Monday, 26 May 2008

Rutupians from Reculver

Before the Romans it seems that the oyster was not regarded as anything special in England especially if there was meat about or other foods, although one could say also that so little evidence remains of that period that there are very few examples of anything being perceived as being special. But to the Romans, the British oyster, especially the Colchester oyster, known as the Rutupian oyster, which came out of the port of Richborough, Kent , was a fabled delicacy. At a Roman camp at Silchester, near modern day Basingstoke, a million shells have been unearthed. Shells have been found as far north as Hadrian’s Wall. Both oysters from around Brittany and from England found their way to Rome in what appears to have been a regular and well known trade.

It was Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman governor from AD 78-85 who first sent back quantities of oysters from Reculver to Rome, packed in snow. The Romans already had cellars built beneath their villas to store them.

The Romans moved on Cornwall to secure the trade in oysters and tin for themselves. They garrisoned Bodmin. They secured Caernarfon, Swansea, Cardiff and Newport. They made Colchester their base. They set up forts in Dorchester, Chichester, Reculver and round the Thames estuary. These were not the only settlements, far from it, but nor did the Romans seem to overlook any productive oyster bearing regions for their settlements and villas either.