Shackled skeleton is rare evidence of slavery in Roman Britain

A skeleton wearing iron fetters used on slaves was uncovered in the East Midlands (Mola)

Archaeologists have identified the shackled skeleton of a man that could be the first evidence that slavery existed in Britain during the time of the Romans.

The man, believed to be in his 20s or 30s, had his ankled locked with heavy iron manacles and was left in a ditch to die.

His remains were found in Rutland, in the East Midlands, by builders who were constructing a house conservatory in Great Casterton.

After the police were called, radiocarbon dating showed the bones had lain there since between AD226 and AD427 – when the country was under the rule of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) were called in to research the skeleton. Their findings were published yesterday in the journal Britannia.

Shackled skeleton confirms rare evidence of slavery in Roman Britain

The iron fetters were radiocarbon dated to between AD226 and AD427 (Mola)

While it’s acknowledged that slavery existed in Britain at the time, all our knowledge comes from inscriptions and writings. This may be the first direct evidence of an enslaved man and has been called ‘an internationally significant find’.

Chris Chinnock, one of the archaeologists from Mola, explained: ‘It will never be possible to determine with any certainty whether this discovery represents the burial of an enslaved individual, though on balance it presents the strongest candidate known from Roman Britain.

Shackled skeleton confirms rare evidence of slavery in Roman Britain

The man was thrown in a ditch to die with his ankles locked in iron fetters (Mola)

‘The lockable fetters he wore are the type of shackles most commonly used to restrain and punish living slaves.’

‘The burial provides the opportunity to directly consider the role of enslaved people in Britain, their relative absence from the archaeological record, and how to better frame archaeological questions to reflect the reality of their existence throughout society in Roman Britain.’


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