Rare Roman Navy Anchor Recovered Off English Coast
Since 2019 maritime archaeologists exploring the sea floor below an offshore wind farm in the North Sea have discovered many ancient artifacts. Now, what is believed to be a rare Roman anchor has been recovered that would have likely once belonged to The Classis Britannica, the Roman navy for the invasion and then defense of Britain.
Weighing 100 kilograms (220 pounds) the iron anchor measures more than two meters (6.5 feet) in length, and was discovered when survey works were undertaken at the proposed site for the new Scottish Power Renewables’ East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm. Although the researchers are convinced it dates to the Roman occupation of Britain between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago, further tests are needed to confirm this.
The Roman anchor was discovered during survey work for Scottish Power Renewables’ East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm. (Scottish Power Renewables)
The North Sea Roman Anchor: A Rare Piece Of History
The Roman anchor was first identified in 2018 at a depth of roughly 42 meters (140 feet) in the southern North Sea, about 22 miles (36 kilometers) off the Norfolk and Suffolk. According to a BBC report last year, Brandon Mason of Maritime Archaeology Ltd controlled the recovery mission from an offshore support vessel. Mason describes the Roman anchor as “an incredibly rare piece of history.”
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The anchor represents the latest item in a rapidly growing inventory of archaeological treasures already recovered from the proposed wind farm site. Teams of archaeologists have previously discovered a cattle skull which radiocarbon-dated to around 4000 BC. A wooden Neolithic platform and connected track were built sometime around 2000 BC. And several Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and medieval period artifacts have been recovered. However, none of these ancient discoveries rivals the interest that was generated upon the identification of U-31, a lost WW1 German submarine.
If the recently found Roman anchor is formally identified as being from the Roman period, Mason says, “it would be hard to overstate its significance.” This is because only three pre-Viking anchors have ever been discovered in northern European waters.
A model of a Roman trireme ship, which is probably the type of vessel that carried the Classis Britannica Romana anchor recently found in the south North Sea. (Rama / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR)
The Roman Anchor Was Used on Trading Vessel
It is speculated that the anchor was used by a 500 to 600 ton trading vessel belonging to The Classis Britannica. According to Roman Britain the Classis Britannica represented the first navy of Britain from the mid-1st century to the mid-3rd century AD. Comprising around 7,000 personnel across 900 ships, this vast war flotilla was specifically built for the Claudian invasion of Britain in 43 AD.
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During the immediate invasion of Britain, the Roman navy delivered tens of thousands of shiny-sword-carrying soldiers to the corn fields of Britain. After the initial conquest the navy backed-off and provided land forces with support. “Anchored” a few miles of the coastline Roman navy ships were floating war-cabinets loaded with siege and close combat weapons and armor, food, and wine. They also served as an effective means of escaping should uprisings occur among the subjugated Celtic tribes.
The rare Roman anchor is on display FOR ONE DAY (27 Sept ’22) at Ipswich Museum (Ipswich Museum)
Bringing The Roman Navy in Britain Into Focus
Until the discovery of the anchor charting the movements and activities of The Classis Britannica along the British coastline was greatly restricted to a series of Roman tiles recovered from thirteen locations along the Kent and East Sussex coast of England and northern France. Stamped with “CLBR” ( CL [assis] BR [itannica]) these served as the only usable evidence of the fleet.
History Hit suggests the reason for the rarity of Roman maritime artifacts in Britain is because the fleet was headquartered in Boulogne on the north coast of France. From here the navy controlled Atlantic, North Sea and Irish sea passages into the English Channel. Furthermore, from this location the navy could protect and defend the valuable inland trading rivers and canals that ran from the north western continental coast of the Roman Empire all the way up to the Rhine.
If you want to see the anchor up close, you will have to be patient. It is currently being conserved by a team of Historic England, Maritime Archaeology Ltd and Mary Rose Archaeological Services preservers. Councilor Carole Jones, a spokesperson for Ipswich Museums, said the Roman artifact will be permanently added to the museum’s collection and exhibited to the public sometime in 2025. For now, it is on display FOR ONE DAY (27 Sept ’22) at Ipswich Museum.
Top image: This rare Roman anchor was just found off the English coast during a windfarm construction project. Source: Scottish Power Renewables
By Ashley Cowie