Feeding the Roman Army in Britain




How did the Roman Empire supply and maintain its very large frontier garrisons? What was the Roman army’s impact on the native populations and landscapes of conquered territories? To answer these important questions, the new Leverhulme Trust-funded project Feeding the Roman Army in Britain (FRAB) will provide an evidence-based appreciation of how Roman soldiers were provisioned, and how frontiers operated as economic as well as militarised zones.

Extending for over 4,600 miles, from Britain in the west to Syria in the east, ancient Rome’s frontiers (limes) are the largest monument from arguably the western world’s first global empire. Rome’s success as a superpower was based on her unrivalled ability to field large armies and to maintain sizeable provincial garrisons for long periods of time. The imperial army comprised c. 300,000 soldiers, but today we are almost entirely ignorant about how military authorities were able to supply units on distant frontiers so effectively. Therefore, critical questions about the provisioning of the army and the impact of thousands of soldiers on native populations in the provinces remain unanswered.

FRAB 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 3 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.

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).

The project received a research project grant from The Leverhulme Trust  (RPG-2021-060) and began in July 2022.

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