British Settlement and Small Roman Town
Located on the south side of the Ancaster gap in the canton of the Coritani tribe, Ancaster was one of only five roadside settlements in Roman Britain built on same site as an existing native settlement.
The Claudian Auxiliary Fort
There is a known Claudian fort at Ancaster, identified by a pair of ditches outside the later settlement’s western defenses. The fort was abandoned by no later than AD 80.
The next fort along the route is at Ancaster (No 71), where the river Slea cuts through the Jurassic ridge. Excavations have produced details of the defences and a p[ossible gate. The size of the fort is not yet known although the east-west width has been suggested as 420 feet.” (Webster)
The Later Romano-British Settlement
Dating evidence for occupation of the civil site: Flavian pottery fragments were found beneath the ramparts of the towns defenses; three buildings within the defenses, to the east of Ermine Street beside an east-west road contained a lot of late-third and fourth century pottery; a fourth building to the west of Ermine Street was excavated but yielded no dating evidence.
Defences consisting of a wall and rampart were built around 200AD, probably before 225AD. A ditch was probably associated, evidence for which has been erased by subsequent phases.
Projecting, fan-shaped angle-towers were probably added to the defenses early in the fourth century, and contemporary with this, any existing vallation was superceeded by a pair of ditches, the inner being c.16.76m wide and c.4.88m deep, the outer ditch being c.9.14m wide and c.2.7m deep. A berm 2.13m to 2.43m wide separated the ditches. The settlement covered an area of around 10 acres (4 ha).
Two sculptures were recovered during excavations; one of three Matres seated on a couch; and a dedicatory stone to the God Viridius set up by one Trenico. These finds points to the existence within Causennae of a shrine or temple.
The Extramural Settlement
Of the settlement outside the eastern defenses, little is known, two building excavated contained pottery dated no later than the second century.
A pottery kiln lay close to the east side of Ermine Street, north of the defended area.
Several cemetaries are known to be associated with the site: nine inhumations were found beside Ermine Street to the north; Roman and Anglian burials were found c.92-5m to the south; and an extensive cemetery to the west of over 300 inhumations dated to the late third and fourth centuries.
A large rectangular building measuring about 50 feet by 27¾ feet (c.15.24 x 8.45 m), located about 600 feet (c.183 m) to the north-east of the defended settlement, was found, when excavated, to date to the early-4th century. It stood on the site of two earlier superimposed buildings of mid-second and third century date, and has been identified as a Romano-British villa of the ‘aisled corridor’ type.
Classical References to Ancaster
The Roman name for Ancaster is known from a single ancient geographical source, the Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century. The Fifth Itinerary is entitled “the route from Londinium to Luguvalium at the Entrenchments”, and details the road stations between the provincial capital London and Carlisle in the far north of the province, near the western end of Hadrian’s Wall.
The actual course of Iter V / Ermine Street is uncertain, and the Causennis entry has also been identified with other Roman settlements, in particular Saltersford and Sapperton, both in Lincolnshire nearby. The road south-west from /Vernemetum continued eastwards to a probable port on the Metaris Aestuarium (The Wash).
Ancaster formerly was identified as Cavsennae of the Antonine Itinerary but the mileage is wrong and the name is now applied to Saltersford.
Ancaster does not appear in King William’s Domesday Book ( AD 1086) and the modern name is first mentioned on a 12th century document in which it appears as Anecastre, an amalgamation of two Old English words, a personal name coupled with the word for an old Roman settlement, Anna’s CÃ¦ster.
Epigraphic Evidence from Roman Ancaster
There is only sparse evidence from the Ancaster site itself. The R.I.B. lists only a single inscribed stone within the boundaries of the settlement, recovered from the grounds of the local church, a dedicatory inscription to the Germanic god Viridius (RIB 245a infra), evidently from a ceremonial archway. In addition, a honorific pillar dated to the early-fourth century was found beside the Ermine Street about a quarter of a mile north of the town defences (RIB 2242 etiam infra).
RIB2242 - Milestone of Constantine I
P F INV
Viridius Stone Discovered by the Channel-4 Time Team – God bless ’em!
The Channel-4 Time Team programme recently uncovered a late-Roman/early-Dark Age cist burial, which increased the epigraphic evidence from the Ancaster settlement by one-hundred percent. The burial was that of an aged male, who had revieved two broken legs during his lifetime, both of which had healed before his death. The body was contained within a stone-built cist, comprised of several ‘uprights’ and two ‘capstones’, and the burial was aligned east-west, which is an accepted indication of Christian belief. However, one of the long upright stones was found to bear a dedicatory inscription in Latin to the god Viridius. In the words of one of the Time Team members, the old warrior was probably “hedging his bets”, having a Christian internment but including the pagan inscription ‘just in case’.
“To the holy god Viridius …”
(RIB 245b? – exact RIB designation unknown)
References for Ancaster
- Town and Country in Roman Britain by A.L.F. Rivet (London, 1958);
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
- Britain in the Roman Empire by Joan Liversidge (London 1968);
- The Coritani by Malcolm Todd (Sutton, London, 1973);
- The Roman Villa – An Historical Introduction by John Percival (B.C.A., London, 1976) p.104;
- Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford 1981) p.593;
- The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993) p.156;
- Roman Camps in England – The Field Archaeology by the R.C.H.M.E. (H.M.S.O., London, 1995);
- Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
Map References for Ancaster
NGRef: SK9843 OSMap: LR130