Troops from all over the world
Archaeologists have identified several Roman forts in and around West Yorkshire: Castleford, Adel, Slack, Ilkley, Leeds, Wetherby, Roall, Burghwallis, Newton Kyme. Others may yet be discovered. There is, for instance, the possibility that there may be one in the centre of Leeds. All the forts so far noted in West Yorkshire seem to have been manned by auxiliaries. These were not Roman citizens, but recruits from distant parts of the Empire, who had been brought to Britain to fight for the Romans. For instance, the Breuci, who garrisoned the fort at Slack came from the Balkans (we know this because they marked their unit name on tiles they produced at Grimescar, near Huddersfield). Only after completing their military service would the soldiers become citizens of the Empire.
The layout of the fort
Although forts may vary in size according to the size of the unit to be stationed there, the majority of them seem to resemble a playing card in shape. The principal buildings (headquarters, commandants house, hospital and granaries) would be at the centre of the fort and the rest of the space would be taken up with barracks, workshops and stables.
The fort would be surrounded by a wide ditch. The earth dug out of this ditch was piled up to make a rampart on the inside of the ditch and the rampart was topped by a walkway for the sentries to patrol along. There would be at least one gate in each side of the fort.
At first all the buildings in the fort were made of timber. If the military situation changed, the ditches would be filled in, the buildings demolished and the unit moved elsewhere. Only a permanent base would have its interior buildings reconstructed in stone. Ilkley, which was in use throughout most of the Roman period, seems to be the only fort in West Yorkshire where this has happened. However, some forts such as Slack and Castleford did have a stone bath-house in an annexe outside the fort itself. The Manor House Museum at Ilkley has material on display from Ilkley Roman fort.
Inside the fort
In the centre of each fort would be the headquarters of the unit. This building had a courtyard in the middle with offices all around. All the important business of the unit would be carried out here. The company standards were kept there and there would be a strongroom for the army pay chest. Next door was often the commandants house, also arranged around a courtyard.
The rest of the soldiers lived in barracks which probably resembled modern holiday chalets in style. Each group of 8 men had two rooms to share between themselves. One room was for the storage of equipment. The other was their sleeping quarters. Cooking was done on the veranda. At the end of the barrack block would be a slightly larger room where their officer would live. The basic unit of the Roman army was the century, and the senior officer of the unit was therefore known as the Centurion. However, the size of the century varied at different periods in history and it seems probable that in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the century consisted of only 80 men.
Part of the pay of the Roman soldier was in food rather than in money. For this reason all Roman forts had large granaries to store such things as wheat, barley, peas and beans. The floor of this building was raised above ground level on pillars or low walls. The Romans did this for several reasons: it allowed air to circulate under the stores, which kept the food cool and helped to prevent it from rotting and it also kept the stores out of the reach of rats and mice.
The foundations of the granary at Castleford have been excavated (see image below). It can be recognised by the massive foundation trenches necessary to support the weight of the stored grain.
Archaeologists have found another important building just outside the forts at Slack and Castleford. This is a military bath-house. The Roman soldiers did not bathe in hot water but used a series of heated rooms to sweat the dirt out of their skin, in a similar manner to a modern sauna bath. Heat was circulated under the floors and through clay pipes up the walls. The bath-house was not only a place where the soldiers went to get clean, it was also a social club. People would meet one another there to talk business, and gambling took place in some of the cooler rooms. An altar to Fortuna, goddess of good luck was found during the excavations of the bath-house at Slack.
This material was compiled by