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Ask the Expert Q&A 24 October – Roman Yorkshire with Adam Parker

Adam Parker will be answering your questions on Roman Yorkshire on Friday 24 October  2014 between  3-4pm BST.

Roman Yorkshire

The shape and structure of a lot of modern day York and Yorkshire was first cemented with the arrival of the Roman military in this part of the world in the first century AD.

Many of the towns we live in and roads we travel on were first laid out by our Roman predecessors.

Nearly four centuries of influence in Yorkshire has left a profound archaeological trace, still visible today in a whole range of places – a bath-house under a pub in York, the fort defences in a park at Malton, a signal-station next to a castle at Scarborough to name but a few.

The story of Roman Britain (and Roman Yorkshire) is the colourful blend of military garrisons surrounded by civilians – the civilians themselves are Roman, British and Romano-British all existing within a huge cultural boiling pot.

Many museums in the region have some Roman remains on display due to the very simple fact that such a huge amount of material has survived through to the modern day!


Romano-British culture is visible through the coinage, pottery, weapons, statues, clothes, jewellery and grave markers left behind in the forts, houses, workshops, villas, fields and farms all across the province.Here in York we have objects brought in from Europe and North Africa and even sent a few out ourselves; pendants made from Whitby Jet have turned up in Germany, France and Denmark.

The prestige of the garrison at York was buoyed by three Emperors having resided here and, as a result, briefly making this small town at the end of the known world the centre of the Roman Empire.

Septimius Severus housed the imperial family here between 208-211 during his northern campaigns in Britain. Later,  in 306, the Emperor Constantius I died of ill health and his son was famously proclaimed Emperor.

As well as Roman Britain and Roman Yorkshire, I have a particular interest in the frontiers of Roman Britain. Everyone is aware of Hadrian’s Wall  (AD120s) as a vastly important cultural icon of this period, but are you aware of the Antonine Wall between the Firths of Forth and Clyde built two decades after Hadrian’s Wall by his Imperial successor?


What about the Gask Ridge – a line of forts and towers that runs well up into the Scottish highlands and predates both of these by nearly 40 years?

Additionally, I am involved in the study of Roman religion and magic in Britain. Religion is, of course, the Gods, Goddesses, spirits, beliefs and ideas that form part of the rich spiritual world at this time.

Magic is, unfortunately, not the study of rabbits drawn from hats and people sawn in half theatrically on stage but the whole range of charms, spells, curses and amulets that are practised on a day to day basis by the inhabitants of the Roman world.

For this MDY Ask the Expert Session I will be happy to answer any and all questions about the Roman World, Roman Britain and Roman Yorkshire, but especially invite questions about frontiers, religion and magic, Roman York, pottery, and Whitby jet.

Adam Parker is the Assistant-Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, teaches adult education classes with the University of York’s Centre for Lifelong Learning and is involved with the Hadrianic Society, Roman Finds Group and Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 24 October, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry. We’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to gillian.waters@ymt.org.uk

Your Comments

  1. Gillian Waters |

    Dear Adam,
    I am very interested in the Gask Ridge in Scotland. What was it’s purpose and who built it?

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says –
      The Gask Ridge is a much underloved fronteir system in Britain. It predates Hadrian’s Wall by 40 years and the Antontine Wall by over 60. It was located much further north than both of these – up into the highland fringe in Scotland. There was no formal wall or barrier but a series of outposts – forts, fortlets and towers, lots of towers. Studies have shown they could communicate using a semaphore system. The fronteir was quite short lived in archaeological terms, lasting between 10 and 20 years at the latter end of the first Century AD.

  2. Alan Bentley |

    Did the Romans do any mining in Yorkshire? I seem to remember hearing they got silver from the Pennines.

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says “Alan – Yes silver was mined in Roman Yorkshire, but as a by-product of lead mining rather than as a venture all on its own. We have lead probable mines at Slack, Templeborough, Brough-on-Noe and several sites in Swaledale and Wensleydale but the evidence is difficult to be certain of.”

      1. Mike Linstead |

        Adam says that Lead was not more valuable than silver, just much more widely used as a material. And silver is extracted from the lead (‘Cupellation’) #mdyask

  3. Ben Horner |

    Dear Adam
    I am interested in the role of Yorkshire’s Signal Stations. Why were they built and were they actively used throughout the Roman period?

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says – The Yorkshire Coast signal stations are an interspersed series of five fortified installations on the E. Yorks Coast between Saltburn and Filey. They are really spotting stations – visible eyes high up on the coastline with excellent line of sight across the immediate landscape and very much looking outwards to the sea. Many studies on Roman military signalling (David Woolliscroft comes to mind – Google his work) suggests that communication between towers on fronteirs is not only possible but entirely expected. These stations were only really active in the late fourth century AD, but much of the excavation evidence is a little dated now. This report on Huntcliff is worth a glance: http://issuu.com/seasalt/docs/huntcliff

  4. Sally Holmes |

    Is there any evidence of the goddess Brigantia in Roman Yorkshire?

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says Sally – yes a few; Slack, Castleford and Adel. Here are some links to images

  5. Gillian Waters |

    @ALetterOfMarque asks “What did the Romans Ever do for us?” #mdyask

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says “Other than the aqueduct you mean? Well all of York’s walls and city is influenced by the Roman Fort here” #mdyask

      1. Mike Linstead |

        Adam says The Medieval city walls largely followed the outside of the fortress and colonia…which is why the multangular tower is still here – it was just built on top of. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Multangular_tower.jpg #mdyask

  6. Gillian Waters |

    Who were the Romans trying to keep out of Britain at Gask Ridge? Or was it a trading post?

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says “Not trying to keep anyone out or a trading post. its a military installtion. Military presence in a region, able to communicate between sites. Think more in terms of this as a symbol of authority and control.”

  7. Gillian Waters |

    There is a Roman jet bear at Malton. Was it unusual to bury these with children? #mdyask

    1. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says “Unusual certainly, there are only three jet bears from the UK; they are lovely, hand-carved things.”

    2. Mike Linstead |

      Adam says Jet is a chthonic material used in inhumatin burial so yes, its a protective object or charm.