Roman military finds off Denmark Road, Gloucester

A Civil Service sports pitch on the site of a post-medieval quarry may seem like an unlikely place to discover an astounding assemblage of early Roman artefacts. However, Cotswold Archaeology did just that in autumn 2019 when we excavated a site off Denmark Road in Gloucester, ahead of its redevelopment by Redrow Homes South West.

Denmark Road site location
Site location within Gloucester

The excavation focused on an area just outside the eastern defences of the site of the Roman legionary fortress at Kingsholm. This military installation was established in the early years of the Roman conquest and abandoned c. AD 69. Later in the Roman period, the area was used as an inhumation cemetery. While most of the site had been severely damaged by extensive quarrying in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some Roman features were visible. They included a large number of early Roman pits and a well. The well contained the skeleton of a dog, which was probably a closure deposit with religious or ritual significance. A disarticulated human skeleton was also found nearby, and is probably the remains of a Late Roman burial disturbed during post-medieval quarrying and redeposited in one of the quarry pits.  A ditch which was on the same alignment as the fortress defences, was traced across the site. This ditch appears to have acted as some sort of boundary, marking the limits of early Roman activity.

3D model of the Roman well under excavation

Buckle
A buckle from an Early Roman armoured cuirass known as a lorica segmentata

While these archaeological features give some insight into activity at the site, it is the artefactual assemblage of more than 140 objects which is particularly illuminating. As well as the brooches, bracelets and finger rings found on most Romano-British sites, this assemblage includes a huge number of objects of types used by both legionaries and auxiliary cavalry in the Roman army. They include an elaborate array of harness pendants, numerous fittings from the early Roman armoured cuirass known as lorica segmentata and even the foot of a piece of furniture in the shape of a lion’s paw.  More than 150 Roman coins were also recovered, the majority of which are copies of Claudian bronzes. These copies are thought to have been struck by the army to supplement military pay when there was a shortfall in the official coinage supply in the mid-1st century AD.

Lion's Leg and harness pendant from Denmark Road
Left: The foot of a piece of furniture possibly a food or water heater dating to the Early Roman period. Right: A phalera and harness pendant decorated with a human head dating to the 1st century AD
Claudian copy coin
A copy of a bronze coin of Claudius I known as a ‘Claudian copy’

Together, these artefacts suggest that the archaeological activity at Denmark Road is intimately associated with the early Roman army. Perhaps we are looking at the rubbish discarded by a vexillation of both legionaries and auxiliaries during the short time they were stationed at the nearby Kingsholm fortress….

Post-Excavation analysis on the site is currently underway, and the results will be published in due course. Watch this space for an update when the work is complete!

Philippa Walton

Denmark Road site
The site under excavation, facing west. The dark areas in the foreground are the remains of post-medieval quarry pits

Philippa Walton

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