London’s early military equipment indicates a mid 1st-century military presence, especially on the southern side of the river. The material shows that it was a mix of both cavalry and legionary infantry. This military equipment has been deposited in comparatively large amounts, making it likely that there was some sort of temporary fort, perhaps protecting the crossing point on both sides of the river.
On the northern side, much of the material has been found dumped in or on the banks of the Walbrook, making any specific site difficult to identify. Suggestions about a site in the area of Cornhill for any early base have now been borne out by the discovery of a temporary encampment built immediately after the Boudican rebellion of AD60/61 (see Post-Boudican military encampment and New stock in Londinium Lite).
The presence of the stone fort (see Londinium's fort) in the early 2nd century led to few military finds from the site itself as, in line with other forts, it was kept scrupulously clear of rubbish. With the abandonment of the stone fort, there has been no further area specifically identified as housing soldiers in the northern settlement, although the site of Winchester Palace in Southwark (WP83 and Military base in Southwark) suggests a continued presence.
The isolated finds of military material suggest that soldiers were still to be found in London in the later 3rd and 4th centuries but perhaps, in accordance with military practice elsewhere in the empire, they were again billeted within the town.
It is interesting to note the number of metal military artefacts from London and, although the number of objects would not look out of place on a fort, the fact that very few objects have been found within clear military contexts makes the volume of metal military equipment so interesting. Elements of Roman armour were constantly recycled, making its survival all the more unusual and valuable.
The excellent condition in which much of the early material has survived is due to the waterlogged nature of the Thames and Walbrook stream where material was dumped away from military areas. These finds are frequently characterized by their lack of corrosion products, due to their burial in anaerobic, waterlogged or damp conditions. Their state of preservation is what makes the collection so outstanding.
Due to the wet conditions, such leather military items as tent panel fragments and a small fragment of saddle have also been found, discarded on the waterfront at Regis House. The assemblage of London’s military equipment made of bone, antler and ivory forms the most comprehensive collection from Britain. The position is somewhat biased, however, because soil conditions are not conducive to the preservation of such material for large areas of Roman Britain permanently occupied by the military.
The majority of the finds are early in date with military objects of bone, antler and ivory, being rare in later contexts. The most surprising aspect of the collection, apart from its size and diversity, is the presence of three ivory items. Ivory is never common in Roman Britain and, although small in number, the London finds represent a third of military ivories from Britain. This may be explained by the nature and importance of the site and a reflection of an element of choice in the nature of military equipment (see the Military catalogue).