In July 2012 this fabulous Roman bracelet was
found in the Dalton area by a metal
Nothing quite like this has been found in
Furness before. It is a silver bracelet dating from the 2nd
or 3rd century AD, when the Romans controlled "Britannia".
object has been declared Treasure and the Dock Museum has
successfully fundraised the funds to purchase it. It will go
on display in March in our newly opened archaeology
In the gem stone is
engraved an image of a seated Jupiter, with wreath and
full-length drapery, holding a sceptre in his left hand. In his
extended right hand he holds a patera above a stylised flaming
altar. Both emperors and divinities are
frequently depicted in Roman imagery pouring libations (offering to
the gods) from a patera. Jupiter is the father of Hercules
(see statuette below) in ancient Roman religion and myth.
Were the Romans in Furness?
There is no conclusive proof that the Romans were in
Furness. No Roman building or structure has been
found to date. But some intriguing objects have been found
like this statuette of Hercules near Furness Abbey (image left, see
BAWFM.04215 in our collection database).
Was Furness a Roman no-go area? Too poor
to warrant attention and easily controlled by a ring of forts at
Lancaster, Kendal, Ambleside and Ravenglass?
This view has been challenged by new
thinking. There is still no evidence of a definite Roman
military camp in Furness. However, there may have been a
naval signal station to help guide sea traffic between Lancaster
and Ravenglass. Possible sites are Aldingham, Piel or South
Walney. Any such station would have been a wooden structure,
easily decayed, or possibly swept away by sea erosion.
The Celtic people in the north of England were
known as the Brigantes, but this was a general term for a
collection of sub-tribes. It is now thought that the Celts of
the north-west, including Furness, had a pact of non-aggression
with the Romans and settled down to trade with them.
Furness has thrown up an
impressive array of Roman coins, and maybe there
weren't a network of forts in our peninsula - at least at
first. There was, however, clearly commercial intercourse with the
occupiers. But there is enough evidence “to keep alive the enigma
of whether or not Furness supported Roman sites”.
Prestige, security and plunder were
major reasons for the Roman invasions of Britain.
Britain was rich in lead, silver and tin, was agriculturally
productive and a valuable market for Roman goods. In AD
43 an invasion was launched with the intention of fully
incorporating Britain into the Roman Empire.
But progress was slow – in AD49 Colchester was
granted the ‘Colonia’ status, in AD71 York was founded and a year
later, in AD72, Carlisle. Garrisons were first established,
roads linked them and trading, bath-houses and taxation quickly
followed. But a good campaign in Britain could make your
reputation – Julius Caesar (see right) and Vespasian even became
heads of state after their stints in Britain.
But not all of Britain
became part of the empire. Caledonia (the Roman name for
Scotland) was never fully brought to heel and so not one but two
walls were built to maintain the frontier: the Antonine Wall and
Hadrian’s Wall (see image below left). The Romans had
valuable assets to protect over the border. Charterhouse lead
mine in Somerset became the biggest lead mine in the empire.
Unsurprisingly the lead mine was a Roman priority and it took just
six years after invasion to control it. Lead was used
extensively by the Romans for activities including plumbing, making
glass, lining cooking vessels and to extract silver from the
ore. By AD 70 Britain was one of the larger suppliers of
silver to the empire.
You could argue that
Britain benefited too from the invasion. Three full legions
were stationed in Britain; that’s about 33,000 men. It
has been estimated that each year the forces in northern Britain
would have needed 10,000 horses and 4,000 mules plus their fodder,
12,000 calves to provide leather for tents and 2,000 animals for
sacrifices. That’s a lot of trading opportunities.
The Romans brought some
technological innovations and also new foods such as the leek and
even chicken. But only 10% of the population in Roman Britain
lived in towns. Despite the invasion, whilst some locals were
sufficiently wealthy to take advantage of the new commercial
opportunities (the army-market), the lives of most ordinary people
would not have changed much.