Ancient Roman bath house discovered during rebuilding phase of a cricket pavilion in Carlisle
After a hard day of battle, it was a place for the elite Roman troops to clean up, rest, and socialize.
The bath house for Hadrian’s Wall’s largest fort was undoubtedly an important part of life in the Roman Empire’s most northern outpost.
Now, about 1,600 years later, construction on a new pavilion for Carlisle Cricket Club has uncovered this remnant of a bygone age.
The discovery was described as being of “national significance” and involving “Premier League archaeology.” A wealth of weapons, pottery and coins, among other artifacts, will provide archaeologists a fascinating window into the past.
The exploratory dig at the site of a proposed pavilion at Stanwix in Cumbria was not expected to reveal much of interest.
However, it quickly became clear that contractors had unearthed the bath house used by around 1,000 members of the Ala Petriana cavalry – the Roman equivalent of the SAS.
The empire’s most elite troops were paid more than other soldiers, came from across the empire but were made Roman citizens for their deeds on the battlefield.
The fort was situated here for nearly 300 years and during that time the bath house was the place where soldiers went in their own time to bathe, chat and gamble.
Frank Giecco, technical director for the archaeology contractor Wardell Armstrong, said: ‘We’d never known where the bath-house was for the cavalry fort. It would have been a very important part of life for these troops.
‘The bath house was a very important meeting place for the cavalrymen – and there would have been a lot of gambling here.’
Like other Roman bath house finds, this building was sophisticated with its own ‘hypocaust,’ the Roman equivalent of underfloor heating.
Blackened stonework is evidence of furnaces that once heated the bath house water. Hollow wall tiles enabled hot air to be distributed and keep the air pleasant. And the excavation team found entire rooms built with the Roman version of waterproof concrete.
Many artifacts have also been found. They include an iron arrow head, bone hairpins (suggesting women were allowed inside as well), more than 100 superbly preserved coins from the second and third century AD and pottery.
While the site’s most impressive find is a sandstone block inscribed with a tribute to Julia Domna – The wife of Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus.
She wielded immense political influence, and joined the Emperor as he launched a campaign against the Britons in 208 AD.
The inscription suggests it was written after the death of her husband Severus three years later and while her son Caracalla was Emperor.
Lead archaeologist Kevin Mounsey said: ‘The importance of this find is off-the-scale and I think it’s of national significance.
‘We’re talking about a Roman bath house that belonged to the largest fort on Hadrian’s Wall.
‘We’ve also found stacks of terracotta tiles which would have formed part of the under-floor heating system that the baths used. ‘To discover something like this is absolutely fantastic.’
There are hopes the site can be preserved and turned into a tourist attraction and efforts will be made to find an alternative site for the new cricket pavilion.