Archaeology of Roman Britain

I have designed a first-year undergraduate course (20 UK credits) called “The Archaeology of Roman Britain” to Archaeology students at Canterbury Christ Church University. This semester-long course is currently on offer (from January 2017) and is primarily delivered by my excellent colleague Dr Jay Ingate, with myself serving as module convenor.

This course introduces students to the history and archaeology of Britain from Julius Caesar’s (55 and 54 BC) and Claudius’ (AD 43) invasions to the aftermath of the Roman withdrawal in the early fifth century. Textual sources and archaeological evidence are compared, contrasted, and combined to formulate a more complete understanding of this pivotal period in Britain’s past. The impact of Roman culture on native populations is examined (including initial critical engagement with the ‘Romanization’ debates), and analysis ranges from imperial military and civil policies to the daily lives of specific individuals known from archaeological remains. The course takes full advantage of our location within Canterbury and east Kent (including Dover, Richborough, and Lullingstone), key local sites in the Roman invasions and occupation of Britain.

The course begins with an investigation of historical narratives for the Roman invasions and conquest of Britain and for the long-term legacy of Roman culture on the British Isles. These narratives are then reconsidered through direct reference to archaeological evidence. Small finds and archaeological sites are explored, ranging across military/civil, urban/rural, and Roman/native divides. The course is required for all students on the Single Honours Archaeology programme, and prepares students with the contextual background to gain the most advantage from our compulsory archaeological field school excavating a Roman town in nearby East Sussex (in partnership with the Culver Archaeological Project). It also provides the essential groundwork for future studies that might include my final-year Roman Frontiers course or individual supervised study on relevant topics.

The course directly integrates the analysis of material culture alongside broader theoretical and historical themes, taking advantage of collections within the British Museum, Canterbury Roman Museum, Canterbury Archaeological Trust, and recently excavated by our field school with the Culver Archaeological Project. Assessment includes student analysis of artefacts and archaeological features/structures, including the ability to identify a broad range, discuss functional interpretations, and outline how each is useful for our understanding of Roman Britain. The final assessment is an essay for which the students can choose from a range of topical questions/topics that reflect the diversity of Roman Britain and allows each student to play to their own strengths and/or interests.

Image Credits

  • Me, at Chester Roman Fort and Museum (Hadrian's Wall), with the stone head discovered in the 2013 Durham University Binchester Fort excavations. See the Roman Binchester Blog for more information on this fantastic find.