The Romans abandoned their hold on the British empire in the 5th century A.D. The Anglo-Saxons and other tribes from the north were too many, the Roman soldiers scampered, leaving the British citizens they’d gained a tentative relationship with to fend for themselves.
Why, then, did maintenance man Harry Martindale see a contingent of them march past in February of 1953?
Martindale kept his encounter mostly secret until 1970. When he opened up, he had quite a story indeed.
The Treasurer’s House, not the sort of place you’d expect a Roman march.
Martindale had been sent to the notoriously haunted Treasurer’s House to install a new pipe in the cellar. Having dug a 6 foot diameter, 18 inch deep hole, he positioned his ladder on the remnant of what was once a Roman road. From the top of the ladder, Martindale heard a trumpet call. Looking around, he saw that a Roman soldier had stepped through the wall of the cellar and was walking by–right through the other wall. This man was followed by another soldier on a horse, and then twenty more soldiers walking in pairs, all observed from the corner of the cellar where he had fallen from the ladder in surprise.
The men were bedraggled, dressed in “shiny tops” and green tunics with red “skirts” of leather strips. The straps of their thongs were tied to below their knees. They wore plumed helmets and beards. They carried small, round shields. Martindale said that many of them looked ill and despondent.
The most fascinating aspect of these soldiers is that they were all cut off at about the knee as they marched past. Martindale asserts that they were walking along the Roman road, buried now in 18 inches of dirt. The soldiers’ specters were tied to the road, not haunting the house.
After the last of them passed through the other wall and away, Martindale ran from the cellar. He met the curator of the Treasurer’s House, who, after observing his shocked state, said: “By the look of you, you have seen the Roman soldiers!”
A fine story, indeed. Easily dismissed. Except…
Two things: Martindale’s description didn’t jive with the historical records of 1953 and 1970. 4th century Roman soldiers in Britain were supposed to be carrying long rectangular shields and tying their thongs just above their ankles, not to their knees as Martindale described. Martindale stuck to his story.
In 1973, the Roman fort of Vindolanda was first excavated, an incredibly well-preserved fort. Archeologists found the small, round shields and thongs tied up to the knee. Martindale was vindicated.
Roman roads criss-cross Great Britain. How many know that the Romans have left?
Do you believe Martindale?