New Roman and Prehistoric Aerial Discoveries at Grandford, Cambridgeshire

By Potter, T. W.; Robinson, B. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

New Roman and Prehistoric Aerial Discoveries at Grandford, Cambridgeshire


Potter, T. W., Robinson, B., Antiquity


The Romano-British settlement at Grandford lies northwest of the town of March, in the heart of the Fens of eastern England. It straddles the `Fen Causeway', a Roman road that ran west-east across the Fens, and which probably originated at the legionary vexillation fortress at Longthorpe, near Peterborough, held between c. AD 48 and 61/62. Small-scale excavations between 1958 and 1968 demonstrated occupation for much of the Roman period, down to the later 4th century, beginning at least as early as c. AD 65 (Potter & Potter 1982). It was suggested on various grounds that the settlement may have started life as a Roman fort, constructed in the aftermath of the great rebellion of AD 60-61, led by Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni (Potter 1981: 85-7). This hypothesis has now been strikingly confirmed by aerial photographs taken in July 1999. However, the remains are of not one, but two superimposed forts of different sizes, the larger measuring some 140 x 100 m., suitable for an auxiliary unit of 500 soldiers. They are situated within the bend of a now extinct river, the silt spreads from which were present at the base of the excavated areas, themselves located a short distance to the south of the forts; an elderly man's skeleton, with a 1st-century brooch, was found in 1962 embedded within them, face down, probably drowned.

An immediately post-Boudiccan date for the later fort (whichever that was) remains plausible, and is further supported by the recent discovery by metal detectorists of items of 1st-century armour. But there is also a possible historical context for the first fort. Tacitus (Annals 12.31) describes an earlier Icenian revolt, in AD 47, the denouement of which is likely to have taken place at Stonea Camp, 9 km to the southeast (Jackson & Potter 1996: 43-4). There is little evidence otherwise for much of a military presence in Iceni territory (which was accorded the status of a client kingdom), and ordinary policing was clearly thought unnecessary.

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