Roman Military Finds from Non-Military Contexts in South-East England and the Role of the Roman Army in Romano-British Society

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis discusses the artefactual evidence for the Roman military from the southeast of England that has been found in non-military contexts. It will argue that the Roman military was far more active in the so-called ‘civil zone’ of Roman Britain than is usually assumed and that its presence within that area was more than the provision of civil engineering, policing or simple transience. The Romans did not regard Britain or its populace very highly and the evidence of militaria from the civil areas of the province can be interpreted as what might now be regarded as exploitative if not actively oppressive. It is possible that in certain areas, Rome fostered the continuation of some pre-conquest martial ideologies and practices that it found beneficial for the raising of troops. However, this work will also challenge the assignation of object types, particularly horse harness, to the military and instead suggest that there was widespread use of the horse beyond the military.

Chapter one will present the key questions and aims of this study framing them against an understanding of the importance of studying Roman military small finds.

This is followed by a review of the study of the Roman military, both as an institution and of how militaria has been approached. I will suggest that the study of the Roman army has fallen into silos and to a large extent, isolated itself from the wider discussions of Roman Britain. In turn the study of the army and particularly its equipment, is perceived as niche and at risk of fetishization.
I will then explore the definitions of militaria that have been used within Roman studies. It is my intention to set out that while there is significant variation in what is classified as military by other authors. In some cases authors and specialists have avoided explicitly stating what they classify as militaria, perhaps to avoid engaging in the debate over the strength of an object’s association with the military.

Chapter four will set out the objects that I intend to define as militaria for the purposes of this study. It will explain the definition of two main categories used within this work, that of core and periphery objects. Alongside the methodological statement it will define the data collection and analysis parameters I will use.

The following six chapters are individual case studies, the first three are regional, focusing on Colchester’s hinterland, Chichester, and Buckinghamshire. The second group are object based, challenging the strength of a military association for three object groups, so-called armillae bracelets, Trompetenmuster mounts, and horse harness mounts.

Having challenged the association of harness mounts specifically in chapter 10, chapter 11 will discuss horse use in Roman Britain and argue that it was widespread and might have been based on continuity of Iron Age practices.
Chapter 12 will draw together the evidence presented within the six case studies and argue that there was no demilitarised area of Roman Britain. I will suggest that the Roman army was active within the southeast of the province and used it to supply food to the forces stationed there. I will suggest that our perception and understanding of the interaction of the civilian populace with the Roman army in many cases ignores the power imbalances and potential negative aspects of such community friction.

I will conclude that the Roman army did not confine itself to the military zone, sending troops to secure supplies, enforce Imperial control, and keep watch on the native population that it regarded with disdain and suspicion. The use of archaeological finds and the challenging of assumed artefact relationships is a valuable tool in deepening our understanding of how different communities within Roman Britain and indeed, the wider Empire, interacted.
Date of Award1 May 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJohn Pearce (Supervisor)

Cite this