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Copyright Peter Urmston; commissioned by Hadrian's Wall Trust

Supplying the Frontier

We tend to associate the Romans with roads rather than transporting goods by river and sea. In fact the Romans relied heavily on waterborn transport to carry bulk goods.  We know from written accounts that the Roman army was supplied by sea as it campaigned northwards through Britain.  The garrison along Hadrian’s Wall was supplied by sea and by river.  Clear evidence of this is found at Arbeia at South Shields where the commander of the Tigris Bargemen is recorded as being stationed. Bargemen would have been essential to off load materials from ships.

Hadrian’s Wall is well located for supply by river and sea with the major estuaries of the Tyne and Solway to east and west and seasonally navigable rivers extending for miles inland. The string of forts on river estuaries along the west coast were most likely established to protect seaborn supply routes.  Maryport itself was probably an important west coast supply base with goods being transferred here for onward delivery by mule train and carts to the forts along Hadrian’s Wall. Liquid goods were often transport in amphorae – amphorae that contained mediterranean fish sauce have been found in Carlisle.  Dry goods such as pottery would have been transported in wooden cases. At Vindolanda a complete case of Samian pottery manufactured in central France arrived damaged and the contents were dumped. Did they get their money back!?

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