– The contemporary accounts of Tacitus’s Histories, Annals, and Agricola underpin the majority of the narrative for early Roman Britain, but is open to interpretation
– A substantial amount of Roman coins and pottery dating from the Claudian-Neronian era has been found and is displayed in York suggesting pre-Flavian occupation of the area
– Good examples of South Yorkshire’s traditional British defences are the Roman Rig and Wincobank Hill Fort, as seen in Fig.1
– A significant number of forts have been discovered in South Yorkshire (though there may be more to find), and all mentioned here can be seen on the Map
– Danum appears to have been the most significant fort in South Yorkshire with the longest occupation and most substantial vicus, It will have benefited from its positioning along the main road north, the Roman Ridge
– Evidence of reconstruction and reoccupation of forts in South Yorkshire is dated to around the mid-second century, and the reasons for this might be connected to revolt in the area, but the evidence is somewhat circumstantial
A. The Roman military occupation, as a major part in all of Rome’s conquests, seems too obvious to be sincerely discussed as a major impact on South Yorkshire society, but this section aims to discuss more than just their mere presence. It aims to comprehend the meaning of its presence and how South Yorkshire attitudes changed over the centuries. The impact of constructing forts and roads had an obvious economic affect on the area, which will be discussed more in the relevant sections. There is instead a greater focus upon the personal relationship between the army and the native population. This section will first look at the early relations between Brigantia and Rome, mostly to grasp the experiences of the Brigantes under Brigantian and Roman authority. Secondly, having mostly analysed Brigantia as a broad and single entity, the next step will be a greater focus on the South Yorkshire area and its military assets including forts and roads. It will be argued that despite a more troubled invasion and occupation compared to the earlier conquered tribes of ancient Britain, South Yorkshire would reach an eventual calm and general acceptance of Roman military authority.
A. The Brigantes
Prior to the invasion, South Yorkshire belonged as part of Brigantia, territory of the Brigantes, the largest tribe of ancient Britain covering all of modern Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumberland, County Durham and Westmorland. The first task will be to appreciate who the Brigantes were and their relationship with the Roman Empire. Overall the behavior of the Brigantes stands out as fairly rebellious and conflicting against the Romans when compared against their southern neighbors the Corieltauvi, who seemingly offer little or no resistance, or at least none worthy of mention (Todd, 1973, p.21). The case was however undoubtedly a more complex, with largely different levels of resistance across ancient Britain. In the case of South Yorkshire, it was certainly the main Roman military frontier between the late forties and early seventies AD. Nor was it an entirely peaceful border, forcing Governor Scapula to abandon his campaign in AD49 and forcing Roman intervention into the territory both in that year and again in AD69, as well as potentially in AD54 depending on interpretation of Tacitus. Apart from the obvious levels of conflict in a narrative of Roman conquest however, South Yorkshire also stood as the border to a Client-Kingdom. The Queen Cartimundua, despite ruling the relatively rebellious tribe, would hand over the high profile British rebel Caratacus to the Romans, in a clear display of either loyalty or compliance. Similarly despite some trouble across the frontier in AD49, it is unlikely Scapula would have began a campaign in the first place, if he had not been confident of a calm northern frontier. Such a relationship was mutually beneficial, and a normal part of frontier policy (Hartley, p.2). But in sum, if the Brigantes were more rebellious than the Corieltauvi, they were a lot less rebellious than the Iceni tribe and Boudicca.
It would be misleading however to attribute too much unity amongst the Brigantes. By AD69 Brigantia was clearly engaged in a civil war between areas supporting Cartimundua and those lead by her former husband Venutius. A better description of the Brigantes, rather than as unified, would be as a broad coalition of tribes, though it is not often seen by historians as an easy balance (Wenham, p.46). Understanding the Brigantes in this way forces us to look at how this relates to the ancient South Yorkshire area which may have enjoyed a more independent direction to Cartimundua or Venutius. Not all Brigantian rebellions throughout the Roman occupation will have necessarily taken place in South Yorkshire, and in many cases it will be more unlikely. South yorkshire would have been the area of Brigantia having the closest proximity to, and spending the longest time as part of, Romano-British territory. Secondly, archeological discoveries of Roman pottery and coins dating to the Claudian-Neronian era at York provides significant evidence to suggest a pre-Flavian there (Wenham, p.48). This in turn would suggest a more advanced control of Brigantia before its eventual domination in the campaigns under Vespasian, and South Yorkshire along with other areas of Brigantia may have been occupied without officially being conquered. This military occupation and the Roman Governor first and foremost represented authority, as would any King or Queen. Issues of continuity and change for the people of South Yorkshire is to be measured in the extent to which this new authority becomes accepted. Early occupation however would therefore not have presented an as large change in authority after conquest as commonly imagined and expected in Roman Britain. The narrative would need to change from one of conquest to transition.
Brigantia as a whole experienced early difficulties, regularly rebelling against the Roman authority until the end of the second century. The number counted in the Chronology of this website is as many as four times. South Yorkshire’s own defenses were not insignificant, a primary example being the Wincobank Hill Fort. This Iron-Age fort as seen in Fig.1, which displays obvious differences design and construction to Roman forts, also contains evidence of stone and turf removal in post-medieval activity and therefore was presumably available throughout the Roman period(Northamptonshire, p.71). Wincobank is curiously close to the ‘Roman Rig’ (not to be confused with the Roman Ridge road), an 11mile defensive earthwork along the Don Valley, though any connection has been neither proved nor disproved. While arguably it may have been built against the Romans, it could have also been built against the Anglo-Saxons, and all that is certain is that the style of construction is not Roman.
Roman defenses developed through stages towards a method of stable occupation. Templeborough, which it is generally agreed was built in the Neronian period (Wenham, p.49), as well as the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge, were established earlier compared to the main series of forts. This was a method to keep watch, as has been suggested of Templeborough’s close proximity to Wincobank (Hey, p.13). Other types of intermediary military bases such as fortlets like the example of Burghwallis, would eventually be succeeded by more permanent bases for effectively policing the local area, dispensing justice or collecting tax. The most significant fort in Roman South Yorkshire was the fort at Danum (Doncaster), which may have been recorded in Notitia Dignitatum (Seeck, p.209). It was built as the main fort along the principle Roman Ridge, the original line of penetration north, in between the two major cities York and Lincoln (Hodgson, p.5). Fig.2 depicts the direction of the Roman Ridge, and the strategic placement of the Danum Fort along the road and river. Clearly visible on the Map the main series of forts, including Danum, Burghwallis, Rossington Bridge, and Bawtry, follow the Roman Ridge, and it is a pattern which can also be followed on modern roads. The full extent of the fort network in Roman South Yorkshire, and the North East generally, is unknown and new forts and roads are still being discovered, such as the potential new fort at Long Sandall along the ‘Cantley spur’ of the Roman Ridge (Roberts, p.68).
Despite South Yorkshire appearing to hold many forts, the area appears to have avoided significant conflict with imperial authority. These forts were not permanent occupation forces, and if the garrison were to be transferred to another location, as was the case in the AD120s with the abandonment of many Roman forts to assist the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, these forts would be deconstructed. So many forts were clearly unnecessary or were demanded more elsewhere. Ignoring the typical conflict which would occur between the natives and the imperial tax collectors, one method of determining the occurrence of conflict can be the necessity of forts, though either construction of new forts or reconstruction of the old forts. It is often supposed it was the Brigantes who ‘could not be kept under Roman control’ towards the end of Trajan’s reign. However keeping in mind the wide scope of Brigantian society, it is instead likely to have been much more peaceful in South Yorkshire, enabling the removal of garrisons from forts of the east Pennines near the beginning of Hadrian’s reign (Hartley, p.5). Reoccupation of the forts at Danum and Templeborough however did become necessary after a supposed Brigantian revolt in AD154. Evidence for the revolt is considered largely circumstantial, and the dates for the rebuilding of the South Yorkshire forts are tied to the dates of known reconstructions of other forts around this time (Hartley, p.5). But if this revolt is accepted and these reconstructions are interpreted as necessary for stability, it would count as the exception that would prove the rule of general peace in South Yorkshire under Roman occupation. Fig.3 shows in the case of Danum, the Fort was rebuilt on a smaller scale, presumably only requiring smaller force. After this seeming exception to South Yorkshire peace the area became one of stable occupation. Forts such as Danum and Templeborough were eventually rebuilt in stone in the later centuries in response to the increasing Barbarian raids. The decline of forts, particularly Danum, is covered in more depth in the Urbanisation section.
A. To conclude, when looking at the Brigantes as a whole, it is clear their experiences with imperial power could substantially differ between extremes of conflict and compliance. While animosity towards Roman authority was to last for at least a century, the native Britons of South Yorkshire would eventually calm, producing an eventual change in the accepted authority of South Yorkshire. South Yorkshire’s experiences as a military frontier and of conflict with the Roman army would dissolve after the army’s acceptance and, as will be evident from the other sections, increasing ingratiation into society through bonds on marriage, religion, and economics. Soldiers and civilians managed to recognise their mutual interest both pre- and post-conquest. In AD410 the status quo would easily change again.
To research the Danum and Templeborough forts specifically in more depth, Buckland’s source book provides an excellent introductory analysis (Buckland,1986).