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Saxon Shore

Saxon Shore. A coastal network of late Roman forts stretching from Brancaster to Portchester intended to repel attacks by Saxons. The name ‘Saxon Shore’ (litoris Saxonici) appears only in the Notitia dignitatum, a document drawn up c. ad 408. The Notitia is an administrative handbook, concerned with the organization of late Roman military units. Interpretation of the functioning of the Saxon Shore is notoriously difficult, but the Notitia appears to list units stationed at sites in south-eastern Britain. The nine forts listed in Latin have been identified with late forts surviving in varying states of preservation at Brancaster (Branodunum), Burgh castle (Gariannonum), Bradwell (Othona), Reculver (Regulbium), Richborough (Rutupiae), Dover (Dubris), Lympne (Lemanis), Pevensey (Anderita), and Portchester (Portus Adurni). A possible further ‘lost fort’ may be at Walton castle. The overall commander of the military network was the comes, normally translated as ‘the Count of the Saxon Shore’.

For a long time the Saxon Shore was regarded as being an entirely new creation of the 4th cent. ad. Seven of the listed units are new to the army of Britain as known in the principate (the Roman system of government 27 bc–ad 284). The appearance and style of the Saxon Shore forts themselves is new and different; they had high thick walls, massive rounded external towers, and more readily defensible secure gates. However, a closer examination of the evidence indicates continuity between the classis Britannica (the Roman fleet in the Channel) of the principate and the military dispositions discernible in the late empire. Archaeology has revealed an impressively large classis Britannica fort at Dover, and there is epigraphic evidence, in the form of stamped CL.BR tiles, for classis Britannica structures of the 2nd and 3rd cents. at Lympne, Portchester, and Pevensey. At Reculver there are archaeological indications of a 1st-cent. fortlet.

Eleanor Scott

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