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Guernsey the Roman Empire's trading post
Roman intaglio
An intaglio featuring an image of a mythical three-headed gryllos

A series of finds in 1980s completely changed the perception of the effect the Romans had on Guernsey.

Tanya Walls, La Société Guernesiaise archaeology secretary, said before the finds it had been thought they had little influence.

However, when evidence of settlements, trade and industry came to light it told a different story.

The island became a centre for trade, most obviously shown by the wreck of a Roman trading ship found off Guernsey.

Before the Romans, Guernsey had been well-known as a trading point for wine in the Iron Age as ships made their way north from Bordeaux.

The Romans capitalised on this settling in St Peter Port following their occupation of Gaul (modern day France).

In the 1980s a site was discovered at La Paladerie, in St Peter Port, where Roman artefacts and the remains of buildings were uncovered.

Samian bowl
Samian bowl found complete during the King's Road dig

Amongst the items found on the site were locally produced Iron Age pottery alongside the finer type produced in Europe by the Romans and also remains of the household gods found in every Roman home before the empire's conversion to Christianity.

A few years before this the Asterix, a Gallo-Roman trading vessel, was found in the mouth of the harbour and these two finds combined to show how Guernsey was used as a trading post.

Tanya explained that it is thought the Romans settled in Guernsey shortly after they conquered what is now France, but before they reached England, sometime in the first century BC, and: "Their influence would have been strong for around 300 years."

Castel Church wall
Tiles from a Roman building were used in the construction of Castel Church

The idea that there was a Roman settlement in St Peter Port was furthered when the Town Market building was redeveloped in 2000 and a further series of settlements were found.

Though some of the archaeology had been damaged by the market's construction in the 1800s enough remained to show evidence of buildings on the site as well as a large amount of pottery and various other items such as intaglio gemstones used in jewellery.

While St Peter Port appears to have been the focus of the Roman's influence in Guernsey there have been finds all over the island, from briquetage (salt making) around the coast to the Castel and Vale Churches, which feature the remains of Roman buildings in their walls.

Tanya said: "If you walk around the [Castel] church and look closely you can see red tiles built into it in places, particularly near the front entrance, and that's Roman. We think there was a Roman building on or near the site of the church and bits of it got built into the church later."

Asterix model
Ships like the Asterix would have used St Peter Port as a trading post

Another site away from the heart of St Peter Port where Roman items were found was at King's Road.

Phillip De Jersey, archaeology officer for Guernsey Museums, said this site was probably a burial site from the end of the 2nd Century AD and the finds from the site included a complete Samian dish.

Tanya said it was thought the rest of the island remained largely agricultural, as it had been during the Iron Age, but "the Romans would have put their influence on this with the sort of goods that they had and the style of their buildings".

She added that there were not really any obvious Roman features in Guernsey's landscape today.




SEE ALSO
Raising Asterix, the Roman wreck
29 Jan 10 |  History

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