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English Heritage

Roman garrison gourmets revealed in Carlisle dig
English Heritage Press Release 8th July

1st Century Tunny Fish Paste Label Amongst Internationally Important Archaeological Finds in Carlisle Castle Exhibition.
If there was one home comfort craved by a Carlisle Roman Army Officer, marooned on the cold far northern frontier of the Empire, it was a little bit of tangy tunny fish paste, imported from more "civilised" and sunny southern climes.
English Heritage and Carlisle City Council today (Monday July 8) unveiled evidence of this gourmet tendency and other fascinating intimate details of the way Roman soldiers on duty in Cumbria worked and played in the centuries following the Roman Conquest at an exhibition in Carlisle Castle.
Waterlogged conditions on the site of the great Millennium Dig outside Carlisle Castle, which finished last year, enabled archaeologists to recover thousands of everyday items from three successive Roman forts, many of which were remarkably well preserved. They include a rare label from a container of tunny fish paste from the Cadiz area of Spain, some of the best-preserved Roman armour in existence, elaborate horse harness, height -of -fashion jewellery, gaming counters and coins. Some of these go on public display at the castle from tomorrow, Tuesday 9 July.
Malcolm Cooper, English Heritage's Regional Director for North West, said: "These stunning finds of international importance provide a unique insight into the daily routine of the average Roman "squaddie" and his officers between AD 72 and AD 400. We see how he went about his military duties and also how he spent his time away from the frontline."
Archaeologists uncovered a series of three forts on the site, the first two built of timber and the third in stone. Experts were especially excited by the discovery of the fort's headquarters - or Principia - where much of the day-to-day routine of the Roman "squaddie" was organised.
Here he would get his daily orders and receive his regular pay. This is also where punishments were handed out if his performance fell below standard.
Part of an amphora (or large storage jar) containing the tunny fish paste was found nearby outside the commanding officer's house (the Praetorium) and was probably thrown out with the rubbish in the late 1st century. Clay panels on it proclaimed its superior quality to the discerning Roman palate. The translation of the Latin words, written in ink, reads: "Tunny fish relish from Tangiers, old", "for the larder", "excellent", "top quality". It is believed that the reference to Tangiers was to the style of the sauce rather than its true place of origin - as a modern sauce could be described as 'Italian' but in fact made in the UK.
Amphorae like this were shipped to Carlisle from Cadiz where there was a large industry processing tunny fish. The fish were chopped, salted and then fermented in their own juice to make the expensive tunny paste. Only superior officers would have been able to afford it.
Other finds include:
* Women's jewellery, such as a hairpin depicting a tiny female head wearing drop earrings, that may have been owned by the commanding officer's wife. Locally designed weaving combs suggest that soldiers may have made liaisons with women from outside the fort.
* Armour, similar to that used by gladiators, which may have been brought to Carlisle by soldiers who had fought in the Dacian wars. Some armour, which has never before been found so well preserved in Roman Britain, has caused a considerable stir amongst experts. Even fragments of the textile padding on some scale armour may have survived.
* Black and white gaming counters which suggest soldiers played a game not unlike the modern draughts.
* More than 3,500 pieces of leather, preserved by the waterlogged conditions.
* Thousands of animals bones, including sheep, cattle, pigs, deer, birds and horses, giving clues as to the soldiers' diet. Plant remains show that those staples of present-day upmarket dinner parties -dill and coriander- were on the Roman menu.
* Evidence of a sophisticated wooden water supply and drainage system- conditions were obviously as wet in Roman times as they were during the dig.
* Spectacularly well preserved coins in almost mint condition dating from the early AD 70s to the 4th Century, dropped from the pockets of soldiers and tradesmen.
David Miles, Chief Archaeologist of English Heritage, said: "This dig has created a tremendous amount of interest not only in Carlisle but nationally and internationally. It represents a remarkable addition to our knowledge of the Roman Empire.
"This exhibition is a fascinating snapshot and just a taste of things to come. A dig of this size and complexity now requires a good deal of research and it will be some time before we know the full significance of what has been found."
The exhibition has adopted the style of a newspaper - The Carlisle Roman Digest - to bring immediacy to the story of how the Romans lived in Carlisle from AD 72 onwards. It is being held in cooperation with Carlisle City Council which commissioned the archaeological work.
Councillor Geoff Prest, environment spokesman of Carlisle City Council, said: "We are proud of our Roman heritage in Carlisle and everyone was thrilled by the exciting finds unearthed during the Castle Green dig. This new exhibition is a chance for people to get a taste of what life was like for Roman soldiers living in the fort at Carlisle nearly 2,000 years ago."
Visitors to the exhibition over the coming weeks will be given regular updates on the progress of painstaking research into the finds. Leather work is to be freeze-dried enabling experts to carry out detailed analysis over the coming year.
Coins will be cleaned, ivory sword handles dried and conserved, pottery and glassware scrutinised and stone inscriptions recorded and investigated. About 1,500 pieces of wood unearthed around Castle Green will be dated using tree-ring dating, and will provide important evidence of the kind of woodland which surrounded the fort in Roman times. Wooden drains, pipes and artefacts are being preserved at Mary Rose Archaeological Services at Portsmouth before they are returned to Tullie House in Carlisle.
PHOTOGRAPHS
Images are available free to the Press on www.papicselect.com Go to Press/English Heritage/Carlisle Archaeology
To Register call 020 7963 7531
Notes
1. Carlisle Castle is open daily from 9.30am to 6pm until 30 September, from 10am to 5pm, 1-31 October, and from 10am to 4pm, 1 November to 31 March 2003.
2. The dig which started in November 1998 was carried out on behalf of Carlisle City Council by the Carlisle Archaeology Unit and from August 1991 toAugust 2001 by Carlisle Archaeology Ltd (part of the University of Bradford). Post excavation work, which started in November 2001, is being carried out by Oxford Archaeology North, based in Lancaster.
3. The Romans probably built the first wooden fort at Carlisle in 72-3 AD as part of the network of defences in newly conquered north west England. Excavators have discovered this fort was not the usual playing card shape, as had been thought, but was probably a square with rounded corners, similar to those in London. Some 50 years later work began on Hadrian's Wall which, at its closest point, stood just half a mile from the fort. Experts hope that material uncovered in the dig will explain the parts the Carlisle forts played in military Roman thinking. Post-excavation analysis may also show the relationship between the fort and the town of Luguvalium-modern-day Carlisle- that grew up around it.
4. Two of the three forts on the site were built predominantly of wood but could never be described as temporary constructions. They were permanent bases that were home to hundreds of soldiers and horses and craftspeople. Once the wooden forts had outlived their usefulness (after about 30 years) they were dismantled and burnt. The first fort was probably destroyed about AD 105 and the second around AD 150. The final stone fort was built some time after AD 200, though it is possible work started (but was not finished) earlier. This fort remained in continuous use until the end of Roman occupation around AD 400.
5. The waterlogged conditions in the Carlisle dig provided an ideal airless environment for the preservation of organic matter such as wood and leather which seldom survives in dry deposits. Waterlogged sites such as these are therefore vital for providing us with much of our evidence about the past.

 

 

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