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


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009924

Date first listed: 05-Feb-1991


Ordnance survey map of Petty Knowes Roman Cemetery and Length of Dere Street Roman Road, Rochester
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Rochester


National Grid Reference: NY 83721 98186


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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 investigated.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


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 cemetery. 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 fort. 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.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 13432

Legacy System: RSM


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)

End of official listing