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The publication of the RurLand (Rural Landscape in North-East Gaul) project has provided an opportunity to compare methodologies and results with those of The Rural Settlement of Roman Britain project. Two themes, which draw out the asymmetrical development of settlement in the two regions, are examined: the very different impacts of the Roman conquests of Gaul and of Britain on settlement numbers and settlement continuity, and the development of the agricultural economy and its relationship with the frontiers of Britain and Germany, as reflected in the growth and decline of villa estates in Britain and Gaul.
The evidence of the character and purpose of settlements previously described as defended ‘small towns’ is reviewed in the light of knowledge accrued since the implementation of Planning Policy Guidance 16 in 1990, the same year as the publication of Burnham and Wacher's survey, The ‘Small Towns’ of Roman Britain. This review focuses on four of the more extensively excavated settlements: Alcester, Cambridge, Godmanchester and Worcester. In the absence of convincing urban attributes, it is suggested that this category of settlement should more appropriately be regarded as defended villages (vici). These cluster in and around the West Anglian plain and on Ermine Street, suggesting a strategic function to protect grain and other food supplies and their movement, potentially either to the northern frontier or south to London and, perhaps, export to the Continent.
A carved coping stone found on the site of a spring near the amphitheatre, Silchester, and first reported in 1873, was rediscovered in 2014. It does not compare in its carved detail with coping stones from the amphitheatres at Chester and London, nor with that recovered from the West Gate, Silchester, in 1890; nor does its basal width correspond with that of the arena wall of the Silchester amphitheatre. It is likely to have formed part of a monumental basin, similar to that found at Coventina's Well, Northumberland, and to have commemorated the location of a spring and its associated (unknown) deity. Similarity with the type and decoration of architectural stone used in the construction of the forum-basilica suggests a Hadrianic–Antonine date.
Determining the internal layout of archaeological structures and their uses has always been challenging, particularly in timber-framed or earthen-walled buildings where doorways and divisions are difficult to trace. In temperate conditions, soil-formation processes may hold the key to understanding how buildings were used. The abandoned Roman town of Silchester, UK, provides a case study for testing a new approach that combines experimental archaeology and micromorphology. The results show that this technique can provide clarity to previously uncertain features of urban architecture.
This paper identifies the ways in which the enormous upsurge in the volume of commercial archaeology in England since the introduction of PPG 16 in 1990 has affected our knowledge and understanding of Roman Britain. The difficulties in establishing a comprehensive database of interventions are discussed, but overall it is estimated that around 6,600 separate interventions sampled Roman deposits between 1990 and 2004. While many important excavations have been published in conventional formats, a considerable amount of information resides only in grey literature. Commercial work has generated major advances in our understanding of non-villa rural settlement and its associated land use, while analyses of material culture and, to a lesser extent, biological remains have considerable potential for wider synthesis and inter-site comparison. Improvements in collection methodology and reporting standards are suggested, and the need to integrate the results of commercial investigations with data derived from other sources is stressed.