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The Roman Period#

Jeremy Taylor


The wealth and diversity of Roman remains in the East Midlands make the region a significant area for the study of the history of Roman Britain. Despite a number of gaps in our knowledge and a general lack of synthesis, there has been sufficient survey and excavation to propose a research agenda for the future that can be advanced through further work. Certain characteristics of the region in the Roman period place it in an important position to answer much wider questions about the development of the province. Throughout this paper reference is made to the position of the East Midlands in the wider context of Roman Britain. Key among these characteristics is that:

These themes can be seen to run through many different aspects of the archaeology of the period. The following sections first summarise the strengths and weaknesses of current knowledge before introducing potential research themes for the future. Clearly other topics could and should be considered, but for the purposes of this paper only the key issues have been outlined.

The resource

Archaeological evidence for the Roman period is both extensive and abundant across the East Midlands (Fig. 36). In places the remains are densely distributed, of high quality and materially rich. Elsewhere, however, evidence is sparse and remains poorly understood. Roman period records currently represent between 8-22% of the archaeological resource on the county SMRs, but the quality and accessibility of much of this information is variable.

Fig 36: Distribution map of Roman Period sites mentioned in the text
Distribution map of Roman sites

All told, the SMRs contain over 6000 records related to the Roman period. Whilst this constitutes a large proportion of the total, it is likely to under-represent the true figure, since a significant number - if not the majority - of undated cropmark sites are also likely to be Roman and/or Iron Age in date. Throughout the region the period is characterised by intensively occupied and extensive rural landscapes related to expanded agricultural production, regional-scale craft and industrial production of pottery, salt and iron, the construction and use of an extensive network of roads, and the foundation and development of many local markets and religious centres. Discrete, formal ceremonial sites are found in both urban and rural locales, and detectable burial rites become far more common on both rural and town sites, with later Roman inhumation cemeteries frequent at larger settlements.

Before outlining the current archaeological resource under a series of thematic headings, it is useful to note some overarching biases in the record. These primarily relate to the impact on our current understanding of the history of archaeological intervention (such as the distribution of excavated sites of the period) and biases in aerial photographic visibility and coverage, and progress in mapping this information. Likewise, the location of areas of extensive and intensive systematic surface survey and research-orientated material culture studies, especially in relation to metal detecting (e.g. Mark Curteis' work and the Portable Antiquities Scheme), have all had a distinct impact upon our understanding of the region's archaeology. The detailed effects of this will become more apparent in the sections that follow, but the overall impression is that, in the north and west of the region we have a reasonable overview of the military history of the period, but know little in detail about the development of settlement and landscape outside one or two well-surveyed areas. Further south, survey evidence and an increasing body of excavations have the scope to provide a good overview of the development of the main river valleys in the Roman period. For this to happen, however, much of this work needs to be synthesised either in outline or through full publication of key datasets.

Aerial survey, fieldwalking, geophysical survey, metal detecting and excavation have all made a significant impact on our understanding of the resource for the region in this period:

Aerial survey

A long tradition of aerial survey by both regional and national flyers such as Pickering, Foard and Riley has provided invaluable extensive landscape coverage primarily on permeable geologies under arable cultivation. Results on the claylands and in areas of improved pasture and woodland, however, are patchy. This has produced a resource that is biased in distinctive and now reasonably well-defined ways. The National Mapping Programme has completed the transcription and mapping of photographs over roughly 60% of the region, with surveys of the National Forest (MacLeod 1995), Nottinghamshire (RCHME 1999), Northamptonshire (Deegan forthcoming) and Lincolnshire except the fenland (Bewley 1998) substantially or wholly completed. The publication of this work and access to its results in archive will provide an invaluable systematically recorded resource for the future analysis of the development of settlements, field systems and communications across the region as a whole. At present this region has a more complete resource in this regard than any other in England.

Field survey

Fieldwalking has been widely undertaken in a number of areas across the region by both professionals and amateurs, although more of these surveys need to be fully published or their archives made readily accessible. Furthermore, this resource is understandably biased towards predominantly arable parts of the region such as Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and lower-lying areas of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The projects for which readily available accounts exist can be considered to work at two scales: extensive, regional or sub-regional surveys, and intensive local surveys.

Significant examples of the former are the work of David Hall and Paul Martin in Northamptonshire, much of which has been assessed by the author (Taylor 1996; forthcoming); the Fenland and Humber wetlands surveys in Lincolnshire (Hallam 1970; Hayes and Lane 1992; van der Noort and Ellis 1997; 1998); the Medbourne Survey (Liddle 1994); the Trent Valley Survey in Nottinghamshire (Knight and Howard 1994; 2004); and synthesis of field survey evidence of upland areas in Derbyshire on the Magnesian limestone (Hart 1981) and in the Peak district (Makepeace 1998). Smaller-scale more intensive surveys include the Langton Hundred Survey, Leicestershire (Bowman 1995; 1996); the Brigstock survey (Foster 1988); the Raunds Area survey (Parry 1994; forthcoming); the Roystone Grange survey (Hodges 1991); and survey of Ropsley and Humby (Lane 1995). Additional groups of systematically recorded sites across extensive blocks of landscape, especially in Leicestershire and the middle reaches of the Nene valley in Northamptonshire have been collated but await publication.

The technique is evidently restricted to arable land but the robust nature of much Roman pottery means that sites are frequently detectable from the surface and systematic fieldwalking has regularly been used ahead of PPG16-related development. Many examples of the latter are available in evaluation reports held within SMRs across the region, but have not been systematically collated as a resource in their own right despite increasing consistency in methodology and reporting of the results.

Geophysical Survey

Developer funded evaluations have demonstrated that magnetic susceptibility and magnetometry represent an effective method of rapid ground survey for the identification of Roman settlements over many soil types and geologies across the region, although they rapidly lose the ability to define wider landscape boundaries and trackways away from core occupational areas as magnetic contrasts fall away. Resistivity survey is occasionally used and has had some success in defining the layout of buried stone structures associated with villas or other primarily later Roman buildings (e.g. at Croughton; CAS 1996).

Metal detecting

Well-recorded amateur detecting has greatly enhanced our understanding of Roman coinage and other metalwork in the region but many extensively detected sites would benefit greatly from the collation of their existing coin lists and non-ferrous assemblages. The systematic identification and recording of metalwork from Roman sites represents a potentially very valuable source of information about their chronology and possible status. The advantages of such an approach have been demonstrated in East Anglia (e.g. Davies and Gregory 1991), and more recently at Titchmarsh in Northamptonshire (Curteis et al. 1998-9). The recent employment of Portable Antiquities officers across the should provide greater scope for the development of this resource in future.


The region has a highly variable record of excavation and intensive watching briefs. Certain areas such as the Nene Valley have had a long tradition of archaeological intervention, especially on villa sites. In some areas such as Lincolnshire, the majority of significant scale excavations are of antiquarian or early to mid twentieth-century date and are thus of limited use for answering many questions we might wish to ask today. Furthermore, the area stripping of urban and rural settlements other than villas has been surprisingly limited with very few fully reported examples of extensively excavated settlements in the last 20 years. A tendency among Roman period archaeologists to focus on building architecture has led to a situation in which understanding of the broader settlement context of rural sites in particular is poor, and notably worse than that achieved for Iron Age settlement. Long-standing and recent major excavations on rural settlements at for example Dunstan's Clump (Garton 1987b), Rampton (Knight 2000), West Deeping, Piddington (Friendship-Taylor 1999), Stanwick (Neal 1989), Wollaston (Meadows 1996), Courteenhall (Ovenden-Wilson 1997; Thomas 1998) and Crick (Chapman 1995) promise to remedy this situation in and around the major river valleys, but large areas of the region have seen very little modern excavation. In part this is a consequence of familiar issues such as the visibility of the record, the history of archaeological interest, the scale and intensity of modern development, and the extent of arable cultivation.

It is probable that the under-representation of Roman rural settlement evidence through excavation has been exacerbated by three further factors. First, a long tradition of focusing on Roman military history in the north and west of the region (reflecting a wider trend nationally as one moves north) has tended to leave rural settlement as a less studied backdrop to the analysis of forts and their vici. The second factor is the perhaps surprising failure of PPG16-related excavations, as a follow up to evaluation, to focus on the area stripping of Roman rural settlements. This may in part be due to the difficulty of defining the nature and extent of occupation on Roman sites encountered by evaluation trenching, especially where evidence for domestic structures is absent or has been lost. Finally, there is the continuing and more widespread problem, noted above, of the tendency in Roman archaeology to focus on the materially rich or more highly visible sites or parts of sites to the detriment of excavation of the 'ordinary'?


Understanding the development of society in the Roman East Midlands is ultimately dependent upon our ability to construct and use a sound chronology. The basic chronological frameworks for the Roman period are now reasonably well developed, but much local variability in terminology and dating practice has led to problems of comparability in wider regional syntheses. This is due to several factors. These include our dependency on the presence of well-dated ceramic 'fine wares', the paucity or lack of chronological certainty in the use of metalwork finds, a tendency to attempt to tie inherently 'fuzzy' archaeological dates to specific historical events, and our continuing unwillingness to use methods of absolute dating in areas or periods where conventional typological methods are of doubtful or no use.

In the majority of cases, date brackets for phases of activity on excavated sites are still dependent upon a long established - but in places still uncertain - chronological framework for fine and coarse ceramics. Most ceramics are ultimately dated through association with more accurately dated material located in historically dated contexts, primarily on the Continent. Dating through the use of other forms of material culture, particularly metalwork, is problematic, partly because of the longevity of circulation possible for coinage and other precious metalwork noted by Reece (1995) and others, but increasingly because the assumptions and associations used to date some forms of metalwork such as brooches are themselves in dispute (cf. Haselgrove et al. 2001).

Confusion is also often caused by a tendency to try to force our necessarily loose dating brackets for a particular group or phase into an inappropriately tight chronological horizon in order to associate it with specific historical developments. In addition to presenting a misleadingly precise view of events this has the tendency to lead to a situation in which different archaeologists use a plethora of dating terms, from a specific historical date (e.g. 'c. AD 130'), to the reigns of individual emperors (e.g. 'Hadrianic'), to broader terms such as the nearest half or full century (e.g. 'mid second century') thus hindering comparison. Finally, although Roman archaeology in Britain is dealing in the strictest sense with a relatively short historical period, it is important that we learn to appreciate that there are places and periods in which the techniques and approaches of prehistoric archaeology are more appropriate to the construction of chronologies. This is evidently the case when dealing with upland or other environments within the region where occupation may be short lived, or poor in dateable material culture. The presence of a small quantity of dateable Roman material culture is unlikely to be sufficient to date the full span of activity at a site. If we do work in this way, we are in danger of confusing the presence of a horizon of Roman material culture with a chronological period of activity (the first to fourth centuries AD).

For the purposes of this assessment, the Roman period will be considered in terms of two broad phases in order to structure the discussion and to pull out broad trends in developments over time. These phases cover the early Roman period from the initial conquest of the region up to the end of the second century AD, and the later Roman period from the third century AD to the late fourth-early fifth century AD. The periods do not entirely correspond with clearly discernible changes in the archaeological record - much of the data for the later second and third centuries in particular cannot be so easily divided - but the division is sufficient for this review where the intention is to pull together the evidence into a broad regional overview.

A basic ceramic chronology is available for most parts of the region, combining information from existing studies of particular wares (e.g. Howe et al. 1980 for Lower Nene valley wares) and the synthesis of larger excavated groups such as those from Towcester (Brown and Alexander 1982; Brown and Woodfield 1983), Leicester (Connor and Buckley 1999) and Lincoln (Colyer et al. 1999; Jones 2002). On occasion these can be augmented by referring to more general corpora nationally or immediately outside the region as around Milton Keynes (e.g. Marney 1989).

For the early Roman period an important area of former concern in dating Late Iron Age and first-century coarse wares from the south of the region has recently been addressed by Friendship-Taylor (1998). However, work of similar quality does not exist for the different fabric and form traditions found in the north and north-west of the region. In particular, much work still needs to be done on pulling together the chronological development of grog- and shell-gritted wares common in south Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The recent publication of a number of backlog reports from the Nene and Welland research committee excavations near Peterborough (e.g. Mackreth 1996) and the excavations around Empingham in Rutland (Cooper 2000a), however, do now provide good basic data for a reappraisal of the southern end of this region.

In the later Roman period, the absence of reliably and closely dated fine wares from many areas hampers the analysis of settlement history. The especially conservative development of pottery traditions in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire from the mid second to fourth centuries AD makes dating difficult in the absence of imports or specialised regional products. Problems in dating later Roman activity over much of the west and north of this region are exacerbated by the absence of published corpora for the Mancetter-Hartshill industry on the Warwickshire-Leicestershire border, the later Nene valley products, or the pottery from the Swanpool kilns and Derbyshire wares (Willis 1997b; 2004, 11).

The Upper Nene valley grey wares received much early attention through the excavation of kiln sites (e.g. Johnston 1969). Together with the investigation of the shell-tempered ware kilns at Harrold in Bedfordshire (A.E. Brown 1972; 1994) and the distribution studies of pink grogged ware (Booth and Green 1989; Taylor 2004), this work provides a useful background for understanding these important coarse wares in the south of the region. Our knowledge of these wares would, however, benefit from synthetic study in the light of recent excavations. The development of such corpora is currently hindered by the non-publication of the major settlement excavations noted above and by occasionally variable standards in their reporting. All these issues have been addressed in some detail by the Study Group for Roman Pottery (Willis 1997b; 2004) and thus need not be repeated here.

Despite these developments it is important to consider the implications of 'long waves' in pottery production (Going 1992) and their attendant chronological biases, especially in relation to the dating of settlements of the third and fourth centuries. As in many parts of Britain, there are particular problems in constructing late fourth-to fifth-century chronology in the absence of reliably dated artefacts. In this context, the possibilities of radiocarbon dating need to be considered, especially in relation to environmental data and continuing late Roman traditions of inhumation. Coinage provides a good source of chronology for urban and larger rural sites, but low levels of coin loss (especially up until the third century) mean that it is frequently of less value on rural sites and on first- to second-century settlements.

The Resource Assessment#

The following sections summarise the quality and quantity of the evidence available for the region, when addressing research themes chosen to reflect current concerns within the discipline:

Forts and the military

In looking at the military history of the region, a broad north-west to south-east divide is soon apparent. South and east of the Trent valley and the Fosse Way, evidence for Roman military installations and activity is sparse (Fig. 37) and, where present, largely of short duration. To the north and west, however, a different record emerges, which demonstrates extensive and sometimes long-lived (if intermittent) military occupation. At present our knowledge of the overall distribution of military sites is reasonably good and has been improved by increased use of aerial photographic and geophysical survey in the last 20 years. In outline, these discoveries have enabled us to be confident of the twofold division noted above, but much still needs to be done if we are to understand the process of the militarisation and demilitarisation of the region's landscapes.

Fig 37: Distribution map of Roman military sites and roads
Map of Roman military sites and roads

Excavation on the majority of known sites in Derbyshire suggests a phase of initial militarisation in the AD 50s with the construction and occupation of forts at Strutts Park west of the Derwent at Derby, and at Chesterfield (CARC 1973; Courtney 1975; Ellis 1989; Lane 1973) followed by further fortifications and deployments during the 70s with new bases at Little Chester in Derby (Brassington 1967; 1982a; 1982b; 1993; 1996; 1997; Dool and Wheeler 1985; Todd 1967a; Webster 1961; Williams 1991), Brough on Noe (Bartlett 1959; 1960; Dearne 1993; Jones and Thompson 1965; Jones and Wild 1968; 1970; Jones et al. 1966; Richmond 1938), and Melandra (Bruton 1907). Less securely dated are the possible fortlets at Castle Hill Camp (Pentrich; Kay 1961), Sawley (Todd 1967b) and Highstones (Hart 1981).

Moving into north and west Nottinghamshire, the network of early forts, marching camps and vexillation fortresses is relatively well known, thanks partly to aerial photography. The chronology and nature of its construction, use and abandonment, however, is far less well understood. Military installations are known at Broxtowe, Calverton (Welfare and Swan 1995), Farnsfield (Riley 1977; Swarbrick and Turner 1982), Osmanthorpe (Bishop and Freeman 1993), Gleadthorpe, possibly Scaftworth (Bartlett and Riley 1958; Page 1906; van der Noort and Ellis 1997) and Littleborough (Segelocum; Wade and Ford 1973). Only Osmanthorpe, a Neronian fortress occupied for only a short time, is securely dated through modern excavation. Taken alongside the limited information from finds and trial excavations at Broxtowe and Littleborough, however, it seems that the majority of sites in this area were abandoned after the AD 70s.

To the east, along the Trent valley in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, first-century forts have long been claimed to exist at the location of each of the subsequent roadside settlements along the Fosse Way at Margidunum, Ad Pontem, Crococalana and Vernemetum. Evidence for conquest period or indeed later forts at these sites, however, is limited. The 1963 and 1965 excavations at Thorpe by Newark (Ad Pontem) do indicate the presence of a first-century fort (Forcey 1994) thought to have been slighted by the AD70s, but elsewhere the assertion is predicated more upon expectation than evidence. Definite forts exist at Holme (Journal of Roman Studies 1961, 120), Marton (Worrell 1997), and Newton on Trent but none are as yet well dated.

In the south and east of the region, by contrast, there are far fewer definite examples of first-century military installations and the suggestion that they acted as the spur to the development of roadside and urban settlements is largely unsupported (the two conquest period fortresses at Mancetter and Longthorpe, on Watling Street and Ermine Street respectively, lie immediately outside the region). An assumed early fort at Lincoln remains to be found, and the evidence for an early fort at Leicester is still slight (Clay and Mellor 1985). This said, however, a fortress was clearly established at Lincoln by the AD 60s but had become a colonia by AD 96 (Jones 1988; Jones et al. 2003). There is also some support for a first-century fort at Ancaster (Todd 1981a), although corroborative evidence from recent further evaluations was lacking (K. Hirst pers. comm.), and possibly some indication from aerial photography of another at Owmby. Taken alongside the known sites at Great Casterton (Todd 1968), Longthorpe (Dannell and Wild 1987; Frere and St Joseph 1974) and Water Newton (Mackreth 1995), and the evidence for possible military buildings at Old Winteringham (Whitwell 1995), this may suggest a further string of forts overseeing the route north from Godmanchester, along Ermine Street to Lincoln and the Humber, in the first century AD and possibly primarily in the Neronian and Flavian periods.

Other possible sites have been noted at Wigston Parva (Liddle 1995a) in Leicestershire and Kirmington in Lincolnshire (Jones and Whitwell 1991), although the latter may be an example of later Roman fortification of a roadside settlement. Despite numerous attempts to find early military sites associated with roadside settlements and at key strategic locations elsewhere in the south of the region, no definite examples have been recorded in Northamptonshire.

Archaeological evidence for military occupation or, more accurately, military installations, effectively ceases by the end of the first century AD over most of the region, and certainly by the mid second century. The absence of excavation on any significant scale on many of the sites in Nottinghamshire, however, should caution against the idea that Brough on Noe in Derbyshire is necessarily the only site reoccupied in the mid to late second century and in continuous use until the fourth century.


Settlements of the Roman period are extremely numerous across the region (Fig. 38), but are very unevenly distributed and usually poorly understood. The regional patterns broadly follow trends seen nationally (Taylor forthcoming) and are largely affected by the factors of archaeological visibility and the history of research noted above. The colonia at Lincoln and civitas capital at Leicester have been notable in the extent of fieldwork and research undertaken (for references see Cooper and Buckley 2003; Jones et al. 2003), although there are significant gaps in our knowledge. Fieldwork and research into smaller settlements has been less extensive.

Fig 36: Distribution map of Roman rural settlements and roads
Distribution map of Roman rural settlements and roads


Broadly, the settlement evidence varies in two major ways. On the one hand, our understanding of rural settlement can be considered to conform to a broad upland-lowland divide, consequent on differences in the survival, visibility and recording of the archaeological evidence. On the other, there are significant archaeological differences in the nature and pattern of the evidence itself that seem to reflect variation in the development of rural society in different parts of the region. Nowhere are these differences more apparent than in Derbyshire, where patterns of historic land use in upland areas have left a potentially rich record of relatively well-preserved upstanding earthworks of both settlements and field systems. Both Hart's (1981) and Makepeace's (1998) surveys have succeeded primarily in locating settlements and describing their more obvious visual characteristics; however, further detailed investigation of their chronological and agricultural development is needed.

Outside the upland zone the evidence for settlement is of a different kind in which denuded arable landscapes reveal sites in the form of cropmarks and artefact scatters. In areas such as the Coal Measures and clays to the south of the uplands where aerial photography is rarely successful, very little is known, although recent fieldwalking by local societies such as the Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical Society has shown that these landscapes were densely settled in the Roman period. For a long time the same could have been said of the claylands of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, but sustained campaigns of local fieldwork, largely by or in conjunction with amateur societies, has radically altered our understanding of the density and nature of Roman settlement over the last 25 years (Bowman 1995; 1996; Hall 1985; Liddle 1994; 2004b; Taylor 1996). The extent and sheer quantity of this information, although inevitably limited in detail, represents a very important resource for the study of changing rural settlement patterns that urgently needs to be synthesised and more widely disseminated.

Where aerial photographic evidence is good and, importantly, where it has already been systematically assessed and plotted through the NMP, data for Roman settlement patterns are again very good and accessible for future research. In Nottinghamshire, the Trent valley, the gravels of the Smite/Devon valley and the Sherwood Sandstones have all yielded extensive and detailed cropmark evidence for Iron Age and Roman settlement and field systems (Knight and Howard 2004; RCHME 1999). Likewise, the lighter, well-drained soils over the Lincoln Edge, Limestone Heath and Chalk Wolds in Lincolnshire, show the extent and distribution of Roman settlement well (Bewley 1998). In Lincolnshire, however, there has been less of a tradition of local fieldwalking both here and in the Clay Vale where aerial photography is of limited value. Consequently, knowledge of Roman rural settlement here is still limited, although it is gradually being filled out by metal detecting reports and evaluations as part of PPG16-related developments.

Zones within the region that have been subject to sustained aerial survey, fieldwalking and excavation are rare, but do constitute a very valuable resource for the study of rural settlement development at a detailed local or micro-regional level. Examples include several parts of the Middle and Lower Nene valley (Meadows 1996; Parry 1994; forthcoming), tributaries of the Welland valley (e.g. Cooper 2000a), and increasingly parts of the Trent (Knight and Howard 1994; 2004).

Morphology and architecture

Evidence for the morphology and layout of settlements and the changing architectural traditions used within them are an important resource for studies of changing rural social organisation and status. This includes current evidence for settlement size and nucleation, especially in relation to the development and nature of non-villa rural settlements and nucleated urban/roadside settlements during the mid to late Roman period. The past focus of excavation on villa buildings and the conceptual separation of Iron Age from Roman have tended to fragment and bias our understanding of settlement architecture and morphology for the early part of the period. In particular, we have until recently, had a surprisingly poor understanding of the layout and morphology of entire early Roman farmsteads.

As a consequence, our understanding of the main forms of rural settlement, both chronologically and spatially in particular, are still poor, but some trends are becoming apparent. Small enclosed settlements like those at Holme Pierrepont (O'Brien 1979b), Gamston (Knight 1992), Dunstan's Clump (Garton 1987b), Wootton Hill (Jackson 1988-9), Woolaston (Meadows 1996), and Clay Lane, Earls Barton (Windell 1983) are a common feature of many of the region's later Iron Age to early Roman landscapes, and represent a continuation of traditions of rural settlement from the former period. However, the degree to which this tradition is the dominant one in the early Roman period in the region is still uncertain. Alongside these simple farmsteads are found groups of individual rectilinear enclosures and enclosure complexes arrayed alongside long distance and local tracks and droveways. Although not as common as the simple enclosed settlements, they appear to have been a significant settlement form in the extensive and highly structured agricultural landscapes of the main river valleys, as at Ferry Farm, Nottinghamshire (RCHME 1999) and Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire (OAU 2002).

To the north and west, the results of the survey work noted above are beginning to draw out major distinctions in the nature and materiality of rural settlements in different parts of Derbyshire that are largely - but not entirely - a reflection of the upland-lowland divide. In lowland areas of the south and east of the region, rural settlements often utilise significant quantities of Roman material culture, and some may be considered small villas in relation to their architectural development, although as yet little is known of their overall morphology. By contrast, in the uplands and western parts of the East Midlands, settlement traditions appear to retain the characteristics of pre-existing Iron Age farms (Barnatt and Smith 1997), often simple enclosed forms associated with localised field systems.

In the few cases where excavation has been sufficiently extensive, it is apparent that rural settlement was often restructured around agglomerated groups of ditched enclosures and trackways, predominantly of rectilinear form, from the Late Iron Age to the second century AD. This appears to be a common development for rural settlements in the early Roman period, but there is a suggestion that these boundaries were ignored or altered to less archaeologically visible forms, such as hedges, in the later Roman period.

Some higher status rural sites were enclosed in the later Roman period, usually with walls and/or ditches that often followed earlier boundary divisions, but now focused occupation around the main building range, for example at Piddington (Friendship-Taylor 1999), Stanwick (Neal 1989), Cosgrove (Quinnell 1991), Lockington (Butler 1998; Ripper 1998), Cromwell (Whimster 1989), and Barton in Fabis (RCHME 1999).


Looking at domestic architecture on rural settlements, there appear to be a range of clear distinctions between the traditions found in central and southern parts of the region, those to the north-east in Lincolnshire and eastern Nottinghamshire, and those to the north-west in western Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. These differences are partly in form but more commonly relate to the emphasis placed on the use of particular architectural traditions.

In southern and central Northamptonshire, timber roundhouses are common and continue to be used until their gradual transformation into stone, a development which runs alongside the foundation and gradual development of row type villas, largely from the Flavian period onwards (Friendship-Taylor and Friendship-Taylor 1997), for example at Thorplands (Hunter and Mynard 1977), Overstone (Williams 1976), Brixworth (Woods 1970), Great Weldon (Smith et al. 1988-9), and Redlands Farm (Keevill 1992). In the north-east of the region, in Rutland, southern and central Lincolnshire and parts of southern Nottinghamshire, the initial continuity of roundhouses was replaced from the second century AD by aisled buildings and villas, for example at Apethorpe (RCHME 1975), Great Oakley (Meadows 1992), Wakerley (Jackson and Ambrose 1978), Norton Disney (Oswald and Buxton 1937), Empingham (Cooper 2000a), Whitwell (Todd 1981b), and Little Hay Grange (Palfreyman 2001). Here too row type villas develop during the second to fourth centuries, sometimes alongside aisled buildings, for example at Norton Disney, Mansfield Woodhouse (Oswald 1949) and Winterton (Goodburn 1978; Stead 1976).

A smaller number of larger rural settlements, pri-marily in the major river valleys, develop into substantial winged corridor or courtyard type villas. Unfortunately, modern excavations of villas are relatively rare, so little can be said with confidence about the detailed development of their plans. This is particularly problematic in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire where many of the villa excavations are of antiquarian or early twentieth-century date. It is also clear that other important timber architectural traditions existed, which are poorly understood due to the lack of any specific interest in studying them in the past and their susceptibility to damage by cultivation.

Fig 39: Lead seal from Thorpe by Glebe, Nottinghamshire showing inscription C(ivitas) Coriel(tauvorum) confirming the tribal name Corieltauvi, and suggesting that the seal was on a consignment travelling to or from Leicester
Lead seal showing inscription C(ivitas) Coriel(tauvorum)

Major urban settlements: Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) and Ratae Corieltauvorum (Leicester)

There are two major urban settlements within the region. Lincoln was established as a colonia by AD 96 on the site of the former legionary fortress (Jones 2002; Jones et al. 2003, 56), whilst Leicester was appointed as civitas capital of the Corieltauvi (Fig. 39) on the site of an important late pre-Roman Iron Age settlement apparently at about the same time (Cooper and Buckley 2003, 31). Lincoln has a long history of investigation from antiquarian interest to major rescue excavations in the 1960s and 70s. Most of the latter have now been published, comprising fourteen fascicules in The Archaeology of Lincoln series and four in the Lincoln Archaeological Studies series (where the final six volumes are in the process of being published). Most significantly, the completion of the Urban Archaeological Database (UAD) in 1999 acts as both a resource assessment and research agenda for the city.

Leicester attracted less antiquarian interest but did undergo a sustained campaign of excavations during the 1960s and 70s, initiated by the construction of the central ring road, and concentrating on the civic core of the town, building on Kenyon's excavation of the Jewry Wall bathhouse in the 1930s. Developer-funded excavation accelerated from the late 1980s and some 12% of the historic core is currently being affected by a single major redevelopment across the northern half of the town. Construction of a UAD for the city has just begun (2005) and will facilitate greater understanding of the Roman town.

The preceding military history of Lincoln is reasonably well known, although the reasons for the location of a legionary base at this location in the Witham Gap is still a matter for debate and future research, with Stocker suggesting that the ritual significance of the adjacent Brayford Pool was of greater importance than being close to the centre of the tribal area (Jones et al. 2003, 54). In the Upper City the street grid, where known, appears to have followed that of the preceding fortress, with the forum-basilica complex sitting centrally over the former principia (ibid., 65). The public baths, located in the north-east quarter of the upper town, are the only other element of the civic centre confidently identified. The two major thoroughfares bisecting the Upper City were clearly lined with monumental buildings, with those on the north-south axis of Ermine Street continuing down into the Lower City (Fig. 40), where baths, a temple and a public fountain have been identified.

Fig 40: Excavation of the Roman gate on the western wall of the Lower City at Lincoln (1970-2)
Excavation of Roman gate on western wall of Lower City at Lincoln

The designation of the Upper City as a conservation area means that future opportunities for large-scale development will be few, but appreciation that stratified Roman levels lie close to the surface means that even small interventions will require monitoring if understanding is going to advance (Jones et al. 2003, 58). Knowledge of domestic housing in the Upper City is therefore limited, particularly for the early period, and the potential re-use of fortress barracks, as at Colchester and Gloucester, cannot be demonstrated. It is considered that investment in public building programmes was given priority over private housing, which became more apparent in the later Roman period (ibid., 82). However, in the Lower City new information on housing has come to light, with up to ten wealthy properties identified on the hillside. Growth appears to have been greatest in the third century and was further enhanced by Lincoln's elevation to the status of provincial capital of Britannia Secunda in the early fourth (ibid., 92 and 124).

The lack of detailed knowledge of the interior of the colonia, particularly in the Upper City, contrasts with the extensive knowledge of the defensive sequence (Jones et al. 2003, 62 and fig. 7.8). The extramural areas were used for commercial settlement and burial, the former particularly along the line of Ermine Street, the latter behind the frontages, including to the east and west of the colonia. The southern suburb has been the most thoroughly investigated, with extensive examination of waterlogged deposits from the Brayford Pool and Witham waterside producing a wide range of organic remains. Knowledge of the cemeteries, whilst plentiful, is largely based on earlier work, with cremations comprising the greater proportion of the discoveries. The opportunity to excavate a large cemetery under controlled conditions, as has been possible in Leicester recently, would enable study of a wider cross-section of Lincoln's population (ibid., 114 and fig. 7.59).

The presence of a conquest period fort at Leicester is still a matter of debate, but it is clear that the subsequent town developed on the site of an important Late Iron Age settlement, which had grown on the east bank of the River Soar from the late first century BC. Evidence for the early development of the town, during the second half of the first century, has come from excavations in the Bath Lane and West Bridge areas (Clay and Mellor 1985; Clay and Pollard 1994). What is clear is that the formal laying out of a street grid did not occur until the end of that century or the beginning of the second, perhaps coincident with the formal appointment as civitas capital, and the main phase of public building did not start until the later Hadrianic and Antonine period. In this sense, Leicester was very much a late starter within the provincial context. Work on the civic centre has identified the forum (Hebditch and Mellor 1973), bathhouse (Kenyon 1948), and a macellum and temple (Cooper and Buckley 2003, 34). Evidence for domestic building and the outlying areas of the street grid have been greatly enhanced since the late 1980s through work in the north-east quarter (Connor and Buckley 1999) and more recently across the northern half of the town. Developer-funded work has also increased our knowledge of the southern and eastern suburbs and their associated cemeteries (L. Cooper 1996; Finn 2004). The results of early excavation work on the defensive circuit were collated by Buckley and Lucas (1987) but our knowledge has been greatly improved by current work along the western and northern sectors (Burnham et al. 2004, 287).

Other nucleated settlement (roadside settlements, small towns and vici)

A relatively dense pattern of smaller roadside settlements and small towns has been recognised (Fig. 41),although more work needs to be done to collate the detailed evidence for these sites and assess the overall picture. At present, there appears to be a reasonable distinction between sites in the south and east of the region, where roadside settlements and small towns are densely and evenly spread, and often grew to substantial sized civil settlements, and those north and west of the Trent, where civil settlements never grew to any size or whose history of occupation was closely tied to the fortunes of neighbouring military communities.

Fig 41: Distribution map of Roman towns and roads
Map of Roman towns and roads

Where evidence is good enough, many of the roadside settlements in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, along the Fosse Way, seem to have had Late Iron Age predecessors, for example at Duston (RCHME 1985), Dragonby (May 1996), Towcester (Walker 1992), Irchester (Hall and Nickerson 1967), Medbourne (Liddle 1995a), Ancaster (Todd 1981a), Navenby (Palmer-Brown 1994), Sleaford (Elsdon 1997) and Crococalana (TPAT 1991). Others were significant religious as well as economic foci, for example at Titchmarsh (Curteis et al. 1998-9) or Thistleton (Greenfield 1962). Growth was apparently almost always organic rather than planned; dendritic patterns of trackways typically linked the core of each settlement, lying along a major road, to its surrounding agricultural landscapes, for example at Ashton (Burnham and Wacher 1990, 279-81) and Irchester (Taylor 2001a). Enclosure, when it happened, was a secondary event that cut across the existing grain of a town's layout and only protected its core, as seen at Bannaventa (Dix and Taylor 1988) Irchester (Windell 1984), Towcester (Woodfield 1993), Tripontium (Lucas 1981; 1997) and Horncastle (Field and Hurst 1983).

Little is known about the function, development and emerging roles of these nucleated settlements during the Roman period. Few of the towns have had significant modern excavations in their core but those at Ashton, Thistleton and Ancaster, constitute extremely important datasets that require publication. Excavation on the fringes, or extramural areas, of a number of other settlements such as Towcester (Brown and Woodfield 1983), Irchester (Dix and Masters 1992; Dix et al. 1991; 1994; Masters 1997; Meadows 1997; Windell 1984) and Bannaventa (Dix and Taylor 1988), as well as rescue excavations at Titchmarsh (Northamptonshire Archaeological Unit pers. comm.) and Laxton (Jackson and Tylecote 1988) help to fill out the picture, but the accounts lack the artefactual and palaeobiological data necessary for any detailed assessment. The recent review of all the probable Roman towns in Northamptonshire carried out as part of the Extensive Urban Survey (EUS) will help to provide an overview of their current potential and possible research strategies for their future investigation (Foard et al. 2002). Similar surveys for the remainder of the region would be extremely advantageous.

Settlement and landscape

Dynamics of change

Summaries of the evidence for settlement patterns, stability and shift in the location of settlement, and the basic layout of intervening land boundaries as a guide to changing patterns of social organisation, are key to understanding Roman rural society in the region. Critical to this is some understanding of how individual sites fitted into a network of settlement both locally and regionally. How far this is achievable is currently extremely variable, but is already possible in some parts of region.

Good information is available in Northamptonshire from the Nene valley around Raunds and Wollaston, and away from the river, from a smaller survey around Brigstock (Foster 1988). However, information is still needed from the north and west of the county (not-withstanding the recent work at Crick) and from much of the claylands. Evidence from both Raunds and Wollaston suggests some localised settlement shift during the Late Iron Age or shortly after the Conquest, within long-established bounded landscapes. Exca-vation on nucleated and dispersed settlements seems to suggest a greater degree of continuity on the former, dating from at least the Late Iron Age. Such settlements are known at Duston and Stanwick although publication of the excavations at both is still awaited.

Elsewhere, evidence is patchy. The archives and publications of the Lincolnshire sections of the Fenland Survey (e.g. Hayes and Lane 1992) merit further analysis, as would the large number of mainly unpublished parish surveys now completed across Leicestershire and Rutland. In Derbyshire and Notting-hamshire there are fewer examples of such extensive surveys, a problem exacerbated by the difficulty of reliably dating settlement from ceramics in this area. However, a combination of excavation and field survey is starting to suggest a measure of continuity from the Iron Age in southern Derbyshire. This is in marked contrast to the pattern suggested for the uplands of Derbyshire, where a majority of sites investigated in any detail, for example at Roystone Grange (Hodges 1991), Staden (Makepeace 1983; 1987; 1989; 1995) and Rainster Rocks (Dool 1976), appear to have been founded in the second century AD. It has been suggested that this marks a significant expansion in rural settlement activity in the uplands in the second century that may in part relate to the redeployment of military garrisons to locations further north (Branigan 1991), but further investigation of this issue is currently underway.

Where excavation has been on a significant scale or carried out to more rigorous modern standards, results indicate that most villas within the region had Late Iron Age predecessors, for example at Ashley (Taylor and Dix 1985), Brixworth (Woods 1970), Piddington (Friendship-Taylor 1999), Stanwick (Neal 1989), Weekley (Jackson and Dix 1986-7), Whitwell (Todd 1981b), Drayton II (Connor 1994), and Long Bennington (Leary 1994). Until recently our understanding of non-villa rural settlements has been very poor but landscape orientated excavation and observation strategies as part of large-scale developer funded projects, such as those at Raunds (Neal 1989; Keevill 1992), Wollaston (Meadows 1996; pers. comm.), Crick (Chapman 1995), West Deeping (J. Rackham pers. comm.), and Courteenhall (Ovenden-Wilson 1997; Thomas 1998; S. Buteux pers. comm.), are improving the situation. The Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire work, predominantly in the major river valleys, suggests much local continuity albeit with a greater degree of change in areas closest to the major roads and emerging towns (e.g. Taylor 1996; 2001c). Although at an early stage, this work seems to suggest that many of these settlements were relocated from nearby predecessors or were new foundations during the first and second centuries AD, as rural settlement was reorganised within an existing bounded landscape. During the course of the second to fourth centuries this process saw the gradual rise of larger rural settlements, villas and 'village' like centres, as some of the smaller farms were abandoned in some, but not all, areas.

Settlement and field systems

Thanks to the quality and recent, systematic mapping of aerial photography, information is available to assess the morphology of agricultural landscapes in a number of parts of the region (Fig. 42). This is continually augmented by large-scale prospection ahead of modern development, for example at Bramptons/Dallington (Cadman 1995), Ecton (Meadows 1993), Upton (Buteux and Jones 2000), and Lockington (Ripper 1998), but the real need is to extend palaeoenvironmental studies and link them to other material correlates of changing agricultural practice during this period. In order to develop a balanced and extensive understanding of how landscapes in the region developed, it will be critical to integrate analyses of boundary form and pattern with environmental, artefactual and geochemical data that informs our understanding of land use. One approach to this issue is currently the subject of work at Crick, Wollaston, Courteenhall and in the Trent Valley (Knight and Howard 2004).

Fig 42: Roman field systems near Spalding, Lincolnshire
Roman field systems near Spalding, Lincolnshire

Agriculture and environment

The quality of existing evidence for agricultural practice, as reflected in the structural evidence for periods of innovation, change or stability, the palaeoenvironmental record, and patterns of land division and use, is also currently highly variable. Whilst excavations from the region have provided many dated examples of key changes in the organisation of agriculture, we still have very little detailed work on palaeobotanical and faunal remains of this period, especially away from the major river valleys or small towns and roadside settlements (cf. Chapter 11).

Regional synthesis of the published and unpublished environmental information is much needed, although relatively few of the published excavations contain adequate information. Valuable results of prelimi-nary work at Wollaston have demonstrated the presence of a significant area of probable viticulture in the Middle Nene valley that awaits further analysis and publication (Brown et al. 2001). Likewise, the extensive programmes of work at Stanwick villa, Redlands Farm, Courteenhall and especially West Deeping, need to be synthesised before a clearer picture of environmental change and agricultural regimes in the river valleys at the southern end of the region emerges. These key projects need then to be augmented by the additional datasets collected as part of smaller briefs and published accounts from rural contexts in other parts of the region, such as those from Empingham (Cooper 2000a), Ketton (Northamptonshire Archaeology pers. comm.) Carsington, Dunstan's Clump (Garton 1987b), Croughton English (CAS 1996), Irchester, Aldwincle, and Crick. Critically, however, there is still very little comparable environmental data from areas away from the river valleys and nucleated settlements, and gathering such information remains a high priority.

Sufficient information is available to start a study of the structural development of Roman rural landscapes over significant parts of the region. Aerial photographic mapping of the Lincolnshire Wolds, the Trent valley, the Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire sandstones and the Welland and Nene valleys provides good, if fragmentary, information about the broad layout and extent of field systems and settlement forms for the Iron Age and Roman periods. Alone, such information tends to produce somewhat descriptive maps, which tell us little about the dynamics of agricultural land use in the Roman period, but through integration with field survey and targeted excavation and environmental sampling, it should be possible to fill out our currently limited understanding considerably. In upland Derbyshire the rich dataset of reasonably well-preserved earthwork enclosures and field systems has been mapped to a significant extent, but likewise awaits targeted, ground-based research in order more accurately to date activity and understand the processes of agricultural and environmental change.

If we are to understand the development of Roman agricultural life, it is imperative to evolve approaches, which integrate structural, environmental and artefactual data into models of land use, agricultural practice, and exchange. With this in mind, it is important to shift our thinking from an emphasis on solely structural and artefactual evidence, to incorporate approaches that assist in the delineation of 'use areas'. In particular, this requires us to think of preliminary survey strategies (fieldwalking, aerial photography, geophysics, and geochemistry) and periods of active intervention (microtopography of stripped surfaces, environmental sampling and excavation) as providing highly significant landscape datasets for the study of the agricultural environment. Only when extant projects of this kind are completed and future opportunities for such work taken, will we be better placed to answer key questions about agricultural specialisation, centralisation, the separate or similar development of upland, clayland or even potentially formerly wooded areas, and changing patterns of land use through time.

Craft production and industry

The nature and distribution of evidence for pottery and tile production, and the ironworking industry are areas of real potential in the East Midlands. Home to two nationally important pottery industries in the Lower Nene valley and Mancetter-Hartshill, the region also contains one of the three main foci for iron production in Roman Britain, centred on Northamptonshire. The study of these industries and their significance to the society and economy of the province is especially important.

Pottery and tile

A long tradition of work on the major regional Roman pottery industries gives reasonable data sets on the location of production sites, their date and technology, but information on the context of production and patterns of supply is still poor (see below).

The Roman roadside settlement at Mancetter on the border between Leicestershire and Warwickshire is described in some detail by Burnham and Wacher (1990, 225-60). It was subject to excavations in 1927, the 1950s (Oswald and Gathercole 1958), 1964 (Mahany 1971), the late 1960s (Hartley 1973), and 1981 (Scott 1981), and has long been known to be the centre for a nationally significant pottery industry specialising in the production of mortaria (Swan 1984; Hartley 1973). Although much is now known about the products and development of this industry it still awaits a single synthesis. Similarly, the Lower Nene valley pottery industry, on the eastern edge of the region, specialising in colour-coated wares for province-wide distribution, has not received an overarching synthesis. However, a summary of the products and kilns exists (Howe et al. 1980; Swan 1984), and most of the kiln site excavations have now been published (e.g. Perrin 1999).

With regard to the smaller recognised industries, synthesising earlier site based work on the Upper Nene valley pottery kilns (e.g. Johnston 1969), and on those at Swanpool, Knaith and Bourne, would fill a significant gap in our understanding of regional coarse ware production, supply and use (cf. Fulford and Huddleston 1991, 35 and 39; Willis 1997b; 2004). Any opportunity should also be taken to study the landscape context of known and suspected kiln sites located between Northampton and Wellingborough and from the Leicester Forest area (Liddle 1982a) in order to investigate the organisation of these poorly understood industries.

Our understanding of pottery production and dating in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire is even weaker. The absence of recent syntheses of Derbyshire wares (which constitute the majority of material from the mid second to fourth centuries at sites like Little Chester) and of the grog- and shell-gritted wares of south Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, is a major handicap to work here. Excavations of kilns associated with these products have been few but give some indication of where to start to look, for example, Derby racecourse (Brassington 1971; 1980), Hazelwood (Brassington and Webster 1988), Holbrook (Kay 1962), and Newark (Brown 1904). Our knowledge of the more localised production of tile is even poorer, and little recent consideration has been given to assessing the link between the two industries.

In common with other regions, the East Midlands is home to a number of county-based pottery form and fabric series which have been developed through the study of assemblages from large consumer centres such as Leicester and Lincoln (Clay and Pollard 1994; Darling 1984). Whilst nationally important wares are well known, the study of the chronology, production, and supply of local and regional wares is hampered by the lack of comparability between reports. Whenever possible, fabric descriptions need to be consistent and preferably cross-referenced with the National Roman Fabric Collection (Tomber and Dore 1998). This is particularly important in relation to the major groups currently awaiting publication from Stanwick and Ashton, which have the potential to provide synthetic studies for the Lower and Middle Nene valleys.


Iron production has been the subject of recent reviews (e.g. Condron 1997; Schrufer-Kolb 1999; 2000) but information on the development and extent of the industry is still fragmented and in need of upgrading. Earlier fieldwalking in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire has provided some good basic datasets on the pattern and extent of iron production sites but much additional information is required if they are to be fully understood. Primary questions include the need to date the industry accurately, to begin differentiating between the locations of various stages in the process, and to determine the scale upon which they occurred. If even a significant proportion of the known sites can be demonstrated to date to the Iron Age and/or Roman period, then this region (especially north Northamptonshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire) is likely to have been one of the most important centres for the industry nationally (cf. Crew 1998).

Little is known about the economic and social context of the industry despite evidence being available from a number of earlier excavations. Dispersed patterns of iron smelting within the agricultural landscape of the Welland valley are known from Harringworth (Jackson 1981) and Wakerley (Jackson and Ambrose 1978) in Northamptonshire, and from Creeton Quarry, Lincolnshire (Trimble 1995). Evidence for more concentrated and potentially large-scale iron smelting comes from Laxton (Jackson and Tylecote 1988; Crew 1998); Goadby Marwood, Thistleton and Medbourne (Liddle 1995a); Hibaldstow (Smith 1987); and Sapperton (Simmons 1995). All of the latter settlements might be considered potential, or certain, small towns, although their wider layout and function is still very poorly understood. Additionally, the unpublished excavations at Ashton strongly suggest that iron smithing, if not smelting as well, was a significant element in the town's development and economy. Recently, a wider research framework has been developed, which considers patterns of extraction, roasting, smelting, smithing and exchange - much needed if the role of this industry is to be understood (Schrufer-Kolb 2000).

Non-ferrous metalworking

Evidence for other forms of metal extraction and working is even more fragmentary, although there are good reasons to believe that parts of the region, or specific settlements within it, were significant centres for production. Perhaps the most important question concerns the significance of lead mining and smelting in Derbyshire. The initiation, organisation and scale of lead mining, as well as the distribution of the final product, have been central to a number of considerations of the Roman landscape of the White Peak (e.g. Branigan 1985; Dool and Hughes 1976). Unfortunately, studies of clearly identified Roman mining sites are rare and, in any case, likely to be difficult given the extensive history of later mining in the same areas.

The study of lead pigs has provided the opportunity for much speculation about the location, nature and scale of the operation thought to be associated with the centre of the industry at Lutudarum, although there is currently no evidence to suggest that this was a specific place rather than an association, guild or partnership linked to an area. That said, excavations at Carsington (Branigan et al. 1986), Roystone (Hodges and Wildgoose 1980), and at Lumb Brook, Hazelwood (Brassington and Webster 1988) have all located significant, if relatively small-scale, lead smelting works associated with rural settlements of a variety of dates. Elsewhere, several small towns within the region have examples of scrap lead and pewter, as well as part or whole vessels, which may be indicative of foci for lead and pewter working on a relatively modest scale.

Likewise, evidence for copper alloy smelting suggests it was dispersed and generally on a small scale, with work taking place on both rural and urban sites such as Rampton (Ponsford 1992) and Towcester (Brown and Alexander 1982) respectively.

Wood, bone and antler, leather and textiles

Ample scope exists for assessing other potential industries but as yet, little or no work has been done. In particular, possible craft specialisation linked to agricultural products such as textiles, horn, leather and bone is in need of examination, especially in relation to the still small number of important excavated groups from the small towns and larger villas in the region. To date, no one site has produced the quantities of waste or working materials that would indicate they acted as a key centre, but evidence from a number of larger villas and towns suggests the widespread presence of textile, bone and leather working, for example at Causeway Lane, Leicester (Connor and Buckley 1999) and the Alchester Road suburb, Towcester (Brown and Woodfield 1983). Salt

Both the Fenland surveys, and subsequent aerial and ground survey, have identified the very extensive and important nature of the salt industry in the marginal wetlands of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire (Bell et al.1999; Hall and Coles 1994; Lane and Morris 2001; Lane and Trimble 1995). This excellent work has already demonstrated the early inception of this industry in the Late Bronze Age (Chowne et al. 2001; cf. Chapter 5). If the evidence from fieldwalking and limited excavation in the Lincolnshire Fens is any guide, the industry became a very substantial aspect of the economy of rural settlements there during the Iron Age and Roman periods (e.g. Fincham 2002; Hayes and Lane 1992).

Many of the saltern sites so far identified from survey have not, however, been tested by excavation. The modest scale of earlier interventions means that we still have little or no idea of the organisation of salt production or its scale, at the level of either an individual settlement or smaller part of the landscape, let alone across the region. Much speculation has surrounded the degree to which salt production in the area was an imperial monopoly and whether the Lincolnshire Car Dyke was constructed to help ensure its continuing health (e.g. Simmons 1979), based largely on long-held assumptions about how particular tenurial conditions might translate into the archaeological record (Taylor 2001c). To some extent, this tradition has handicapped attempts to study the changing role of salt production in later prehistory, and into the Roman period. Follow up work to the Fenland survey has partly remedied this situation, but sustained research on this industry is still very much needed.

Querns and stonework

Evidence for quarrying and the use of stone is limited. Whilst settlement-based study of the provenance of material used for roofing and construction has helped to demonstrate the potential significance of Swithland slate, and Barnack, Ancaster and Lincoln stone, extensive later extraction is likely to have largely obliterated any surviving traces of these industries. Nevertheless, attempts to provenance materials do on occasion prove useful; synthesis of the extent and scale of redistribution of these materials, especially in regard to programmes of construction in urban, villa and religious contexts, could prove extremely valuable in creating an improved understanding of patterns of trade.

Urbanism, economic integration and communications

This issue is clearly related to the above themes, but focuses on the study of markets for agricultural and industrial produce at regional and national level, and on the analysis of numismatic evidence from Roman settlements.

Our general understanding of the region's small towns is not bad, but critical material from older excavations needs publishing, such as the coins, metalwork and pottery from Ancaster, Thistleton, Tripontium, Ashton, Titchmarsh, Sapperton, Hibaldstow, Old Winteringham, and Duston. SMRs and paper archives contain much useful numismatic information which would benefit from synthesis, and local work has started to show the excellent results possible for Late Iron Age and Roman ritual foci (Curteis 1996). Many extensive coin lists are available, both from metal detecting and excavations on small towns and rural settlements, but to date, only approximately 35 have been published to any significant degree.

Evidence for the road and riverine networks is also relatively good but is highly fragmented and would benefit from a single integrated study. The transfer of most SMRs to GIS-based platforms provides an ideal opportunity to assess our current understanding of the overall network, using the many small-scale interventions and the aerial survey evidence plotted as part of the National Mapping Programme. Any such work will help direct future briefs, especially in the light of renewed recent academic interest in the significance of road and river networks to Roman imperialism (e.g. Davies 2002; Laurence 1999).

Given the amount of development work on the gravels and alluvial deposits along the major river valleys, there has also been surprisingly little research pulling together information on riverside installations and communications. Significant evidence includes the bridge at Aldwincle (Jackson and Ambrose 1976), a causeway at Irchester (Keevill and Williams 1993-4), and probable mills at Redlands Farm (Keevill 1992), Towcester, and Wood Burcote (Turland 1977). The potential for future discoveries exists at a number of locations along the region's river valleys.

Ritual and religion

Whilst individual excavations have provided useful information on the more obvious material remains of Romano-British religious sites, for example at Brigstock (Greenfield 1963) and Colleyweston (Knocker 1965), or of cemeteries such as those at Leicester (Cooper 1996), Ancaster (Todd 1981a), Ashton (Dix 1985), and Laxton (Jackson and Tylecote 1988), a great deal of work remains to be done. A possible religious function for some smaller Roman towns and roadside settlements is suggested by survey at sites such as Titchmarsh (Curteis et al. 1998-9), Irchester (Taylor 2001a), Kirmington (Jones and Whitwell 1991), and Red Hill (Elsdon 1982), but much of the most significant excavated evidence awaits publication, notably from Thistleton. At the heart of this issue is the continuing need fully to examine religious foci within both rural sites, such as Cosgrove (Quinnell 1991), and larger nucleated settlements or small towns, such as Irchester and Towcester. Many probable religious sites have come to light through metal detecting, for example at Red Hill, Nettleton, Titchmarsh and in East Leicestershire. In the absence of any immediate likelihood of excavation in the first three cases, the careful analysis of surface finds made under controlled conditions remains the best option for their study. Evidence for religious sites spanning the Later Iron Age and Roman periods is now common in the south of the region, and the establishment of the Portable Antiquities Scheme provides further opportunities for the recording and synthesis of this growing body of information.

Much excavated evidence for ritual practice is already available from other forms of settlement, but in contrast to Iron Age studies, there has so far been a strong tendency to overlook these instances, leaving a potentially important gap in research. The occurrence of structured deposits in domestic contexts is clearly demonstrated by the articulated animal deposits discovered at Quinton (Friendship-Taylor 1974; 1979), and needs to be considered in all future settlement excavations.

Evidence for specific religious traditions is somewhat limited by the lack of modern excavation on the relevant sites, but the discovery of decorated lead tanks at Walesby, Bishop Norton, Caistor, Brough, Thorpe by Newark, Ashton and Rushton, as well as the material from Durobrivae just beyond the region, may well suggest the presence of significant late Roman Christian communities, focused on the region's small towns and larger roadside settlements.

Rural burials are sparse in number on any one site, but are commonly present. Recent reviews suggest that the study of the significant patterns in burial location and tradition is worth pursuing (Pearce 1999; Taylor forthcoming). In an urban context, a key resource is provided by the excellent excavated data from Ashton (where both substantial cemetery and boundary burial groups are recorded) and from the large cemeteries in the southern and eastern suburbs of Leicester (Cooper 1996), along with those at Ancaster (Todd 1981a) and Thistleton, and the results of more limited work at Laxton (Jackson and Tylecote 1988), Newark (Kinsley 1989a) and Lincoln.

The Research Agenda#

The resource assessment has highlighted a number of gaps in our knowledge and areas of potential for future research in the region. These are summarised below under the broad themes used in the assessment and some priorities for future work are suggested.


and during the third to fourth centuries in the west and north-west of the region.

The Late Iron Age landscape and the strategy and consequences of conquest

When looking at the early post-Conquest period and subsequent changes, it is critical to consider the extant landscape of Late Iron Age societies into which Rome came. This landscape and its complexity must not be seen just as a backdrop or limiting factor, but as an active and important part of the process of change that was to follow during the course of the first and second centuries AD.

Settlement and rural landscape evidence for this transitional period is best considered together, and there are equally good reasons why we should treat this period as a single entity rather than impose an artificial divide at the Conquest. Whilst some sites such as Enderby did not continue into the Roman period (Clay 1992), the more common pattern is for Roman settlements to overlie or sit adjacent to their Iron Age antecedents (cf. Clay 2001; Taylor 1996); this is especially true of villas. The analysis and interpretation of this pattern of continuity, early abandonment or relocation of settlement across the region is a key research topic, one for which we increasingly have the survey and excavation evidence to address (Taylor 2001b).

Equally, the excellent results from aerial photo-graphic reconnaissance and its systematic mapping, provide the opportunity to synthesise information about the morphology and extent of later prehistoric rural landscapes and their relationship with potential early Roman forts. Whilst surprisingly rare in the south and east of the region, the general pattern of military bases further north is starting to become clearer. Through targeted excavation, it should be possible to improve our understanding of the chronology and strategy of the initial advance into the region and the local impact of temporary garrisons.

Whilst it is optimistic to think that most archaeo-logical work can ever reconstruct military campaigns in detail, it can provide key information about the overall pattern of military dispositions and strategy in relation to existing Iron Age communities. Especially important in this regard is to improve the evidence for early forts and major Late Iron Age settlements at Lincoln and Leicester. Such targeted work should allow us to separate military installations likely to have been associated with the initial occupation, from those occupied after the army moved into the north or in the period after the Boudican revolt, and from those associated with later garrisoning of the north and west of the region.

In this connection, a critical evaluation of the supposed military foundation of vici and other small towns is also of great importance. In the south and east of the region, a long tradition of searching for early vici associated with military installations that could have acted as the spur to urban roadside settlement has largely failed to demonstrate any such link. Even where early military sites have been located, we must be wary of assuming a causal link between fort and town in the absence of any associated settlement. Further north and west, a consideration of the role of military establishments in a post-Flavian context, especially in relation to the development both of vici and other roadside settlements, and the iron and lead industries, would provide valuable insights into the nature of urban development and military-civilian relations in a key transitional region within the Roman province.

Looking further afield, the time is surely right for a study of the evidence for the deliberate construction of a new framework of communications to ensure supply to the major military garrisons and the northern frontier, possibly seen in the construction of the Fosse Dyke and canals and waterways of the Fenland. There is a clear need throughout Britain to consider the degree to which regions away from immediate military contact were affected by military demands for supply. This issue is especially pertinent to the East Midlands given its links via the Humber and east coast to York and the North.


Research priorities in this area have recently been the subject of two national overviews (Burnham et al. 2001; Millett 2001). There is a critical need to shift the emphasis of research to focus on urbanism as a social process, rather than on towns as an object of study in themselves. This creates an important distinction for studying the places we think of as towns in Roman Britain, by altering the emphasis from whether a place was a town, to what the people of this place did, and what was their role within wider society? How, and in what ways, was the position of this settlement different from that of rural settlements within its region?

What constitutes a town clearly depends on the geographical and historical context of each place within a particular society (cf. Millett 2001, 65). In the context of the East Midlands (and indeed of a number of other parts of Britain), did nucleated or centralised places of social power in Roman Britain develop from existing Late Iron Age foci, or were they consequent upon a series of far-reaching changes brought about by conquest and subsequent administration? Even when located in the same place, do the central places of the Roman Civitas Corieltauvorum represent the same social phenomenon as their predecessors? At a practical level, the implications of this change can be considered under three headings.


When looking at the origins of potential urban centres, the issue becomes not was there an Iron Age predecessor or early fort (although such information is a useful starting point), but what was the nature of the original focus within its contemporary context and how did this change through time? Two potential lines of enquiry could be as follows:

Growth and development

The review of the evidence for the growth and development of nucleated settlements suggests that the pace, form, and date of change varies considerably across the region, and points to a series of key issues:


What range of primary roles was developed by these communities through time? Were some pivotal in the development of specialised craft production landscapes in their environs, for example for pottery and iron? Others seem to have been, at least partly, religious and burial centres; questions arise over the degree to which they came to act as key foci for maintaining the economic and administrative cohesion of the region.

How, and to what extent, were these sites integrated into their immediate landscapes and to wider regional or national economic developments? What was the inter-relationship between the development of roadside settlements and other rural sites, land use and agriculture, in the surrounding region? In order to answer these questions, we need to study flows of material culture (e.g. Cooper 2000b; 2005) and ensure the full publication of the few surveys we do have, such as that for the Medbourne area (Liddle 1994). We also need to synthesise the results of palaeofaunal and botanical research (e.g. Knight and Howard 2004).

There are good reasons to feel that variation in the development, form and roles of nucleated settlements is the norm across the Roman province. The East Midlands echoes that diversity. At a simple level, the region clearly displays a commonly observed threefold division between what we might call strictly military vici (where settlement and fort histories match each other closely, and display little overt link to their surrounding hinterlands); military-associated, but ultimately independent vici; and civilian or roadside settlements. This categorisation is only a start: the latter group in particular masks a great deal of variability. Some settlements, for example, apparently acted primarily as local foci for craft production and possibly agricultural processing and exchange, whilst others in part depended on being religious foci, or were closely linked to the maintenance and support of communications along the newly developed road system.

Why in the later Roman period were some centres provided with defences and not others? Were they ever intended as a continuous or linked chain, or were they rather the result of local initiatives at individual sites? In this regard, we need to step back from specific sites to consider the network as a whole. Was there ever a substantially complete urban, or partially urban, network of settlements across the region? Towards the end of the Roman period, is there evidence that the histories of the defended settlements and the major towns were different from their neighbours, and can we see sub-regional variations?

The implementation of UADs and EUSs provides an ideal opportunity systematically to evaluate such questions and should be encouraged where they have not already been undertaken. They should not, however, be considered as separate freestanding agendas. A planning and development-led agenda clearly leaves major academic gaps. There is also a need for research on greenfield sites, either as part of specific research projects or in other contexts, like English Heritage's work at Owmby (Olivier 1997). There must be adequate provisions for the incorporation of survey and evaluation data acquired as part of PPG16 responses into local GIS databases through the SMR system, from which a wider picture of settlement development can be built up.

Several significant settlement excavations remain unpublished; remedying this is a priority. Wherever possible, publication should be used to produce a new overview of the settlement within its broader context. In the event of new excavation, it is critical that support is given to research-driven thematic work on artefactual and palaeoenvironmental data - of which we still have a chronic shortage both regionally and nationally - in order to improve our understanding the social and economic role of these settlements.

Communications and new geographies of power

Coherent interpretation of the road network and its development has been hampered by the fragmented nature of the evidence, which comprises visible earthworks or cropmarks, often supplemented by localised excavations.

Routes and dating

There has been a tendency to assume that the major roads were built as part of the campaigns of conquest, but evidence to confirm this is still largely dependent on the apparent association of many major routes with military sites. There are good reasons to challenge this assumption and a clear need for continuing efforts to refine the chronology of road network construction. This is especially important as it represents a key phase during which the economic, social and political geography of the province was established. Significantly, the region incorporates three of the most important roads in the province as well as a complex network of local and regional routes.

We need to move away from simply mapping roads as part of a 'road atlas' of Roman Britain, and instead think more about how individual routes were influenced by Roman understandings of a landscape over which they wished to ensure political and social hegemony (Laurence 1999). In this context, an understanding of local and regional terrain, surveying knowledge and practice, the existing Late Iron Age landscape, and the wider strategic concerns of the advance to the north in the later first century, are all important.

We need to appreciate the degree to which the existing grain of the landscape was altered and maintained during the Roman period and the road network also needs to be considered alongside the potential role of rivers and artificial waterways. Work on specific routes must always consider the broader context of the region's landscape and attempt to draw in other details relevant to the understanding of that feature locally.

Once an understanding of a route's dating, direction and construction is established, it is then essential to look at the role and importance of roads and waterways in creating landscapes of differential access and primacy, in relation both to the rise of nucleated or urban populations, and with regard to rural social status and craft and agricultural production. To what extent are key places or areas in rural landscapes marginalised or changed by new landscapes of transport (e.g. Taylor 2001b)?

Rural settlement, landscape and society

The East Midlands is an ideal area for the large-scale synthesis of patterns of land use and rural settlement through the abundant, if not always immediately accessible, data that we already possess. The key to success lies in successfully integrating different sources of information via GIS, willpower and time on the part of those most directly involved, and critically, grants to aid the publication or web-based dissemination of the results.

Poorly understood areas of the region need new fieldwork. This is invariably best carried out by skilled local fieldworkers. The key to avoiding further publication backlogs is to agree from the start basic standards for the recording of new material, for its transferral into the SMR, and for wider synthesis. If we are to advance this work, we all need to take a more analytical and interpretative approach. We are all aware of the limitations of survey data compared to excavation, but they are a resource that can help us build models on a scale we could never otherwise achieve. Recent results obtained in this field in continental Europe and the Mediterranean should encourage us not to be scared of sticking our necks out.

Rural settlements of the Roman period in Britain are not well understood. Opportunities for excavation and survey on a significant scale should be taken whenever possible, in order for us to start building up a good resource for the study of the homes and social foci of the majority of Roman society. Past emphasis on buildings, the classification of settlements, and simple hierarchies, usually based on assumptions about Roman social order, have not served the subject well. The knowledge that there were lots of settlements of a certain type does not in itself advance understanding of their roles and inter-relationships through time.

Contiguous and ongoing development-led threats, such as major housing or quarry consents, provide an important opportunity to investigate neighbourhood groups of settlements in their immediate landscape context, through targeted excavations and stripping and mapping strategies, undertaken to comparable standards. This approach is not easy, but in the Low Countries, France and Germany, it has provided excellent insights into how local rural networks of communities worked and how they utilised and manipulated their landscapes. Research-funded excavation and survey is likely to be limited in the future, especially as so many academics of the Roman period work outside Britain. That said, we have a responsibility to tackle these questions, especially in areas of the landscape that are otherwise unlikely to be investigated via PPG16 or Heritage Management projects.

Artefact production, exchange and consumption

There is a pressing need to build on the present foundation and continue auditing the information we already have for the important iron industry in the region, which extends across several authority boundaries. Such a process could establish areas where significant blocks of productive landscape survive and provide an analytical context for the future study of the iron industry. Given its long history, this may best be done as a cross-period study.

In addition to synthetic studies of pottery industries, assessments of the less well-understood groups are required in order to facilitate local fieldworkers in collecting and collating quantifiable groups of material and in mapping their broad extent. Research on flows of material culture and patterns of consumption will significantly improve our understanding of local society and economy. Future excavation opportunities need to focus on production sites within their immediate environs in order to see how they were organised.

A framework for the study of Roman pottery is already available, which provides a detailed series of questions about the industry and suggestions for using pottery to elucidate questions about wider economic and social life (Willis 1997b; 2004). It is imperative that such an agenda is incorporated into future briefs and its content more widely disseminated amongst local fieldworkers.

The salt industry is well studied through field survey, but there is still great scope to improve our understanding of differences in its technology, impact and exchange through time, and across the varied ecological zones of the Fens. Wider synthesis, however, needs to take account of the evidence from the whole of the Fen Basin.

Secondary products of agriculture, which form an important and possibly crucial area of the economy, remain almost invisible across the region. Modern excavations record much information that could be used for such studies, but it is important that briefs and research designs incorporate a thematic approach to the integrated treatment of biological and artefactual evidence.

Although building materials are routinely recorded as part of settlement excavations, we still have little understanding of the potential economic and social significance of the extraction, production and marketing of such materials. Although in many cases we see essentially local strategies of acquisition, this should not be automatically assumed. This raises the issue of how to encourage study of the flow of materials as a guide to wider exchange networks through artefact analysis of the kind done by Nick Cooper (2000b; 2005). Important issues in the consistency of recording of artefactual evidence and its dissemination to other workers in the field need to be discussed.

If we are to address the ways in which social and economic practice was mediated, more attention needs to be given nationally to coinage as an index to processes of monetisation. An ever-expanding resource is available for study, but at present, with one or two notable exceptions, we are simply not tackling the role of coinage in society in Britain through archaeological means.

Patterns of material consumption, and the social context of use of different forms of material culture, are important and expanding areas of research. Recent examples of such approaches, which treat assemblages thematically in relation to their archaeological context of use and deposition, need to be more widely appreciated, and should encourage the restructuring of briefs for excavation. Key examples include the roles of material culture in dining, diet, dress, architectural status and display (cf. James and Millett 2001).

Ritual, religion and identity

In considering Roman period practice, one of the first issues we need to address is the nature and context(s) of indigenous Late Iron Age ritual practice across the region (see also Chapter 5). It is already clear that the few well-understood Roman shrines and other religious sites in the region were often founded on, or very near to, Iron Age predecessors. Second, there is great scope for locating and evaluating religious sites and practices in the broader landscape through the use of survey techniques and, particularly, through the wealth of new information becoming available through metal detecting and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Third, although we have often recognised significant religious foci within both rural and urban contexts in the region, we still have a poor understanding of the practices and beliefs associated with them. To what extent are such sites the founding reason for the settlements often associated with them?

A striking feature of the region's mortuary landscape is the surprisingly small numbers of dead attested for the earlier Roman period. Where are they? If they are not to be found, we must think about attitudes to death and the disposal of the body both at this and in the immediately preceding period, and consider why practices should then change so markedly later. Are there notable differences between attitudes taken across the region or between different communities, for example the military, the major towns, roadside settlements or other rural settlements? A number of reasonably substantial later Roman cemeteries have been excavated, but few have been published and there is a noticeable shortage of osteological studies on such groups. The identification of further cemeteries, and planning their management as a future research resource, is particularly important given their susceptibility to destruction by ploughing. Excavations on and around rural settlements have recorded a surprising number of burials in isolation, or associated with settlement and field system boundaries. This phenomenon, recently evaluated by Pearce (1999), needs further research, which in some areas could be achieved through the collation of archive information.

There is still a noticeable tendency amongst archaeologists of the Roman period to treat settlements as centres for rational economic processes, and to disregard the implications of recent work on their Iron Age counterparts, which has shown that ritual practice and belief was an integral part of routine social existence (Haselgrove et al. 2001; see also Chapter 5). It is important that we recognise the potential religious or ritual aspects of special deposits and 'irrational' practices on sites we excavate in the future, and compare these with Iron Age and Roman practice elsewhere.


The East Midlands has a very rich and diverse record of archaeological remains of the Roman period. Only a small proportion has been recorded archaeologically to any significant degree, but this is compensated for by a particularly good, and in parts, well-documented tradition of aerial photographic reconnaissance and field survey. Regionally diverse in both landscape and archaeology, the East Midlands provides an ideal opportunity to study a part of the province that was both profoundly civilian and urban in nature whilst, at the other extreme, a domain of military involvement, if not occupation, and long-lived indigenous tradition and settlement. Furthermore, in incorporating several of England's major river valleys, its central uplands and some of its major industries, the region provides an excellent opportunity to improve our understanding of the Roman period nationally, through a cross-section of its central societies.

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Major review of the grey literature and published research 2012 - 2016 archive made available online by ADS in 2016

--Edmund Lee, 12-Jan-2017 15:58

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