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Petty Knowes Roman Cemetery and Length of Dere Street Roman Road, Rochester

A Scheduled Monument in Rochester, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.2774 / 55°16'38"N

Longitude: -2.258 / 2°15'28"W

OS Eastings: 383706.433335

OS Northings: 598172.31407

OS Grid: NY837981

Mapcode National: GBR D7NF.Y0

Mapcode Global: WHB0R.9M03

Entry Name: Petty Knowes Roman Cemetery and Length of Dere Street Roman Road, Rochester

Scheduled Date: 5 February 1991

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009924

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13432

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Rochester

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Horsley with Byrness

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument is situated on a rocky eminence some 400m SE of High
Rochester Roman fort close to Petty Knowes farmhouse, and comprises a
Roman cemetery located on either side of Dere Street Roman road.
Around l00 small barrows have been identified, these being largely low
circular mounds averaging 3-4m dia. some of which also exhibit a shallow
external ditch and low external bank. The main group of 75 barrows lies
just NE of Petty Knowes farmhouse. However, other barrows are scattered
throughout the rest of the area on either side of the Roman road.
Excavation of a number of the mounds in the 1970's indicated that each
has a central burial pit in which cremated ashes were placed. Few grave
goods accompanied the burials, but fragments of pottery, nails and a few
coins were recovered. Analysis of the skeletal remains indicated that
men, women and children were buried in the cemetery. The location of
the burials appears to have been additionally marked by wooden posts
located in the top of the barrows. The excavation also indicated that
other burials, now invisible from the surface, were also located in the
In addition to these small barrows a group of 4 monumental tombs are
located immediately adjacent to the Roman road. Three of these have
square or rectangular bases, the fourth being round. The latter, which
along with the other three, was investigated in the 1850's survives as a
circular foundation comprising two courses of stone with a diameter of
c4.6m. The core is presently earth-filled. In its original form, the
tomb has been interpreted as a Drum and Cone type barrow capped perhaps
by a pine-cone, symbolic of the after-life. The scale of these
monumental tombs has been taken to indicate that they mark the burial of
high-ranking Roman soldiers, presumably staff associated with the nearby
The Roman road here is disused, but survives well as a cambered grass-
covered linear feature with flanking side ditches visible throughout
its length.
All field boundaries are excluded from the scheduling.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A Roman cemetery is an area of ground set aside for the disposal,
celebration and remembrance of the dead. Under Roman law it was illegal
to bury or burn the dead within a town, so throughout the Roman occupation
cemeteries were set up outside the settlement to which they belonged,
usually alongside an approach road.
The interments may be cremations or inhumations and are usually
deposited below ground, although upstanding tombs in the form of barrows
or mausolea may occur. It is often possible to date excavated Roman
cemeteries reasonably accurately on the basis of the burial rite and
associated grave goods, with cremations being the general method before
the late 2nd century and inhumations after this date.
Cemeteries provide a major source of information about the population.
Skeletal evidence enables anthropological and pathological studies to be
undertaken, while grave goods allow more general inferences to be made about
the buried population and the nature of contemporary society.
The cemetery at Petty Knowes survives in excellent condition. It comprises
the largest known extant Roman cemetery associated with an auxiliary fort in
Britain. The Drum and Cone type barrow is of particular importance as it is
the only example in Northumberland and indeed one of only five in England.
The monumental form of the tomb is an important indication of the status of
the individual buried there and their desire to emulate classical burial
practices. Limited excavations here provided significant information on the
form of the small barrows and have indicated that while some may have been
burials of soldiers it was not exclusively a military cemetery.
The cemetery will retain considerable further information on the nature
of the population buried within it and the form of the burial rites as
practiced. Of particular note is the contribution the site makes to
studies of the Hadrianic frontier system, this being one of only a
handful of sites where burial of people assumed to have been directlv
associated with life in the frontier region has been located and

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bruce, J C, The Roman Wall, (1978)
Clayton, P, A Companion to Roman Britain, (1980)
Charlton, B, Mitcheson, M, 'Archaeologia Aeliana. 5th series' in The Roman Cemetery at Petty Knowes, Rochester, Northumberland, , Vol. XII, (1984)
Richmond, I A, 'Northumberland County History xv' in The Romans in Redesdale, (1940)
Ferrell, G., MPP Single Monument Class Descriptions - Roman Barrows, (1988)
Northumberland SMR, SMR No. NY 89 NW 8,
Pagination 5, Ebbatson, L., MPP Single Monument Class Descriptions - Romano-British Roads, (1989)
Romano British, Ferrell, G., MPP Single Monument Class Descriptions - Cemeteries, (1988)

Source: Historic England

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