Meeting Report: Recent Developments at Birrens Roman Fort

12 February 2016
Alan Wilkins

Members packed in to hear Alan Wilkins give details of the latest developments at Birrens Roman Fort in 2015. In AD 1027–104 Emperor Hadrian’s predecessor, Trajan, ordered a census of the Annavionenses — the people who lived in the Annan valley. This area was considered part of the Roman Empire and was defended by Roman soldiers garrisoned at Birrens. It is unlikely that the local people owned Roman money and would have had to pay their Roman taxes in the form of produce needed by the local garrisons, namely, wheat, barley and meat. As with other areas occupied by the Romans, young local men would be recruited and trained to fight and support the Roman legions. They would be given a medical inspection with special attention to physique and eyesight. A programme of training for such auxiliary troops would follow with up to 20-mile marches, jumping over ditches and hurdles, swimming across rivers and weaponry training with javelins, bows and arrows and slings.

It has long been thought that the nearby Burnswark hill fort was besieged by Roman soldiers, but excavations would indicate that this is not the case and that Burnswark was used as a training ground for soldiers in the weaponry that existed at that time, with the addition including of ballistas and catapults. The recent excavations yielded a ballista ball, lead sling shot, nine triple-barb iron arrowheads and eleven catapult balls. The two camps found at Burnswark have a combined area of 8.1 ha similar in size to the camp found at Stainmore, constructed by the Ninth Legion around AD 71. Dating of finds indicate that the training camps were used well into the second century.

After many years of research, Alan Wilkins along with others, have reconstructed stone ballistas and bolt-shooting catapults. Two catapults were exhibited at the meeting to great interest from members.