Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Romans in Ireland? Volume 49 Number 3, May/June 1996
by Andrew L. Slayman

Scholars have discounted as "nonsense" and "wild speculation" a report in the Sunday Times of London that the Romans invaded Ireland. The story alleged that the coastal site of Drumanagh, 15 miles north of Dublin, held "clear evidence...of a Roman coastal fort of up to 40 acres...a significant Roman beachhead, built to support military campaigns in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D." The claim was based on the discovery a number of years ago of Roman coins dating to the reigns of Titus (A.D. 79-81), Trajan (98-117), and Hadrian (117-138), as well as Roman brooches and copper ingots. Over the years other Roman artifacts have been found in Ireland. Most archaeologists regard these as evidence not of conquest but of trade with Roman Britain, raiding of coastal settlements in Britain, or the presence of Romanized Britons in Ireland. According to Barry Raftery of University College Dublin, Drumanagh "may well have been (and probably was) a major trading station linking Ireland and Roman Britain. It was probably populated with a mixture of Irish, Romano-British, Gallo-Roman, and others, doubtless including a few genuine Romans as well." Unfortunately the artifacts were found with metal detectors and illegally excavated. The subject of a legal dispute between the looters and the Irish government, they have not been available for scholarly study. A final verdict on the site must wait at least until the lawsuit is resolved. As for a Roman military occupation of Ireland, historian Michael Meckler of Yale University says, "the case remains to be proved, and proved somewhere other than in newspapers and on television. We all remember the recent travesty surrounding the so-called discovery of Alexander's tomb" (see ARCHAEOLOGY, May/June 1995).

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America