Romans

The Roman military invasion took place in AD43, although Julius Caesar had ventured over almost a century earlier, and archaeology shows regular trade between Iron Age England and Roman Europe. However, there was not a sudden change in the way of life of the ordinary inhabitants of the area.

What is seen in the archaeological record in rural areas is a gradual shift towards and adoption of Roman styles and material culture. The first things to be adopted were portable objects, such as Roman jewellery and pottery; the latter at least was superior to that produced in the Iron Age. Pottery types were varied, with many locally produced wares such as from the Nene Valley. Samian, very high quality pottery imported form central Gaul, is also known, indicating wealth with an access to imports and a desire to acquire them.  Roman Drift and Samian Close in Caldecote are named after these local finds.

Roman farming technologies were gradually adopted, and finally, the round house and curvilinear ditched enclosure were supplanted by the rectangular house and rectilinear ditched enclosure. Roman field systems found across the village, and are more regular than Iron Age ones, although still marked out mainly by ditches that can be dated by the contents, especially pottery sherds.

The more detailed excavations to west of Highfields Road located a real surprise: possible lazy beds dating from the Roman period. The use of lazy beds for agriculture is well known in the Roman period. Roman agricultural manuals (such as the De Rustica of Columella, written in the 1st century AD) confirm that vines planted in trenches are a recommended agricultural method. However, another option would be for asparagus; again Roman manuals recommend digging a lazy bed in order to create and maintain the particular conditions required for this plant.

The presence of lazy beds and the field systems suggests the area formed part of a villa estate and therefore there is likely to be villa building(s) somewhere nearby. A scatter of surface finds was located south of Highfields alongside Stinnages Wood. These finds included pottery, coins and tile, and may indicate the presence of a Roman building in the area. An alternative location would be towards the north of Highfields.

The nearest towns were Cambridge (Duroliponte) and Godmanchester (Durovigutum), which lay on the main road from London to Lincoln, called Ermine Street, now the A1198. These towns were small and had started out as forts for the army, but as soon as the area was at peace after the revolt of the Iceni led by Boudica in 61CE gradually evolved into towns. Although small, they were very important as they contained all the buildings and service needed to support the surrounding villas and farms, such as markets, traders, temples, officials and manufacturers.

Cemeteries and tombs were often alongside roads, where travellers could see the monuments. Such a cemetery was sited at what is now Bourn airfield, but the tombs also provided cover for other activities, in this case coin forging.  Dies for stamping coins and metal blanks were found there. Since the possession of dies was illegal, this indicates that someone was forging coins whilst hiding amongst the monuments. Roman Britain had gold and silver coins (denarii and sesterces) but also millions of copper alloy coins that are found all over Roman sites like Caldecote.

Roman Britain in the 4th century was a relatively peaceful and prosperous place but Roman military forces were increasingly called away from Britain showing a decline in Roman influence. Towns were abandoned and the numbers of coins being minted was diminishing, and by 450CE villas were derelict. Caldecote and Cambourne Roman settlements both cease at this time.

The area was under threat again, this time from the Saxons, as we see an increasingly number of hoards, where people are burying their valuables to protect them from looting. The pewter and glass possessions at Cambourne were buried at this time, presumably by owners anxious to keep their valuables safe. That they were discovered by archaeologists some 1600 years later indicates that they never came back for them.

*The school has a handling collection of finds from this period which includes pottery sherds, examples of Samian ware and animal bones.*

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