I can feel Spring in the air. So, day off from work, I decided to take a field trip. Wasn't sure where to when I hit the road, but I ended up at Burgh Castle, the ruin of a Roman Fort of the Saxon Shore.
Information board at Burgh Castle.
Traditionally, the Roman Shore Forts of South-East Britain were seen as Late Roman defensive structures, to protect Roman Britain from attack from barbarians from the other side of the North Sea, outside of the Empire. This remains a valid view, although I remember attending a lecture by a local archaeologist many years ago, that argued that these shore forts, were a little odd. With civilian activity inside the forts, and not particularly very defensive. He was arguing that rather than protect Roman Britain from invasion by Anglo Saxon pirates, they were intended to control and tax heavy commerce across the North Sea. No I'm not going to take sides, perhaps there was an element of both intentions.
I personally also like to see this fort as a sort of 4th Century AD immigration control. My mother's 18th and 19th Century ancestors are so strongly clustered nearby at the Reedham area, that I can't help but imagine that at least some of her ancestors lived in East Norfolk way back into the medieval, and perhaps some of them rowed passed this recently decommissioned shore fort during the early 5th century AD. I imagine them jeering at the now abandoned post of the Empire, as they rowed past. Arriving into Britain, with fealty free land just for the grabbing, a land of opportunity for rural self sustaining farmers from the Continent.
The view down on the Yare and Breydon Water from Burgh Castle. Much of this would have been flooded during the 4th Century by higher sea levels and the absence of drainage.
From a population genetics point of view, we are usually told that the 360 year long period of Roman Britain contributed little to our present day DNA. More important was the contribution of the Early Bronze Age, that carried DNA from the Eurasian Steppes, followed perhaps by the Anglo-Saxon / Danish / Norman Medieval immigration events that followed the collapse of shore forts such as this one. It is usually suggested that because actual migration from Rome was sparse, and troops were scattered from all over the Empire, that there was little impact on the late prehistoric British genome.
However, whenever an odd haplotype turns up in an old British family, including for example, my own Y-DNA that appears to have originated from the area of present day Iran or Iraq, someone will suggest that it could have arrived during the Roman Empire. Indeed, in some cases they may well have made their way into North west Europe, even to the British Isles during that time. Trade and exchange across Western Eurasia was thriving.
I give you Burgh Castle, Norfolk. They may have built it in order to keep some of my ancestors out.