A MILESTONE IN HISTORY
The Roman emperor Florianus only reigned for
three months but he left a lasting impression on
Peter Thorpes farm, as Tom Montgomery discovers
ITis a rare milestone, bearing his inscription, and it has been found in one of Peters fields.
It was discovered in a hedge bank along the route of an old Roman road by a friend, Ross Metcalfe, who was blackberry picking. Not realising its importance Peter installed it as a feature in his garden at Rhyddings Farm, Ackworth, near Pontefract.
This summer, with the fields in set-aside, the local archaeological society sought permission to excavate the Roman road. While discussing their plans, Peter asked three members if they would like to see a stone from the site.
They couldnt believe their eyes.
Standing on the low wall skirting the farmhouse lawn was the top half of the milestone. According to Peter, only 117 have been found in this country and just three similar to this one.
The well-weathered stone is 2ft high and just over 1ft wide. The inscription is faint, but Roger Tomline, of Wolfson College, Oxford, has identified it as from the reign of Florianus AD276.
Despite some plough damage and a missing section, it is possible to reconstruct the full inscription from what can be deciphered because the Romans used standard abbreviations. It reads:
This translates into Imperator Caesar, Marcus Annius, Florianus, Pius Felix Augustus, Victorious Millia Passuum (miles to) Eboracum (York) 26.
What puzzles Peter and his wife Gitte is the speed at which the Romans appeared to communicate. Florianus only ruled for 88 days before he was assassinated in Turkey, but in that time the news of his succession had reached Britain and they had carved milestones with his name on.
"The archaeologists believe the stone was in situ when discovered and they are hoping to find the other half," said Peter. It should contain the rest of the inscription and maybe a different one. When emperors changed, the Romans apparently turned milestones upside down so they could carve the new set of details.
"The milestone is totally different to the sandstone found around here. It is a hard grit stone, thought to come from Derbys or the Halifax area like two other Roman milestones found locally in the past."
Pontefract Museum now has the latest milestone on loan and staff have put it on public display.
Peter is normally well occupied growing wheat, barley, peas and rape on his 100ha (250 acres) but now finds himself much involved with Roman history.
The digging to excavate part of the Roman road, which ran from Doncaster to Castleford, continues. Little in the way of surface paving has been found – the local stone is so soft it has probably just disintegrated – but a collection of large pebbles is accumulating. These are thought to have been used to line the roads edges. "It is fascinating to think that 2000 years ago Roman legions would probably have been marching through these fields," said Gitte.
Farming in the path of history has inevitably thrown up a number of artifacts and coins and other ancient features. On part of his land, Peter can still detect the outline of ridge and furrow earthworks, the "corrugated" pattern produced by mediaeval cultivation.
Another unusual rock, dome-shaped with marks that may or may not have been caused by the plough, awaits recognition. Then there was the stone he found with a hole in it which he took to Wakefield Museum. A prehistory specialist identified it as an early bronze age axe hammer, rarely found in the area.
"I knew it had been fitted with a shaft of some kind," said Peter. "We had it on the mantelpiece and used it as a door-stop for a number of years."