4.3 Production and Procurement

The Roman army had a voracious appetite and had to be armed, housed, fed, watered and clothed. While the procurement of some items might involve long-distance supply, much of these requirements would have been met locally (Breeze 1984). The evidence for these activities and their organisation, however, is patchy, particularly for those involving organic remains such as fuel, building materials, food processing, leather working, textile-making, basketry or bone-working.

A spindle whorl place on its side on a grey background. The object is orange-brown and sub circular, with a circular hole off centred in the middle.
Spindle whorl found at Falkirk © HES

Roman ceramics are an immeasurably valuable source of information as they survive well in the archaeological record and are often tightly dated. Although this material has already been well studied, we are far from reaching the limit of its potential. Local pottery production is evident through potters’ stamps on mortaria – vessels used to grind, pound and mix ingredients – and through kilns and wasters at several forts, including Balmuildy, Bearsden, Bar Hill, Croy Hill, Duntocher and Mumrills (Swan 1999, 452–61; Hartley 2016, 140–1; see Extramural activity). Tile production is also evidenced by a kiln in the eastern annexe of the fort at Mumrills (Macdonald 1915, 123–8 and plates II and III), while variations in the style of box flue tiles suggests localised production with each unit responsible for producing its own (Keppie 2004, 218–19). Recent p-XRF work on samian ware has validated this technique for identifying production centres (Jones and Campbell 2016). It also has the potential to identify where locally produced grey and other fine wares were made, which are notoriously difficult to provenance (but see Jones et al 2003). Geoarchaeological work on the building materials used in the Wall may indicate the types of suitable clay used by the Roman military (cf Breeze 2016a, 159–70). A survey of ceramics along the Wall that show strong African influence has provided valuable insights on ethnicity, troop movements and procurement strategies (Swan 1999; Swan 2009; Breeze 2016b). Similarly, analysis of the main sources of pottery can give insight into changes in the long-distance supply system and may also provide proxy evidence for other bulk imports such as cereals (Bidwell 2020).

An oblique closeup of a yellow-peach coloured object which is bowl-shaped with a small lip to the left side, resembling a spout.
Roman mortarium, reconstructed from several sherds found during excavations at Bearsden Bathhouse, on the Antonine Wall © HES
A sherd of bright orange-red pottery with curved carvings across the rim and main body.
Sherd from a decorated samian ware bowl, found during excavations of Bearsden Bathhouse © HES

Amphorae provide invaluable information on the procurement and transportation of exotic foodstuffs and liquids, including wine, olive oil and fermented fish sauce (garum) (eg Fitzpatrick 2016). Palaeobotanical evidence from waterlogged contexts at Bearsden fort has confirmed the consumption of figs, coriander, dill and opium poppy (Dickson and Dickson 2016, 223–35). The paucity of faunal remains from the Wall, because of the poor survival of bone and other organic evidence in acidic Scottish soils, combined with the historic nature of many of our excavations where this data was not collected and analysed, makes it challenging to pin down wider consumption practices with certainty. However, several types of locally available wild fruits, game, fish and shellfish are variously attested (Hanson and Maxwell 1986, 179). Isotopic analysis of skeletal animal remains could prove highly informative in this regard (Madgwick et al 2019), as would the evidence of insects that might have travelled with foodstuffs or parasites and grains from sewage (cf Locke 2016).

Museum image of a large, light brown amphora jug with a broken bottom section, and a seeminly complete black vase-like object behind it.
An amphora in The Antonine Wall, Rome’s Final Frontier gallery at the Hunterian Museum © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall

Quernstones confirm the processing of grain, some of which may have been locally produced, though insufficient environmental evidence currently exists to corroborate that suggestion. Both macro-plant and pollen analyses frequently indicate the presence of barley, though whether this was regularly used as a human food source, rather than as a feed for animals, is disputed (cf Miller and Ramsay 2007, 136–7; Dickson and Dickson 2016, 271). Ovens set into the rampart of Wall forts combined with the ceramic evidence of mortaria, cooking pots and casserole-type dishes demonstrate how food was cooked. Organic residue analysis (ORA) of the latter and also of locally produced vessels with North African affinities could determine what kinds of food were cooked. ORA could also be a useful tool in the analysis of amphorae to determine the origin of their contents and/or whether they were used to transport, reused or store more than one type of organic content (McLaren 2016).

Closeup image of a brown stone object, oval in shape and covered in scratches and scrapes.
Whetstone, found during excavations of Bearsden Bathhouse © HES

Sporadic evidence of ironworking has been recovered from the forts at Falkirk, Mumrills and Inveravon (eg Dunwell and Ralston 1995, 540 and 561–2). Evidence for local glass manufacture is similarly sparse, though glassblowing may have occurred at Camelon and it is probable that glass recycling took place at forts (Price 2002, 90; Price 2016, 185). Scientific analysis can provide indications of the provenance of glass; a comprehensive study of Roman glass re-worked into bracelets, which are found in both Roman and non-Roman contexts, would be valuable. A comparative study of the raw materials used to coat these bracelets might establish with more certainty whether they were produced by local or Roman artisans (Campbell 2011, 231; for more on glass, see Application of scientific-based techniques).

Image of a corroded arrow held up for display with clear platic hooks. It is dark brown with a pointed tip and flecks of orange from the corrosion.
An arrow head found at Bar Hill, held at the Hunterian Museum

Research issues

  • A substantial body of ceramic evidence from the Wall in museum stores is ripe for reinterpretation. A comprehensive survey of different wares from sites along the Wall could identify patterns of distribution and sources of production, for example in relation to the sourcing of Black Burnished Ware 1and Black Burnished Ware 2. It could also potentially provide information about ethnicity and identity, as already suggested by the work of Swan (1999; 2009).
  • The kiln evidence from Duntocher should be reviewed to bolster the small number of kiln sites already known at Wall forts; and the lost report should be located and published.
  • Expansion of the programme of XRF work and examination of other techniques, such as ICP, could prove useful for sourcing locally produced grey and other fine wares.
  • Set up a programme of ORA analysis of mortaria, cooking pots and amphorae to establish the foodstuffs stored or cooked therein.
  • Undertake isotopic analysis of animal bone/teeth and also seeds and grains (including single seed analysis) to address the question of the supply of animals.
  • A targeted study of pollen evidence from small diameter peat sources could help to establish environmental conditions in the vicinity of the Wall and what foods or other organic supplies may have been produced or procured locally (see Landscape and environment).
  • Detailed study of glass working and metalworking evidence could identify sources of production for various common artefacts, particularly Romano-British brooches and glass bracelets.
  • A more integrated approach to the analysis of material culture could lead to enhanced understanding of the exploitation of the landscape for a wide range of activities, such as ceramic production, building material sourcing and agriculture.



Leave a Reply