Phew! Roman barracks in the ‘right’ place

The walls of the Roman barracks are not that much to look at but they are very distinctive in appearance and hard to confuse with anything else. Here Robin carefully excavated through lots of horizontal layers (as indicated by the yellow labels) and revealed the wall below. His elbows are at the level of the tessellated pavements (not visible in the picture). You see from this that the barrack wall must have been a lot earlier than the tessellated floors because it is well down and sealed by the succession of layers laid down over a period of time. The wall also sits on ‘natural’ sand (ie not deposited by man) meaning it must be very early in the Colchester sequence.
Facilis, a centurion of the Twentieth Legion, who was buried in Colchester.
Roman emperor Claudius accepts the submissions of British kings at Camulodunum (Colchester) aided by officers of the Twentieth Legion. A small extract of a great oil painting by Peter Froste.

Discoveries of great interest have a habit of turning up at the last minute on our archaeological excavations. Last week – our final week on the main site at the Mercury – it happened again. This time we found parts of two barrack block walls built by the Roman army around the mid AD 40s. Sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it? But it isn’t, at least not for us archaeologists.
We expected that the remains of the walls would be below those tessellated Roman floors we have been uncovering (see earlier posts). In fact we even knew to the metre where on the site the walls would lie but it was great to find them and confirm that they really were there and in the ‘right’ place. Phew!
Our work on the main excavations at the Mercury Theatre finally finished last Friday as we covered the site with a thick layer of protective sand. This measure was in anticipation of the start of the piling works this week (that is starting on 14th January).
The remains of the barrack blocks lie about a metre below the floors so that, like the floors themselves, they should survive indefinitely under the new build. However, the floors and all the remains under them will be damaged locally where the piles for the new building pass through them. To mitigate this problem, we have excavated to a depth of about a metre the locations where the piles are be driven so that we can record what will be lost. This process gave us the opportunity to find and record the military walls.
The Roman army planned and laid out its bases in standardised patterns defined in terms of Roman feet. Although none of the bases were identical in form (probably), this predictability makes possible the reconstruction of their layouts, on paper at least, even in the absence of extensive excavations. At Colchester, the outline and extent of the fortress have been known since the excavations in the 1970s. Later archaeological work, especially at the Culver Precinct site and the Sixth Form College in 1980s, has firmed up and improved the detail. The recent work at the Mercury has provided more.
In AD 43, the emperor Claudius travelled to Britain to lead his army into Camulodunum (Colchester) where he took the submission of a number of British kings. Our fortress was built shortly afterwards by the men of the Twentieth Legion. The submission and the subsequent construction of the fortress were key parts of the story of not only Roman Colchester but the Roman conquest of Britain itself.
We are not quite finished at the Mercury. More excavations will take place there but on a different part of the site. They’ll be modest in scale but please watch here for further news if you are interested to hear what turns up. Meanwhile, as promised, we will be posting some pictures of the excavations so far. We will do this later this week.