Roman Cavalry in Malton

An irregular half of a carved stone slab with incomplete text carved in large letters covering most of it's face
Figure 1 – Roman carved dedication slab

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There appears to be a lot of grandeur associated with Roman cavalry, as we can see from some very finely decorated cavalry sports helmets – read on to find out more

Malton has enjoyed a long love affair with horses and racing. It was once dubbed the Newmarket of the North and, according to local legend, it was the Romans who first introduced horse racing to the town.

During the excavation of the Roman civilian settlement (vicus) in 1970, a dedication slab was unearthed (figure 1) dated to the middle of the second century AD. Parts of the lettering are missing, but the complete text probably read:

T or P (?)




D ♥ D

This is translated as `Candidus, prefect of the Ala Picentiana gave (this) as a gift`. Above the `C` there is also the bottom section of another letter, perhaps T or P, suggesting that Candidus was a cognomen (the third name of a Roman citizen).

Within the Roman Empire the ala were auxiliary units composed entirely of cavalry. The name is Latin for a wing and derives from the use of horsemen on the flanks of the army. Unlike the legions, the auxiliary troops were drawn from the free inhabitants of the Empire who were not Roman citizens, termed peregrini.

By the time of the Malton inscription, there were about 70 auxiliary regiments in Britain amounting to three-quarters of the military force on the island. In addition to eleven alae there were also auxiliary infantry cohorts and mixed units.

A Roman carved stone showing a horse and rider jumping over a variety of people who appear to have been in a battle, as well as various shields and weapons
Figure 2 – Bridgeness Stone showing a Roman mounted auxiliary trooper

Originally auxiliary troops would have been led by their own local chiefs but gradually this changed with most ala prefects being Romans by the second century AD. Such individuals would have moved up the ladder of military promotion from, perhaps, a previous position as military tribune within a legion.

The riders of the Ala Picentiana were recruited from the inhabitants of Gaul, although Candidus would, most probably, have been born into a well-connected Roman family. The five-hundred strong unit served in Germany first before being transferred across to Britain. Stationing the ala at Malton might have been linked to the need to provide the 6th Roman legion (based at York) with a cavalry wing.

One reason for a trooper joining an auxiliary unit was to acquire Roman citizenship by serving for twenty-five years. Bronze diplomas were issued to grant such citizenship, with one copy being given to a veteran and another retained by the authorities. Just outside Sheffield a diploma was ploughed up in 1760 and refers to several units, including Malton`s Ala Picentiana. It is translated as `to the cavalrymen…who have served twenty-five or more years and have been honourably discharged, whose names are written below, citizenship for themselves, their children and descendants, and the right of legal marriage`.

Little digging has taken place inside the walls of the fort at Malton, but a geophysical survey has revealed double lines of barrack blocks. Based on excavations at the cavalry fort at Wallsend it suggested that the troopers occupied one range with their horses being stabled in the adjacent rooms.

Roman auxiliary cavalry riders were usually heavily covered in armour and furnished with short lances, javelins, shields and long swords. Military strap fittings (from horse harnesses), a bone sword handle, copper alloy scale armour, chain mail and iron spearheads have all been unearthed at Malton. The Bridgeness stone (Figure 2) from the Antonine Wall (dating to the same period as the Malton inscription) portrays a fully equipped auxiliary cavalryman trampling and decapitating naked barbarians.

A highly detailed bronze helmet depicting a face with narrow gaps for the wearer to see out through the masks face
Figure 3 – Ribchester Helmet
An ornate calvelry helmet with detail face and pointed hat decorated with a griffin like animal
Figure 4 – Crosby Garrett Helmet

Within the Roman Empire ala units enjoyed considerable prestige and their members were also better paid than auxiliary infantry. Dressed up in parade armour – including splendid helmets of the type found at Ribchester and Crosby Garrett (Figures 3 & 4) – they would have put on spectacular public displays showing the skill and speed of the riders. Perhaps there is a lot of truth in the Malton legend about Roman horse racing!

Figure 1: The Malton Ala Picentiana inscription © Malton Museum

Figure 2: Detail of a legionary tablet c.142 AD found at Bridgeness. It shows a Roman mounted auxiliary trooper. ©Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Find out more about the Bridgeness Slab on Wikipedia

Figure 3: Ribchester cavalry sports helmet, bronze. ©Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Find our more about Ribchester on Wikipedia

Figure 4: Crosby Garrett Helmet, a copper alloy Roman cavalry helmet dating from the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD © Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic


Two sides of a Roman coin depicting Carausius
Figure 1: Coin with an image of a tough-looking Carausius

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You may not have heard of Carausius, so read on to find out more about who he was.

Political chaos of the type seen around the world this year occurs in what appear to be the most sophisticated of regimes, including within the ancient world.

Following a particularly unsettled period in Roman History, Diocletian was proclaimed Emperor in 284 AD. To secure his place he appointed a trusted colleague, Maximian, as co-ruler with a remit to look after the Western half of the empire, including Britain.

One immediate task that faced Maximian was stemming the pirate raids along the coasts of northern France and Belgium. He engaged a distinguished soldier, Mausaeus Carausius, to deal with the situation, giving him command of the Roman fleet.

However, although Carausius was remarkably successful, his tactics were somewhat irregular. Rather than attacking the pirates prior to any raids he waited and intercepted them on their return journeys, relieving them of any booty. Also, he did not seem particularly keen to restore items to their original owners or to pass any treasure on to the Emperor. It was not long before Carausius’ creative approach to policing the English Channel came to the attention of Maximian, who summoned Carausius to headquarters for an explanation.

Sensing that the game was up Carausius responded by setting himself up in Britain as a third emperor (figure 1). He even issued a coin confirming this new status on which he is portrayed alongside Diocletian and Maximian surrounded by the words ‘CARAUSIUS ET FRATRES SUI’ …Carausius and his brothers! (figure 2)

One side of a Roman Coin deicptiing from right to left: Carausius, Diocletian, and Maximian
Figure 2: Coin of Carausius from a hoard discovered in Wales

There can be little doubt that Carausius was a very shrewd individual. He clearly had already gained the respect of the army in addition to the support of many Gallic merchants. But, to maintain and strengthen his position, he must have recognised the need to do much more.

During the third century, the money supply reaching Britain had become increasingly precarious with the denarius containing less than a sixth of the silver than had been the case when the Romans had first arrived in 43 AD. Cunningly, and very soon after taking control of Britain, Carausius set up mints in London and Colchester producing gold and silver coins of superb quality.

Restoring the silver currency standard was also probably a reflection of a broader aim to associate himself with traditional Roman values and virtues. He added the names Marcus Aurelius to his own and the reverses of some of this coins bore inscriptions from the great poet of the Augustan period, Virgil such as ‘EXPECTATE VENI’ (Come, O expected one) or RSR (The Golden Age is back) . Many other pieces also make references to peace, plenty, happiness or restoration.

At Malton, the North-East gate of the fort was probably rebuilt by Carausius, based on the finds from the 1927-30 excavations (including 23 coins of the Carausian period). Down the road at Brough it seems likely that there was also significant building activity at the same time. Elsewhere there is evidence that new defensive shore forts were being established at Porchester while others at Brancaster and Lympne were being restored or repaired.

Undoubtedly all this construction work would have made the inhabitants of places such as Malton feel more secure. There might also have been a sense that Britain had ‘taken back control’ rather than being subject to Imperial edicts emanating from the far-flung Roman administrative centres at Trier and Milan. Perhaps the splendid decoration of the town house in the vicus at Malton reflects the improved confidence and circumstances for the residents of Northern Britain.

However, after seven years, Carausius came to a sticky end, being assassinated by his finance minister Allectus. By 296 the game was up for Allectus too, who was killed in a battle with Asclepiodotus, the praetorian prefect. As beautifully illustrated on a large golden medallion unearthed in Arras a hundred years ago, Diocletian’s new co-emperor Constantius (the father of Constantine the Great) was welcomed into London and Britain returned to the Roman Empire.

Figure 1: Coin with an image of a tough-looking Carausius and the lettering IMP (emperor) before his name. The inscription on the reverse refers to the 4th Roman legion that provided him with troops. ML is the mark of the London mint.

© Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Figure 2: Coin of Carausius from a hoard discovered in Wales. On this piece he is shown on the left next to Diocletian (centre) and Maximian. ©National Museum of Wales

Visit: National Museum of Wales

Footprints around Roman Malton and beyond

Follow our new blog ‘Footprints around Roman Malton and beyond’ which reflects on four centuries of Roman activity in and around Malton and Norton. The writer is Nick Summerton, already known to those who attended his fascinating talk on Roman medicine in one of our past series of summer lectures.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for our latest updates…

Nick’s regular illustrated explorations will range freely around Roman life and influence in this area and its connections in Yorkshire and beyond.

As we add new posts, you can click on the pink coloured links below to view our latest blog, starting with Carausius.

So far in Footprints around Roman Malton and beyond:


There can be little doubt that Carausius was a very shrewd individual. He clearly had already gained the respect of the army in addition to the support of many Gallic merchants. But, to maintain and strengthen his position, he must have recognised the need to do much more… read full blog post

Roman Cavalry in Malton

Malton has enjoyed a long love affair with horses and racing. It was once dubbed the Newmarket of the North and, according to local legend, it was the Romans who first introduced horse racing to the town… read full blog post

The Roman Army Medical Service

The Roman Army Medical Service assisted Roman soldiers using a wide variety of medical techniques and specialist equipment, some of which was used for very specific purposes…. read full blog post

Roman Jet and the Malton Bear

Roman Jet, and the Malton Bear in particular, give us a fascinating insight into Roman life through many items including some highly impressive pieces of artistic jewellery and charms… read full blog post

Petillius Cerialis and the Brigantes

When Petillius Cerialis arrived in Britain as the new governor it was not his first trip to the island. Ten years earlier, as commander of the legio IX Hispania, he had been badly mauled by Boudica… read full blog post

Roman Gardens and Wellbeing

Much like many of our modern gardens, Roman Garden were also designed to be a place of relaxation, that encouraged wildlife, as well as providing food, herbs, and medicine… read full blog post

The Roman Villas around Malton and Norton

It might be a surprise to you just how many Roman villas there are around Malton and Norton – do you know which features define a Roman building as a villa…? read full blog post

The Romans at Cawthorn

Cawthorn Camps covers an extensive area of heathland, and is a fascinating – and enigmatic – site with the remains of a Roman camp in addition to two Roman forts, one of which had an annex… read full blog post

Roman Eye Health

Most of us would probably consider that modern medicine and technology has brought about eye care, and that ‘Roman Eye Health’ and any treatments or remedies probably didn’t exsist… read full blog post

The Fate of The Ninth Legion

There seems to be a great deal of speculation about what happened to The Ninth legion as it moved northwards across England, and then into Scotland, to seeminly dissappear completely… read full blog post

The Fortlets (‘Signal Stations’) along the Yorkshire Coast

Fortlets might not sound like they are really up to much, although these strategic defences were very well built structures that were essential in defending Roman Britain from many attacks… read full blog post

Malton Roman Fort

Orchard Fields is regularly used by locals and visitors to Malton, and although it does have some impressive earthworks, most people would find it hard to know how Malton Roman Fort was laid out… read full blog post

Wade`s Causeway. A Roman Road?

Three hundred years ago it was suggested that a Roman road – Wade’s Causeway – ran from Amotherby over the Vale of Pickering and the North Yorkshire Moors towards the coast, so is it a Roman Road?… read full blog post


Nowadays few people will stop off at Aldborough as they race north along the A1, yet in Roman times it was an important site to stop at for provisions before heading further north… read full blog post

The Malton ‘Town House’

Between 1949 and 1952 a series of excavations were undertaken in the southern area of Orchard Field. A key discovery by the archaeologists was a substantial building termed – at the time – the Malton ‘Town House’… read full blog post

The Roman Theatre of Petuaria

The Roman Theatre of Petuaria has so far been difficult to find, however according to The Petuaria Inscription it did exsist, and this stone was found on Burrs Playing Field in Brough, East Yorkshire… read full blog post