Roman cavalry horses lived alongside soldiers – research

A section of Hadrian's wall at Greenhead Lough. Photo: Velella
A section of Hadrian’s wall at Greenhead Lough. Photo: Velella

Research in Britain has provided the answer to a long-standing mystery over where Roman soldiers kept their horses.

The organisation English Heritage reports that archaeological excavations along Hadrian’s Wall reveal why it has been so difficult to discover where Roman soldiers kept their mounts.

It transpires that the standard barrack configuration used by Romans included accommodation for horses, with the horses housed just a few feet from the soldiers.

Many barracks have been found in Roman cavalry forts, such as the one at Chesters on Hadrian’s Wall, but few stables. For a time it was suspected there must have been separate stables, but such finds have been rare.

Now, recent excavations have explained the standard configuration of Roman barracks, with a series of front rooms and back rooms. The horses were kept in the front rooms.

Modern excavations of cavalry barracks on Hadrian’s Wall at Wallsend and South Shields revealed a centrally placed, elongated pit in its front room and a hearth in a corresponding position in the rear room.

The arrangement resembled that found in some Roman fort buildings in mainland Europe, where preserved hay and fodder showed that horses had been stabled in the front room.

The pits, covered with boards or stone slabs, were used to collect horse urine and kept the floor dry.

Barracks comprised a series of these front-and-rear-room combinations, with accommodation for officers at one end. Each room combination provided space for three mounted soldiers and three horses. Barracks often comprised 10 such rooms, provided enough room for a standard “troop”.

The close proximity of the horses meant that they could be deployed quickly.

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