Roman

42 – 409 CE

Please see further information on Romano-British aspects on the page here.

A selection of pottery vessels from the Doncaster kilns (© Doncaster Museum, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council)

Introduction

The county of South Yorkshire, established in 1974, extends over 1552km² and has a population of 1.34 million (2011). Large population centres include the Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham conurbations. A dense and rising population in much of the county has been an important contributory factor in explaining the considerable number of archaeological investigations in many areas, especially since 1990 when archaeology became a material consideration in the planning process (Planning Policy Guidance Note 16). These investigations have completely transformed our knowledge of the Roman period in the county, most strikingly, perhaps, in respect of rural settlement. Places that were previously archaeologically blank on the map have often produced abundant evidence, primarily for field systems and related features.

The character of settlement in the Roman period was, as it was in prehistory, considerably influenced by the natural environment, which may now be briefly summarised. In terms of relief, the eastern half of the county is largely low-lying, in many areas being no higher than 10m OD. The western part of the county lies largely above the 60m OD contour and in the moorland, on its western margin, rises to over 500m OD. The county’s principal rivers (e.g. Dearne, Don and Went) flow more or less west to east from the Pennine foothills towards the Humber Estuary; they have been a focus for human settlement since earliest times. As is the case today, rainfall in the Roman period would have been considerably higher on the high ground in the west of the county than in the east and average temperatures lower. As a result, the high moorland has always been much less attractive for settlement than other parts of the county.

The solid geology of South Yorkshire falls into four principal zones. The moorlands of the western edge are largely on Millstone Grit. In the centre of the county, around Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley lie the Carboniferous Coal Measures with deposits of shale, mudstone and sandstone. The succeeding Permian deposits to the east of the Carboniferous exist largely as a belt of Magnesian Limestone no more than about 10km wide, which runs through the county from north to south immediately to the west of Doncaster. Finally, the eastern part of the county lies on Triassic Sandstone. Quaternary (drift) deposits exist as peat on the moorlands whilst in the eastern part of the county, in the Humberhead Levels, there is a complex picture of alluvial and other deposits laid down at the end of, and subsequent to, the last glaciation.

Soil type and quality in the county are quite variable (www.landIS.org/soilscapes), but some broad differences can be identified that have had a bearing on the agricultural regime and settlement patterns in the past and on the survival of archaeological materials. For example, on the Coal Measure Sandstones soils are often seasonally wet, acid, and loamy or clayey with poor drainage. However, on the Magnesian Limestone soils are free draining, lime rich and loamy. On the Triassic Sandstone around Doncaster soils are also free draining but acid and sandy.

In addition to providing land of varying quality for agriculture, the county was also a source of other resources that were exploited in Roman times. Good building stone came, as it still does today, from the Millstone Grit and Magnesian Limestone. The former was also used for manufacture of querns and millstones. Small scale extraction may have exploited iron-bearing deposits in the Carboniferous and Triassic sandstone and bog ore was probably available in the wetlands of the Humberhead Levels. Coal may not have been extensively used for fuel in the Roman period but does occur in Roman contexts in the region and probably came from open cast mines. Another source of fuel may have been peat from the high moors.

The Research Resource

The study of the Roman period in South Yorkshire has a long history, beginning perhaps with William Camden who, for example, in the first edition of his Britannia (1586) identified the Danum of the Antonine Itinerary as Roman Doncaster. Since Camden the collection of antiquities and identification of roads, forts and settlements has gradually provided an outline of the character and history of the region in the Roman period, although archaeological investigation has only been a significant component of research since the early 20th century. The first excavation on any scale in the county was that of Templeborough Roman fort by Thomas May in 1916 (May 1922). Since World War II the number of excavations has increased steadily. Until perhaps the early 1970s these were usually conducted by various local institutions and societies; since then they have been largely the province of professional archaeological organisations.

In addition to excavations, there have been important landscape surveys in the region, which have identified upstanding remains of Roman settlement in areas untouched by later agriculture or development. They include Leslie Butcher’s survey of early settlements and fields in the southern Pennines (Beswick and Merrills 1983) and work in Canklow Woods, Rotherham by Dolby (1981), Latham (1993) and ASWYAS (2005a).

Another important research resource for the Roman archaeology of the county lies in the aerial photographic collections of the National Monument Record, Cambridge University and other institutions, which have been progressively enlarged and improved since World War II. Particularly well known is the work of Derek Riley (1976; 1980) on the Magnesian Limestone and sandstone landscapes of South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.

Museum services in South Yorkshire, notably Rotherham and Doncaster, contain large collections of Roman antiquities and archive material. Artefacts continue to come to light in various contexts other than formal excavation, not least from metal detecting. Since 1996 more systematic recording than hitherto has been possible through the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. There are almost 1000 records for Roman material from South Yorkshire largely of coins, brooches and pottery vessels, but also of other types of artefact.

Publication of archaeological material from South Yorkshire is widely diffused through books, monographs and both local and national journals. No detailed account will be attempted here, but it may be noted that many useful articles may be found in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal and, to a lesser extent, in Transactions of the Hunter Society. An important synthetic account of the Roman period in the region was published in 1986 by Paul Buckland in Roman South Yorkshire: A Source Book, which remains a starting point for many themes, especially the fort and vicus at Doncaster. Other syntheses include a survey of Roman Doncaster by ASWYAS (Archaeological Services, West Yorkshire Archaeological Service) in 2007 and a survey of cropmark landscapes on the Magnesian Limestone area, supported by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (Roberts 2010).

Fundamental to archaeological and historical research, whether published or otherwise, is the South Yorkshire Historic Environment Record (HER), which provides access to information on archaeological sites and finds, historic monuments and historic landscape features. There are currently (October 2018) about 1000 entries with some bearing on the Roman period. Accessible through the HER are the archaeological field reports – ‘grey literature’ – that are one of the principal sources of site-specific information.

Historical Summary

A history of Roman South Yorkshire should probably begin with the arrival of an army in the north of England in about the year AD 48 (Tacitus, Annals XII, 32). This was some five years after the invasion of Britain itself, ordered by the Emperor Claudius. The soldiers’ task in the region was to assist in the suppression of a rebellion against a Roman ally, Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes. They were the native people who, according to the second century geographer Ptolemy and other sources, occupied most of northern England, north of a line that ran roughly from the Humber Estuary in the east to the Mersey in the west. Whilst pre-Roman boundaries were, in general, poorly defined, it has been suggested that in South Yorkshire the River Don formed a boundary between the Brigantes and the Corieltauvi who occupied much of the east Midlands and Lincolnshire.

The Roman army returned to the north in about AD 51-2 in a campaign led by the Roman governor of Britain, Didius Gallus, once again to support Cartimandua who was, Tacitus tells us, now under attack by her former consort, a man named Venutius (Annals XII, 40). As part of this campaign it has hitherto been thought that an auxiliary fort was established on the south bank of the River Rother at Templeborough, near the deserted Iron Age hill-fort at Wincobank, although recent work has produced very little pottery earlier than c. AD 70 (Leary 2016). In Gallus’s campaign also, a legionary detachment (vexillation) may have established a fortress on the banks of the River Torne at Rossington Bridge, just south of Doncaster, although in the absence of excavation, the date of this site also remains uncertain.

In AD 69 a further dispute between Cartimandua and Venutius (Tacitus, Histories III, 45) may have provided a pretext for the Roman army to begin the conquest of the whole of northern Britain. The preliminaries, including the defeat of Venutius, were probably the task of Vettius Bolanus, Governor of Britain in the years 68 – 71. However, it was his successor Petilius Cerialis, under instructions from the Emperor Vespasian (69 – 79), who marched the Ninth Legion north from Lincoln in about 71 and established a legionary fortress at York (Eboracum). The route north, which was probably taken by the bulk of Cerialis’s army, entered South Yorkshire at a crossing of the River Idle at Bawtry before making for the valley of the River Don, carefully sticking to elevated ground at c.15m OD. The route reached the Don at the first convenient crossing, to the east of a gorge through the Magnesian Limestone belt. Within what is now Doncaster the road took a line that is closely followed today by Hall Gate, High Street and Frenchgate. A fort was established a little to the north-east of the road, overlooking the river on a small level outcrop of gravelly alluvium a few metres above the floodplain.

Another Roman fort on the Don apparently lay at Long Sandall c.5km north-east of Doncaster, but the site has largely been destroyed and little is known of its date, although it may have been a temporary establishment pre-dating Doncaster itself (Roberts 2010, 37). Another fort in the Doncaster area, also unexcavated, which may belong to the Cerialian period, lies at Burghwallis (Robin Hood’s Well), c.10km north of Doncaster. After crossing the Don, the army headed northwards leaving South Yorkshire at a crossing over the River Went near Thorpe Audlin (West Yorkshire). Another aspect of the Conquest period was the construction of the principal roads in the region (Margary 1973). Their lines are fairly well understood, although many points of detail remain to be resolved.

With the establishment of a permanent frontier to Britannia on the line of Hadrian’s Wall in the 120s there were important changes to the military garrison of the north which involved decommissioning the majority of the region’s forts, including Doncaster and Templeborough. In addition, it is usually thought that at about the same time a measure of self-government, as a ‘civitas’, was given to the territory of the Brigantes east of the Pennines with a capital at Aldborough (Isurium Brigantum). Most of South Yorkshire would probably have been part of the Brigantian civitas, although the south-eastern part of the county may have already been placed within that of the Corieltauvi with its capital at Leicester (Ratae).

Following the abandonment of the Antonine Wall in c.160 troops were moved south and forts in the north, including Doncaster (reduced in size), Templeborough and possibly Burghwallis, were regarrisoned for a short period. At Doncaster it was probably in the late 2nd century that a settlement south-east of the fort (the vicus) began to expand and perhaps took on something of a life of its own as a market centre. On the basis largely of excavations at St Sepulchre Gate, Buckland (1986, 42) has suggested that the vicus was enclosed by defences. Some remains of a vicus at Templeborough are known, although its history is uncertain (Davies 2016).

In rural areas the extensive field systems, often of Iron Age origin, appear to have been largely abandoned by the mid- to late 3rd century, presumably to be replaced by some alternative system of land management. In the late 3rd or early 4th century, the fort at Doncaster was rebuilt, possibly following the defeat, by Constantius I, of the rebellion by Carausius and Allectus in 296 (Buckland 1986, 17). This involved new defences with a stone wall of which a fragment can still be seen in Church Way. The late 4th- to 5th-century Notitia Dignitatum refers to a Praefectus of a mounted unit at Danum. It is now thought that no late Roman phase of reconstruction took place at Templeborough (Davies 2016).

Evidence for the late 4th century and the end of the Roman period in South Yorkshire is sparse. Rural sites produce little late pottery or other material. At Doncaster late 4th-century pottery appears to be confined to the fort (Buckland and Magilton 1986, 211).

Research Agenda

In this section a series of general themes are set out by way establishing a framework for further research into the Roman period in South Yorkshire. Under each theme heading a number of individual topics are introduced with specific research questions. Neither themes nor topics are not intended to be exhaustive in any sense. They relate primarily to aspects of the county’s archaeological archive that appear particularly amenable to further interrogation, although others pose questions for further fieldwork.

The Roman conquest: strategies and impact

A mid-1st century frontier zone?

That part of the county of South Yorkshire south-east of the River Don (as part of the territory of the Corieltauvi) may have been absorbed into the province of Britannia as early as the mid-first century, possibly following the establishment of the fort at Templeborough and fortress at Rossington. The remainder would follow after c. AD 71. What may be referred to as the ‘conquest period’ in the second half of the first century presents us with a number of questions around the Roman treatment of a frontier zone between Britannia and the client kingdom of the Brigantes before and during the process of its assimilation.

The forts may have their part to play in addressing this topic but we should be aware that other types of military site of the conquest period may be present in the region, such as the possible signal station identified at Whirlow overlooking the road from Brough-on-Noe to Templeborough (Waddington et al. 2017).

Another way of understanding the character of the frontier zone is to assess the material culture archive with a view to identifying any distinctive pottery, metalwork or other artefacts. For example, is it possible to identify the sort of early imported pottery found at Ferrybridge (West Yorkshire) (Evans 2005, 142), a site also likely to have been in the frontier zone, which may have been a point of exchange or transit for the passage of prestige goods into Cartimandua’s domain?

Early military dispositions: Templeborough and Rossington

It has previously been assumed, on the basis of May’s excavation, that Templeborough was founded during Gallus’s campaign of c. 51-2 (Buckland 1986, 30). Recent work has cast doubt on this date (Leary 2016), although this work was in a fairly restricted area and so we should still be asking when the fort at Templeborough was founded and what its context was in the history of the Roman conquest of the region. Interrogation of the archive will be of value, but further excavation is also a priority.

The date of the fortress at Rossington remains uncertain; it may belong to the campaigns of either Gallus or Cerialis (Buckland 1986, 8). Further field investigation of Rossington is required to address the questions of when it was founded and over what period, presumed to be brief, it was occupied.


Early military dispositions: Long Sandall, Burghwallis and Doncaster

Little is known, except from aerial photography, about the forts in the county at Long Sandall and Burghwallis, although it is assumed they both played some part in the conquest strategy.

Much of the fort at Long Sandall has probably been lost, but any opportunity for further investigation would be of great importance.

What is the date of the fort at Long Sandall and what is its relationship to the fort at Doncaster?

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Little is known, except from aerial photography, about the fort at Long Sandall, although it is assumed it played some part in the conquest strategy. Much of the fort at Long Sandall has probably been lost, but any opportunity for further investigation would be of great importance. What is its date and what is its relationship to the fort at Doncaster only 5km to the south-west? Was it, perhaps, part of a brief early conquest period campaign?
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Excavation, Fort

About a third of Burghwallis fort survives and there appear from the aerial photographs to be three successive phases of defences (Buckland 1986, 8; Roberts 2010). Further survey and targeted excavation are required to answer questions about its date range and historical context.

Buckland (1986, 12) dates the foundation of Doncaster to Cerialis’s campaign (c. 70 – 71), but in light of limited excavation, largely on the defences, this appears to be far from certain and it may be later, perhaps replacing Long Sandall and belonging to the governorship of Agricola (c. 78 -84). Further work on the excavation archives as well as excavation is needed to address the question of the date at which Doncaster Roman fort was founded.

Roman roads and the conquest strategy

Pre-Roman routeways can be difficult to identify and so their relationship to Roman roads is often unclear. However, roads linking the forts were an integral part of the Roman strategy of conquest in new territory. The routes followed by the principal Roman roads in South Yorkshire have been mapped by Ivan Margary (1973: Roads 28a, 28b, 281, 710b and 710c) and local researchers (e.g. White 1964; Preston 1969). As a result, these roads are fairly well understood, although matters of detail may be uncertain (Roberts 2010, 68-72). We may ask, however, whether other, as yet unknown, Roman roads existed in the region. The principal research tool will probably be aerial survey which has, for example, suggested that a road ran north-east from Templeborough to a crossing of the River Went at Thorpe Audlin (West Yorkshire) (Roberts 2010, 70). Likely to be highly effective also is the use of Lidar as has been shown recently in the north-west of England (Wilson 2016, 311-7). Lidar is a surveying technique that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring and mapping the reflected pulses with a sensor.

Less well known than their routes, is the history of the county’s Roman roads. Few formal excavations have taken place on roads, except in Doncaster itself (e.g. ASWYAS 2008a; ASWYAS 2008b). It is usually assumed that the main roads date from the Conquest period, but the Roman army may have taken some time before satisfying itself about the best course and then laying down a permanent metalled surface. Evidence from elsewhere in the Yorkshire region suggests that in some cases surfaces were not laid down until the early 2nd century (Ottaway 2013, 126-8).

Do the known routes of the Roman roads in South Yorkshire really belong to the conquest period and at what date were they confirmed by the construction of metalled surfaces?

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It is usually assumed that the main roads date from the Conquest period, but the Roman army may have taken some time before satisfying itself about the best course and then laying down a permanent metalled surface. Evidence from elsewhere in the Yorkshire region suggests that in some cases surfaces were not laid down until the early 2nd century (Ottaway 2013, 126-8).
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Road

At Rossington the road north to Doncaster crosses, and appears to disregard, earlier field systems (Riley 1976). This sort of evidence prompts the suggestion that further research on how roads were integrated into the landscape may provide new light on strategies of conquest and relations with the native population over and above the military dispositions.

Military equipment

From the point of view of understanding what auxiliary units were based in the county and their method of operation, a review of military equipment and related material, primarily from the forts, would be useful. South Yorkshire has produced some important items, notably the first-century shield from Doncaster (Buckland 1978) and the diploma dated to AD124 from Stannington (RIB II, 1, 2401.6), but there is other material from Doncaster (Buckland 1986, 14 – 15) and probably from Templeborough.

What auxiliary units were based in South Yorkshire, and what was their method of operation?

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A review of military equipment and related material, primarily from the forts, would be useful. South Yorkshire has produced some important items, notably the first-century shield from Doncaster (Buckland 1978) and the diploma dated to AD124 from Stannington (RIB II, 1, 2401.6), but there is other material from Doncaster (Buckland 1986, 14 – 15) and probably from Templeborough.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Human remains, Stable isotope analysis, Collections research, Artefact analysis

The Fort Vici

There are two fort vici known in South Yorkshire, at Doncaster and Templeborough. The former is much better known from excavation (e.g. Buckland and Magilton 1986; ASWYAS 1997), although at the latter, May’s excavations produced remains of an ‘industrial annexe’ (May 1922, 55-7) and further traces were found in 2006 (Davies 2016). Fort vici in Britain may have begun life as settlements for non-military personnel attached to the local garrisons, but many of them took on a life of their own in due course and acquired functions related to marketing and social interaction for their regions, if not usually, perhaps, quite passing over the threshold of urbanism.

Doncaster: the location of the vicus at Doncaster is now quite well understood and there is a body of new information about structures, material culture, burials etc from recent excavations to add to that reviewed by Buckland and Magilton in 1986 and by ASWYAS in However, this needs to be brought together in a coherent account that allows chronology and patterns of growth (in the 2nd century) and decline (in the late Roman period) to be assessed again. As noted below, the pottery will probably have a key role to play in an understanding of the role of the vicus in the local economy. Pottery can also make a contribution to understanding the character of the settlement and to determining whether and in what way it was distinct from the surrounding region. This point is neatly summed up by fig. 28 in Ruth Leary’s report (2008a) on the Gunhills, Armthorpe pottery, which shows the relative proportions of jars as opposed to dishes and bowls in assemblages from rural sites, sites in the Doncaster vicus and urban sites. Further work along these lines is to be recommended.

Templeborough: as far as the Templeborough vicus is concerned, it is probably best to record here that further excavation work is needed to allow any meaningful analysis comparable to that proposed for Doncaster, although a review of the existing archive in Rotherham museum would clearly be useful.

QSY0134: What can we say about the chronology , growth and decline of the vici at Doncaster and Templeborough?

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The location of the vicus at Doncaster is now quite well understood and there is a body of new information about structures, material culture, burials etc from recent excavations to add to that reviewed by Buckland and Magilton in 1986 and by ASWYAS in 1997. However, this needs to be brought together in a coherent account which allows chronology and patterns of growth (in the 2nd century) and decline (in the late Roman period) to be assessed again. As noted below, the pottery will probably have a key role to play in an understanding of the role of the vicus in the local economy. Pottery can also make a contribution to understanding the character of the settlement and to determining whether and in what way it was distinct from the surrounding region. As far as Templeborough vicus is concerned, further excavation work is needed to allow any meaningful analysis comparable to that proposed for Doncaster, although a review of the existing archive in Rotherham museum would also be useful.

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Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Excavation, Vicus

Rural settlement and landscape

A substantial part of the archaeological record of the Roman period in South Yorkshire is composed of evidence for rural settlement, although the recorded sites lie largely in the eastern half of the county. The distribution of sites from the Rural Settlement in Roman Britain project (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/romangl/map.html) shows they lie largely on the Magnesian Limestone and Triassic Sandstone within c. 10 – 15km of the main road to the north through Doncaster. This distribution is similar to that of finds recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Rural settlement is largely represented archaeologically by enclosures and trackways (‘field systems’) defined by ditches or, in a few cases, also by surviving banks or rough stone walls. Over large areas, largely if not wholly, south-east of the River Don, enclosures adopt a regular co-axial pattern, sometimes referred to as a ‘brickwork pattern’, although excavation shows that what now appears so regular on aerial photographs is a result of a complex development, often beginning in the Iron Age. The remains of round houses, the typical rural structure, are largely represented by ring ditches. All the features referred to are highly visible on aerial photographs and in geophysical survey in many, but not all, parts of the county.

Although it may have a geographical bias, there is a sample of considerable size from which we are now in a position to develop a synthetic account of how the county’s landscape was settled and managed by the majority of its Romano-British population. Such an account will build on, and add detail to, the broad-brush approach of, for example, the work of Jeremy Taylor (2007) and the Rural Settlement of Roman Britain project, the latter reviewed by Hodgson (2012). A number of research topics and questions are set out below that, it should be noted, not only bear on the matter at hand, but on overarching themes relating to economy and society.

Visibility of settlement

There remains further work to do in the county to assess the reliability of the pattern of Roman settlement we perceive at present. As far as the west of the county is concerned, environmental factors (climate, soil type etc) may mean a much lower level of settlement. It may be that in the Coal Measures only the sandstone outcrops (as opposed to areas of clay or mudstone) were suitable. Alternatively, the present pattern may be, in part at least, a product of patterns of development-led archaeological work. It is of some interest, therefore, that a ditched enclosure of Iron Age origin was found in an area unlikely to see development on relatively high ground west of Sheffield at Whirlow (Waddington et al. 2017).

In the east of the county, in the Humberhead Levels, site visibility may be affected by the character of the Quaternary deposits in which archaeological features cannot be easily detected in either aerial photography or geophysical survey (Van de Noort and Ellis 1997, 454).
For example, the site of a field system and enclosures for round houses at Topham House Farm, Sykehouse on deposits of silt, sand and clay was not known before it was ‘evaluated speculatively’ (Roberts 2003, 5). It is not clear whether sites like Sykehouse, or indeed sites in other sorts of environment, could be detected by Lidar, but it would seem worth pursuing to supplement existing techniques of prospection.

Iron Age into Roman

It is usually presumed, although datable finds are few, that field systems have their origins in the Iron Age and were then further developed in the Roman period. However, this is not always the case; at Gunhills, Armthorpe settlement of any consequence seems to have its origins in the 2nd century AD (Richardson 2008, 54).

Can we shed further light upon the development of field and boundary systems?

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By studying field systems in the vicinity of the Roman forts, are we able to identify whether they were in contemorary use? If so can we observe an impact from the Roman army and its demand for agricultural products?

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Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Field system, Fort

How can we investigate relationships between Roman and Iron Age fields systems?

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Where the Roman systems are successive to, or contiguous with, those of the Iron Age, we may ask how they interrelate:

  • are they always on a similar alignment?
  • are the ditches of similar size and profile?
  • are new enclosures on more marginal land?
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Iron age, Field system, Excavation

Late 2nd to 3rd century: change or continuity?

It is striking that the dating evidence – largely pottery – from the excavation of field systems appears to suggest that the ditches went out of use in the 3rd century. In this respect the evidence is similar to many other parts of Yorkshire (Hodgson 2012, 53; Ottaway 2013, 181). This may mean abandonment of some areas, but more likely a major change in land management is implied, perhaps involving larger fields or definition of boundaries by hedges that would leave no archaeological trace.

How can we investigate the hypothesis that ditched field systems went out of use in the 3rd century?

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We should ask whether:

  • an impression of change gained from a fairly rapid review of numerous site reports for this document can be defined more closely?
  • did change occur in all parts of the county or did the regime of ditched enclosures continue in some of them?

A first step to addressing these questions would, perhaps, be an overarching review of the pottery found in the silted-up ditches.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Field system, Field boundary, Excavation

The impact of climate change?

Another aspect of development in the landscape of the late Roman period that would warrant further investigation is the impact of climate change. The evidence from coastal and low-lying areas in Yorkshire, and elsewhere, suggests a gradual rise in sea levels, often referred to as a marine transgression, due to melting of the polar ice cap (Van de Noort 2004, 107 – 12). This may have had the effect of making settlement and agriculture in low-lying parts of the Humberhead Levels unviable due to persistent flooding and warping, i.e. the deposition of silt on the land.

Settlement: round houses and villas

The overall impression of Roman rural settlement evidence from South Yorkshire is that its people worked within the constraints of a subsistence economy that generated little in the way of surplus (see also next section). However, there is some variability in the settlement evidence that is presumably related in some way to the rural economy.

How land tenure was organised is difficult to determine but the majority of rural dwellers were subsistence farmers. Some may have been free, others either tenants or slaves of land holdings owned by the elite. In any event, the typical residence unit appears to have been a small group of round houses, but not in any sense a village. More might be learnt about these units in South Yorkshire from the study of the houses, their size range and any internal structural remains (although survival is usually poor), building, for example, on the discussion of the Topham Farm, Sykehouse examples (Roberts 2003, 27 – 30).

It is usually thought that it was at the centre of larger estates in Roman Britain, those able to generate surplus over and above what was needed for subsistence, that one would find a ‘villa’. In a Romano-British context a villa is primarily defined as a building, or buildings, of ‘Roman type’, meaning construction in stone and appointments such as baths, mosaics and painted wall plaster. The location of villas tends to be related to ease of communication with larger settlements, towns etc, where the product of their estates was marketed. The villas, or probable villas, in South Yorkshire are all within easy reach of Doncaster. They include Stancil (Whiting 1941), c. 10km south of the town, which has been known for some time, as has another at Oldcoates (Buckland 1986, 38). In addition, we may note a stone building with a hypocaust found at Hampole (Saich and Matthews 2001-3; Bevan 2007). Less well known is the villa at Conisbrough Parks, subject of a geophysical survey in 2003 and believed to be under excavation by the site owner. The first three sites are on Magnesian Limestone whilst Conisbrough Parks is on Coal Measure Sandstone. These examples apart, there seems to be a lack of villas in the county, some of which, at least, is similar in environmental terms to parts of the Yorkshire Wolds and the Magnesian Limestone belt further north where they are more common (Hodgson 2012, 54). Further villas may come to light in South Yorkshire, but the reason for their scarcity remains an important research question.

Economics of production

The economy of Roman South Yorkshire may have been based largely on subsistence agriculture, but there is also important evidence for manufacturing, primarily of pottery and iron.

A greater understanding of the Roman agricultural regime in the county will depend on coordinated reviews of evidence for field systems (see above), plant remains, animal bones and dedicated facilities, notably crop, or grain, driers, and artefacts, especially querns, involved in the various stages of production. As yet, developer-funded environmental work, although extensive, has not brought the subject in South Yorkshire into really sharp focus. Whilst there is now abundant evidence for the morphology of field systems, it remains difficult to relate to any variability in the agricultural regime across the county, for example in the relative importance of arable and stock rearing and how this might have changed over time. However, as the data base of material from excavation increases, it may be possible to address this.

Agricultural production: crops

Evidence for crops survives in archaeological deposits in the county largely as charred remains, although some waterlogged material has been recovered. Spelt wheat appears to be the dominant crop (e.g. it formed 90% of the cereal at Thurnscoe; Giorgi 2004), and this may be related to environmental factors.

To what extent was spelt wheat the dominant crop during the Roman period?

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Greater understanding of the Roman agricultural regime in the county will depend on coordinated reviews of evidence for field systems (see above), plant remains, animal bones and dedicated facilities, notably crop, or grain, driers, and artefacts, especially querns, involved in the various stages of production. As yet developer-funded environmental work, although extensive, has not brought the subject in South Yorkshire into really sharp focus. Whilst there is now abundant evidence for the morphology of field systems, it remains difficult to relate to any variability in the agricultural regime across the county, for example in the relative importance of arable and stock rearing and how this might have changed over time. However, as the data base of material from excavation increases, it may be possible to address this.Evidence for crops survives in archaeological deposits in the county largely as charred remains, although some waterlogged material has been recovered. Spelt wheat appears to be the dominant crop (e.g. it formed 90% of the cereal at Thurnscoe; Giorgi 2004), and this may be related to environmental factors.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Roman, Excavation, Organic material

Can we examine cereals, accompanying weed seeds and other crop-related debris to gain information on methods of husbandry?

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A greater understanding of the Roman agricultural regime in the county will depend on coordinated reviews of evidence for field systems (see above), plant remains, animal bones and dedicated facilities, notably crop, or grain, driers, and artefacts, especially querns, involved in the various stages of production. As yet developer-funded environmental work, although extensive, has not brought the subject in South Yorkshire into really sharp focus. Whilst there is now abundant evidence for the morphology of field systems, it remains difficult to relate to any variability in the agricultural regime across the county, for example in the relative importance of arable and stock rearing and how this might have changed over time. However, as the data base of material from excavation increases, it may be possible to address this.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Roman, Excavation, Organic material

How are patterns in the data for crop production related to environmental conditions in South Yorkshire?

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reater understanding of the Roman agricultural regime in the county will depend on coordinated reviews of evidence for field systems (see above), plant remains, animal bones and dedicated facilities, notably crop, or grain, driers, and artefacts, especially querns, involved in the various stages of production. As yet developer-funded environmental work, although extensive, has not brought the subject in South Yorkshire into really sharp focus. Whilst there is now abundant evidence for the morphology of field systems, it remains difficult to relate to any variability in the agricultural regime across the county, for example in the relative importance of arable and stock rearing and how this might have changed over time. However, as the data base of material from excavation increases, it may be possible to address this.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Roman, Excavation, Organic material, Climate change

Crop driers appear to be scarce compared to other parts of the region, such as the Wolds and Howardian Hills, perhaps indicating a less sophisticated approach to crop processing. Querns, however, occur quite widely in the county and a study of their distribution would make a useful contribution to an understanding of where and how processing took place (see also below). A model for such a study is that by David Heslop (2009) for North Yorkshire and County Durham.

How can studying the pattern of distribution of quernstones contribute to our understanding of where and how crop processing took place?

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Crop driers appear to be scarce compared to other parts of the region such as the Wolds and Howardian Hills, perhaps indicating a less sophisticated approach to crop processing. Querns, however, occur quite widely in the county and a study of their distribution would make a useful contribution to an understanding of where and how processing took place (see also below). A model for such a study is that by David Heslop (2009) for North Yorkshire and County Durham.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Quern, Collections research, Artefact analysis

Agricultural production: animals

Survival of animal bones in archaeological deposits appears to be poor in many parts of the county, largely, it would seem, due to the acidic nature of the ground. There was some discussion of this point at the Research Framework seminar, in which it was suggested that culturally determined approaches to the deposition of animal remains may also account for the lack of bones. However, at present there is no clear evidence for this.

Although survival is poor, there are, none the less, numerous, if usually small, assemblages of bones from across the county (e.g. from Doncaster; Turner 1986). Taken together, they have the potential to address questions about the local husbandry regime, which have been the subject of routine analysis by specialists elsewhere.

Were livestock kept primarily for milk and traction, or for meat? Did this vary between communities?

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Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework

What was the balance between rearing of the three main meat-yielding species: cattle, sheep/goats and pig? Did this change over time?

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Survival of animal bones in archaeological deposits appears to be poor in many parts of the county, largely, it would seem, due to the acidic nature of the ground. It has been suggested that culturally determined approaches to the deposition of animal remains may also account for the lack of bones. However, at present there is no clear evidence for this. Although survival is poor, there are, none the less, numerous, if usually small, assemblages of bones from across South Yorkshire (e.g. from Doncaster; Turner 1986). Taken together, they have the potential to address those questions about the local husbandry regime which have been the subject of routine analysis by specialists elsewhere.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Animal, Bone

Can we identify age-at-death patterns for livestock, and can these help us understand dairying, wool and meat production strategies, or specialised products like veal or sucking pigs?

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Survival of animal bones in archaeological deposits appears to be poor in many parts of the county, largely, it would seem, due to the acidic nature of the ground. It has been suggested that culturally determined approaches to the deposition of animal remains may also account for the lack of bones. However, at present there is no clear evidence for this. Although survival is poor, there are, none the less, numerous, if usually small, assemblages of bones from across South Yorkshire (e.g. from Doncaster; Turner 1986). Taken together, they have the potential to address those questions about the local husbandry regime which have been the subject of routine analysis by specialists elsewhere.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Animal, Bone

Manufacturing: pottery

The parishes east and south-east of Doncaster have one of the largest concentrations of Roman pottery kilns in Britain (Swan 1984, 105-8; 2002, 57 – 61). The industry was introduced by the Romans into an area that appears to have been largely aceramic (Leary 2008, 28), in contrast, for example, with east Yorkshire. Although the Doncaster kilns and their products have been extensively published (e.g. Annable 1954; Gilmour 1954; Cregeen 1957; Buckland et al. 2001; Buckland and Magilton 2005) and a review was published by Buckland et al. in 1980, there are questions that require further research, some related to chronology, others to technology.

Input from specialists with greater knowledge of the subject than the author of this document could, no doubt, usefully contribute here on such topics as the technology of production, methods of firing, types of kiln structure and use of fuel. However, one might ask the following questions of a more general relevance to the county’s archaeology:

What were the circumstances of the origins of pottery production at Doncaster? Was the establishment of the fort a stimulus to the beginning of production?

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The parishes east and south-east of Doncaster have one of the largest concentrations of Roman pottery kilns in Britain (Swan 1984, 105-8; 2002, 57 – 61). The industry was introduced by the Romans into an area which appears to have been largely aceramic (Leary 2008, 28), in contrast, for example, with east Yorkshire. Although the Doncaster kilns and their products have been extensively published (e.g. Annable 1954; Gilmour 1954; Cregeen 1957; Buckland et al. 2001; Buckland and Magilton 2005) and a review was published by Buckland et al. in 1980, there are questions which require further research, some related to chronology, others to technology. If we look at the Antonine period (c. 138 – c. 192), when there was a great expansion of production at Doncaster, we may ask whether this was to do with the emergence of the vicus as a market centre or to the continuing demands of the military, whether locally or on the northern frontier, or a bit of both.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Pottery, Pottery manufacturing site, Artefact analysis

Were there kilns directly associated with the Rossington or Templeborough fortresses?

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The parishes east and south-east of Doncaster have one of the largest concentrations of Roman pottery kilns in Britain (Swan 1984, 105-8; 2002, 57 – 61). The industry was introduced by the Romans into an area which appears to have been largely aceramic (Leary 2008, 28), in contrast, for example, with east Yorkshire. Although the Doncaster kilns and their products have been extensively published (e.g. Annable 1954; Gilmour 1954; Cregeen 1957; Buckland et al. 2001; Buckland and Magilton 2005) and a review was published by Buckland et al. in 1980, there are questions which require further research, some related to chronology, others to technology. If we look at the Antonine period (c. 138 – c. 192), when there was a great expansion of production at Doncaster, we may ask whether this was to do with the emergence of the vicus as a market centre or to the continuing demands of the military, whether locally or on the northern frontier, or a bit of both.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Dating techniques, Roman, Excavation, Fort, Pottery kiln, Pottery manufacturing site, Artefact analysis

If we look at the Antonine period (c. 138 – c. 192), when there was a great expansion of production at Doncaster, we may ask whether this was to do with the emergence of the vicus as a market centre or with the continuing demands of the military, whether locally or on the northern frontier, or a bit of both (see also section on trade below).

Manufacturing: iron

Alongside the pottery kilns at Cantley there was also iron smelting (Cregeen 1957). That similar heat-using processes for ceramics and metals should have been practiced in tandem is not surprising. We may ask if there is other evidence for this at Doncaster.

Ironworking slag suggesting smelting has been found on a number of settlement sites in the region including Armthorpe (Cowgill 2008) and Manor Farm, Bessacarr (MAP 2014), although as yet no coherent picture of iron production emerges for the county. We may ask:

Were there particular parts and periods in South Yorkshire where iron smelting took place in the Roman period?

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More information:

It is believed that alongside the pottery kilns at Cantley there was also iron smelting (Cregeen 1957). That similar heat-using processes for ceramics and metals should have been practiced in tandem is not surprising. We may ask if there is other evidence for this at Doncaster. Ironworking slag suggesting smelting has been found on a number of settlement sites in the region including Armthorpe (Cowgill 2008) and Manor Farm, Bessacarr (MAP 2014), although as yet no coherent picture iron production emerges for the county,

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Iron working site

Are there aspects of iron smelting technology which might suggest regional traditions related to the nature of the ores or available fuels during the Roman period?

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It is believed that alongside the pottery kilns at Cantley there was also iron smelting (Cregeen 1957). That similar heat-using processes for ceramics and metals should have been practiced in tandem is not surprising. We may ask if there is other evidence for this at Doncaster. Ironworking slag suggesting smelting has been found on a number of settlement sites in the region including Armthorpe (Cowgill 2008) and Manor Farm, Bessacarr (MAP 2014), although as yet no coherent picture iron production emerges for the county.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Organic material, Iron working site, Iron furnace

Can we test the hypothesis that iron smelting took place in tandem with pottery production in the Doncaster area?

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More information:
It is believed that alongside the pottery kilns at Cantley there was also iron smelting (Cregeen 1957). That similar heat-using processes for ceramics and metals should have been practiced in tandem is not surprising. We may ask if there is other evidence for this at Doncaster. Ironworking slag suggesting smelting has been found on a number of settlement sites in the region including Armthorpe (Cowgill 2008) and Manor Farm, Bessacarr (MAP 2014), although as yet no coherent picture iron production emerges for the county.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Pottery manufacturing site, Iron working site

Manufacturing: non-ferrous metals

There may be little evidence for sites where non-ferrous metals were produced in the county, but there is a large number of artefacts, largely in copper alloy, that may provide information on what was made locally and in what way. For example, early Roman fan tail brooches have a strongly regional distribution in South Yorkshire and the north Midlands, possibly based on workshops in the fort vici. Other examples of local specialities may come to light from typological analysis.

As far as manufacturing techniques are concerned, Dungworth (2002) has shown that the Romans introduced brass (copper and zinc) and gun metal (copper, zinc and tin) to the region. In light of its metallography, it is, therefore, suggested that the famous torc from Dinnington (Beswick et al. 1990) is Roman rather than Iron Age, but a wide-ranging metallographic survey may reveal a particular pattern in the alloys in the county from which a range of locally produced artefacts may be inferred.

Could a wide-ranging metallographic survey reveal a particular pattern in the Roman-period alloys in South Yorkshire from which a range of locally produced artefacts may be inferred?

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There may be little evidence for sites where non-ferrous metals were produced in the county, but there is a large number of artefacts, largely in copper alloy, which may provide information on what was made locally and in what way. For example, early Roman fan tail brooches have a strongly regional distribution in south Yorkshire and the north Midlands, possibly based on workshops in the fort vici. Other examples of local specialities may come to light from typological analysis. As far as manufacturing techniques are concerned, Dungworth (2002) has shown that the Romans introduced brass (copper and zinc) and gun metal (copper, zinc and tin) to the region. In light of its metallography, it is therefore suggested that the famous torc from Dinnington (Beswick et al. 1990) is Roman rather than Iron Age.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Metal processing site, Sample, Artefact analysis

Economics of exchange and trade

The passage of commodities from hand to hand in Roman South Yorkshire would have largely involved agricultural products and manufactured items for the sustenance of daily life. Transactions were, for the most part, conducted on a non-commercial and non-monetary basis in accordance with socially embedded redistributive and reciprocal arrangements. For the military, however, supply probably involved local commercially based exchange, using money, as well as centrally administered arrangements that, in some cases, brought in consignments of goods from some distance (table ware, wine, olives etc).

Pottery and trade

Because it survives in large quantities and has been extensively studied, pottery is just about the most useful artefact with which to study trade in the Roman period, both in the material itself, but also, up to a point, in other commodities that survive poorly or not at all, including wine and foods that were transported in pottery vessels.

As in the case of animal bone, survival of pottery may be impeded by the acid ground conditions in parts of the South Yorkshire region. However, there is a series of research questions relevant to the economics of trade and exchange to which the distribution of locally made and imported pottery can make an important contribution.

In 1980 (p. 162) Buckland et al. commented on the products of the South Yorkshire kilns that ‘any attempt to plot their distribution has to be approached cautiously’. However, what is immediately striking about the distribution of pottery in the region seen from today’s stand point, over 30 years later, is that larger groups tend to come from Doncaster itself and sites a few kilometres distant such as Armthorpe (7475 sherds – Leary 2008) and Holme Hall Quarry, Stainton (5300 sherds – Leary et al. 2007), whilst sites at a further remove tend to produce relatively little pottery regardless of the scale of the intervention, e.g. field system ditches at Wombwell Woods produced only 21 sherds (Northamptonshire Archaeology 2001). The impression created is that there is a clear pattern in the regional distribution of pottery from the Doncaster kilns to a fairly restricted zone. However, we need to ask more closely what the size of that zone was, what constraints operated to restrict it and are there exceptions? For example, was Doncaster pottery largely distributed to sites that were easily accessible by road?

Pottery is thought to have been imported to the county in small quantities during the Iron Age and after the Conquest from regional sources, largely North Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire and possibly the Trent Valley. Is it the case, as suggested by Ruth Leary (2008, 28), that this trade was based on pre-Roman networks on which the Roman military regime had little impact? Or do we see the army supplying itself with material from outside the immediate region before (and after) production started at Doncaster?

Although so much of the evidence comes from the east of the county we should not think only of Doncaster as a distribution centre for pottery in South Yorkshire. Appreciable quantities of the pottery from the site at Whirlow, west of Sheffield (Beswick 2017) and from sites identified in the Pennine foothills by Leslie Butcher (Beswick and Merrills 1983) can be sourced to Derbyshire kilns, perhaps suggesting a distribution network focused on the fort at Brough-on-Noe (Derbyshire). Further assemblages from the west of the county will be needed to address this matter.

Samian

Samian occurs fairly widely on sites in South Yorkshire, although usually in small quantities, and primarily, it seems, on those within easy reach of the Roman road network. South Gaulish wares (imported before c.120) are rare and most of the material is Antonine. What is needed is a systematic distribution study of samian from which patterns should emerge with a bearing on trade in the vessels themselves and the context in which they were exchanged. We might ask, in particular:

Where does early (i.e. imported before c120CE) Samian material occur and on what type of site?

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Samian occurs fairly widely on sites in South Yorkshire, although usually in small quantities, and primarily, it seems, on those within easy reach of the Roman road network. South Gaulish wares (imported before c.120) are rare and most of the material is Antonine. What is needed is a systematic distribution study of samian from which patterns should emerge with a bearing on trade in the vessels themselves and the context in which they were exchanged.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Pottery, Collections research, Artefact analysis

Was Samian a prestige good which sustained patron – client relationships rather than simply a commodity bought and sold in local markets?

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Samian occurs fairly widely on sites in South Yorkshire, although usually in small quantities, and primarily, it seems, on those within easy reach of the Roman road network. South Gaulish wares (imported before c.120) are rare and most of the material is Antonine. What is needed is a systematic distribution study of samian from which patterns should emerge with a bearing on trade in the vessels themselves and the context in which they were exchanged.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Pottery, Collections research

Non-local pottery: 2nd – 3rd century

In this period the supply of non-local pottery to Doncaster reaches its peak and includes fine wares such as beakers from Cologne and Trier as well as the Nene Valley (Leary 2008a, 45; Leary 2008b). The extent to which pottery imported from elsewhere in Britain or further afield reached sites outside Doncaster appears limited, but systematic analysis of assemblages in the county is needed to quantify this.

What was the size of the zone to which Doncaster pottery was distributed during the Roman period? Was it influenced by the ease of access by road?

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In 1980 (p. 162) Buckland et al. commented on the products of the South Yorkshire kilns that ‘any attempt to plot their distribution has to be approached cautiously’. However, what is immediately striking about the distribution of pottery in the region seen from today’s stand point, over 30 years later, is that larger groups tend to come from Doncaster itself and sites a few kilometres distant such as Armthorpe (7475 sherds – Leary 2008) and Holme Hall Quarry, Stainton (5300 sherds – Leary et al. 2007) whilst sites at a further remove tend to produce relatively little pottery regardless of the scale of the intervention, e.g. field system ditches at Wombwell Woods produced only 21 sherds (Northamptonshire Archaeology 2001). The impression created is that there is a clear pattern in the regional distribution of pottery from the Doncaster kilns to a fairly restricted zone. However, we need to ask more closely what the size of that zone was, what constraints operated to restrict it and are there exceptions? For example, was Doncaster pottery largely distributed to sites which were either accessible by road?

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Road, Excavation, Pottery

Was non-local Roman pottery redistributed solely through Doncaster or can we identify other trade routes?

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In the 2nd-3rd century the supply of non-local pottery to Doncaster reaches its peak and includes fine wares such as beakers from Cologne and Trier as well as the Nene Valley (Leary 2008a, 45; Leary 2008b). The extent to which pottery imported from elsewhere in Britain or further afield reached sites outside Doncaster appears limited, but systematic analysis of assemblages in the county is needed to quantify this.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Pottery

Querns

Querns are regularly recovered from excavations in South Yorkshire. There is also a manufacturing centre at Wharncliffe on the Millstone Grit (Makepeace 1984). However, there is no survey of the county’s querns comparable to that by David Heslop (2009) for North Yorkshire and County Durham. This is now needed to address such questions as the extent to which Wharncliffe products were distributed in the county and to what extent sources on the Coal Measures (reviewed by Gaunt 2008) and elsewhere were also used.

Coinage

Roman coins occur widely, if unevenly, in South Yorkshire, on settlement sites, in hoards (Buckland and Magilton 1986, 77-82; Robertson 2000) and as chance finds. At present there is no overview of the subject, but this would be of considerable value for addressing a number of questions relating to the economy of the county and the interconnectedness of the forts and vici and rural settlements.

Outside the military establishments, to what extent can we identify anything like a monetised economic system at any time or in any part of the county during the Roman period?

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Roman coins occur widely, if unevenly, in South Yorkshire, on settlement sites, in hoards (Buckland and Magilton 1986, 77-82; Robertson 2000) and as chance finds. At present there is no overview of the subject, but this would be of considerable value for addressing a number of questions relating to the economy of the county and the interconnectedness of the forts and vici and rural settlements.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Coin, Rural

Was the principal source of Roman coinage payment to soldiers or did trade engaged in by the civilian population have a role to play? Were there other social and economic mechanisms by which coinage arrived in areas outside the military establishments?

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Roman coins occur widely, if unevenly, in South Yorkshire, on settlement sites, in hoards (Buckland and Magilton 1986, 77-82; Robertson 2000) and as chance finds. At present there is no overview of the subject, but this would be of considerable value for addressing a number of questions relating to the economy of the county and the interconnectedness of the forts and vici and rural settlements.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Coin

Does the distribution of coins suggest that exchange based on prices set in money terms was involved in the supply of the military with locally produced commodities?

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Roman coins occur widely, if unevenly, in South Yorkshire, on settlement sites, in hoards (Buckland and Magilton 1986, 77-82; Robertson 2000) and as chance finds. At present there is no overview of the subject, but this would be of considerable value for addressing a number of questions relating to the economy of the county and the interconnectedness of the forts and vici and rural settlements.
Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Excavation, Coin

Religion and cult practice

Evidence for religious practices and beliefs of traditional Roman form, whether ‘classical’ or with origins elsewhere in the empire, is sparse in the county. There are, for example, only two altars, one dedicated to the Mother Goddesses from Doncaster (RIB I, 618) and the other (now lost) to Mars from Staincross Common near Barnsley (RIB I, 622). Further research on the subject would seem to have limited possibilities although one would like to know more about a site at Bawtry that produced architectural fragments and other artefacts possibly derived from a temple (Berg and Major 2006).

It is usually assumed that native beliefs and practices remained largely unchanged by the Roman conquest in much of the province of Britannia. Evidence for them tends to be scarce in many regions because they did not usually involve the use of permanent structures for worship nor were their deities portrayed in any tangible form. However, one aspect of the impact of the Conquest was a certain amount of ‘Romanisation’ of native beliefs such as to give them Latinised names and depict them as human beings in stone sculpture or other media. In light of this, a review of the artefactual material from the county might reveal evidence for native deities in Roman form.

It has also been recognised that artefacts of Roman type, usually pottery or metalwork, might, on occasions, be used for ritual (‘structured’) deposition in features such as ditches and wells as part of cult practice. Leary (2008a, 44) refers to groups of pottery from Gunhills, Armthorpe which appear ‘purposeful and may represent closure deposits or boundary deposits…marking rites which accompanied changes in the layout of the boundaries.’ A site at Hatfield Lane, Doncaster, produced what appeared to be two deliberately buried structured deposits, one of two samian bowls and the other a quern (ASWYAS 2015). However, whilst there may be other examples of ritual deposition from the county, they can be hard to identify and understand without seeing them against the background of a broader picture. What is needed is an overarching review of such deposits to address questions such as:

To what extent, and in what way, was deliberate deposition of Roman material culture used to serve cult purposes and what may those purposes have been? What artefacts were chosen, and were the changes to the practice over time?

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It has been recognised that artefacts of Roman type, usually pottery or metalwork, might, on occasions, be used for ritual (‘structured’) deposition in features such as ditches and wells as part of cult practice. Leary (2008a, 44) refers to groups of pottery from Gunhills, Armthorpe which appear ‘purposeful and may represent closure deposits or boundary deposits marking rites which accompanied changes in the layout of the boundaries.’ A site at Hatfield Lane, Doncaster, produced what appeared to be two deliberately buried structured deposits, one of two samian bowls and the other a quern (ASWYAS 2015). However, whilst there may be other examples of ritual deposition from the county, they can be hard to identify and understand without seeing them against the background of a broader picture.

Found in the following Frameworks:
South Yorkshire Historic Environment Research Framework
Categories:
Roman, Religion or ritual, Excavation

Burial practice

Roman burials in South Yorkshire come largely from Doncaster (e.g. Buckland and Magilton 1986, 60; Atkinson and Cumberpatch 1994-5; ArcHeritage 2013) or in small numbers on sites nearby, such as Adwick-le-Street (Dolby 1969) or Rossington (a single cremation from the Inland Port site, excavated recently by Wessex Archaeology). The only Roman tombstones from the county are a group of five from Templeborough, three of which are inscribed (RIB I, 619-21).

Evidence from the county for burial in the ground in the Iron Age is more or less non-existent and it is likely that it was one of those parts of England in which the dead were usually disposed of in other ways. Burial was, therefore, a custom that was introduced by the Romans. However, the lack of burials at any distance from the forts appears to be indicative of the lack of Roman impact on native customs in this respect, although one should bear in mind that human remains will not survive well in the acid burial conditions prevailing in many parts of the county. A few possible graves in which no remains had survived were found at Thurnscoe near Barnsley (Neal and Fraser 2004, 29-32).

In spite of the biases and inadequacies in the data, there are important questions to be asked about Roman burial practice in the county, to set it in the wider context of the region as a whole. This will require a review of all the known burials found, although for the most part this will focus on Doncaster, which has produced the majority. Questions arising from such a review will include the relationship between cremation and inhumation, i.e. did the two rites coexist throughout the Roman period or did cremation largely give way to inhumation in the mid – late 2nd century as it did, for example, at York? As far as Doncaster is concerned, there is now probably sufficient data to ask if any form of patterning in cemetery organisation can be observed in the sense, for example, of cremations and inhumations being assigned to different zones or burials with particular types of grave furnishing being grouped together. From the point of future work, it will be important to record graves and their contents to the high standard achieved recently at Waterdale where, for example, a variety of organic materials deposited with the cremated remains were identified (ArcHeritage 2013).

Conclusion

The themes and topics described above are, for the most part, related to what appear to be the principal strengths in the archive of the Roman archaeology of South Yorkshire. Further work on addressing the research questions set out should provide directions for further fieldwork in the county, which will have a relevance for Roman studies not just locally, but beyond the region. In addition, it is worth emphasising that a good deal of progress in research can be achieved without putting a trowel in the ground, but instead by a full study of materials already excavated based on co-ordinated analysis of the existing archives. To take just one example, six contiguous sites at Balby Carr, south-east of Doncaster have been excavated by three different organisations: Birmingham Archaeological Field Unit, ASWYAS and Wessex Archaeology. Between them they have revealed a complex late Iron Age and Roman landscape with good waterlogged deposits. The Birmingham site – Catesby Business Park – has a full publication (Jones 2007) in an academic journal, one is published in summary form (Daniel 2016), whilst the others have been reported only in client reports (ASWYAS 2005; 2006). Balby Carr is a good example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. What is now needed is an overview of all the sites excavated such as to provide a coherent account of a very important piece of historic landscape.

A more general point arising from the Balby Carr example, is that it is striking that at least half a dozen organisations now work in South Yorkshire on a regular basis and others come in from time to time. As a result, the archaeological archive has, inevitably, become somewhat fragmented. Moreover, each organisation employs its own reporting methodologies although observing overall South Yorkshire Archaeology protocols. In light of the way development-led archaeology is conducted, one fears that there will, inevitably, be obstacles to coherent research into the region’s archaeology unless ways can be found to encourage co-operation between the organisations involved.

Many of the research questions proposed here are fairly standard topics relating to chronology, distribution of sites and of artefacts etc. Until these fundamentals are addressed in a systematic manner, we will not have the building blocks for wider and more adventurous enquiries into society and economy in the Roman period, nor will we be able to set South Yorkshire in the wider context of Roman Britain as a whole

Reconstruction of the Roman building found at Hampole, South Yorkshire (after Bevan 2007)

Original text by Patrick Ottaway (2019)

Bibliography

Abbreviations

RASB Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Roman Antiquities Section Bulletin
YAJ Yorkshire Archaeological Journal

Sources

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  • ArcHeritage 2013. Excavations at Waterdale, Doncaster, Report 2013/13.3
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