– An urban area is to be identified by the collective presence of persons not bound there by the military or marriage such as traders, craftsmen, or veterans, and not dependants such as wives and children of soldiers
– No urban area in South Yorkshire is certified other than those connected to military sites
– All the evidence for urbanisation in South Yorkshire is found in vici, such as pottery which might suggest Romanisation
– A key source is the Stannington Diploma, recording imperial encouragement for soldiers to settle with natives
– Evidence mostly points to an increased difficulty in urban life: the coin sequence at Danum ceases at AD388 suggesting the end to military presence, women and children are found inside the fort as well as more disorganised planning of space, forts such as Templeborough are found to have been rebuilt in a cruder fashion (and therefore unlikely to have been by the Roman army)
– Only two villas are known for certain at Stancil and Oldcoates, with another potential three, which is relatively few compared to elsewhere in Roman Britain
– Anglo-Saxon pottery has been found at sites of villas in southern Britain towards the end of the fourth century
– Contemporary historical sources suggest an increase in Barbarian disruption across Britain crossing Hadrian’s Wall and raiding across the seas
A. Urbanisation, was largely promoted and accelerated under the influence of Empire, and it is generally accepted that most civilian towns were preceded by some form of military establishment (Jones, p.48). It is important however not to generalise all urbanisation as of absolute Roman influence, or to forget the potential British contribution to this process. Therefore to best determine the extent of Roman urbanisation in South Yorkshire, this section will primarily look at urbanisation around Roman military institutions, and identify other aspect more indirect Roman influence on urban life including Roman villas. This section will argue that the process of urbanisation in South Yorkshire depended heavily upon the Roman military presence, making urbanisation a highly significant Romano-British feature, but not one that successfully lasted into a post-Roman environment. This section clearly engages with similar issues as in the sections on Military and Economy, which would therefore be of use to read in conjunction with this section. While this will deal mostly with urban change, it will also attempt to highlight its relation to rural issues.
What is meant by the term urbanisation? It must refer to the large range of non-rural settlements from administrative centres to villages, but also not mistake ‘dependents’, the wives and children, of those living in the settlements or forts with the traders, craftsmen, and veterans who would support urban living. The fundamental connection between urban life and Roman military forts in South Yorkshire seems considerable as a Roman area where no urban centres are known for certain excepts those connected to military sites (Hodgson, p.6). If any urban centres existed prior to the arrival of the Roman army, they are likely to have been notably small to remain undiscovered or unmentioned in historical records. The Romans therefore clearly either introduced major urbanism or radically accelerated it. The establishment of forts, whether more permanently, or also temporarily, many would develop a vicus around its walls for the purposes of supplying and profiting from the soldiers. The growth of these vici represented the urbanising process. Danum (Doncaster) developed the most substantial vicus in South Yorkshire, containing evidence of the construction of high-status buildings (Hodgson, p.7). Other sites such as Templeborough also exhibit signs of occupation, whereas others at Burghwallis, which may have been an intermediate fort, and not been established for long enough, appear to have no vicus. Most of the reasons for understanding the drive of urbanisations is basic economics, for many to make profit, but for most simply to buy essential food. Britons would have ultimately arrived from choice, and accepted the change. But for most people these settlements also held a key social importance between the military and civilian population. Once the Emperor Severus abolished the ban on marriage in the Third century, it effective welded together military and civil interests (Salway, p.12).
As well as native Britons choosing the urban life, Romans would have also opted to remain in British towns and cities. One of the most significant finds in all of South Yorkshire is the Stannington Diploma dated to AD124, currently held in the British Museum, discharging a soldier after twenty-five years service in the army. Part of theinscription translates as:
As this was found near modern Sheffield, it would suggest that this soldier chose to settle in this area. The imperial authorities are known to have encouraged its retired soldiers to settle in the provinces, to some degree to relieve itself of a potential burden but also encourage the practice of Roman ways. This was an essential part of Romanisation. The increasing number of examples of Roman table wares found in sites such as Holme Hall might also give cause to suggest native Britons were growing increasingly Romanised. Pottery alone however can potentially skew interpretations of Romanisation due to its exceptional durability as a historical source, but more for its common availability in South Yorkshire due to the concentration of pottery production near Doncaster, as discussed in the Economy section. More explicit evidence of Romanisation can be seen in more southern towns, especially where more urban life had existed previously to the Roman conquest. These would rapidly become rebuilt in the Roman fashion in almost a single generation, rather than slow acceptance and integration (Jones, p.49). Cropmarks of Roman South Yorkshire however shows continuity in the construction of roundhouses, the principle domestic structure throughout the prehistoric period (Roberts, p.57). South Yorkshire did not accept the Roman fashions with quite the same enthusiasm as the South.
No matter how Romanised they became, in South Yorkshire these vici would mostly dissolve. Many had managed to survive despite interruptions in the military occupation, and therefore their raison d’être. Sites such as Danum, which could remain unoccupied for thirty years while troops were away at Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, would last until sometime in the fifth century. Its coin sequence ends at AD388, which indicates an end the influx of Roman soldiers and their pay sometime after this date, and that Danum ended as a singularly civilian settlement (Buckland, p.17). Danum’s early establishment along major routes of communication and travel however must not to be undervalued as a vital asset for the sustainability of urban life, allowing it to grow without the military source of investment. A strong civilian bias, instead of a military bias, was possible in towns such as Aldborough (capital of Brigantes) which was also a fortified town (Wacher, p.165). But by the Fifth century British governance had devolved into tribal authorities, reducing most need for markets or administrative centres (Ward-Perkins, p.406). Modern historiography confidently accepts the Roman town and city underwent change away from the earlier classical ideal to the model typical of Late Antiquity, which lacked constructions of new public buildings but consistently maintained its defenses. This trend varied from city to city across the Empire, but this description fits late Roman South Yorkshire comfortably. Throughout the fourth century occupation of the fort at Danum becomes progressively less organised, with less regular planning of buildings and even the presence of women and families, presumably of the soldiers, found inside the fort, which was a radical change from previous centuries (Buckland, p.17). A possible defensive ditch found near Sepulchre Gate in Doncaster looks to have been constructed in the Fourth century, and the fort at Templeborough appears also to have been rebuilt after its abandonment by the army in a cruder fashion. Defense evidently becomes a priority for those who desired to keep living in urban South Yorkshire. Whether by choice or through threats, a military presence appears an important factor in the instigation and maintenance of vici.
The most recognisable of Roman structures, an analysis of South Yorkshire villas will allow insight into the acceptance of Roman life rurally, and may provide a new dimension from which to perceive urbanisation. South Yorkshire villas are relatively uncommon. Although there are potentially as many as five, only two are known for certain at Stancil and Oldcoates (Buckland, p.38). Though often seen as the pinnacle of rural existence, villas also played distinctive roles in industry and commerce, and those few which are known are found to rest near to urban centres, presumably for a number of reasons including easing trade and a desire to be nearer to Roman culture and administration (Roberts, p.73). One explanation for the significant lack of villas may be simply that the role of villas in South Yorkshire may have been reserved for an elite minority. Luxury is evident even in the more northerly villas, though outside South Yorkshire, as in Rudston which was growing through the first half of the fourth century and installing new mosaics (Todd, 1978, p.208). Overall however, it is clear that by the end of the fourth century, and therefore before the retreat of the Empire from Britain, the time of the villa had ended, with evidence of Anglo-Saxon pottery and metalwork uncovered in examples of villas in Southern Britain (Todd, 1978, p.136). These villas were clearly becoming unsustainable an unoccupied, and life looked to step away from Roman changes. As villas had always been rare in South Yorkshire, it must be agreed therefore that the trend towards more popular villa life had come to an end before it ever had a chance to really securely establish itself. This would suggest a strong continuity in the South Yorkshire way of life, especially considering the distinctly limited impact of villas compared to most other areas in Roman Britain. A more reasonable explanation for the lack of villas may be South Yorkshire’s resistance to adapt agriculturally, discussed in more depth in the Economy section. This resistance rurally however might also have reflected on adoption of urban life, as nothing suggests that traditional agricultural practices significantly changed or declined with the arrival of new urban opportunities. Similarly, villas could be an indicator of urbanisation, having become increasingly linked with small towns elsewhere in Britain, and a small urban population may have only supported few villas throughout South Yorkshire. This conclusion however rests on how dependent villas may have become on urban centres, which currently only amounts to speculation, and is an avenue for more research.
A. To conclude, this section has argued that any possible pre-Roman urbanism must have been weak, and that a semi-permanent military basis for urban growth and demand was necessary to kick start urbanisation, and provide investment from which to sustain itself. And although some British natives became urbanised, it does not necessarily follow that they became Romanised. The lack of Roman villas may reflect upon the popularity of urban living but this is mostly speculation. The relationship between the military and vici however transformed from a source of growth to a barrier from decline. Anglo-Saxon raids would have strangled trade and city life and undoubtedly been experienced to some extent in South Yorkshire. The threat of raids is evident by the nine defensive Saxon Shore forts in the South in the Notitia Dignitatum (Seeck, p.180), the more northern signal stations, and the rising number of walled towns. The retreat of the Empire did not just remove the major cause of urbanisation in South Yorkshire and many other parts of Roman Britain but also removed its one line of defense. Despite the large amount of change the Empire clearly brought to South Yorkshire, the presence of new threats eliminated the possibility of continuing pre-Roman existence, as continuity and change would become redefined according to Anglo-Saxon terms. Taking into account this Anglo-Saxon threat to urbanism could give substantial reason to believe many urban centres may have lasted longer of their own accord, and in some instances could have become as entrenched as South Yorkshire’s rural ways of life. But it would not be until the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that the urban lives of areas like Doncaster would materialise again.