In July 2012 a fabulous Roman bracelet was found in the Dalton area by a metal detectorist.
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".
This wonderful object has been declared Treasure and the Dock Museum has successfully fundraised the funds to purchase it. It went on display in March in our newly-opened archaeology gallery.
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.