Excavations - the fort

Where was Lagentium?

Castleford was known to be the site of a Roman fort called Lagentium, but only archaeological excavations could prove for certain where it was.

Archaeologists have clearly identified not just a Roman fort, but also a vicus (or civilian settlement) outside the fort.

The fort

The fort was next to the main Roman road, close to the river crossing. The Roman army needed to transport troops and supplies safely along the road.
Forts were built at strategic points along the road so the army could keep the route safe from enemies.

When was it built and what did it look like?

When was the fort built?

The archaeologists found that there had been two different forts built at Castleford. The first fort was built in about AD 71. This was just about the time that the Romans began their conquest of the north of England. The Roman army stayed for about 15 years and then left in about AD 86. After a short break the army built a second fort in AD 86. This fort was occupied for about 14 years until the garrison left again in about AD 100.

What did the fort look like?

The excavations did not reveal much evidence of the first fort but the plan of the second fort was much clearer. The Romans usually built their forts with similar plans, so the archaeologists had an idea of what to look for. The main buildings inside the fort should be barracks, offices, granaries, stables and workshops.

Bath house, a workshop and a rubbish dump.

The fort annexe

Forts also often had extra space attached to the fort, which was also protected by a rampart. The annexe could be used for the parade ground and a safe camp-site for other army units travelling along the road.

A reconstruction of the fort at Castleford

How was the fort defended?

The fort defences

The main defence was the rampart (called the vallum). The rampart was 6m wide at the base and 5m high. Sentries would patrol a walkway along the top of the ramparts. Outside the rampart a deep v-shaped ditch provided another layer of defence against attack.

Walls of turf with soil filling between. Roads crossed the fort between the gateways and ran behind the rampart.

Gateways into the fort

The army controlled access to the fort through gateways in each side of the fort. Only one gateway of the four gateways into the fort was found and excavated at Castleford. This was the gateway that led from the fort into the annexe.

The only evidence for the gateway was the large pits, or postholes in which the huge timber uprights of the structure stood. The timbers themselves had long since decayed.

This reconstruction shows what the gateway and ramparts might have looked like. It is based on the pattern of postholes for the timber uprights, as well as evidence from other sites. Two tall guard towers stood against the rampart, on either side of the gate.

The barracks

Barracks were the sleeping quarters for the Roman army. The Romans had a standard shape for barracks. They were long, narrow buildings divided into small rooms.

How many barrack blocks were found at Castleford?

The archaeologists found only two barrack blocks, but large areas of the fort were not excavated. Few finds were recovered. The archaeologists used the layout of the buildings to interpret them as barrack blocks.

The archaeologists only found the foundation trenches in which the walls of this barrack block originally stood. Compare this photo to the plan the archaeologists drew (below) to work out which rooms you are looking at.

How many men slept in each barrack block?

Each barrack block was arranged in pairs of rooms called contubernia. Eight men shared each set of rooms. They slept in one room and kept their equipment in the other. The archaeologists were not able to excavate the whole building, but it is known from other sites that there were ten contubernia.

The centurion’s room was not found within the excavated area, but it would have been at the end of the block (the bottom of the plan).

This reconstruction is based on the excavation plan of the barrack block, viewed from the road. Each of the contubernia (rooms) had its own entrance from the veranda. The centurion's room was at the end of the block.

How many barrack blocks were needed at Castleford?

The Castleford fort was home to an auxiliary unit, made up mainly of infantry soldiers but with some cavalry as well, a total of about 600 men. This unit was called a cohors quingenaria equitata. Typically this size of army unit would need eight barrack blocks.

The Commanding Officer's house

It wasn’t easy for archaeologists to identify all the buildings. They found a large timber building with a courtyard in the middle of the fort. Was this the commanding officer’s house (the praetorium) or the army headquarters (the principia)? Both were usually near the centre of the fort and both were large with small rooms arranged around a central courtyard.

Evidence from the building

The archaeologists found three sides of a timber building with a central courtyard. The rooms had clay floors. When the army left they did not expect to return, so they set fire to this building so that no-one else could use it. The heat of the fire turned the clay floors red.

The archaeologists found the foundation trenches in which timber walls had originally stood. This row of rooms was next to the road. Compare this photo with the plan that the archaeologists drew of this building (below).

The house is not complete because some rooms were destroyed by later buildings. The red clay floors are evidence of the fire that destroyed the building. The pattern of clay helps to complete the plan of the rooms.

Evidence from the finds

The archaeologists found a large quantity of finds in this building. They found cavalry equipment, an iron spearhead, glass bottles, a metal bowl, coins, pottery, a knife handle, a grinding stone for grain (a quernstone) and a sharpening stone for blades (a whetstone). As these are a mixture of military and household finds, it is likely that army officers lived here.

SACRA has been scratched on the bottom of this expensive Samian pottery bowl. Sacra is a woman's name. She may have been the commanding officer's wife or a member of his family.

The workshops

Workshops (fabricae) were an important part of every Roman fort. The army imported some equipment and provisions but they also needed to be as self-sufficient as possible. There were blacksmiths and leather-workers in the fort at Castleford. The archaeologists found workshops in both of the Castleford forts.

The workshop building

One building was found next to a large dump of craft-related finds so it has been identified as a workshop. This building was unusual because waterlogged soil conditions had preserved its wattle walls.

What was made and mended in the workshops?

  • Leather – The archaeologists found leather-working tools, leather shoes, pieces of a tent, shield covers and many scrap pieces of leather.
  • Cloth - Needles, weaving combs and pieces of fabric
  • Wood and bone - Scrap pieces of wood and bone
  • Metal – The archaeologists found evidence for working in copper and silver.

Enamelled flasks made at Castleford

Numerous flask moulds were found in a clay-lined pit next to the granaries. The moulds include patterns for decoration. The Castleford moulds are extremely important because no evidence has been found on any other Roman site for the manufacture of these flasks. Examples of enamelled flasks like those made at Castleford have been found on sites in Croatia and Holland.

The granaries

It was important to the Roman army to have enough grain to feed its soldiers. The grain was stored in large granaries inside the fort. Granaries were large buildings with raised floors to keep the grain dry and out of reach of pests such as rats. A wooden granary was later replaced by a stone building.

The timber granary

The granary was built on a solid base of compacted gravel and the timber foundations were put in narrow trenches. The structure had to be strong to hold the weight of the grain. Later the timber granary was dismantled and a new stone granary was built in the same place.

The archaeologists found the narrow trenches which had held the wood foundations of the timber granary. Posts which supported the floor above were set along the line of the beams.

The stone granary

The stone granary was slightly bigger and had stone walls on stone foundations. Like the timber granary, the raised timber floor was supported by upright wooden posts inserted into wooden beams. Stone buttresses outside the walls added extra strength to the building.

The stone granary had stone walls and a raised wooden floor supported by beams and posts. The large post-holes close to the road are part of a loading platform.

This reconstruction is based on the plan of the stone granary found by the archaeologists, and shows what it may have looked like.

The rubbish dump

Why is a rubbish dump interesting?

There are several ways that objects get into the ground for archaeologists to find much later. People might have
  • accidentally dropped and lost them, or
  • deliberately buried them, or
  • put them in the bin to get taken to the dump.
In Roman Castleford, just like now, not many things were accidentally lost or deliberately buried. But the rubbish dump (or midden) produced many finds.

When was the rubbish dump used?

The dump was next to a workshop. It contained rubbish from the workshops. It was also used when the army prepared to leave the fort in AD 85. They threw away damaged and unwanted items that they didn’t want to take with them. The finds included military objects, domestic objects and craft tools.

Why were there so many unusual and well-preserved finds?

The clay soil under the rubbish dump did not drain well so the rubbish dump stayed wet. Wet soils tend to preserve organic materials such as wood and leather very well. This was the only part of the fort to produce large quantities of organic finds.

The bath-house

The bath-house was an important part of a Roman fort. The army encouraged soldiers to use the bathhouse regularly in order to keep them healthy. Bathhouses were also places where the soldiers could relax, play games and socialise.

What did the archaeologists find?

The Castleford bathhouse was located in the annexe. It was close to the river which would have been important for providing clean water to the baths and draining away the dirty water.

Achaeologists found that the ground plan of the bathhouse was almost complete. The stacks of tiles (pilae) in the bottom right of the photo held up the floor of the hot room. They allowed hot air to circulate under the floor and warm the room above.

How was the bath-house used?

Bathers entered the changing room (the apodyterium) where they removed their clothes. Then they went into a series of rooms which were heated to different temperatures in order to get the bathers sweating! Heat was produced in the boiler room (the praefurnium) and hot air was circulated beneath the floors of the hot and warm rooms.

Bathers went first into the cold room (the frigidarium), then the warm room (the tepidarium) and then the hot room (the caldarium). Once clean, they cooled down by going back through the warm and cold rooms. Then they could jump into a cold plunge bath to close the pores in their skin.

An impression of the bath-house at Castleford.

Saved for the future

The Castleford bathhouse was too important to allow it to be destroyed by excavation. The remains of the building are preserved beneath a grassed area at the junction of Church Street and Savile Road.

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