Extensive remains of the parameter wall of a third century Roman Fort. The walls stand to an impressive 4 Metres - the original height although the parapet walk is missing and part of the fort has been lost to erosion. The (slight) remains of Norman motte are also visible.
1. The Notitia Dignitatum lists nine forts under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore. Three of the forts were constructed early in the third century AD - Brancaster, Caister and Reculver - and confirmed to traditional Roman military design, i.e. based on a 'playing card' shape. The reminder were constructed in the latter part of the third century and were defined by thicker/taller walls, semi-circular bastions and irregular layouts. The forts of the latter group were: Bradwell, Burgh, Dover, Lympne, Pevensey, Portchester and Richborough.
2. Burgh Roman Fort was separate and distinct from Burgh-by-Sands Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall.
Changing Coastlines. This map is taken from the information displayed at the fort and shows the coastline as it appeared in the third and fourth centuries with the dotted line indicating the modern coast. Great Yarmouth is built over the site of the estuary Burgh protected.
Burgh Roman Fort
Notes: The fort has a dedicated car park which is found off Butt Lane and is reasonably well sign-posted (although no sign at the turning!). The remains are a short walk from the car park.
Burgh Roman Fort Layout. The fort had some traditional features but the free standing walls and projecting turrets was a departure from earlier fort configurations.
Positioned on the shores of a large but now vanished estuary that gave access to in the interior of East Anglia, Burgh Roman Fort was one of a pair guarding against sea-borne raids. With thick walls and projecting turrets it differed from earlier Roman fortifications. The Normans later re-used the site building a motte-and-bailey castle there.
HISTORY OF BURGH ROMAN FORT (BURGH CASTLE)
Burgh Roman Fort was built around the late third century AD and is believed to have been called Gariannum; contemporary documents list this name in relation to a shore fort but it is unclear whether it applies to Caister or Burgh Roman Forts; most historians seem to prefer the latter.
The landscape in which the fort is situated has changed significantly since Roman times when a great inland estuary covered the area now occupied by Great Yarmouth. Burgh was positioned on a headland that defined the southern side of this estuary and was paired with the earlier fort at Caister-on-Sea. Together they guarded the navigable Rivers Ant, Bure, Waveney and Yare; the latter particularly important as it gave access to the major Roman settlement at Caister-by-Norwich (Venta Icenorum). Garrisoned, at least for a period, by a 500 man strong cavalry unit it may also have acted as a base for the Classis Britannica, the British arm of the Roman Navy. Unusually no Roman Roads have been identified connecting Burgh with the remainder of the military network; it is possible it was resupplied exclusively from sea.
At the time of construction Roman military procedures were changing and the fort did not conform to the normal Roman military designs as seen on earlier Saxon Shore Forts (such as at Caister). The walls of the fort were thicker (3.5 metres at the base) and taller (4.5 metres); both indicative of the increasingly defensive, rather than offensive, mindset of the army at this time. Furthermore the walls were built with a tapered design enabling them to be free standing – a marked difference from earlier structures that had vertical, earth backed ramparts. Furthermore, rather than towers/turrets embedded within the parameter wall as was the first and second century norm, the fort had protruding towers allowing defensive fire against attackers attempting to scale the walls. Each of the towers was designed to support ballistae, emplacement projectile weapons, for this purpose. In other aspects however, the design was conventional; the rounded corners of the fort’s parameter and the gatehouses situated on each side being the most obvious. Even the shape of the fort, albeit a slightly distorted due to the terrain on which it was built, was based upon the former ‘playing card’ configuration.
Possibly from its initial construction, Burgh was incorporated into the Command of the Count of the Saxon Shore (comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam). This organisation was noted in the fourth century Notitia Dignitatum - a book detailing Roman military dispositions - and was seemingly tasked with coastal defence against Saxon and Frankish raiders that were harassing the eastern and southern coasts of Britain.
The Roman military withdrew from Britain early in fifth century AD and Burgh was abandoned. Around AD 630 it was granted by Sigeberht, King of the East Angles to St Fursa for the purposes of founding a monastery there and it may have been rolled into a burh; a fortified settlement for protection against Frankish raiders. The site was later re-activated as a military facility following the Norman invasion; the area was granted to one of William's followers who built an earth and timber
motte-and-bailey castle within the parameter of the former Roman fort with the old curtain wall providing the enclosure to the bailey. This castle seemed to have a relatively short life and, unlike many others, was not re-built in stone.