Manchester's origins

Manchester’s Roman origins

When we think of Roman influence in Britain, London, or Londinium, naturally comes to mind as the ancient city founded by the Romans. However, it is fascinating to discover that there are other cities that owe their origins and often their names to the Ancient Romans. One such city is Manchester, which has a compelling history intertwined with Roman occupation and its enduring legacy.

The Roman Campaign Against the Brigantes

In 79 AD, the Roman army, led by General Julius Agricola, arrived in the northwest of England to counter the Celtic tribe known as the Brigantes, who held sway over that region. The Brigantes, led by Queen Cartimandua, were the primary Celtic tribe in northern England. Despite their strong presence, the strategic prowess and military effectiveness of the Romans proved superior. They succeeded in establishing important fortifications at Deva (Chester) and Eboracum (York).

Manchester and its Role in Roman Occupation

Manchester, known as Mamucium during that era, played a pivotal role in Roman defense strategy. Situated in the area of Castlefield, the city hosted a Roman fort that formed part of a chain of fortifications guarding the Roman road connecting Deva and Eboracum. This strategic location provided natural defenses with the confluence of the Medlock and Irwell rivers, as well as access to the sea through the River Mersey.

The Roman Legacy of Manchester

The Mamucium fort was occupied for over three hundred years and underwent various phases of reconstruction. Initially constructed with wood, turf, and ramparts, it was later transformed into a more robust stone structure. The fort accommodated approximately 500 people and was surrounded by a moat. Adjacent to the fort, a civilian settlement (known as a vicus) developed, providing services and amenities for the Roman army.

Archaeological Discoveries at Castlefield

Archaeological excavations conducted in Castlefield have unearthed numerous artifacts that bear witness to the Roman presence in the city. Among these discoveries are votive altars, coins, brooches, and even a golden bulla, an amulet worn around the neck to ward off evil spirits. A notable treasure is a Roman ceramic bowl adorned with images of men hunting boars with dogs and spears, dating back to around 150 AD. Furthermore, an intriguing find was an imprint of a Roman dog’s paw on a freshly made clay tile, offering a captivating glimpse into the daily life of that era.

Testimony at the Manchester Museum

Many of these artifacts are now on display at the Manchester Museum, providing a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the history of the city. The ironworks, pottery, and glassware recovered from the excavations paint a vivid picture of life during the Roman occupation.

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