Romans on the Mendips

This article in the Weston Mercury puzzled me. The references were all so out of date. Then I saw the footnote:
This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on May 4, 1972

Life was always hard for the lead miners who toiled on the uplands of Mendip, but probably never more so than when the Romans were their masters. We do not know the system by which the Romans worked the chief mining area at Charterhouse, but we can be certain that there were no union agreements on pay and hours of work!

In the Roman invasion of AD 32 the advance across the Western counties was made by the Second Augustan Legion under the command of that brilliant, ruthless leader Vespasian, who himself later became Emperor. He is said to have fought 30 battles in the campaign and captured 20 native fortresses, including the mighty one at Maiden Castle near Dorchester. It is also thought that the Second Augustan Legion were the conquerors of Worlebury. If so, the savagery of the Roman soldier lies imprinted on the skulls found in pits in the camp.

The Romans were here for what they could get. The fact that within six years of their invasion they were exporting lead from the Mendip mines suggests that they lost no time in putting prisoners of war and general slave labour to work on extracting Mendip's mineral wealth.

J W Gough, in his 'The Mines of Mendip' comments that, according to Pliny, Britain became the chief source of lead in the Roman Empire, and that it was found so abundantly near the surface of the ground that a law was passed to limit production.

Mendip was an important centre of production. “Most probably the Romans set the native population to work in the mines,” says Gough, “or used the labour of slaves and prisoners-of-war, or condemned prisoners. The mines were well known to be the destiny of enemies captured in war….”

Read the rest, with photos.


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