5. Feeding the frontier

5. Feeding the frontier. Agricultural economies, productive potential, and predictive modelling
Saturday, 27 August, Karolingenzaal

Session Chair:  Laura Kooistra

Session Abstract: The provisioning of the army and the role of the local population in supplying food has already been the subject of discussion for decades. For a long time, historical sources and the marginal landscape have led to the assumption that the Roman army in the Rhine delta (for example) was mainly supplied with products transported over medium and long distances. In the past twenty years, a large number of agrarian settlements and in addition, several army camps both situated in the Rhine delta have been investigated. Research combining archaeological, archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, geomorphological and historical data has shed new light upon the way the provisioning of the Roman army in this area was organized. In addition to the traditional research method of data compilation, there has been recent focus on quantitative modelling and agent-based modelling in this area over the past 10 years.

The collation of datasets generated by developer-funded excavations, especially in North-East Gaul and central-southern Britain, have demonstrated that agricultural communities in regions further from the frontiers were orientated towards supplying the Roman army. The application of multi-isotope techniques has provided new insights into the sourcing of animals and crops and the husbandry systems under which they were produced. Meanwhile, increased study of archaeobotanical and faunal assemblages in the Danube region, Noricum, Pannonia, and the Middle East are providing new insights into food supply and allow broader comparison of frontier supply systems in different parts of the Roman Empire.

We would like to invite colleagues to share their researches concerning feeding the Roman army at the borders of the Roman Empire in our session.

Time Presenter (s) Presentation
9.00 Introduction
9.20 Steve Matthews Who were the logisticians? The men responsible for feeding the limes garrison
9.40 Peter Guest & Richard Madgwick Feeding the Roman army in Britain: Animal supply networks on the frontiers
10.00 Sonja Vuković Feeding the army at Viminacium legionary fortress: preliminary zooarchaeological evidence


10.50 Jana Kopáčková, Hana Ivezic Material traces of viticulture in Southern Pannonia
11.10 Brigitta Hoffmann Say “Cheese” – trying to identify dairy production tools and sites around Roman military sites

Who were the logisticians? The men responsible for feeding the limes garrison
Steve Matthews, Royal Holloway, University of London

Although it is accepted that taxation was the responsibility of the provincial procurators and this in turn was used for army provisioning, it is really not clear how this was done and who was responsible for the day to day victualling of the army. This paper seeks to find those men responsible for army provisioning, both the soldiers at the military units and the soldiers and the civilians employed within the procurators’ officia, or elsewhere. It draws on evidence in the more detailed papyrological records of individuals supplying the army in Egypt and then looks for those same individuals at work elsewhere around the frontiers. A multitude of individuals can be seen to have been employed, collecting grain from the provincials, measuring grain and other provisions to troops, potentially accounting for supplies and liaising between civilian and soldier. However, all these individuals have titles that are ambiguous: mensores, actuarii, librarii, tabularii and dispensatores could all be involved in military supply but they may not have been, indeed it is often far from clear if they are either civilian or soldiers. Similarly, some soldiers such as beneficiarii may have been involved in provisioning the troops but had many other functions as well. Yet by systematically surveying the epigraphic and papyrological evidence for trends, it is hoped to see which roles were empire-wide and which were not. Unsurprisingly, there is no unanimity, but it is possible to suggest that certain groups of individuals were engaged in re-supply in the officium of the procurator, in the community and in the camps.

Feeding the Roman Army in Britain: Animal supply networks on the frontiers
Peter Guest, Vianova Archaeology, Richard Madgwick, Cardiff University, Angela Lamb, British Geological Survey

A major new research project, entitled ‘Feeding the Roman Army in Britain: Animal supply networks on the frontiers’ (FRAB), will transform our understanding of the Roman army and the strategies that ensured the success of Roman imperialism in Britain. This will be achieved by generating new evidence for the economic practices and supply networks that provided animals to Britannia’s frontiers, thereby revealing the impact of garrisons on the surrounding landscapes and their populations. The army consisted of some 300,000 men and it must have been a major challenge to supply soldiers on the Empire’s far-flung frontiers. Unfortunately, we do not know how the Romans were able to do this so effectively, meaning that we cannot answer vital questions about how the army was provisioned, or the impact that the presence of thousands of soldiers had on the countryside. FRAB will focus on 15 sites in three frontier case-study areas – Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, and southeast Wales – analysing the jaws and teeth of 706 animals (cattle, sheep/goat and pigs) from legionary fortresses, auxiliary forts, supply bases and farms. 73 FRAB will produce one of the largest multi-isotope datasets (strontium, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur) in archaeological research from anywhere in the world. It will provide, for the first time, a sophisticated understanding of how Roman soldiers were provisioned, and how Rome’s frontiers operated as economic, as well as militarised zones. The project will reveal animal origins, the supply networks that supported Britain’s garrisons, and if new animal and landscape management strategies were introduced to intensify production and support the army. The combination of the latest scientific techniques and an interdisciplinary methodology will release the great potential of faunal remains to change the way we understand the Roman army in Britain.

Feeding the Army at Viminacium Legionary Fortress: Preliminary Zooarchaeological Evidence
Sonja Vuković, Bojana Zorić, Laboratory for bioarchaeology, Archaeology Department, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, Ivan Bogdanović, Institute of Archaeology Belgrade

Viminacium, one of the most important spots at the Upper Moesian limes, was founded as a legionary camp, where the 7th Claudia legion was stationed from the second half of the 1st century AD, until the late Roman period. Next to the fortress, a city was built and became the capital of the province of Moesia Superior (and Moesia Prima in the late Roman period), while the whole area was surrounded by rural settlements the economy of which was based on agriculture. Up to date research of meat production and provisioning, based on zooarchaeological data from the civilian areas, indicated that the city of Viminacium was mainly supplied by the meat of improved cattle bred in surrounding rural areas, with a significant addition of pork, lamb, and chevon. Recent excavations of the legionary fortress, along with the analysis of animal remains, provided the starting points for the research of meat provisioning of the soldiers stationed in Viminacium. Preliminary zooarchaeological data revealed significant differences between the fortress and civilian areas, mainly in species ratios and mortality profiles of domesticates. This paper will be focused on zooarchaeological data (species ratios, mortality profiles, and biometry) from the Early Roman, Roman, and late Roman features 1 excavated at the north-western part of the fortress that mostly have been attributed to the embankments along the ramparts. By comparing the data from different periods, we will discuss plausible diachronic differences in meat diet and food provisioning for the camp. We will also compare zooarchaeological data from the fortress with contemporary surrounding civilian areas, to understand better the food supply systems. The questions of whether the army was supplied with animal products locally or from long distance will also be tackled.

Material Traces of Viticulture in Southern Pannonia
Jana Kopáčková, Hana Ivezić, Archaeological Museum in Zagreb

Wine played an irreplaceable role in everyday life of Roman soldiers. Roman military was a very large consumer of wine, olive oil and grain. Export of wine from the Mediterranean to the Limes is traceable due to findings of the amphorae. But what about local production of wine in the Middle / Lower Danube area? Till this day, the knowledge of local viticulture in Southern Pannonia was based only on a few written literary sources and one unique epigraphic monument from Popovac (CIL III 3294 = 10275). This paper brings newly discovered material evidence of viticulture – collection of specialised iron tools used in vineyards. Tools such as the falx vinitoria (vine-dresser´s knife), falcula vineatica (grape-knife) and falx arboraria (pruning hook) are direct evidence of existing viticulture in this area and quite a large number of such tools has been identified during the ongoing revision of Archaeological Museum in Zagreb collections, all of them from known military and civilian sites from the Limes area, more precisely from Pannonian sites. Such a consequent number of previously unknown and unpublished artefacts directly related to viticulture offers the opportunity for a reassessment of wine production and supply on the Danube frontier in Pannonia.

Say “Cheese” – trying to identify dairy production tools and sites around Roman military sites
Birgitta Hoffmann, Roman Gask Project

The Ancient Sources mention several times the provision of the Roman Army with “caseum”(cheese) (e.g. SHA Hadrian 10.2). There is little detail what this “caseum” was: was it freshly prepared ‘curds and whey’ or an easily stored ‘parmesan’-style cheese, or anything in between. However, this difference is essential in our understanding of the origin of this ingredient, and why it seems to have dropped off the menu in the Eastern Empire in Late Antiquity. Most modern cheeses are highly processed and require a specific set of tools and workshop provision as well as controlled temperature and humidity conditions to achieve a palatable end product. This level of accuracy is hard to achieve in the ancient world but may not have been necessary. Based on the results of two years of experimental data and the analysis of archaeological evidence this paper will look at the possibility of cheese consumption of the Roman Army on campaign and possible production and storage while in their forts.