The Roman invasion of AD 43 brought profound changes to the economy and society of large parts of Britain. For 400 years the archaeological record shows us the extraordinary wealth of material culture that the Roman legions and administrators introduced the native inhabitants to.
The first evidence of Roman occupation that we find in the Dales is the temporary marching camp on Malham Moor. Banked and ditched encampments like this one were thrown up by the Roman army when on campaign. The Malham example may well date to when the northern tribes rebelled against their Roman rulers in AD 69. The governor of the time, Petilius Cerialis led the fight back.
The natives were defeated and subdued, but the military were never very far away, with an almost permanent fort in the heart of the Dales at Bainbridge and a ring of forts along the main communication routes running around the area. In spite of the presence of such permanent garrisons, Roman influence never seems to have penetrated very far into the Dales. Life for the mass of the native population probably went on much as it had done for their Bronze Age ancestors. Some Romano-British period settlements have been excavated but the one at Healaugh in Swaledale is the only one that has been accurately recorded. The small quantities of romanised artefacts found show that these natives at least, were linked into the Roman market.
The native settlement at Castle Folds in the Westmorland Dales is an unusual example in Cumbria of a heavily defended Romano-British stone hut circle settlement. Unlike many such settlements which were enclosed or ‘defended’ in such a way as to protect both inhabitants and stock from casual marauders, Castle Folds appears, by the very nature of its inaccessible location and strongly defended stone enclosure wall, to have been constructed in response to a threat of much greater proportions. The later ‘slighting’ of the enclosure walls seems to support this.
The Roman state is likely to have maintained an interest in the Dales if only as a source for lead, an important commodity used in particularly in their famous plumbing systems. Several Roman lead pigs have been found in the Dales although the whereabouts of only one is currently known, found originally on Hayshaw Bank, near Greenhow Hill.
There are no examples of the classic Roman farm, the villa, within the national park boundaries. However, one was built nearby at Gargrave. This substantial building was occupied from 2nd century AD until the 4th and had all the usual trappings of a fine country home including underfloor heating, a bath house and mosaics.
Several interesting collections of Roman artefacts have been discovered over the years. One of the most unusual comes from Victoria Cave near Settle. Archaeologists are still speculating as to why people chose to deposit brooches and other artefacts in such quantities inside such an inhospitable cave.