Quick facts about Roman Merseyside
- 55 BC Julius Caeser first arrives in England.
- 70 AD Roman Army settled in Chester.
- Merseyside was a mixture of the Brigantes and Cornovii tribes.
- The Romans called the people here 'Picti' (‘Painted People') because of their tattoos.
- The Merseyside area may have been called Portus Setantiorum
- Meols on Wirral was a Roman shipping port.
- 96 AD Date on a Roman coin found at Ditton Station, Halebank.
- 167 AD Roof tiles were being made at Tarbock.
- Silver 'hare' brooch found in Speke.
- 268 AD Date on Roman coins found in the Otterspool (Aigburth) area.
- Roman Road found in the Otterspool / Grassensdale area of Liverpool.
- 410 AD The Roman armies start to leave England to defend Rome.
Dramatic reconstruction of how Roman-Scousers living in Aigburth
may have looked whilst playing footy.
Roman Remains in Liverpool
Roman Liverpool is a story of mystery. The Romans were definitely here but how many and for how long, no one can be certain of. This is because there are only very small fragments of evidence that have been found.
Coins, jewelry and pottery have been unearthed from all over Merseyside, especially across the Wirral. In particular the northern area of Meols where there was a shipping port.
In the 1850s parts of a Roman Road were thought to have been found in the Aigburth area of Liverpool (near Otterspool and Grassendale). Also, several Roman coins were also found in that area. A well (containing coins and Roman pottery) was once found near Halebank, near the old Ditton Brook Railway Station. There was also a tile factory (that produced tiles for the Chester Roman army barracks) based at Tarbock.
All of this suggests that there was plenty of activity in the Liverpool area during Roman times. Perhaps the area was used briefly at certain times? It is most likely that the Roman Army passed through the area as they traveled between the larger Roman settlements at Deva (Chester) and Bremetennacum (Ribble Valley – Lancashire). With a few people choosing to stay?
In 2006, this silver brooch featuring a hare was found in Speke.
Liverpool on a Roman Map?
Some people believe the Romans called the Liverpool area Portus Segantiorum. This is because it is listed on a map based on the research of Roman Geographer Ptolemy.
People have made different interpretations of this map. Portus Setantiorum could be as far north as Fleetwood near Blackpool or even as far West as Meols on the Wirral.
Ptolemy’s map shows rivers called Belisama and Seteia. These could be the Roman names for the Rivers Dee and Mersey?
The problem with Ptolemy's map is that he based his ‘locations’ on other people’s words. These words were translated across different languages. Furthermore, the map itself was not actually drawn until 1000 years after Ptolemy designed it.
The River Mersey Earthquake
One theory that the River Mersey itself did not really exist in Roman times the way it does today. It is possible that it was created from an earthquake sometime after the Romans had left the area.
Several Victorian Canal engineers came to this conclusion when examining the Mersey and some of the known geology of the area.
There is archaeological evidence of an earthquake around this area around the 400s. This may have cracked open the marshland that possibly joined North Wirral and Formby and created the Mersey Estuary as we know it today. Previously the Stockport stream (that the Mersey starts at) would have flowed into the Dee.
It is other evidence to show that the geography of the area was much different in ancient times than it is today. There is evidence that areas that are now sea and river were once land that people lived on. Old tree stumps have been found right across the Wirral coastline and the general Liverpool area was thought to be marshland years ago.
The British people that the Romans discovered
Before the Romans arrived here, Britain was made up of different, separate tribes. All of the tribes had different names and stayed in different parts of the country. Today we call these ancient Bronze Age people ‘The Celts’or Britons.
Julius Caesar was the first Roman emperor to invade Britain. He arrived here in the Summer of 55 BC. At first, he gave up on taking over the Island. It wasn’t until 90 years later that he returned. Then the Roman army conquered most of England.
Caesar wrote about the ancient Britons in his diary. He described them as being tall with long hair. He also said they had moustaches. This was something the Romans had not seen before.
Where does the name Britain come from?
Caesar also wrote about the Ancient Britons as having their bodies covered in tattoos. They used a dye called woad to create the tattoos. Woad was made from the leaves of a plant.
The first name that the Romans gave to the Bronze Age Britons was 'Picti'. This is a Latin word meaning ‘Painted People’. The name Briton comes from the words ‘Pretani’ (also meaning painted people) and the word 'Brydai', which is what the Britons called the Island of Britain itself.
When all of these words were mixed together, they ended up being Britannia. This is what the Romans called the island that we call Britain today.
Other words our Bronze Age ancestors used 2000 years ago that we still use today are dad, mug, gob, bog, crumpet and trews (for Trousers)
Which Celtic Tribe did Liverpool belong to?
The tribes living around Liverpool at this time may have been the Cornovii tribe. They lived in Cheshire and Wirral. However, they could have been the Brigantes tribe who lived in what is now Lancashire. The area of Merseyside today, was basically the border between these two tribes.
The centre of the Brigantes tribe was North Yorkshire. The centre of the Cornovii tribe was Shropshire. Therefore, the people who lived in Bronze Age Liverpool were the distant outcasts of these tribes.
The word Brigantes means ‘People of the Hills’ and there is evidence that people lived on the hill areas around Bronze Age Liverpool. For example, Wavertree and Woolton.
Some historians think that the ancient Liverpool people may have been part of a smaller sub-tribe called the Setantii (meaning people of the waters)
The Roman Tile Factory in Liverpool
In 2007, whilst building a new road at the M62 Tarbock Roundabout the remains of a Roman Pottery ‘factory’ were found.
The factory was owned by a man called Aulus Viducus. We know this because his ‘company’ name was stamped on the tiles they made there.
Tile markings indicate that they were made in AD 167. They were roof tiles destined for the Roman Army barracks in Chester.
The tiles are stamped with the words:
"The tilery of Aulus Viducus made this for the Twentieth Legion in the third consulship of Verus"
The tiles that Viducus made are the only ones of its type ever to have been found in Britain. The tiles are more like those made Holland. This suggests that Viducus himself could have been Dutch?
Many of the tiles seem to be misshapen or distorted. They have rain marks on them, suggesting they were made and ‘set’ in the rain.
The tiles were probably transported down Ochre Brook (which today runs under the M62). They could then have sailed onto Ditton Brook and then Chester. This is very likely as in 1881 a Roman Well and coins were found near Ditton Station, Halebank.
A large collection of iron debris was also found in this area. This suggests several blacksmiths also worked there. Perhaps it was a considerably sized factory employing many people?
Roman coins minted in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul in Turkey) were also found buried at Tarbock. These coins travelled 2000 miles 1700 years ago!
Pieces of a Roman Mortarium used to grind food was found at Tarbock. Perhaps Viducus used it to mix the new exciting Roman food in?
It is more likely that the Tarbock tile workers would have eaten Carrots, Onions, Peas, Leeks, Cabbages, for the first time. These foods were all brought to Britain by the Romans.
Maybe future digging in the area will reveal more previously unknown aspects of Roman Liverpool? Perhaps the Viducus factory was just one of many?
Read more about the Roman Liverpool artefacts here.
Read a full account of the digging at Tarbock here.