your knowledge !
Romans in Sittingbourne
They came in 55 BC and again in 43 AD. when the
invasion force included a unit of The Praetorian Guard (some members
pictured on right from a relief in The Louvre), and stayed nearly 400
Archaeology has revealed some 20 Roman villas and
dwellings in the area around Sittingbourne. Excavations in the 19th
century for brick earth uncovered a number of Roman cemeteries and many
valuable artefacts. Many members will be aware of how these artefacts were
offered to Sittingbourne and rejected.
OUR ROMAN DISPLAY
have brought back
something of our Roman history as part of our
We have a display of Roman
artefacts - some of them original Sittingbourne finds - against a background
of a Roman Villa, designed to give a flavour of life in our area all those
We are grateful for the loan of artefacts
from Maidstone Museum.
The area around Sittingbourne
has been lived in for at least 3000 years that is 1000 years before the
Romans came. These people were Celtic tribes moving westwards from
continental Europe. Their lifestyle is well documented in books
dealing with the Stone Age and the Iron Age. A recent dig at Iwade
confirms their presence in this area and we have a display in the museum
including finds from the settlement. These people were farmers and
they developed trading links with nearby continental countries, France,
Belgium and Holland, inhabited by the Franks and the Belgae. When
Julius Caesar came in 55 and 54 BC he found Kent ruled by a number of tribal
kings whom he left to rule on behalf of Rome. The main Roman invasion did
not take place until 43 AD.
The Romans were in the Sittingbourne area for most of the 400 years
of Roman presence in our island.
Caesar came in 55 BC when he occupied most of S.E.England up to the
Thames, and again in 54 B.C. after which he returned to Gaul leaving Kings
to rule Kent and the rest of Britain unconquered. In 43 A.D. the
Emperor Claudius decided to launch a full scale invasion. Henceforward
Britain would be a Roman Province with an occupying army and a Provincial
military reasons great importance was attached to good communications and
Watling Street, on which Sittingbourne lies, was the main artery from London
to Dover. Sitttingbourne or Sedingbourne (usually translated as The
Hamlet beside the Creek) was likely to have been a small tribal hamlet of
just a few huts which became a staging post for travelers using Watling
Street. It is known that Milton, a mile or so from Sittingbourne, and a
port, became the Roman Administrative Centre for the area. Although we
have plenty of evidence of Roman life in our area there is nothing to
suggest that Sedingbourne merited even the status of a hamlet. It may
have had an inn and perhaps a market for local produce.
of what we know of Roman occupation in the Sittingbourne area stems from
19th century excavation. Between about 1850 and 1870 large areas of
Sittingbourne were denuded of topsoil for brickmaking. As the workmen dug
they unearthed many Roman artifacts. George Payne of the High Street
Bank Vallance and Payne took enormous trouble to prevent the finds being
lost, stolen or broken and his work is published in his Collectanca Cantiana
finds were all from burial sites. Evidence of buildings was not found. The
position of the sites has some significance. Under Roman law, burial within
the town was not allowed. We would therefore expect to find burial sites
outside but close to centres of residence. The field known as Bexhill just
east of Milton and close to the creek, yielded many Roman lead coffins and
may well have been the main Roman cemetery. Another was East Hall, probably
for a settlement in the area of Tonge.
sites at Fulston and Chilton were small and contained interments on either
side of the road. It was a common Roman practice to bury their dead
beside roads so that passing travellers could note the graves. A
walled Roman cemetery was found at Chalkwell. One of the coffins was
that of a child of about six years of age. The grave contained bracelets and
a tiny finger ring. Clearly a family of some substance lived nearby.
burials were in cinerary urns, denoting cremation, a practice which declined
after the second century A.D. This indicates a Roman presence from
quite soon after the occupation in 43 A.D.
were these people ? Sadly no gravestones or memorials were found so we
have no names or family details. The army of Claudius consisted of
some 20,000 Roman troops and about the same number of auxilliaries who were
not Roman citizens. At the end of their service these auxilliaries
could hope for Roman citizenship and a grant of land. Increasingly the army
of occupation consisted of such men, many of whom settled in Britain.
as a port and administrative centre would have has Roman Officials and
traders. The local oyster beds were an important local industry.
Romans were very good at involving the local population in administration.
Caesar described the area as inhabited by the Belgae. Although warlike,
these people were not savages and had long had trading links with the
continent. Many would have seen and welcomed the benefits of Roman
thus have a population of Roman, Romano-British through intermarriage and
Romanised Britons living in the local population. In addition there would
have been servants, some of them being slaves.
Chatham and Faversham and tending to border Watling Street the sites of some
20 villas or farmsteads have been uncovered. in 1985 the site of a large
Roman Villa was uncovered at Newberry farm in Tonge. Artifacts dating
from the first to the third centuries A.D. were found and indicate a
owner was likely to have have been a Roman official and the villa suggests a
level of comfort and civilised living. Probably parts of the estate were let
to smaller farmers. Even so we should not compare these homes to the
great villas to be found in Italy. Britain was a distant outpost and
the farm had to supply all the essentials of crops and livestock to provide
food and clothing. We should too be wary of thinking that the residents
resembled the classical Roman bust. One male skeleton found at Milton
still had a white beard reaching almost to the waist.