LYMPNE ROMAN FORT
Lympne Roman Fort originally overlooked a tidal lagoon and natural harbour. The fort served as an operational base for the British arm of the Roman Navy, the Classis Britannica, and was later incorporated into the Command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. Today subsidence has disfigured the remains leaving an unclear picture as to the fort's layout and size.
The first reference to Lympne Roman Fort is found in the Antonine Itinerary, a late-second century AD list of Roman military outputs. This document recorded the fort's name as Portus Lemanis and its purpose at this time was perhaps to provide a base for the British arm of the Roman Navy, the Classis Britannica. It is also possible the fort's garrison were responsible for overseeing exploitation of the adjacent salt marshes and also iron mining operations in the nearby South Downs. Sited on top of a hill, the fort overlooked a small tidal lagoon into which three rivers flowed facilitating significant inland access and providing a natural harbour. The landscape has now changed beyond recognition with the land having been drained to form the Romney Marsh and water diverted to fill the early nineteenth century military canal.
The remains visible today date from between AD 275 and AD 280 and were presumably an upgrade to the existing fortification recorded in the Antonine Itinerary. The shape and layout of the fort is unknown as subsidence and shifting land have deformed the remains beyond recognition. It is possible it was configured in an irregular pentagon – an unusual shape for Roman forts but it possibly matched the terrain on which it was built (a similar arrangement can be seen at the contemporary fort at Pevensey). The remaining portions of masonry certainly point to a design that diverged from traditional Roman coastal forts - such as seen at Caister and Reculver - as the defences at Lympne were clearly more substantial. The fort had projecting curvilinear turrets (similar to Burgh) and free-standing walls six metres tall and up to three metres thick.
After its mention in the Antonine Itinerary the fort slips into obscurity although it is likely it performed a coastal defence role during the short-lived separation of Britannia from the wider empire under the usurper Mausaeus Carausius. Tasked with anti-piracy duties, Carausius was given a military command including elements from Gaul and the Classis Britannica. However his relations with the central administration became strained and he declared himself Emperor of Britain in AD 287. The following year an attempt by Rome to re-invade and topple Carausius failed perhaps due to military intervention by the Classis Britannica. However, defeats in Gaul saw his position in Britannia weakened and he was assassinated. Britannia was back under central Roman control by AD 296.
In the fourth century, Lympne formed part of the Saxon Shore Command of the Roman Army. The Notitia Dignitatum, a written record of Roman military dispositions dated to around AD 395, listed nine forts under the control of the Count of Saxon Shore in Britain (comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam). Three of these forts were constructed early in the third century AD - Brancaster, Caister and Reculver - and conformed to traditional Roman 'playing card' configuration. The reminder - Bradwell, Burgh, Dover, Lympne, Pevensey, Portchester and Richborough - were constructed in the latter part of the third century and had enhanced defences with thicker/taller walls, semi-circular bastions and irregular layouts.
Lympne Roman Fort was presumably abandoned in the general withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain in the late fourth century/early fifth century. However, it was listed in the Ravenna Cosmography, a seventh century AD document compiled from earlier records. By this time though Roman administration in Britain and occupation of Lympne had long since ended. In subsequent centuries the site became known as Stutfall Castle.
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Lympne Roman Fort is sited on private land with no public access. However, the ruins of the curtain wall can be viewed from a distance from the foot path along the old Military Road.
Original Shoreline. The landscape has changed significantly from the third century AD. When originally built the fort was constructed on firm land overlooking a tidal lagoon that provided sheltered waters for shipping.
Lympne Roman Fort Remains. The remains consists of segments of curtain wall and towers that have been shifted around by subsidence.
Saxon Shore. The Saxon Shore Command is described in the Notitia Dignitatum, a written record of Roman military dispositions dated to around AD 395. Nine forts were listed - Portchester, Pevensey, Lympne, Dover, Richborough, Reculver, Burgh Castle, Bradwell and Brancaster. A further two - Bitterne and Caister-on-Sea - are also believed to have been part of the scheme. The forts were under the command of the Count of Saxon Shore.
Lympne Roman Fort is not sign-posted but is easily found. Head towards West Hythe where a public car park can be found on West Hythe Road. An information board there helps you get your bearings and the fort is just a short walk along the footpath (the old Military Road).
Lympne Roman Fort