Supplying the Frontier

Despite their reputation as road builders, in fact the Romans relied heavily on rivers and seas to transport goods. Written accounts show that as the Roman army campaigned northwards through Britain, supplies reached the men via the sea. Then, once Hadrian’s Wall was built, its garrison was also supplied by sea and river. Evidence shows that the commander of the Tigris Bargemen was stationed at Arbeia in South Shields; bargemen like him would have been essential to offload goods from ships.


Hadrian’s Wall is well positioned to receive supplies delivered by river and sea. The major estuaries of the Tyne and the Solway serve the east and west respectively, and navigable rivers extend for miles inland. The string of river estuary forts that punctuate the west coast were most likely built to protect essential sea-born supply routes. Maryport was probably a significant west coast supply base, receiving goods that would then be forwarded on for delivery by mule train and carts to forts further east. Liquid goods were often transported in amphorae, which are two-handled ceramic pots with necks that taper from a bulbous body. Amphorae containing Mediterranean fish sauce have been found in Carlisle. Dry goods, like pieces of pottery, would have arrived in wooden cases. At Vindolanda, a full case of Samian pottery made in central France arrived damaged. Its contents were dumped for us to find but did the soldiers get a refund? 

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