– Several Roman roads are known, but none suggests a centre of communication or travel, and the Danum fort is best seen as the major station between the two cities of York and Lincoln
– Ermine Street/the Roman Ridge Road was the main route north, and Fig.1 and Fig.2 demonstrate the Romans’ ignorance of pre-existing settlements, with similar examples found across South Yorkshire
– Many graves and settlements can be found alongside ancient roads
– Highly significant quantities of Roman Pottery kilns are known in Cantley, Aukley and Rossington, representing one of the largest concentrations in Roman Britain
– Examples of pottery produced in South Yorkshire have been found as far north as the Antonine wall, and a large number of finds are the products of the potter Sarrius, the most prolific of the South Yorkshire potters
– Prior to the Roman invasion, pottery of comparable quality or quantity is rare
– Evidence of the Iron Age ‘brickwork’ field systems can be found well into the second and third centuries, with good examples visible in Fig.3
– Examples of interesting sites are at Thurnscoe (as a relatively late establishment) and Topham Farm (as an example which thrives throughout the Roman occupation from the Iron Age)
– Evidence of quern stone production is visible at Wharncliffe which dates from the Iron Age
– Holme Hall Quarry is an example of South Yorkshire’s mixed economy
A. To understand Roman economy in the area that is now South Yorkshire, and how it may have developed, the best source of evidence is archeological material around the modes of production. Development of these, in the processes of production, or in the product produced will reflect upon the actions and consumption of the people of South Yorkshire, and their relationships as economic individuals and sectors. This section will focus upon four significant areas of the Roman South Yorkshire economy, in infrastructure, the pottery industry, agriculture, and quern stones, to analyse the extent of change from Roman arrival. This section exemplifies the potential for stark differences in the level of Roman influence from one area to another, arguing such influence is polarised between the extreme continuities in agriculture and radical change and innovation in industry.
Firstly, the major pieces of infrastructure introduced by imperial intrusion, which did not exist for a solely military purpose, were roads. The principle road north between the colonia Lincoln and York is commonly referred to as Ermine Street and the Roman Ridge (Road). Built during the Agricolan period (around AD78-85), at one and a half meters high and eight to ten meters wide, this road was a symbol of power to its very core. As well as its value militarily and economically, it was visibly a cultural statement. As can be seen in Fig.1, the Roman Ridge (the red line) aligns itself against the pattern of the land, planting itself simply on top of the former divisions of land (the orange lines). Fig.2, an example of the same road from Adwick-le-Street, makes this point more clearly by showing a diagram of the pre-road activity (Northamptonshire, p.10). Evidence of plough scars (500) are clearly drawn diagonally to the line of the Roman Ridge as with the cropmarks outside the road in Fig.1. Another division of land may also rest beneath the road (597). Two lines near the bottom of the diagram (614, 616), which were found containing a yellow sandy material with occasional pieces of stone, may have been early markings for the direction of road construction. Whether or not these were Roman, it is absolute evidence of pre-road activity. This has been described as rather ruthless military policy, along with similar cases of roads in Rossington, South Elmsall, and , and further along the road, the fort at Newton Kyme is superimposed on the traditional field systems (Roberts, pp.71-72). It should also however be seen as much more practical, and though often taking little notice of pre-existing routes. There is an obvious extent to which some route north for means of communication must have been established prior to Agricola and prior to the conquest in AD71 (Fullelove, p.133; Hornshaw, p.24). Some element of the roads may have gone through radical Roman renovation, and it certainly would have brought new techniques for construction, therefore bringing a large amount of change to the economy and landscape. Besides direct change, the more indirect benefit of efficient roads to the economy is obvious and would have symbolised economic as much as military might. Roads embodied economics and military relationships ones which can give clues to the significance of particular sites. Notably, however, despite the number of forts and associated vici, the road network fails to give any major sign of any clear centre in South Yorkshire (Hodgson, p.14).
Secondly in terms of industry, methods of pottery production is an area that underwent large-scale change throughout Roman Britain. Especially in the Doncaster area, there is very little evidence for any other significant industries other than pottery (Buckland, p.42). This may not be totally fair as some glass and metalwork still survives, and the high durability of pottery may particularly skew the evidence. On the other hand however prior to Roman conquest, pottery is an extremely rare find in later pre-historic sites, with only two sites at Redhouse Farm and Pickburn Leys producing evidence of both indigenous Iron-age, and Romano-British wares alongside each other (Northamptonshire, p.19). This may be indicative of a lack of more extensive excavation. After the Roman conquest however, the presence of occupying forces would have dramatically increased the demand for pottery, with new types of vessels, new quantities and of a higher quality (Swan, p.83). Many potters would have sought to reorientate their industries, or potentially brought immigrant craftsmen. Cantley, Aukley and Rossington is one of the largest pottery kiln concentrations in Roman Britain, with Cantley alone housing fourty-one kilns, and is considered a single industrial entity (Swan, p.105). The most prolific potter of this area and all Roman Britain was Sarrius, as we know from brick stamps. Along with two associates Setibogius and Secunda, who may have been freedmen or slaves, their pottery has been found to have sold far north as the Antonine Wall (Hey, p.18). South Yorkshire industry was experiencing a reasonable amount of integration into the provincial economy. The pottery produced was of a reasonable to high quality, adding elements of fine craftsmanship evident with discovery of a comb used to decorate the pottery (Swan, p.52). The quality and scale of pottery production from the mid-second to the mid-fourth centuries would have been unlike any in Iron-Age South Yorkshire. As this change in production was directly due to Romanisation, it would also have indirectly promoted Romanised consumption, which may disproportionately skew historical interpretation.
Thirdly, whilst Romano-British industry represented one of the strongest examples of change and adoption of Roman practice, it stands in contrast to South Yorkshire’s striking continuity in agriculture, utilising traditional Iron-Age methods of land division and farming practice, commonly known as ‘Brickwork’, well into the second and third centuries (Hodgson, p.18). Identified by cropmarks, it has only been very recently that historians and archeologists have gained the first coherent picture of Brickwork field systems. As can be seen in Fig.3, a picture of the Iron-Age cropmarks at Barnby Dun, the cropmarks are of more mixed field systems and they are rarely staggered in the true Brickwork fashion (Roberts, p.20). It was vastly more common for people across Britain to live in these farmsteads and hamlets instead of the urban communities of the towns or cities. Some sites such as Thurnscoe, which were established after the Roman conquest, reached their height in the third century, whilst others such as Topham Farm had lasted all the way from the pre-Roman period. Topham Farm is a particularly interesting case, where cropmarks did not indicate it as an area expecting to have been an ancient settlement. These fields were continually abandoned and reestablished but as a regular part of the rural culture of South Yorkshire enjoying continuity in change. This resistance to adapting Roman life-style delivers a potential answer to questions as to why less villas developed in South Yorkshire compared to similar lowland landscapes in the South. It does however raise new questions about why these practices did eventually stop around the mid-third century. Finds of pottery come to an end which is a significant sign of some social upheaval, especially as pottery was still available from West Yorkshire (Hodgson, p.16). Worse still this does not correlate with a significant historical event and this new mystery remains an elusive phenomenon. Other than purely economic reasons, there might also be reason to believe these field systems carried a large social significance and meaning, where some areas organised an episodic system of recutting and redistributing the fields (Hodgson, p.8). This might indicate an entire cultural or religious upheaval, and a great change indeed, whether Roman or not.
Finally, similarly to cropmarks quern stones demonstrate a significant continuity lasting from the Iron-Age and through the Roman period. A great many beehive quern stones were quarried and produced out of the Magnesium Limestone at Wharncliffe, where evidence of split stones is easy to visit. But as well as quarrying, noticeable amounts of beehive querns discovered attest to substantial activity in arable farming (Roberts, p.64). It is well known from ancient sources that Britain was a major exporter of grain to the Empire and especially Gaul (Ammianus 1939, p.407; Zosimus, p.101). Roman Britain must have therefore been integrated into part of an Empire wide economy, but it is difficult to say how much grain may have been produced in South Yorkshire. Likelier areas for large scale arable production tend to be further south, such as the Salisbury plain. Though the Romans did not impact on quern stone or agricultural production in South Yorkshire directly like they did with pottery, the greater opportunity of trade with the Empire may have also boosted levels of demand and impacted indirectly.
With this variety in economic activity, the distinction between the industrial and agricultural sectors should not be approached as clear cut, with the majority of sites displaying a mixed economy, such as Holme Hall Quarry which contained quern stones, blacksmithing waste, and a large amount of animal bone which may also suggest the presence of a pastoral economy. Late Iron-Age domestic and industrial settlements in Balby Carr have been found linked to Brickwork fields east (Hodgson, p.8,12). This link was shared in towns also, as there was no divorce between the rural and urban economies as farmsteads like potteries stood near but were not part of towns. The nature of the Roman South Yorkshire economy appears to have enjoyed great amounts of flexibility to incorporate elements of Roman innovation into the preexisting structure, expressing themes of both continuity and change in the economy overall.
A. In conclusion, this section has suggested that the South Yorkshire economy was a ‘frontier’ from two different perspectives. The Roman perspective which saw innovation and change. The pottery industry and establishment of roads are two key examples. To a large extent the Roman economy itself, as well as its roads, can be interpreted as symbols of establishment and power. But the Brigantian perspective saw South Yorkshire was also a frontier of economic resistance and defense of traditional ways of life, especially agriculturally with Brickwork fields and quern stones. Overall however, this section has also highlighted the limits of drawing a quick conclusion, and this section’s conclusion is as mixed as South Yorkshire’s economy. The economy best demonstrates the extreme variation of continuity and change which the people of South Yorkshire experienced. There is no simple explanation of the impact of the Roman Empire economically, as with all history, but where the Empire did impact through innovation, its change would have been both welcome and lasting, changing knowledge and not culture.