Everyday Life in Roman Sandy
The variety of building types found at Roman Sandy reflect the variety of life in the town - from official Roman mansio to the manufacturing workshops supplying goods for sale in the commercial parts of the town.
The most common type of building in Sandy was the town house. These were timber-framed constructions built on a low stone wall. This helped reduce damp in the walls and prevent the wooden timbers from rotting. These buildings were rectangular in shape and measured 3 to 4 metres across (about the same size as a Victorian terraced house). The walls were probably constructed from wattle and daub and roofed with thatch. Some of these buildings contained clay grates or fireplaces.
There is less evidence of the type of building construction we normally associate with the Romans - use of brick, tile and mosaic. These materials were reserved for the "official" buildings in the town such as the mansio and the construction of the Roman villas in the countryside beyond the main settlement of Sandy.
Ellis S P, 1999 Roman Housing Duckworth
Sandy was probably supplied with food from the network of farms and villa estates that surrounded it and it would appear that the introduction of Roman foods and cooking practices was adopted by a large proportion of the population. Certainly in Sandy, the mansio would have created demands for Roman foodstuffs and wines and local farmers would have been forced to introduce new species to meet them - for instance grape seeds found at Sandy suggest that a vineyard was soon established nearby.
Similarly pottery finds from Sandy indicate that Roman cooking practices had been adopted, especially with the recovery of many mortaria. The mortarium was a heavy bowl, with a spout in the rim and lined with coarse grit. Mortaria were used to grind spices or mix food and was an essential piece of Roman kitchen equipment. The mortaria in Sandy were made in pottery factories in Oxfordshire, St.Albans and along the Nene valley.
Renfrew J, 1996 Food and Cooking in Britain: Roman Britain English Heritage
Clothing and Appearance
The Roman invasion introduced different and new standards of dress to Britain. Sandy's inhabitants, living on a main road along which the soldiers and officials of the Roman Empire would have travelled would have seen a great variety of new styles.
There is evidence that Roman taste, style and fashion were adopted by some inhabitants of Sandy - including finds of cosmetic implements such as tweezers and nail cleaners, carved bone pins for securing and decorating female hair (a custom introduced after the invasion) and Roman style brooches (although often with British decoration). Information about fashions, especially female hair styles, would have reached Sandy as illustrations on coins and decoration on pottery vessels.
However it was only the rich who would have adopted Roman dress - most of the native population would have continued to dress in the fashions of pre-Roman days.
It is likely that most clothing was made at home. Spindle whorls, weaving tablets and needles have all be found in the town indicating the spinning and weaving of cloth. Since no shears or wool combs have been recovered, it is probable that the wool was brought, already sheared and combed to Sandy from the nearby farms.
Allason Jones L, 1991 Women in Roman Britain
Burial of the Dead
During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD the customary Roman burial practice was cremation. After the cremation ceremony, the ashes of the dead were gathered together and placed inside a pottery urn, which was then buried along with a selection of artifacts or grave goods.
Few Roman cremations have been found at Sandy, but this probably reflects the areas excavated rather than the fact that it wasn't practiced.
In the later 2nd century the burial practice changed to inhumation or burial of the body also often accompanied by grave goods. At Sandy by the 3rd century inhumation was commonplace and a cemetery had been established outside the town, in the area now occupied by the railway station.
The grave goods which accompanied the dead in Sandy include coins (providing the dead with the fare to pay Charon as they were ferried across the River Styx into the underworld), pottery vessels that may have contained food or drink to sustain the soul on the journey into the underworld, and personal possessions such as rings.
In Sandy, bracelets are the most common personal possession found in burials. This practice is most common in rural communities, which might reflect a native Celtic tradition or belief. It was especially popular in the 3rd and 4th centuries. They are most commonly found in female burials but are also seen in male burials too.
Roman burials are generally found in cemeteries which lie outside the town boundaries (Roman law prohibited adult burial within town walls) but in Sandy a number of adult burials were found amongst the house and garden plots of the town. These generally date from the later 4th century and may reflect a change in burial beliefs and practice.
Bassett S, 1995 Death in Towns 100-1600 Urban Responses to the Dying and the Dead, Cassell Academic
Philpott R, 1991 Burial Practices in Roman Britain. An archaeological survey of grave treatment and furnishing AD 43-410 BAR 219, Oxford
The town at Sandy grew up out of a need to meet the demands of the Roman mansio or imperial posting station along the Baldock to Godmanchester Road - this would have included both agricultural produce and manufactured goods.
There is evidence that metal working - copper, silver and iron all took place in Sandy.
Most of this smithing was on a small scale - located in the small workshops attached to the town houses. Metal working can be carried out anywhere - the smith can even use a domestic hearth. At Sandy evidence for iron metal working includes the fire reddened clay lining of the hearths and iron working debris known as slag. Working of nonferrous metals such as bronze and silver in Sandy was revealed by finds of crucible fragments (ceramic vessels used to hold molten metals before pouring it into clay moulds) and broken moulds where the casting had gone wrong. In addition pieces of twisted and partially melted silver rings indicate that metal was probably being prepared for reworking into another object - by melting it down, purifying it and casting in a clay mould.
Finds from the recent excavations and from the 19th century also show that brass and pewter vessels may also have been manufactured here during the Roman period.
Veyne P, 1992 (Ed) A History of Private Life From Pagan Rome to Byzantium Belknap Harvard
With its location on a main road and the establishment of the Roman mansio or Imperial posting station, Sandy would have encountered a wide variety of objects and materials from the rest of the Roman Empire - both locally and from more distant origins. The most common survival is of pottery, made in specialised manufacturing workshops and exported all over the Roman world but also include ivory, coins and quern stones.
Artifacts found at Sandy and their point of origin include:
- ivory from Italy
- coins from Trier, Germany
- quern stones from the Eifel River in Germany
- Samian ware pottery mass-produced in Gaul (present day France and Germany)
- mortaria from Oxfordshire
- decorated beakers from Nene valley workshops
Trade in the Roman world was highly organised with distribution networks, trade guilds and standard systems of measurements. Sandy probably only reflected the needs of the mansio rather than being a fully fledged commercial centre - but records were still kept as shown by the find of a bronze stylus - a tool for writing on wax tablets.
Greene K T, 1986 The Archaeology of the Roman Economy
Garnsey P D A, Hopkins K, Whittaker C R, 1983 Trade in the Ancient Economy London
The impact of the Roman conquest was to introduce new gods and goddesses which were worshipped along with native gods.
The southern part of Sandy, close to Stratford Road was, in the Iron Age, already a place of religious importance - there is evidence of coin offerings thrown into a slow running brook. It is likely that a shrine or temple was later erected in the Roman town and that this building contained a large sculpture of which fragments were found.
There is evidence for the introduction and worship of many Roman deities to Roman Sandy - both in the figurines that probably decorated small household shrines and the religious imagery on personal items such as brooches and cosmetic tools. In addition, by the 3rd century AD the inhabitants of the town had begun to bury their dead in the Romanised fashion rather than native cremation.
Later the advent of Christianity is reflected in an engraving of the Chi Rho on a 4th century nail cleaner. The Chi Rho is a monogram of chi and rho, the first two letters of the Greek word Kristos or Christ - an early Christian symbol.
Henig M 1984 Religion in Roman Britain Batsford
Green M, 1976 The Religions of Civilian Roman Britain Oxford
Everday Life in Roman Sandy - Further Reading
Dawson M, 1997 Roman Sandy call Sandy Toen Council on 01767
McAleavy T, 2000 Life in Roman Britain English Heritage, Gatekeeper Series
Alcock J, 1996 Life in Roman Britain Batsford/English Heritage