Late Roman Army

A fine reconstructed Roman gateway
at Cardiff Castle.

Late Roman Marine stationed on the North East Coast, as described by Vegetius.

Keeping watch.

Life In The Legion

The Praesidiensis was a new style of Legion, consisting at best of 1,200 men, presumably acting as a garrison of Praesidium. However most units must have been well below strength, and it is possible to assume a notional strength of around 500 soldiers. It is not known when the unit was raised, but sometime after the reign of Constantine seems likely, when the military reforms establishing the permanent field armies had come into effect. It may have been instituted after one of a number of military crises, such as the so-called “Great Barbarian Conspiracy” of AD 367. Or it may just have evolved from a unit who had always garrisoned the fortress of Praesidium. The unit name means “garrison”, and must have originally been classed as limitanei, under the control of the Dux Britanniarum based at York. The Dux was a rank, which often involved commanding troops spread across more than one province.

The location of Praesidium, literally “the defensive enclosure”, within the province of Britannia II is unknown. It has been suggested that it may be the major fort at Newton Kyme near Tadcaster. But a more persuasive argument based on the Antonine Itinerary of the second century, places it at Bridlington. The bay was described as having “many harbours”, now lost to coastal erosion. Much of the transport of the Roman world was water-borne, and it is easy to forget the importance of such sites.

Such a fort would be an important link in defending the north east coast against Pictish and Germanic raiders form the sea. There was a chain of signal towers along the north east coast, possibly from Bridlington all the way to the River Tyne, constructed by Theodosius after 367AD or Magnus Maximus after 383AD. The five known signal towers are at Huntcliff near Saltburn, Goldsborough, Ravenscar, Scarborough and Filey. Scarborough is the easiest to visit, and although partially lost to coastal erosion it is in the care of English Heritage within the castle grounds. It could have held around 40 men, and perhaps more in semi-permanent barracks inside the enclosure. The towers could have stood over 70 feet high, dominating the immediate area. The signal station at Filey is on the headline at Carr Naze on the narrowest point. The signal station north of Scarborough is at the Peak, Ravenscar, under the old Raven Hall Hotel. Goldsborough stands 400 yards inland on a low hill near Kettleness Station overlooking Runswick Bay. The next tower at Huntcliffe lies a mile east of Saltburn, right on the high cliff edge.

It is possible to imagine a small flotilla of light galleys operating from Bridlington bay, trying to intercept sea-borne raiders. The Praesidiensis would intercept raiders on land, act as marines at sea, and as a police force patrolling the surrounding area. Praesidium may have been a second century fort, modified at a later date to include platforms and towers to enfilade the walls. It is possible that the fort was located close to the seashore, perhaps modified to enclose an area to beach galleys such as has been found at Caer Gybi in Anglesey and Kodenica on the Danube. Evidence from York suggests that families and industry moved into the forts, and rubbish may have been thrown on to derelict sites no longer in use to produce the so-called “dark earth” found today.