Is Aldington (former site) the Roman Antona?

Arthur Savory wrote this article about 1920. It is the final chapter of his book Grain and Chaff from an English Manor. His interest in Roman Britain led him to investigate local finds and develop his own theories. In reading this, it is important to realise that much of what he says is speculation rather than fact.

"Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw!" --Hamlet.

One of my fields--about five acres--called Blackbanks from its extraordinarily black soil, over a yard deep in places, and the more remarkable because the soil of the surrounding fields is stiff yellowish clay, showed other indications of long and very ancient habitation. Among the relics found was a stone quern, measuring about 21 inches by 12 by 7-3/4, and having, on each of two opposite sides, a basin-shaped depression about 6 inches in diameter at the top, and 2-3/4 inches in depth; also a small stone ring, 1-1/4 inches in diameter, and 3/8ths in thickness, with a hole in the centre 1/4 inch across; the edges are rounded, and it is similar to those I have seen in museums, called spindle whorls. The quern and the ring I imagine to be British. This field and the fields adjacent on the north side of the stream formed, I think, primarily a British settlement and area of cultivation, afterwards appropriated by the Romans in the earliest days of the Roman occupation of Britain, and inhabited by them as a military station until they left the country.

Among other relics found in Blackbanks and in the fields to the north, called Blackminster, between Blackbanks and the present line of the Great Western Railway, aggregating about a hundred acres, there were found large quantities of fragments of pottery of several kinds, including black, grey, and red, and among the latter the smoothly glazed Samian. Many pieces are ornamented with patterns, some very primitive, others geometrical; others are in texture like Wedgwood basalt ware, and similar in colour and decoration. The Samian is mostly plain, but a few pieces have patterns and representations of human figures.

The fields, but especially Blackbanks, contained quantities of bones, the horns of sheep or goats, pieces of stags, horns, iron spear and arrow-heads, horses' molar teeth, and flint pebbles worn flat on one side by the passage of innumerable feet for many years. A millstone showing marks of rotation on the surface, a bronze clasp or brooch with fragments of enamel inlay, the ornamental bronze handle of an important key, a glass lacrymatory (tear-bottle), numerous coins--referred to below--and other objects in bronze and iron, were also found.

Only centuries of habitation and cultivation could have changed the three feet of surface soil in Blackbanks from a stiff unworkable clay to a black friable garden mould, and it is probable that the British occupation had lasted for a very long period before the Romans took possession. The settlement must have been a place of importance, because it was approached from the north by a track, still existing though practically disused, probably British, from a ford over the Avon, near the present Fish and Anchor Inn. This track passes to the west of South Littleton, on through the middle of the Blackminster land, and immediately to the east of Blackbanks, joining what I believe to be the Ryknield Street at the bridge over the stream on the South Littleton road. Near the present Royal Oak Inn [now Round of Gras] it formerly crossed the present Evesham-Bretforton road, and became what is still called Salter Street. It appears to have given access to two more sites on which Roman coins and relics are found--Foxhill about 9-1/2 acres, and Blackground about 4 acres--and passing east of the present Badsey church, proceeded through Wickhamford, and by a well-defined track to Hinton-on-the-Green, and on to Tewkesbury and Gloucester.

The occurrence of the name Salter Street gives a clue to one of the original uses of the road, at any rate in Roman times, for salt was an absolute necessity in those days, as may be gathered from a passage in The Natural History of Selborne, written in 1778:

"Three or four centuries ago, before there were any enclosures, sown grasses, field turnips, or field carrots, or hay, all the cattle which had grown fat in summer, and were not killed for winter use, were turned out soon after Michaelmas to shift as they could through the dead months; so that no fresh meat could be had in winter or spring. Hence the vast stores of salted flesh found in the larder of the elder Spencer in the days of Edward II., even so late in the spring as the 3rd of May."

A note adds that the store consisted of "Six hundred bacons, eighty carcasses of beef and six hundred muttons."

It is not difficult to trace the route over which the salt was carried from Droitwich. Starting thence the track can be approximately identified by the names of places in which the root, sal (salt), occurs, and we find Sale Way, Salding, Sale Green, and, further south, Salford. Crossing the Worcester-Alcelster road at Radford, and proceeding through Rouse Lench and Church Lench, we reach Harvington, from whence the track takes us across the low-lying meadows to the ferry and ford over the Avon, near the Fish and Anchor Inn mentioned above.

In recent times it has been assumed that the road from Bidford to Weston Subedge, known as Buckle Street, is identical with Ryknield Street, but I should prefer to call Buckle Street a branch of the latter only, for the purpose of joining Ryknield Street and the Foss Way near Burton-on-the-Water. I consider the real course of Ryknield Street to be as described in Leland's Itinerary (inserted by Hearne), Edition III., 1768, in which he quotes, from R. Gale's Essay concerning the Four Great Roman Ways, that "from Bitford on the southern edge of Warwickshire it (Ryknield Street) runs into Worcestershire, and taking its course thro' South Littleton goes on a little to the east of Evesham, and then by Hinton and west of Sedgebarrow into Gloucestershire, near Aston-under-Hill, and so by Bekford, Ashchurch, and a little east of Tewksbury, thro' Norton to Gloucester."

Such a course for Ryknield Street would make it the connection between the north, running through the Roman Alauna (Alcester) to Glevum (Gloucester). It must be remembered that there was, in Roman times, nothing at Evesham to take the road there, for Evesham did not exist as a town until long after the Romans left. Leland says that there was "noe towene at Eovesham before the foundation of the Abbey," which took place about A.D. 701, about 250 years later, and there was no road from Alcester to Gloucester except the one we are following.

Another important road passed the northern extremity of Blackminster and crossed the road just referred to so that the Blackminster area was situated at the junction. This was the old road from Worcester, passing the present site of Evesham a mile or more to the north, crossing the Avon at Twyford, and the Ryknield Street at Blackminster, and going onwards through Chipping Campden towards London.

The following passage in the Annals of Tacitus, Book XII., chapter xxxi., Ille (Ostorius) ... detrahere arma suspectis, cinctosque castris Antonam et Sabrinam fluvios cohibere parat, which refers to the fortification of the Antona and Severn rivers by the Roman general P. Ostorius Scapula, has been the subject of various readings and controversy about the word Antona, no river of that name having been identified. The reading given above may not be good Latin, but the names of the rivers are quite plain. Another reading substitutes Avonam for Antonam; but probably Tacitus avoided the use of the word Avon because it was then a Celtic term for rivers in general, and confusion would arise between the Avon which joins the Severn at Tewkesbury and the Avon a little further south which runs into the Severn estuary at Bristol. To make his meaning quite clear he did exactly what we do now in speaking of the Stratford Avon (i.e., river) and the Bristol Avon(i.e., river) when he prefixed Antonam (et Sabrinam) to the word fluvios.

If, therefore, we can find a place of importance with the name of Antona, or a name that may fairly represent it, having regard to subsequent corruptions, existing also in Roman times on or near the Avon branch of the Severn, we shall be justified in assuming that this particular Avon was the river he had in his mind. Such a place is the area I have described as full of traces of long Roman and pre-Roman occupation, situated at the junction of two ancient roads, very important from the military point of view, and within a mile of the Avon.

On the supposition that Antona and Aldington may be identical, the present site of the latter is perhaps a quarter of a mile from the Roman area which I have described, but the original Aldington Mill, traces of the foundations of which are still to be seen, was actually on the Roman area. A better position for it was found later, away from the difficulties of approach caused by floods, and it was moved to the site occupied by the present mill just below the Manor House, probably in Anglo-Saxon times. Although the name of the village became, in Anglo-Saxon, Aldington, or something similar, the old name of Anton or Aunton was evidently in common local use, as appears in the following list of names which the present village has borne at different times. It is specially interesting to notice that the more elaborate "Aldington" and its variants appear in the more scholarly records, such as those of Evesham Abbey and Domesday Survey, written by people not living in the village; while the parish churchwardens 1527-1571, the will of Richard Yardley 1531, the village constable 1715, and the villagers at the present day, all living in the place itself, carry on the old tradition in the names they use which approximate very closely to the Roman Antona, and are indeed identical in their manuscripts, if the Latin terminal a is omitted.

  • Aldintone, Charter of the Kings Kenred and Offa, possessions of Evesham Abbey, 709.
  • Aldingtone, Aldintun, Aldintona, Domesday Survey circ. 1086.
  • Aldringtona, An Adjudication; Evesham Abbey 1176.
  • Aldetone, Institutes of Abbot Randulf, died 1229.
  • Awnton, Will of Richard Yardley of Awnton 1531.
  • Aunton, Churchwardens accounts 1527 to 1571.
  • Anton, Old MS. "A Bill for ye Constable" 1715.
  • Alne or Auln, Villagers present day.

As parallels of the local persistence of old names, the neighbouring village of Wickhamford (present-day name) is still called Wicwon by the villagers, the same name under which it appears in the Charter of the Abbey possessions in 709. And the Celtic London still persists in spite of the Roman attempt to confer upon it the grander name of Augusta.

The disappearance of anything in the shape of foundations of former buildings is accounted for by the fact that the whole area was quarried many years ago for the building stone and limestone beneath, and any surface stone would have been removed at the same time. One of the fields still bears the name of the "Quar Ground," and the remains of lime-kilns can be found in several places.

It is right to add that Blackbanks as the site of Antona was suggested to me many years ago by the late Canon Winnington Ingram, Rector of Harvington; in discussing the matter, however, we got no further than the bare suggestion derived from the appearance of long habitation and the occurrence of Roman coins and pottery in Blackbanks only, and without reference to the much larger area of Blackminster. Canon Winnington Ingram was not familiar with the place, and I had not apprehended the importance of the track from the "Fish and Anchor" as a salt way starting from Droitwich, nor was I aware of Salter Street, its continuation after passing Blackbanks. Neither had I distinguished between Buckle Street as the junction between Ryknield Street and the Foss Way, and Ryknield Street itself as the direct road from the north through Birmingham, Alcester, Bidford, Antona(?) Hinton, and Gloucester.

Virgil, in his first Georgic, refers to the possible future discovery of Roman remains, and Dryden translates the passage thus:

"Then after lapse of time, the lab'ring swains, Who turn the turfs of these unhappy plains, Shall rusty piles from the plough'd furrows take, And over empty helmets pass the rake."

Such is almost prophetic of my Roman site to-day; little did Virgil imagine that his lines would apply so nearly in Britain two thousand years later.

A LIST OF THE COINS FOUND AND NAMES OF THE EMPERORS TO WHOSE REIGNS THEY BELONG, WITH SHORT NOTES ON THE LEADING INCIDENTS IN CONNECTION WITH BRITAIN WHICH OCCURRED IN THEIR REIGNS:

1. A Denarius, 88 B.C.
2. A Denarius, 88 B.C. plated. As consular denarii passed out of circulation soon after A.D. 70, these two coins suggest that the site was under Roman influence by that date at the latest.
3. Claudius, Emperor (A.D. 41-54).
4. Nerva, Emperor (96-98).
5. Antoninus Pius, Emperor (138-161).
6. Marcus Aurelius, Emperor (161-180).
7. Severus Alexander, Emperor (222-235).
8. The Thirty Tyrants (211-284). Several coins of this period, badly defaced.
9. Etruscilla, wife of Traianus Decius (249-251).
10. Gallienus, Emperor (253-268).
11. Postumus, Gallic Emperor (258-268)
12. Claudius Gothicus, Emperor (268-270)
13. Tetricus, Gallic Emperor (270-273).
14. Tacitus, Emperor (275-276)
15. Diocletianus, Emperor (284-305).
16. Carausius, Emperor in Britain (286-294).
17. Allectus, Emperor in Britain (294-296).
18. Theodora, second wife of Constantius I. (Chlorus, Csar, 293-305; Augustus, 305-6).
19. Licinius, Emperor (307-324).
20. Constantinus Emperor (306-337); (Constantine the Great).
21. Coin with head of Constantinopolis (City Deity)(_circ._ 330).
22. Constantinus II., Emperor (337-340).
23. Constantius II., Emperor (337-361).
24. Gratianus, Emperor (367-383).

BRITISH COIN.

25. Antedrigus, British Prince (_circ._ 50).

The figures in brackets in the following notes refer to the coins as numbered in the above list:

(3) The Claudian invasion of Britain was begun in A.D. 43 by an army under the command of Aulus Plautius Silvanus. He led his army from the coast of Kent, where he probably landed, to the Thames, and waited for Claudius himself, in whose presence the advance to Camulodunum (Colchester) was made during the latter part of 43. Claudius apparently left Rome in July, and was absent for six months, but his stay in Britain is said to have lasted only sixteen days.

In the pacification which occupied the next three years there are two points of interest to notice. The first is a series of minor campaigns conducted by Vespasian--Emperor 69-79--who subdued the Isle of Wight and penetrated from Hampshire, perhaps, to the Mendip Hills. The second is the submission of Prasutagus, the British philo-Roman prince of the Iceni.

It is conjectured that his policy led a certain number of patriots under a rival prince, Antedrigus, to migrate towards the unoccupied west. A coin (25) of Antedrigus, with an extremely barbarous head in profile on the obverse and a horse on the reverse, was found on the Roman area at Aldington. The types of this coin are ultimately derived from those on the gold staters struck by Philip of Makedon, father of Alexander the Great. The original had a young male head (? of Apollo) on obverse and a two-horse chariot as reverse type. The influence came to Britain from Gaul, where the coins of Makedon may have arrived by the valleys of Danube and Rhine; but it is not improbable that the types reached Gaul through Massilia (Marseilles).

In 47 Plautius was succeeded by P. Ostorius Scapula, who pressed westwards and fought a great battle with the nationalist army of Caratacus in 51. Camulodunum became a colonia in 50, and the military organization of Britain then began to take shape by the establishment of four legionary headquarters--Isca Silurum (Caerleon-on-Usk), Viroconium (Wroxeter), Deva (Chester) and Lindum (Lincoln). This disposition, which faced north and west, came near to breaking down in 61, when the east rose under Boudicca (Boadicea), queen of the Iceni, partly in protest against the usury of Seneca, the philosopher and tutor of Nero.

(4) It was in the year 97, during the principate of Nerva, that Tacitus the historian was consul. By this time the IXth Hispana legion had been transferred from Lindum to Eburacum (York).

(5) Under Antoninus Pius a revolt of the Brigantes (between Humber and Mersey) was put down by A. Lollius Urbicus in A.D. 140. Lollius also completed the northern defences, begun by Hadrian, with a new wall further north between the Firth and the Clyde.

(6) While Marcus Aurelius was emperor, according to a tradition preserved by Bede, the British Church came into close connection with Rome and received what he calls a mission--more probably a band of fugitives from persecution. Though the tale is doubtful in details, it is evidence to show that Christianity was strong in the island by this time.

(9) Decius, husband of Etruscilla, was responsible for the great persecution of Christians in 250-51; the occasion was the 1,000th anniversary of Rome's foundation. (10) Gallienus, son of Valerian, was entrusted with the west on his father's accession in 253 and defended the Rhine frontier until he was left sole Emperor in 258, when Valerian was captured by Shapur of Persia. Various usurpations compelled Gallienus to enter Italy, and he left the Rhine defences in charge of a general--M. Cassianius Latinius Postumus.

(11) Postumus at once had to face a great invasion of Franks. He gained some successes and was therefore proclaimed emperor by the armies of Gaul and Britain. Before long dissensions broke out in the Gallic empire and several commanders rose and fell in rapid succession. It is conceivable that some of these are represented in the coins found in Blackbanks, but these specimens are too badly weathered for certain identification to be possible.

(12) On March 4, 268, Gallienus was assassinated. His successor was M. Aurelius Claudius, afterwards surnamed Gothicus, a skilful general who did the empire great service by his victories over invaders from Switzerland and the Tyrol by the shores of the Lago di Garda, and over the Goths at Naissus (Nish).

(13) Tetricus is of interest only because his surrender to Aurelian in 273 marks the collapse of the Gallic empire.

(15-18) Diocletian became Augustus in 284, and co-opted Maximian as his colleague two years later. About the same time Carausius, commander of the Channel fleet, crossed to Britain and had himself proclaimed independent emperor. In 290 he was acknowledged as third colleague by the Augusti, but no place was found for him when in 293 the government of the Roman world was divided between Diocletian, Maximian, and two newly chosen Csars--Galerius and Flavius Valerius Constantius, later called Chlorus. By this arrangement the recovery of Britain from Allectus--who had murdered Carausius about 294--fell to Constantius, and he accomplished this by a sudden attack in 296. Constantius was twice married. His first wife, Helena, bore him a son, Constantine the Great; his second was a step-daughter of Maximian, named Theodora, to whom coin 18 belongs.

Britain was now divided into four Diocletian provinces, to which a fifth--Valentia--was later added when the country north of Hadrian's wall was re-occupied. The only other event of Diocletian's reign to be noticed is the persecution of Christians in which, according to tradition, St. Alban lost his life at Verulam about 303.

(19-20) On May 1, 305, Diocletian and Maximian abdicated. Constantius and Galerius now became Augusti. Trouble arose over the two vacant Csarships. It was the aim of Galerius to exclude Constantine, but the latter escaped to his father's camp at York, a few weeks before Constantius died on July 25, 306, after a victory over the Picts and Scots. Constantine was in power under various titles in Gaul and Britain for five years until, in 311, when Galerius died, he began his march on Rome, during which he is said to have had his vision of the cross with the words [Greek: en tout nika]. In 314 the bishops of York, London, and some other uncertain British see attended the Council of Arles which sat to deal with the Donatist schism. The British Church was also represented at the Council of Nica, called by Constantine in 325 to consider the Arian heresy, when the Nicene Creed in its original form was authorized; the British vote was orthodox. It was Constantine who in 321 first made Sunday a holiday, but whether Christianity or Mithraism prompted him to this is doubtful.

(22-23) When Constantine the Great died in 337 the empire was divided between his sons. Constantius II. received the east; Constans, Africa, Italy, and the Danuvian region; Constantine II., Gaul and Spain. In 340 Constantine II. attacked Constans and was killed. Constans then ruled the united west; it seems that Constans and Constantius II. visited Britain in 343. Constans was assassinated in 350; this left Constantius II. alone. His policy of toleration towards the Arians led to a great Church Council in 359. The eastern bishops met at Seleucia, the western at Ariminum, where Britain was represented. By a certain amount of coercion Constantius forced his views on the Western Council. At this time the prosperity of Britain was great and corn was exported in large quantities.

(24) In 367 Valentinian I. made his son Gratian, Augustus. Gratian was later married to Constantia, daughter of Constantius II. Roman power was now asserted once more against the Picts and Scots, and also against the Saxon raiders by Theodosius, whose son became Augustus in 379. Gratian himself was occupied on the Continent. In 383 Magnus Maximus was proclaimed emperor in Britain, and Gratian was murdered on August 25.

The coins were not a hoard; they were found all over the Roman area I have described, but especially in Blackbanks, and they became visible generally when the surface was fallow and had broken down into fine mould from the action of the weather. Their scattered occurrence, and the period they cover, suggest continuous habitation throughout the most important part of the Roman occupation of Britain, and, with their related history, they occupy a distinguished place in a record of the harvest of Grain and Chaff from an English Manor


The full text of Grain and Chaff from an English Manor by Arthur H. Savory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1920) is available from Project Gutenberg.

Arthur Savory lived at Aldington Manor between 1874 and 1901.

Here is more information about Roman Badsey.


Updated 5 March 2005. Contact email: editor@badsey.net