Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Ovens - some fresh bread?

O is for Oven

Since I’m continuing my Celtic/ Roman Britain AD 71-84 theme you might be forgiven for wondering what my title is about today.

Do you enjoy some fresh bread?

I never really thought of ovens as being anything significant in archaeological terms until the finds from the archaeological dig at Kintore, north east Scotland, in 2002-2004 were published.

As I’ve already alluded to in a previous A to Z post the 2002-2004 finds at Kintore changed the previous perception of Roman activity in the area.

From the 1800s it was known that a sizable Roman Marching Camp had been made at an area named Deer’s Den in the village of Kintore, the Roman ditch fortifications having been identified, the camp possibly from Agricolan times (AD 84). Aerial surveys of the area in the 1970s extended the camp knowledge and concluded it had also probably been occupied by Roman Severan troops during the period around AD 210.

During the excavations of 2002—2004 archaeologists unearthed proof that the camp at Kintore was much larger than had been previously thought. Instead of harbouring some 4,000 men it was rethought to be more like an amount of 10,000 men and that the site had been occupied by three different groups of Roman soldiers.

But what has that to do with ovens? It’s the sheer volume of evidence of marching camp bipartite pits/ ‘ovens’ that has made it possible to re-estimate the volume of the troops who camped on the area, along with the acreage enclosed by the ditches of the encampment.   

During the two-year excavations the archaeologists uncovered the remains of no less than 250 Roman bread ovens, one of the largest number found so far in the UK. These are not ovens in a Roman settlement, or even in a fortress, but ovens created in a temporary marching camp that may only have been occupied for a small amount of days or weeks. 

What were they like? I’ll be honest and say I’m not entirely sure but I believe what was uncovered during the archaeological dig were shallow pits with evidence of fire debris, which had been capped by large stones- creating a griddle like surface on top of which the bread could be cooked.

In these ‘ovens’ flat bread would be baked. The bread might then be dipped in, or spread with olive oil products or perhaps fish or kill provided by the venators (hunters) of caught locally. Vegetables purloined from local Celtic farmland might also have topped the bread or have been eaten alongside. Fresh water was available from the nearby river only a quarter of a mile away. (nearby fresh water supplies always being a requisite for a Roman encampment)

(Alternatively, Roman soldiers carried a metal pan which may also have been used over a fire for cooking.)

Piece of bannock- anyone?



  1. An army marches on its stomach. Still holds true today. Modern soldiers are issued with Hexi Stoves

    to heat food and water in their mess tins which balance on top.

    1. Hi Cameron. Yes, modern mess tins are not quite so heavy as Roman ones but do just the same essential function.


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