roman marching camps "kept lads busy", say archaeologists

A photograph of an old ring
A possible Roman ring© Courtesy York Archaeological Trust
The remains of a Roman marching camp, brooches and a possible Roman ring have been uncovered at an excavation in York where archaeologists found narrow “ankle breaker” slits, cuts at the bottom of the ditches to supply drainage and trip attackers.

Ahead of Huntington Stadium’s imminent transformation into a community sports facility, a team of volunteers and archaeologist from the York Archaeological Trust spent four weeks investigating the site.

The dig exceeded the expectations of project manager Ian Milsted and produced a variety of small finds such as pottery shards and fibulae brooches. It also fulfilled the Trust’s aim to discover the precise purpose of the camp.

A photograph of a ditch
A partially excavated ditch slot with "ankle breaker"© Courtesy York Archaeological Trust
“Long before we broke ground, we hoped to find out whether or not this encampment was a temporary practice camp or a more long-lived marching camp,” says supervisor Arran Johnson.

“The substantial ditches, complete with highly uniform ankle breakers, tell us that this was no mere method of keeping the lads busy. These defences meant business.

A photograph of two women taking a sample
Two archaeologists taking an environmental sample from a possible cesspit© Courtesy York Archaeological Trust
Perhaps the most remarkable discovery was a possible Roman ring set with a beautifully carved stone. Johnson considers the quantity of finds small but does not think this indicates a lack of activity.

“Roman legions were disciplined, bringing everything they needed with them and packing everything away when it was time to move on," he says.

"The lack of material culture suggests that a well-drilled and tidy garrison were stationed here.

"While few physical objects were recovered from the ditch, a wealth of organic material has been sampled that will hopefully tell us more about the diet, lifestyle and activities of the people within the defences.

"Such a considerable amount of deposition wouldn’t have occurred without a lot of activity on site."

A photograph of an old brooch
A fibula brooch© Courtesy York Archaeological Trust
The finds will now be analysed for information about the date and use of the camp.

Positioned on the fringes of the Roman Empire, Milsted believes the camp was used either by the IX Legion Hispana or VI Legion Victrix depending on the date of use.

The XI was one of the original legions to invade Britain and suffered a mauling by Boudicca’s revolt of 60 AD. Hadrian brought the VI to Britain in 122 AD, where it replaced the XI and set to work constructing Hadrian’s Wall.

A photograph of some archaeologists and volunteers
The archaeological team© Courtesy York Archaeological Trust
Perhaps initial occupation by the XI is more likely, as the presence of ceramics dating to early in the Roman occupation of York may suggest the site relates to the initial founding of Eboracum in 71 AD.

“It is easy to imagine a ring of marching camps defending the northern frontier of the new city while the fortress was constructed on the site now occupied by York Minster,” says Johnson.

“The substantial defences certainly suggest that the area was very much a frontier at the time of their construction.”


Three places to see Roman history:

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter

Exeter is possibly the furthest west the Romans went and was for a short time the home of the II Legion Augusta. The museum boasts a fine collection of Roman finds including coins, glass, pottery and military equipment.

Vindolanda and Roman Army Museum, Northumberland

From one frontier to another, the Vindolanda Roman Army Museum is spread over two forts near Hadrian's Wall. Perhaps most famous for the illuminating, highly personal Vindolanda writing tablets, the site is still being explored by archaeologists.

Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex

For something less rugged and more civilised, Fishbourne Roman Palace boasts the largest collection of early mosaics in the country. Apart from the famous floors which include the Cupid on a Dolphin mosaic, visitors can also stroll around the recreated Roman gardens.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
After the first mention of the IX Hispana every subsequent has it as XI. From Wikipedia I would guess that IX is correct and that this is the famous lost Ninth.
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