Feeding the Roman Army in Britain

Feeding the Roman Army in Britain

Animal Supply Networks on the Frontiers

Feeding the Roman Army in Britain will transform our understanding of the Roman army and Roman imperialism by generating new evidence for the logistical networks that supplied soldiers in the province of Britannia. Arguably the western world’s first truly global empire, Rome’s success as a superpower was based on her capacity to maintain large armies and provincial garrisons for long periods of time. The imperial army comprised c. 300,000 soldiers, but we are almost entirely ignorant about how the military authorities were able to supply units on distant frontiers so effectively. Critical questions about the provisioning of the army and the impact of thousands of soldiers on native populations in the provinces remain unanswered.

This collaborative project will produce one of the largest multi-isotope (strontium, oxygen, sulphur, carbon and nitrogen) datasets in archaeological research to date. It will focus on domestic animals from forts and rural settlements in three regions – Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall and southeast Wales – to provide, for the first time, a sophisticated understanding of how soldiers in these areas were provisioned. The multi-isotope analysis will reveal animal origins, the supply networks that supported military garrisons, if new animal husbandry strategies were introduced to intensify production and support the army, and, ultimately, improve understanding of the frontiers as economic as well as militarised zones

A better appreciation of the networks and strategies that maintained the army will stimulate new approaches to understanding the processes by which provinces were colonised and native populations ‘romanised’. It will also illuminate how the Empire functioned economically. Both of these themes are at the forefront of Roman studies and this project will provide significant new evidence for archaeologists and ancient historians to explore the Roman past in more nuanced ways

FRAB will not only make major contributions to Roman studies, but it will also have great legacy benefits for future archaeological studies of animal and human mobility throughout Britain’s history. The dataset will provide an invaluable comparative resource and the plant data will enhance mapping resolution for further studies in these areas

FRAB builds on a published pilot study (Madgwick et al. 2019), and a successful scoping exercise intended to lead to this nationwide project (funded by the Roman Research Trust). The project will involve ground-breaking cross-sectoral collaborations with national and local museums, state heritage services, as well as commercial archaeological units

Feeding the Roman Army in Britain is a collaborative project led by Dr Richard Madgwick (Cardiff University), Dr Angela Lamb (British Geological Survey) and Dr Peter Guest (Vianova Archaeology & Heritage Services)

This project received a research project grant from The Leverhulme Trust  (RPG-2021-060) and will begin in January 2022.

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