Lunt (Baginton) Fort
Fort and Gyrus
The site was first confirmed as Roman when “vast quantities” of Roman pottery were discovered during gravel-working in the village in the 1930’s. Excavations conducted in the 1960’s uncovered the defences and interior buildings of a sequence of Roman military camps on the site which excavators have grouped into four major phases of development and occupation:
Occupational Phases of the Lunt Fort
Exotic pottery from far off places has occasionally been found on early military sites in Britain and the most astonishing is perhaps the plain black colour-coated bowl, with a central finial, from the post-Boudican fort at the Lunt, for which there are two known parallels, one in Gaul and the other in Spain.” (Webster, p.101)
Post-Boudican Horse-Training Centre
The forts of Periods I-III included many stable-blocks in their internal arrangements, and the recovery of many pieces of bronze horse-harness and a large, circular horse-training ring or corral during excavations confirm the presence of cavalry on the site. This undoubted equine association, coupled with dating evidence which places the foundation of the first fort at about the same time as the revolt of Boudica 60/61AD, has led to the conclusion that the camp was constructed specifically in order to deal with the large number of horses and ponies which were presumably taken as booty following the defeat of the British army, this battle perhaps occurring somewhere near Mancetter.
Baginton then, is thought to have started-off life as a large encampment known to archaeologists as Period I, which was used to house a mixed regiment of cavalry and infantry known as a cohors equitata, perhaps two, together with an unknown number of captured horses obtained during the campaigns of governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus against Queen Boudica of the Iceni.
Probably Garrisoned by a Cohors Equitata
The soldiers in this type of regiment would all have been accustomed to the care and use of horses and would have been the logical choice to garrison the Lunt Fort, able to care for the animals as they were rounded up, also to train suitable specimens. The unfit would be weeded-out and probably sold into the civilian market, while those suitable would be graded for use within the Roman military. The finest horses would go into the cavalry alae, the equine elite, while the smaller, stockier breeds would be employed by the equitata regiments who required less-spirited animals able to cope with the presence of foot-soldiers and trained to perform a number of specialised manoevers, including rapid mounting and dismounting, swimming across rivers in the company of infantry, also able to negotiate rougher ground than the cavalry thoroughbreds. Finally, the horses unsuited to mounted use would be employed as baggage or draft animals.
Following the initial large number of animals the supply of captured horses would soon have petered out, and a strong military presence at the site would be no longer required, so the original defences were levelled, and the much-smaller Period II fort was built within the first camp. The fort of Period III likely represents further scaling-down of operations at the fort which continued to operate with a reduced garrison for a short time before the defences were finally demolished and the site abandoned during the administration of governor Agricola , its garrison possibly withdrawn for use in his northern campaigns.
The Gyrus or Vivarium
The circular structure at the Lunt fort has been described as a gyrus or horse-training ring, or perhaps a vivarium or animal corral, but whatever its original function it remains the only known example within an auxiliary fort throughout the whole of the Roman empire. The structure was formed from fifty semicircular cut timbers set upright in a circular trench, probably supporting a framework of cross-timbers. A single funnel-shaped entrance passage adjoined the structure on the north-east which had gates at both ends, presumably to control the animals entering or leaving the ring. It is probable that both horses and men were trained within the gyrus, the instructor most likely remained in the centre of the ring while the trainee was walked around the perimeter on the end of a leash.
References for The Lunt Baginton
- Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993);
- Britannia ii (1971) p.262 & pl.XXXVIb.
Roman Roads near The Lunt Baginton