Roman Ghosts in Britain

by frankbeswick

The Roman legions left in AD 410; but are some Romans still with us?

You have seen Roman soldiers in school books and pictures. Imagine what it would be like to meet a group of real, live Romans;or worse, a group of dead ones. This is what happened to Harry Martindale, a young plumber working in York in 1953. But he was not the only one to have had Roman apparitions suddenly appear, for they crop up occasionally at Roman sites around the country..He simply saw several at the same time. He didn't feel lucky.

Picture courtesy of joelARFIjoel of Pixabay

The Treasury House.

Cities are built on the rubble of previous buildings, and so when the Normans erected the Treasury House at York in the late eleventh century the cellar excavation came down to a paved surface, the old Roman road, which is significant in our story.

The road led to the legionary base of Eboracum, now York, where first the ill-fated ninth legion, probably so badly damaged in a rebellion in northern Britain that it was disbanded. and later the sixth were based.In later years it was to become the capital of the emergent English kingdom  of Deira, so much military activity went on there. 

Harry Martindale was an eighteen year old apprentice plumber assigned by his employer to do some preliminary work in the Treasury House in the cellar.The previous owner had had some heating pipes and a boiler  installed, but they were not satisfactory at warming the chilly mediaeval edifice. So Harry, who had never before had any ghostly experience and who was not remotely concerned with the supernatural, got up on his ladder and began to chip a hole in the ancient stonework..

Then he heard a noise, the sound of a horn calling. Puzzled,the young plumber noted that it seemed to come from behind the cellar wall. Then through the cellar wall, along the  line of the Roman road came a man in Roman garb leading a horse. He was followed by  a group of about twenty men on foot. Harry had an observant eye that was later to  serve him well when he swapped careers and joined the police force.  He saw  that the men wore green tunics. They carried round shields rather than the traditional legionary scutum and that they had scabbards on their left side, unlike legionaries, who bore them on the right.  Their sandal-shod feet were at the level of the road's surface. Harry noted that they appeared tired and sad.

But the Romans were completely non-reactive to him, It was as though Harry was watching a video player. For the Romans Harry was not there.They marched on their  way through the opposite wall and were gone.By this time the terrified plumber had fallen off his ladder. He sprang to his feet and fled the cellar. He met the house manager, who took a look at him and said, "You've seen the Romans, haven't you?" Harry was off work with stress for two weeks. He never went back to the cellar.He never changed his story from 1953 to his death in 2014.

Sceptics made a point of commenting that the soldiers were not clad as legionaries and so concluded that Harry had been hallucinating or lying. But not so fast, Sceptic. The Romans had other kinds of soldier,auxiliaries and foederati, who had their distinctive weaponry. In later years auxiliaries merged with legionaries as field troops,while foederati, often German tribesmen, became garrison troops. It was the field troops that were withdrawn, while the garrison troops remained. Could Harry's apparition have been troops of one of these groups?



What are we to make of this account? Harry had no history of hallucination or mental illness, otherwise he would not have managed to enter the police force. He had a long police career and retired with an unblemished record. Certainly not the life of a liar. 

Hallucinations are distinctive to individuals, so two people don't have the same hallucination.The Romans in the cellar have been seen by several independent witnesses. The owner, Mr Green, who commissioned the cellar work, had seen them, as did one person in the year after Harry saw them, and there are others.Philosophers put great store by the public nature of an experience.Private experiences are regarded as suspect,but the more people have an experience the greater its credibility.  If a number of witnesses experience the same thing simultaneously, there is much credibility to what they say, but if several experience the same or substantially similar in succession,the credibility is enhanced, as the experience is still public.

Critically important is the fact that rather than being incompatible with what we know of Roman troops Harry was ahead of  the current knowledge of the time. Excavations at Hadrian's wall,staffed by foederati and auxiliaries,later revealed that  the fabrics and equipment seen by Harry were surprisingly accurate. His experience therefore become hard to dismiss as an hallucination or a lie.Bear in mind that although Roman rule in Britain finished about 410 AD the legions left earlier and were replaced by garrison troops,so what Harry saw was consistent with the situation in the late Roman period.During this period the Romans brought substantial numbers of foederati to Britain, and in Yorkshire they included a substantial group of Angles from Schleswig Holstein in North Germany, and Allemani from Germany's more southerly regions. Was a group of these what Harry saw?

Yet the apparitions were not a unique event.On the opposite side  of Britain, the West,the legionary base of Chester, home of the twentieth legion, which still retains its city walls, Roman ghosts   are reported. The cellar of the Golden Eagle public house [bar in American parlance] is the location of a haunting similar to that of the Treasury House, where soldiers march through walls. In the George and Dragon inn the sound of marching feet can be hard, but nothing is seen. It is also said that a Roman soldier still walks the city walls, where he has been occasionally seen, though he is now becoming fainter. Reports of a group  of  soldiers marching through a wall near the site of the now excavated amphitheatre are made, and the earliest of these reports  was in Tudor times in the sixteenth century. 

An isolated report was made in the Manchester Evening News when the Roman fort of Mancunium was discovered during clearance of slum housing. A woman who had lived in the houses wrote that local people claimed to have seen a Roman soldier in their back yards. But this report is uncorroborated and as far as I know nothing has been seen for decades.

However, the appearances of Roman ghosts in more than one place over a period of time indicates that we are dealing with a genuine phenomenon  rather than an hallucination or a lie. People who don't know each other cannot conspire in a lie. 

Hadrian's Wall.

Hadrian's Wall was born of conquest and resistance.Now a much loved national monument, it  was a scene of much violence.Ghosts are associated with it, two in particular standing [or rather floating]  out. 

The area of the wall is famed for its dark night skies, so Stuart Murray, an amateur photographer, went with friends one night to photograph the northern lights. They got a photo, but not what they went for. In the darkness a figure loomed up. At first they thought it a sheep,but there was something not quite right, so they moved to investigate, only to find that soundlessly the figure had disappeared. Take  a look at the photo in this link.

It appeared in one camera shot and shows a crested figure with a shield shaped like a legionary scutum, though a little too small for a legionary shield.  But there is an anomaly, for the figure has its shield on the left arm, whereas the Roman legionaries bore it on the right.  The figure is clearly illuminated from some source. A horizon is faintly visible in the background. This figure is probably not faked, but it does not show a Roman legionary, though it might show one of the foederati. As the forts on the wall continued to be homes to garrison troops and their families long after the legions left, the figure could date from the  post-Roman period.

The wall contains forts separated by milecastles, with turrets for four troops in between. The fortifications are said to be sites of paranormal activity. One such site is Milecastle 42, Cawfields, where a soldier appears floating above ground, his feet at the height to which the wall used to reach, sixteen feet to be precise. He has been seen so often that he has been given a name and a legend has developed around him. Read the following link, but don't believe the legend.

Arbeia, a partly reconstructed fort in the coastal town of South Shields, has been the scene of sightings of Roman troops. Some sightings have been in the Lookout Inn near the fort.

The forts were places where men lived in fear of attack and often suffered violent deaths from rebellious Britons and marauding Picts. In such places many people died unhappy deaths. Small wonder then that paranormal activity occurs there. I will use their own language, Latin,  "Requiescant in Pace" [Let them rest in peace.]


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Updated: 02/19/2020, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 07/21/2022

To my knowledge there have been no hauntings attributable to foederati families.

DerdriuMarriner on 07/20/2022

It's particularly intriguing in your third paragraph, under the subheading Hadrian's Wall, where you remind us of the wall forts as serving as continued homes for the foederati and their families after Roman legions were withdrawn.

Would there happen to be any hauntings that appear to be conducted by, or involving, foederati families?

frankbeswick on 03/05/2020

I believe her, because the sighting fits into a common, well-known pattern.

The trouble with stone tape is that stone is everywhere, so why does it only record in a few places? Electricity might play a part, but what? I must reiterate what I said previously, we do not really understand the world around us, and we don't fully grasp our own human nature.

Veronica on 03/05/2020

Indeed but I think that lots of these Roman sightings which are located near stone may be connected to Stone Tape theory and natural electricity.

What do you think about my friend's roman ghost experience?

frankbeswick on 03/05/2020

I did not invent the stone tape theory, but I know it. The truth is that if anyone says that we know how the world works he is deluding himself. And we don't fully understand what happens in the afterlife. From Christ we got promise of eternal life, but no comprehensive theory.

Veronica on 03/05/2020

Big Bro,
My friend was driving up to Durham a few years ago and ahead of her approaching from the left through a field was a Roman soldier. She abruptly applied the brakes and watched him march across the road ahead of her into the field on the other side of the road where he promptly disappeared. He was in full rig and at first she had thought he must be coming home or going to an event day. But he disappeared.

She is a highly intelligent, non fanciful PhD in History and also Theology. She wasn't imagining or making this up. It really happened. She has never forgotten it. I told her about your " stone tape theory "

Veronica on 02/21/2020

love it . great article

frankbeswick on 02/20/2020

I suspected that what you say is the case, but I thought that time distortions needed to be mentioned, as some people believe in them. The universe is a strange place, stranger than we know and maybe stranger than we can ever know.

blackspanielgallery on 02/19/2020

I am familiar with space warp and with time dilation, but time warp other than being part of the time-space continuum eludes me, so I looked. I find no real time warp, although the current modern ideas change rapidly. Even if it would be a topic, time does not flow in the negative direction, so I doubt time warp could be satisfactory.

frankbeswick on 02/19/2020

I don't think that there was any solid substance to the apparition, any more than a thought of a metallic object is metal. It is conceivable that what we experiencing in some instances is thoughts that survive either despite their thinker's death or in their spirit. Or are we getting brief glimpses through a distortion in time?This could explain the animal ghost

Memory traces could explain why some ghosts are non-interactive. We are not there for them and anyway we are not dealing with persons, just thoughts.

Having looked at the ghost image I did not think it a reflection, for I discerned a vague face and the shield arm was to the left of it. .

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