Roman Fort of Othona - Bradwell on Sea

 

Part of the roman wall at Othona pictured in about 1900

Othona is one of 9 forts that were constructed in the 3rd century AD to deal with the treat posed by the Saxon raiders.

It is likely that the Fort was built by a Roman Commander called Carausius who for a period revolted against Rome and declared himself Emperor of Britain.

Othona was almost rectangular in shape covering an area of up to 4 acres.

The fort was heavily defended and would have taken the form of a defensive ditch 8 feet deep and 20 feet wide.

The walls were about 20 feet high and 14 feet wide allowing sentries and defenders to walk the walls.

Towers would have been sited at each corner and intervals on the straight sections.

The outline of the west wall has been measured at 522 feet long.

Then there would have been an inner earth mound and living quarters within the walls probably in the north west quarter.

The existing St Peters Chapel is built on the site of the Porta Praetoria which was the main gateway on the western wall..

Transport would have been by road and to the Quay which is believed to have been on the eastern side of the Fort in an area now covered by sea.

Whilst no road has been positively identified the area had a comparatively heavy density of roman occupation.

As the area would have been split between marshland , pasture and heavy forestation it is likely that a road would have been built to allow quick access by the roman soldiers..

There is some evidence to support a road from Othona to the River Crouch near Battlesbridge where there were roman potteries and there was a possible crossing to the Roman settlements and burial ground on Foulness Island.

The road then followed the River Crouch past the Roman Kilns at Norsey Wood, Billericay to join up with the main North South roman road near to Brentwood.

East End Road leading to the old fort of Othona

Being marshy East Essex has more than its share of bendy roads bit from Othona there are a few uncharacteristically straight sections of road that are out of place considering natural characteristics.

Coins and pottery found at the site have dated from 280 AD to 468 AD which tends to indicate that they were built during the later years of roman occupation.

Although coins of  24 Emporers from Gallienus to Honoriuus, have been found at this site, many of the coins bear the head of Carausius.

Excavations have taken place in 1864 and 1947. Following a geophysical survey further excavations of this site are planned.

Notitia Dignitatum is a fourth century roman book which records the military dispositions of the empire.

Othona is listed as one of 9 forts defending the coast against the Saxon threat.

The garrison was not drawn from legionnaires but normally from axillaries drawn from countries colonised by Rome although as time passed they would have been supplement from men drawn from the indigenous population.

The troops at Othona were called the Limen Fortenses who were light cavalry rather than the normal foot soldiers.

Perhaps light cavalry were stationed at Bradwell to protect the many valuable Roman Villas and farms that were to be found in the fertile land midway between two of the most important Roam towns of Colchester and London.

The roman withdrawal from this island abandoned Othona which by AD 650 was used to build St Peters Chapel.

There is some suspicion that flooding from a very high tide in November 1099 may have reduced Othona to ruins from which it never recovered

Nowadays there is little to be seen of Othona , about 2m stretch of the lower section of the wall remains although it is covered by scrub land.

 

Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military
installations located exclusively in south east England. They were all
constructed during the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225
and AD 285. They were built to provide protection against the sea-
borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten the coast towards the end
of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts are situated on or
very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between the Wash and the
Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the coasts of France
and Belgium.
The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences
which comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner
earth mound, and wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches.
Wall walks and parapets originally crowned all walls, and the straight
walls of all sites were punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or
projecting bastions. Unlike other Roman military sites there is a lack of
standardisation among Saxon Shore forts in respect of size and design
of component features, and they vary in shape from square to
polygonal or oval.
Recognition of this class of monument was partially due to the survival
of a fourth century AD Roman manuscript, the Notitia Dignitatum,
which is a handbook of the civil and military organisation of the Roman
Empire. This lists nine forts which were commanded by an officer who
bore the title 'Officer of the Saxon Shore of Britain' (COMES LITORIS
SAXONICI PER BRITANNIAM).
Saxon Shore forts are rare nationally with a limited distrib
Saxon Shore forts were heavily defended later Roman military
installations located exclusively in south east England. They were all
constructed during the third century AD, probably between c.AD 225
and AD 285. They were built to provide protection against the sea-
borne Saxon raiders who began to threaten the coast towards the end
of the second century AD, and all Saxon Shore forts are situated on or
very close to river estuaries or on the coast, between the Wash and the
Isle of Wight. Saxon Shore forts are also found on the coasts of France
and Belgium.
The most distinctive feature of Saxon Shore forts are their defences
which comprised massive stone walls, normally backed by an inner
earth mound, and wholly or partially surrounded by one or two ditches.
Wall walks and parapets originally crowned all walls, and the straight
walls of all sites were punctuated by corner and interval towers and/or
projecting bastions. Unlike other Roman military sites there is a lack of
standardisation among Saxon Shore forts in respect of size and design
of component features, and they vary in shape from square to
polygonal or oval.
Recognition of this class of monument was partially due to the survival
of a fourth century AD Roman manuscript, the Notitia Dignitatum,
which is a handbook of the civil and military organisation of the Roman
Empire. This lists nine forts which were commanded by an officer who
bore the title 'Officer of the Saxon Shore of Britain' (COMES LITORIS
SAXONICI PER BRITANNIAM).

 

 

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