Quantifying cereal cultivation and processing in the north-western Roman Empire

My new project, entitled Quantifying cereal cultivation and processing in the north-western Roman Empire, will investigate the cultivation and processing of cereals. The study of the Roman agricultural economy has been heavily focused on the production of olives and vines, with limited consideration of cereals. Studies that have incorporated arable farming, tend to be reliant on the work of Roman agronomists, rather than archaeobotanical evidence.

This project aims to focus on two aspects of the past Roman agricultural economy: labour and scale. First, through an application of stable isotope and weed ecology analysis to archaeological plant remains, and second, by establishing a corpus of corn-drying ovens from the north-western provinces. Together, these will develop a new understanding of the scale, intensity and organisation of the arable economy in the north-western Roman world.

Cereal cultivation practices in Iron Age and Roman Britain

First, how cereals were cultivated will be established through the application of crop stable isotope and weed ecology analysis to archaeological charred plant remains. Traditional approaches of crop and weed analysis, which infer farming practices from the conditions that these plants grow in today, will be used alongside isotope analysis. The manuring of cereal crops elevates the proportion of the 15N isotope, thus providing direct evidence for the field conditions in which the crops were grown in. These techniques will identify whether cereals were produced through intensive (high inputs of labour, manure and capital per unit of area, low output per capita) or extensive (low inputs per unit of area, high output per capita) cultivation practices, and therefore establish the intensity of agricultural labour at different settlements throughout the north-western Roman world.

The investigation of the intensity of arable farming, through crop stable isotope and weed ecology analysis, will be conducted initially in Roman Britain, where a series of large assemblages of charred cereal grains from burnt-down granaries have been identified from several towns (London, Verulamium) and forts (Ribchester, South Shields). Cereals will also be analysed from key regions of arable farming: Iron Age and Roman phases of settlements on the Hampshire downs (Danebury environs) and the Nene Valley (Stanwick villa).

Quantifying cereal processing in Roman Britain

Corn-drying ovens (or grain-drying ovens) are one of the most common structures on Roman rural settlements in Britain and beyond, but their function and spread remains poorly understood. This project aims to produce a database of corn-drying ovens across the north-western Roman empire, in order to use these agricultural processing structures as a proxy for the scale of cereal processing. This will entail an examination of the function of these structures – whether for malt production, cereal drying, or cereal parching, and a consideration of the technological innovations.


Lodwick, L. (2017). Arable farming, plant foods, and resources. In M. Allen, L. Lodwick, T. Brindle, M. Fulford, & A. Smith (Eds.), The Rural Economy of Roman Britain: Farming, Industry, Transport and Markets (pp. 11–84). London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. Britannia Monograph Series No. 30.

Late Antique Jarash Project

I am the archaeobotanist on the Late Antique Jarash Project, directed by Dr Louise Blanke.