The Romans in South West Britain.

The Roman conquest of Britain began under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43. The Roman Army had reached the South West by AD 45-47 under Aulus Plautius (Hornblower and Spawforth, 1998). Until the end of Roman occupation of Britain the South West was a centre of wealth, trade and farming, although as a whole South West Romano-Britain is under researched.

It has long been thought that the South West offered a strong resistance to ‘Romanisation’, particularly past the Tamar Valley which separates Devon and Cornwall, and that Cornwall remained largely out of Roman hands throughout the Romano-British period (InfoBritain, 2009). Recent research has refuted this interpretation and remains of Roman settlements have been found throughout the further South West, suggesting that Roman influence extended much further than previously thought. One of the sites which this re-evaluation of the evidence is at Ipplepen, in Devon, where a small settlement found in 2011 along with a coin hoard redrew the known borders of Roman influence in the South West. These borders have continued to shift as more discoveries come to light (Ord, 2011).

Figure 1. The distribution of Roman sites in Britain (Smith, 2015)

Parts of the South West including Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire feature some of the largest and most abundant Romano-British structures and settlements in Britain (see fig. 1). 122 Romano-British Villas are known in the South West, concentrated in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and at least 30% of these were built on earlier Iron Age settlements, showing the continuity of occupation at these sites (Smith, 2015). The South West would also have been well connected to other parts of the country as the Roman road known as Fosse Way ran from Exeter to Leicester, and would have run close to Berkeley Castle (Bishop, 2014).

Figure 2. The Roman wall discovered in the trench, highlighted in red.
The area around Berkeley is rich in evidence of the Roman period in the form of roads, villas and town houses, and many Roman structures and artefacts have also been excavated over the course of our thirteen seasons digging at Berkeley. Roman occupation is known at Berkeley from archaeological remains; a courtyard surface which were previously interpreted as a Roman road and the wall of an as yet unidentified Roman building is present on the site under the remains of a Tudor Pub (see fig. 2). The courtyard and building may be associated with an industrial metal working structure.

Figure 3. The Roman brooch excavated in 2016.
Roman small finds at Berkeley include a coin, roman cloaks pins and large amounts of Roman pottery found over the years. Last year Roman brooch of the Polden Hill type was found (see fig. 3) that dates back to the first or second century AD but was actually found in a later fifth century context. There is evidence of Roman copper and iron working in the Jenner garden, a Roman trackway with visible cart wheel marks and even suggestions that there may be a Roman temple somewhere on the site. As we begin our thirteenth season at Berkeley Castle new discoveries will hopefully expand our knowledge of Roman occupation and life around Berkeley and in the South West in general.

Bishop, M.C. 2014. The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain: And their Impact on Military History. Barnsley: Pen and Sword.
Collingwood, R. G. and Myres, J. N. L. 1936. Roman Britain and the English Settlements. Cheshire: Biblo & Tannen Publishers
Hornblower, S. and Spawforth, A. 1998. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
InfoBritain. 2009. South Western England. InfoBritain. Accessed 16/05/17. Available at:
Ord, L. 2011. England’s Western-Most Roman Town Uncovered. BBC. Accessed 16/05/17. Available at:
Smith, A. 2015. The Rural Settlement of Roman England: Settlement Morphology And Regional Diversity: Establishing A New Model. The Rural Settlement of Roman England: From Regional Perspectives To National Synthesis, Reading.