Excavations - the vicus

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 vicus

The civilian settlement outside a fort is called a vicus. Local craft-workers and traders came to live in the vicus so they could sell goods and services to the Roman army. The soldiers’ families also lived in the vicus. The Castleford vicus was just outside the fort next to the main Roman road.



Who lived there and what did it look like?


Who lived in the vicus?


The population included a mix of Romans and Britons. Traders and craftsmen came to settle in the vicus as soon as the fort was built in AD 71. Soldier’s families also lived in the vicus. Some soldiers may also have settled here permanently after leaving the army. As the Britons and Romans adopted parts of each other’s lifestyles, the vicus population is best described as ‘Romano-British’.

People continued to live and work here for about 80 years after the army left. They were able to keep trading with travellers using the Roman road. The vicus was abandoned in about AD 180.

The vicus lay to the south west and west of the fort. Unlike the fort, it was not protected by defences. The main buildings were along the main Roman road leading to the fort.

What did the vicus look like?


The earliest buildings were rows of houses and workshops. These were built from timber. Later the wooden structures were replaced with larger stone buildings such as a guest house, a market and a pottery shop.

The archaeologists were only able to investigate a small part of the vicus, so we don’t know how far it stretched.
A reconstruction of the vicus (civilian settlement) at Castleford






The houses and workshops


What did the archaeologists find?


The first civilians of Roman Castleford lived and worked in a row of wooden buildings along the side of the Roman road. Between the buildings and the Roman road there was a drainage ditch.


The wooden houses left very little evidence behind them, as all the wood had long since decayed. In this photo taken during excavation you can see the outline of two small square buildings on the right, with yards behind them to the left.


The foundations of the houses were timber beams, laid in narrow trenches to provide a solid base for the upright posts. This photo shows the beam slots and postholes that remained after the wood had rotted away.



The archaeologists’ plan


The row of narrow buildings was similar to a Victorian terrace of houses. There was a long thin yard to the rear of each building. Alleyways provided access to the back yards. The roads along the alleys were made from compacted gravel. The archaeologists found cartwheel ruts still surviving in the surface of one alley.


The archaeologists found evidence of workshops in some of the back yards. The excavations uncovered wells, cisterns for collecting rainwater, hearths and an oven in the yards.


What might the street have looked like?


A reconstruction of the row of houses and workshops. The cart and soldier are travelling along the road in the direction of the fort.





The guest house


What did the archaeologists find?


Travellers along the Roman road needed food, drink and rest. The archaeologists found the guest house (mansio) where travellers could stay next to the road and close to the fort. 

The guest house was laid out round a courtyard. Small rooms opened off the courtyard and there was a statue in the middle of the courtyard



What did the guest house look like?


The guest house was built from stone and was one of the largest buildings in the vicus. The archaeologists found a well-made stone floor in one of the rooms. The floor was made with a mixture of concrete and crushed tile called opus signinum.



Evidence from the finds


One of the small rooms was a grain store. The investigations revealed that the grain store had burned down. Most of the guest house was built from stone but the grain store had a wooden floor. The archaeologists found evidence of burnt timbers and burnt grain in the storeroom.


Archaeologists excavating the grain store. Like the granaries in the fort it had a raised wooden floor. This kept the grain dry and away from rats. Botanical (plant) evidence shows that wheat had been kept in the store. Barley, rye, oats and hazel nuts were also found.







The market or temple


A problem of interpretation


Archaeologists haven’t been able to decide what one building was used for. The evidence is set out below. Which interpretation do you think is best?

What did the building look like?


The building which may have been a market or temple was next door to the guest house, just across a narrow alleyway. It was a large stone building with a courtyard facing the main road. There was an open corridor on three sides of the courtyard.


This reconstruction shows what the market/temple building might have looked like from the road. The market/temple building is on the left.


What objects were found in the building?


The archaeologists found many objects including: coins, glass bottles, pottery, bronze rings and a silver ring, a parrot gemstone, a gold amulet case, brooches, locks and a key.


The evidence for a market place


The layout of the building is similar to other Roman markets.
It is close to the road – to attract customers.
Many coins were used in this building (23 in total).


The evidence for a temple


Archaeologists found a pottery incense burner (tazza).
Beneath the building was a carved stone dedicated to the water nymphs.
The glass bottles and pottery were offerings not rubbish.



Which interpretation do you think is best?







The yard


What did the archaeologists find?

There was a yard behind the guest house and market/temple. The archaeologists found a well and eight pits in the yard.


Why is a yard important?


Like the rubbish dump in the fort, waterlogged soil conditions in the yard allowed organic materials like wood and bone to be preserved.
The well and the pits had been filled in with rubbish when they were no longer needed. Parasite eggs and plant pollen were found in a sample of soil from one of the pits. This is evidence that a toilet had been emptied into the pit.


The well


After the archaeologists removed the fill from the well, they found pieces of wooden lining. This would have helped to stop the sides falling in.


The pits


Archaeologists found the remains of a ladder propped up against the side of one of the pits. Two other pits had a wooden lining like the well.

A timber-lined well

A wooden ladder inside one of the pits


What other objects were in the pits and the well?


The archaeologists found a large quantity of broken glass bottles and pottery. They also found bronze, lead and iron objects, coins, bone objects and a small oil lamp.





The pottery shop

A pottery shop?


The fort and vicus needed a good supply of pottery. In the past pottery was used for storage jars, for flagons for holding liquids, and for cooking pots, as well as the ‘tablewares’ that we are familiar with. Some pots were made locally, but others were imported to Britain from Spain, Germany and France.

The archaeologists found a large quantity of unused pottery in one of the vicus buildings. Archaeologists identified it as either a pottery shop or a large storeroom for pottery.


What did the building look like?


The pottery shop... It was a large wooden building next to the Roman road. The pottery shop had two large rooms at the back and two small rooms next to the road. There was an oven in one of the large rooms.

Fire!


The archaeologists discovered that the pottery shop was destroyed in a fire. Before the fire the pots had been stacked ready for sale. The building collapsed and the pots were broken into hundreds of pieces. The heat from the fire also left burn marks on the pottery.

The heat from the fire and the collapse of the building caused the pots to break into many small pieces.


What kind of pots were for sale?


There were two types of pottery in the pottery shop:


Samian


The Romans liked to have Samian pottery to use at the dining table. It had a red, glossy finish and was often decorated with moulded patterns showing plants, people and animals. Most Samian was made in Central France. Samian is important to archaeologists because it can be closely dated from the potters’ stamps. The potters’ stamps on the Samian show that the fire happened in about AD 140.


Potter’s mark. This is the mark of a potter called Pateratus who worked in Lezoux, Central France in AD 135 – 155.

Mortaria


The mortarium was a mixing bowl with grit set into the inside surface to help grind. This type of pottery was used to make mixing bowls.
The pottery shop also stocked mixing bowls called mortaria. The Romans introduced mortaria to Britain but local potters soon began making it as well. The mortaria from the pottery shop were all made in Castleford.











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