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".
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
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
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.