Cross-Channel Connections. The fort at Oudenburg (Belgium) within its wider context: new insights into the Litus Saxonicum.
At the Oudenburg fort, 21st-century excavations on the fort precinct – such recent field research is an sich a unique given for the Channel region – yielded for the first time within the context of the Shore forts, securely datable structural evidence representing the evolution of the mid- to late Roman fort. Integrating all valuable data of old and more recent research, Oudenburg has become a key in the development of the coastal defence system in the Channel region, not in the least of the late Roman ‘Saxon Shore’, and not only on a historic-military level, but also on a socio-cultural and socio-economic one.
The confrontation of the stratified structural evidence of the defensive system and of the fort precinct together with the associated material culture, and the data from the surrounding graveyards and extramural settlement has resulted in a refined fort chronology running from the late 2nd century until the first decades of the 5th century. It can now be firmly established that a unified cross-Channel coastal defence system was installed under Postumus, visually expressed by the defensive stone architecture showing specific characteristics. This unification clearly instigated the cross-channel connection as can be seen in an increase of incoming British material. Under the breakaway British Empire, the Channel divided the shores on a political level, with both the Oudenburg and Aardenburg fort as part of the official Empire opposite to the British Empire. The reoccupation and renovation of the Oudenburg fort under Constantine in a way which visually and strategically mirrors the manner in which the British Shore forts were reinforced, testifies to a general building programme along the Channel. Moreover, the firmly established start date at Oudenburg of c. AD 325-330 may well represent the actual start of the ‘Saxon Shore’ system operating under one command. A clear interruption in the fort’s occupation somewhere in-between AD 360/370 and 380 can be related to troop movements to the East by Julianus in AD 361 or by Valentinianus I in the (early) 370s. The subsequent reoccupation of the fort by non-regular troops, can be closely dated to AD 379/380 and can possibly be related to the actions by Magnus Maximus against Gratianus. The army unit stayed put certainly after AD 411/413, likely until the second quarter of the 5th century, and this evidence of prolonged military occupation sheds new light onto the end of ‘Roman’ military occupation in the North-West.
Recent excavations on the seaward side of the Saxon shore fort of Richborough
Recent excavations and research at Richborough has located the eastern defensive wall of he Saxon Shore fort. This paper will discuss the plan of the fort as now understood, its relationship with the ancient coastline, and the cause of the collapse of the eastern wall.
A Tale of Two Frontiers?: Hadrian’s Wall and the Saxon Shore Forts in the 3rd to 5th centuries A.D.
Constructed along the south and east coasts of England, the Saxon Shore forts boast variable architecture, inconsistent dating and overall an unclear function that have caused them to be seen in the past as anomalies in Roman Britain when compared to the more “standard” and commonly studied forts on Hadrian’s Wall and elsewhere in the province. However, while previous scholarship on these forts have largely concentrated on their mural architecture and internal structures, relatively little attention has been given to their military finds. Indeed, the few recent works that do acknowledge the military culture of the Saxon Shore forts conclude that the number of discernable military objects from each fort is low compared with other garrisoned fortifications of Late Roman Britain; an observation which has been interpreted to signify the Saxon Shore forts’ reduced operation as military instillations in this time period. Proponents of this theory have labelled these sites as “fortified ports” occupied by a token garrison which served more in a logistical role than any sort of military force (i.e. Cotterill, 1993). However, research on military equipment found on the Hadrian’s Wall during the 3rd to 5th centuries have traditionally been seen to indicate that their military occupation continued far into the late empire and perhaps even after the traditional end of Roman occupation in Britain in A.D. 410. Through a systematic survey of the military objects at all of the excavated Saxon Shore forts, this paper will demonstrate that a military occupation is actually as equally applicable to the Saxon Shore Forts during the Late Empire as contemporary riverine and coastal forts on Hadrian’s Wall and its Cumbrian extension. Thus, rather than viewing these two groups of forts as stark opposites, this paper argues instead to consider both these groups of forts in the same military framework, namely as frontier instaillations aimed towards controlling and monitoring their respective areas.
‘I’m not so (Saxon) shore’: Richborough in the 3rd – 5th centuries AD
This paper focuses on the later 3rd – 5th century occupation of Richborough and what the archaeology reveals about the ‘military community’. The approach of this study is primarily through the objects, but also approaches the question of Richborough’s place within the local late Roman landscape.
The excavations of Richborough in the 1920s and 1930s revealed the remains of a Claudian beachhead, port town and late Roman shore fort. As the most extensively excavated shore fort in Britain, Richborough is often a benchmark for comparison with the others. However, it is a site often referenced but rarely researched. The small finds collection alone includes over 7000 objects, yet only few studies of these exist. When they have, they have been studied as isolated groups of objects, rather than as a site assemblage. Although this study focuses on the military objects and tools, it also takes into account the other artefact types found alongside to present a better understanding of the site.
Being able to go through the site archives has revealed a wealth of detail that never made it to publication. Through the use of these archives and study of the small finds, more detailed plans of the site have been produced to identify areas of occupation and those who dwelt within the walls. Deeper investigation of the stratigraphy has also revealed more about the construction of the shore fort as well as possible structures sited within.
Overall, this study will produce the first study of the site assemblage, a searchable catalogue for the small finds, and a methodology for future study of the site.
A Roman coastal fortlet or signal station at Reedham, Norfolk, England
The church of St John the Baptist, Reedham, Norfolk is located on a low-lying promontory overlooking the reclaimed marshlands where the Rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney meet before draining into the North Sea by the Roman fort at Caister-by-Yarmouth, about 12km to the north-east. The Roman shore fort at Burgh Castle is closer, only some 5km to the north-east. A distinctive feature of the church, marking it from others in the region, is the amount of Roman building material, both stone and brick, re-used in its construction. A significant proportion of the stone is the same grey quartzite (Leziate) as that used in the Roman shore fort at Brancaster on the north coast of Norfolk and can be traced to outcrops in the north-west of the county, a distance of over 100km as the crow flies from Reedham. A programme of geophysical survey has been followed up by test-pitting in the churchyard. This has revealed remains of Roman foundations, severely truncated by medieval graves, including of an apse or tower, indicative of a structure with a footprint of some 30m by 12m (360m2). The use of materials from a distant source suggests the remains are of an official nature, as at early 3rd century Brancaster. This connection with the latter and the absence of closely datable material from the excavations is at present the best indicator of date.
A Revaluation of the Western Shore forts
Whilst the southern, eastern and northern frontiers of Roman Britain have been explored in great detail the western coast has been often overlooked when the defences of the island are considered. The defence of the western coast would not only have been required to protect Hadrian’s wall from flanking but also to protect the mineral extraction in Wales, Cornwall and especially the Mendip region from Irish raiding. This Irish threat can be seen as a great menace in the ancient literature and has traces in the archaeological record for raiding from the 3rd century onwards. The relative closeness of this threat to the coastal regions compared to the distance of Saxon raiding and the easier access this would afford raiders underlies the need for this defensive chain. In light of recent discoveries at Lancaster and conjectured sites this paper intends to suggest a more complete and extensive chain of defences that has previously been thought.
Excavations at Pevensey Between 1936 and 1939
The Late Roman Shore-fort at Pevensey in East Sussex has been the subject of a number of excavations over the last 150 years: those by Charles Roach-Smith in 1852 and Louis Salzman in 1906-08 were published but the more substantial excavations by Frank Cottrill and Bertram Pearce in 1936-39 remained unpublished until more than 70 years later.
The unusual non-rectangular shape of the fort has resulted in the suggestion that it is later than the rest of the shore-fort system but Cottrill’s excavations show that it was a late-3rd c. creation like the rest of the forts. Fulford’s more recent excavations in the 1990s have shown that the fort was constructed by the usurper Allectus between 293 and 296. Work by this author suggests that Allectus failed to complete the fort, although a garrison was installed. The fort was finally completed in the 330s or 340s.
Cottrill opened 14 trenches, including area excavations at the west and east gates and inside the north wall of the fort. The west gate excavation showed the gatehouse to be a very strong barbican-like structure set back at the end of a funnelled entrance between two solid horseshoe-shaped towers. The gatehouse was demolished during the early-5th c. and its masonry used to create a causeway across the fills of the fort ditch.
Most of the north wall of the fort is very well preserved up to parapet height and Cottrill recorded part of the Roman parapet walk with the scars of removed gamma merlons. The southern wall of the fort has collapsed but one of Cottrill’s trenches shows it to have been undermined by rising sea levels during the 5th century before the fort was sacked by the South Saxons at some time after 470: an event recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as taking place in 491. Evidence for this sacking was found in most of Cottrill’s trenches as a layer of burnt daub and ash sealing the Roman levels.
Recent Geophysical Survey at Portus Lemanis
The Saxon Shore-era fort of Portus Lemanis, today known locally as Stutfall Castle, was originally built beside a lagoon open to the sea on its southern side. Through a combination of natural silting and the drainage of low-lying coastal land, it today sits some 2.5km inland on a south-facing slope. While substantial sections of the enclosing fort wall remain extant, especially in the north of the fort where they reach a height of 8m in places, the majority of the wall’s construction is now lost or buried.
This paper presents the findings of a 6.5 hectare magnetometry survey, carried out in 2015, that covered the whole of the fort’s interior and ground immediately exterior to the walls to a distance of approximately 20m. The survey was conducted by archaeologists and students from the University of Kent’s Classical and Archaeological Studies Department and helped by local volunteers. It was instigated at the request of a local amateur archaeologist who had been investigating the site for some years previously.
The aims of this project were to use non-invasive geophysical survey to establish, if possible, the original wall lines; locate, if present, any outer defensive earthworks or extra-mural features close by the extant walls; re-locate the bathhouse building and Principia recorded by Smith (1850); map the layout of any buildings and roads within the walls; locate, if present, evidence of the supposed earlier Classis Britannica fort and any associated harbour works or infrastructure. Additionally, it was hoped that the geophysical data would aid in assessing to what extent historical subsidence had damaged the buried archaeology. The survey also provided the opportunity to record the location of all visible wall and wall fragments using an RTK GPS system.
The results have shown that buried archaeological features relating to the fort contain sufficient magnetic variability to be clearly visible in the data. Where the survey extended beyond the walls, the data has a uniform natural appearance with few identifiable magnetic anomalies. By contrast, the fort interior is characterised by a complex pattern of strong responses indicating the presence of much buried archaeology. The monument has been greatly disturbed by major land slippage and this is reflected in the magnetic results with anomalies, though strong, showing much distortion. However, it has been possible to tentatively identify certain features and at the completion of the survey, four of the six stated aims of the project have been fulfilled.
Davies, M. 2017, “The Findings of various Archaeological Investigations at the Roman Naval Fort, Stutfall Castle, Lympne, 2014-16”, Archaeologia Cantiana, vol. 138, pp. 165-178.
Smith, C.R. 1850, The Antiquities of Richborough, Reculver, and Lymne, John Russell Smith, London
The opposite coastline: problems to be solved about continental Litus Saxonicum
This paper provides an overview of problems, issues and discussions about the continental Saxon Shore which may represent a different reality from that experienced by British counterparts.
The development of a coastal system during the early third century is not the same phenomenon in the northern and southern coasts of Gaul. The Classis Britannica and then the events of the Gallic Empire and the Carausius’ adventures play a considerable role in the creation of the continental military Tractus. For the fourth century, it is important to understand how the system and fleets evolved and what types of sites, cities and fortresses, were involved in the project. Finally, issues related to the disruption of the system and its abandonment are crucial too, even if the Cities do not change as is the case for Forts.