Archaeologists stunned on UK Roman discovery ‘beyond realms of expected’

Vindolanda: Archaeologist discovers 500 Roman Empire letters

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The Roman conquest of Britain began around 2,000 years ago. The imperial power’s presence would last for 400 years. Countless battles between the Romans and Britain’s native Celts took place, the best-known being Boudica’s revolt in 60 AD.

A number of Roman artefacts remain from this period across the UK.

Perhaps one of the most famous is Hadrian’s Wall, a part stone, part mound structure that starts at the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea and goes all the way west to the Solway Firth near the Irish Sea.

Within the wall is one of the Romans’ most important military barracks, Vindolanda, where soldiers from around the Empire were stationed at one point.

The site has offered archaeologists a wealth of artefacts to study.

One of the rarest pieces of history discovered at the site was explored during History Hit’s, ‘Vindolanda: Jewel of the North’.

Here, Dr Andrew Birley, Vindolana’s director of excavations, presented the only pair of boxing gloves found anywhere in what was formerly the Roman Empire, from the UK to modern day Iran.

The find offered a unique insight into the social makeup of the Romans in Britain.

Dr Birley explained: “Every now and then we get something which is beyond the realms of what we expect to ever find.

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“It’s not even on an archaeologist’s dream shopping list, and what we’ve got here is two examples of that.

“We’ve got boxing gloves from some of the earliest periods from a cavalry barracks of soldiers from northern Spain.

“They were just sitting on the barracks floor, there were two different types of glove.

“There was a practice glove which is very softly padded with leather, and then the glove below has a hardened leather trim on the edge, fire hardened.


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“It was packed with straw when we found it to protect the knuckle but also to slice your opponent to make them bleed.

“What I love about this is its multifaceted nature, how it helps to understand training, unarmed combat, fitness and of course sport, and then entertainment.

“This represents all of those things.”

The Roman soldiers would have bet on boxing matches and had their favourite sporting hero.

There was also inter-cavalry rivalry and fighting.

Dr Birley said: “These are the only surviving boxing gloves from the Roman Empire, and are the earliest surviving boxing gloves for over 1,600 years.”

Evidence exists for boxing gloves and other sporting-wear in texts, wall paintings, and mosaics, but never before have archaeologists been able to find physical gloves.

Roman presence in Britain gradually faded from 370 AD.

Each outpost in the country left at different times.

The soldiers left for Rome which was at the time under attack.

Britain subsequently fell into chaos with native tribes and foreign invaders battling it out for power.

There was a great spread of Angles, Saxons and Franks after the Romans left.

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