Romano-British (AD43 – AD410)
As the nearest part of Britain to the Continent, Kent experienced contact with Rome from an early date, first as trade and then as conquest. Caesar’s abortive forays of 55BC and 54BC set the scene for a number of failed attempts by Augustus and Gaius Caligula before Claudius’ successful invasion of AD43 brought (southern) Britain firmly into the Empire.The period saw an increase in population and settlement. The coastal plain was heavily settled along the line of Watling Street, with a hierarchy of settlements imposed around the existing native settlement pattern. Recent work further down the coast near Faversham has suggested state-imposed planning of the landscape, over-riding a dense system of existing native settlement – less subtle claims for Roman planning have been suggested for Cliffe in the past, as researchers have interpreted the regular lane network in the parish as evidence for centuriation, a hypothesis that has met with little support. Studies of the Thames estuary have indicated that sea-levels during the Roman period were up to 3m lower than at present, with transgression evident from the second century. What has been coastal saltmarsh in historic times was dry land during the Roman period – evidence for this is provided by the existence of a significant pottery industry in the Cliffe area. It has been suggested that a complete Roman landscape may survive beneath 1-2m of later accretion.
The Roman Pottery Industry
Monaghan (1987, 21) has demonstrated that a pottery industry developed at Cliffe due to a number of favourable factors:
• A source of workable clay
• A convenient and unlimited source of water
• A local source of tempering material – sand, shell and flint
• Proximity to high ground supplying timber for fuel
• Proximity to high ground providing suitable habitation sites
• Proximity to tidal creeks for shipment of the products to Rochester and London
• Good local demand for products
The industry produced a range of products, including Cliffe peninsula greywares, Hoo flagons, Rochester mortaria and Medway estuary grey and finewares. Up to the late Antonine period (c.150-75 AD), the industry operated as a series of individual workshops in mutual contact. The industry (or industries) is known to have been in operation from the mid 1st century until the late 4th century.
Large quantities of Roman pottery have been recovered from the marshes over the years, particularly from the foreshore between Cliffe Creek and Lower Hope Point, known as the Black Shore after a peat bed (known as the Upper Peat and long identified as a marker of Roman land levels suffering erosion from the river, but also from nearby clay pits . Much of this material appears to be of 1st-2nd century date, perhaps suggesting that later industries were pushed further inland by rising sea level. Further quantities of pottery have been recovered from Cliffe marshes, together with the truncated remains of a possible kiln. Elsewhere on the marshes, pottery has been recovered from a depth of 4 feet - extrapolation from the Reserve topographical survey suggests that this corresponds with an altitude of 0m OD, indicating a level comparable with that known from Roman findspots in and around the Reserve. Other Roman pottery forms not manufactured on-site have also been found at Cliffe, such as several sherds of Samian Ware. Evidence for industrial structures has also been located during excavations in 1961-2. The remains comprised spreads of burnt clay, post-holes and a circular unfired clay structure – some of these deposits may have been associated with salt extraction, perhaps as part of a supply process producing two essential products (pottery and salt) for shipment to the military zone. A similar site was located on the foreshore in 1969.
Evidence for Roman settlement On The Marshes
Aside from industrial remains, Cliffe Marshes has also produced evidence for general settlement activity – the potters will have had lives beyond the kilns.The Reserve contains four sites associated with Roman settlement. One of the sites produced structural evidence for a possible building, in the shape of a rammed chalk floor. The other three sites relate to burials: a late1st/early 2nd century infant cremation found in c.1899 (CP6); an area of cremation deposits observed by quarrymen; and two small inhumation burials associated with Samian ware and sealed by a burnt deposit, found in or around 1961 (CP14). Another cemetery, comprising a number of inhumations together with several cremation urns, was located across Cliffe Creek during mud extraction works in 1909 (9). The remaining four sites comprise findspots of artefacts: two brooches found on the foreshore by Percy Payne in 1975, and associated with possible salt-panning; a copper alloy buckle plate found in 1996; a silver coin, a reduced siliqua of Constantius II, found at the same time; and a copper alloy miniature
Source: R.S.P.B/Archaeology South-East
Romano British Altar stone.
Small upright altar stone; very battered & damaged; gritty sandstone; traces of moldings on sides and 2 concentric rings cut into top form a depression. From a shrine to the household gods, the lares and the penates. Tiny bronze, stone or plaster figurines represented the spirits of the home, the larder, or the ancestors. At meal-times, morsels of food were burnt as offerings on an altar stone like this.
Dredged up by machine at Cliffe Pools during clay extraction.
Photo Courtesy of Rochester Guildhall Museum collection.