Historic Landscape Characterisation

Bala and Llyn Tegid - Area 7 Llanfor Roman sites (PRN 24707)



Historic background

In the dry summers of 1975 and 1976, a series of parch-marks in permanent pasture revealed a previously unknown Roman military complex (Frere and St Joseph, 1983). The siting of the 1997 National Eisteddfod on the site prompted further study of the aerial photographs and a programme of geophysical survey (Crew 1997). The geophysical survey confirmed and added to the already detailed crop-mark evidence over much of the site and also revealed several new sites unrelated to the Roman remains; these included three circular ditched sites thought to be bronze age barrows. During 2002/2003 further geophysical survey work was undertaken over a larger area which incorporated a detailed study of the fort itself (Hopewell, 2003).

Roman features in the area comprise a 3.8 hectare fort and polygonal enclosure and a large (11ha) temporary camp, with a smaller camp overlapping its north-west corner. The fort is thought to predate the camp but phasing and dating of any part of the site has proven difficult. A series of rectangular anomalies containing possible hearths has been identified alongside the road leading from the north gate of the fort. These features are thought to represent a timber-built vicus. There is further evidence for settlement structures alongside another possible road running north-east from the fort.

The fort itself is almost square, with dimensions of 202m x 184m including the ramparts. The outer defences consist of three ditches on all sides apart from the northern part of the western defences where a steep banked stream may have acted as a natural defence. The inner ditch can be traced across the porta decumana and the porta principalis dextra, where it is presumed bridges would have been used to access the fort. The ramparts are thought to have been of simple turf construction, although it is possible that some timber facing could have been used.

Within the fort the layout is similar to other local examples, although Llanfor is twice the size of any of the auxiliary forts that characterise the Flavian garrisoning of Wales and displays some unusual features. Two colonnaded courtyard buildings are centrally located, thought to be the principia and the praetorium, and are reminiscent of designs at Pen Llystyn to the north. A series of subdivided buildings has been interpreted as barrack blocks (centuriae). Each single barrack has dimensions of 60m x 10m. This is a little larger than the typical 45 to 50m long auxiliary barracks found elsewhere in Wales (Nash Williams, 1969), and smaller than the usual 75m long examples from legionary forts. A large granary (48m x 16m), defined by parallel slots for the floor supports, stands to the south of the via praetoria. Geophysical evidence suggests that this may have been possibly destroyed by fire. Another unusually-shaped structure could be a fabrica, the hearth-type anomalies on the geophysical survey representing some sort of metalworking activity. Speculative interpretations also identify a possible yard and bathhouse. The fort seems to have been built entirely from wood and constructed in a single phase.

The 1946 RAF vertical aerial photographs (106G/UK 1455 3171-6 2 May 1946) show a few parkland trees in the north-west corner of the area near the road and along one boundary, with the majority of the enclosures remaining the same.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Buried Roman archaeological remains

This landscape area, at the confluence of two rivers, but not within the flood plain of either, is a typical location for a Roman settlement. The low-lying defensible location has good access, is sheltered and yet commands the whole valley floor for a mile downstream.

The 60ha area within the flat river valley floor consists of enclosed pasture land with occasional wooded areas. This planned farmland is part of the extended agricultural landscape associated with the Rhiwlas Estate. Although some low scarps are visible on the ground there are no earthworks or ramparts. The extensive archaeological remains survive for the most part only as buried features (see photograph).

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