A chained skeleton as unique evidence of slavery in Roman Britain

Categories: Finds and rescue research abroad , Nálezy nejenom s detektorem ve Velké Británii a Irsku

The internationally significant discovery of the up to 1,800-year-old grave of a young man bound in shackles and chains is the first of its kind in the UK and one of the few found within Europe. The slave was secured with massive locked iron shackles. According to experts, he was deliberately shackled and then thrown into a ditch outside the boundaries of a nearby cemetery.

The skeletal remains of the young slave were found by workers during the construction of a conservatory at a house in Great Casterton¨ in 2015. Archaeologists from the Museum of London also arrived at the site after police were called. Research in the following years, radiocarbon dating and osteological analysis defined the age of the grave as between 226 and 427. The slave died young - according to archaeologist Chris Chinnock, he was between 26 and 35 years old and led a physically demanding life. The bony prominence on the tibia could have been caused by a fall or blow, or the result of excessive physical activity. The injury was fully healed and unrelated to the death, the cause of which remains unknown. The skull and cervical vertebrae were missing, apparently destroyed by modern field work.

"It was desperately grim," said Chris Chinnock, but an important finding nonetheless, because it's what makes us ask questions we wouldn't normally ask. No one doubts that slavery existed in Britain during the Roman occupation, but the discovery of direct archaeological evidence - that's another matter. Most of what is known comes from texts, but having the opportunity to study the body of a man who was probably a slave is really important," said Michael Marshall of the Museum of London.

The iron handcuffs and padlock were badly corroded, but X-rays showed they were of the Sombernon type found in Gaul and Britain. The two circular handcuffs are connected by a crossbar on a revolving iron ring. These handcuffs have been reinforced with further iron bands and the bolt is still in the locked position. This type of shackle allowed some limited movement of the legs, which was sufficient for slow and short strides. Working in the field with such limited mobility was challenging to say the least. We know from literary sources that miners, for example, who had their upper body free, were chained in this way.

The grave of a young slave has been described by scholars as the clearest case of an enslaved individual being buried in the UK: 'We may never know who it was, but a number of educated guesses can be made. It could have been someone who earned the hatred of other people," Marshall said. "It could equally well be that the people who buried him were simply tyrannical and evil. We can't understand all these moral dimensions," Marshall explained.

The team explored a range of theories, including the possibility that the handcuffs may have been put on after the man died - perhaps to further humiliate him, or brand him a criminal in the afterlife. The few skeletons with shackles found in other countries are usually victims of natural disasters. They were not buried. That's not the case at Great Casterton, archaeologists say.

"The position of the deceased is unusual," Mr Chinnock explained, adding that the slave was lying slightly on his right side with the left side of his body and arms up the slope. A Roman cemetery was discovered just 60 metres away, suggesting a conscious decision to have him laid to rest outside it. It was probably simply thrown into a ditch and buried.

According to Marshall, this is "extraordinary" evidence of mistreatment: "For the living, shackles were both a form of confinement and a method of punishment, a source of discomfort, pain, and stigma that could leave scars even after they were removed. It was hard for us to reject the idea that the people who got rid of the shackled man didn't really hate himsaw it and wanted to show it - whether to other people or in some deeper, more spiritual sense.“

The find represents a unique record of slavery in Roman Britain. The results of the study were published this week in the journal Britannia.

Roman Nemec
Sources: thehistoryblog.com, theguardian.com

Slave skeleton in a pit only about 60m from a Roman cemetery

Diagram of the grave

Roman post-mortem handcuffs

X-ray of the handcuffs

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Zajímavý článek. ;-)

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