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Roman armour and metalworking at Carlisle, Cumbria, England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Mike McCarthy
Carlisle Archaeology Ltd, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, Level 5, Shaddon Mill, Shaddongate, Carlisle CA2 5TY, England,
Mike Bishop
Braemar, Kirkgate, Chirnside, Duns TD11 3XL, Scotland,
Thom Richardson
Royal Armouries Museum, Armouries Drive, Leeds LS10 1LT, England,


Recent excavations at the Roman fort in Carlisle, Cumbria, have yielded a large number of pieces of articulated Roman armour and other items. This is the most important such find in Britain since the Corbridge hoard was excavated in 1964 (Allason-Jones & Bishop 1988).

On the north side of the via principalis adjacent to the headquarters building (principia), the corner of a timber building was uncovered (FIGURE 2). On the floor was a quantity of articulated and disarticulated fragments of predominantly ferrous Roman armour, including as many as three crushed, but complete, laminated arm defences. Although first used by Hellenistic cavalry and referred to in Xenophon’s Art of horsemanship (XI.13-XII.5), and later used by gladiators, this type of armour was adopted by Roman legionaries. It was once thought that armguards (manicae) were very rare and only employed under special circumstances, such as Trajan’s wars in Dacia where they were used to counter the deadly scythe-like falx (Richmond 1982: 49–50). A number of similar finds have been made, as at Newstead (Curle 1911: plate XXIII) and Richborough, Kent (M. Lyne pers. comm.), but they are often isolated and the pieces crushed, making reconstruction difficult and speculative. A graffito from Dura-Europos (FIGURE 1) shows a mounted soldier with a tall helmet and a mail or scale neck-guard, with similar limb and abdominal defences (Robinson 1975: figure 190). The Carlisle assemblage is important for the retrieval of articulated pieces, with associated copper-alloy rivets and leather.

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