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Thread: Guernsey the Roman Empire's trading post

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    Join Date
    Nov 2005

    Default Guernsey the Roman Empire's trading post

    A series of finds in 1980s completely changed the perception of the effect the Romans had on Guernsey.

    An intaglio featuring an image of a mythical three-headed gryllos

    Tanya Walls, La Société Guernesiaise archaeology secretary, said before the finds it had been thought they had little influence.
    However, when evidence of settlements, trade and industry came to light it told a different story.
    The island became a centre for trade, most obviously shown by the wreck of a Roman trading ship found off Guernsey.
    Before the Romans, Guernsey had been well-known as a trading point for wine in the Iron Age as ships made their way north from Bordeaux.
    The Romans capitalised on this settling in St Peter Port following their occupation of Gaul (modern day France).
    In the 1980s a site was discovered at La Paladerie, in St Peter Port, where Roman artefacts and the remains of buildings were uncovered.

    Samian bowl found complete during the King's Road dig

    Amongst the items found on the site were locally produced Iron Age pottery alongside the finer type produced in Europe by the Romans and also remains of the household gods found in every Roman home before the empire's conversion to Christianity.
    A few years before this the Asterix, a Gallo-Roman trading vessel, was found in the mouth of the harbour and these two finds combined to show how Guernsey was used as a trading post.
    Tanya explained that it is thought the Romans settled in Guernsey shortly after they conquered what is now France, but before they reached England, sometime in the first century BC, and: "Their influence would have been strong for around 300 years."

    Tiles from a Roman building were used in the construction of Castel Church

    The idea that there was a Roman settlement in St Peter Port was furthered when the Town Market building was redeveloped in 2000 and a further series of settlements were found.
    Though some of the archaeology had been damaged by the market's construction in the 1800s enough remained to show evidence of buildings on the site as well as a large amount of pottery and various other items such as intaglio gemstones used in jewellery.
    While St Peter Port appears to have been the focus of the Roman's influence in Guernsey there have been finds all over the island, from briquetage (salt making) around the coast to the Castel and Vale Churches, which feature the remains of Roman buildings in their walls.
    Tanya said: "If you walk around the [Castel] church and look closely you can see red tiles built into it in places, particularly near the front entrance, and that's Roman. We think there was a Roman building on or near the site of the church and bits of it got built into the church later."

    Ships like the Asterix would have used St Peter Port as a trading post

    Another site away from the heart of St Peter Port where Roman items were found was at King's Road.
    Phillip De Jersey, archaeology officer for Guernsey Museums, said this site was probably a burial site from the end of the 2nd Century AD and the finds from the site included a complete Samian dish.
    Tanya said it was thought the rest of the island remained largely agricultural, as it had been during the Iron Age, but "the Romans would have put their influence on this with the sort of goods that they had and the style of their buildings".
    She added that there were not really any obvious Roman features in Guernsey's landscape today.


    Let's go back few months ago.....

    Raising Asterix, Guernsey's Roman shipwreck

    Dr Margaret Rule clearly remembers receiving a phone call from diver Richard Keen on Christmas Day 1982 saying he had found a ship wreck.

    The ship was located in the mouth of St Peter Port and was suspected to be a medieval barge.
    Closer inspection in summer 1983 revealed it was in fact a Roman ship and so work began to "rescue" it.
    It was raised between 1984 and 1986 and since 1999 has been at the Mary Rose Trust undergoing preservation work.

    Asterix in the Little Russel as imagined by Penny Falla

    Dr Rule described raising the ship as "a rescue operation" because "the ship was being destroyed by the propeller wash of the large vessels entering and leaving the harbour".
    She said that discovering it was a Roman vessel was "the most exciting moment of my life" from both a personal and historical perspective.
    She explained that the discovery was very important as it is a rare sea going Roman ship, while most found are canal or river vessels and that it would shed light on the trade routes used due to the pottery found from as far away as Spain and Algeria!
    Dr Jason Monaghan from the Guernsey Museum added to this saying the Asterix is "one of only two of its type surviving and it is Britain's largest Roman object".

    Excavation of the ship took place in the dark waters of St Peter Port

    By the start of 2010 this preservation work was largely complete and the feasibility of bringing the vessel back to Guernsey was being investigated.
    Dr Monaghan said: "It would need to be displayed in a 'giant goldfish tank' or glass tank to keep the bugs and dust off and keep the humidity stable... if it gets too dry it will fall apart or too wet it will go mouldy."
    Richard Keen who first found the Asterix also hoped to see it return to Guernsey, but acknowledged it would be "a fairly massive undertaking" and that it would "require a lot of money".
    The ship's namesake is a the small but fearless French comic book character created in 1959, who lives in the only free village in Gaul (modern France), which was part of the Roman Empire.



    Last edited by DAVIDE; April 01, 2010 at 05:13 PM.

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