Archaeologists have made a remarkable discovery at Milecastle 46 on Hadrian’s Wall—an ancient Roman steelyard beam. This small fortlet, once located near the village of Greenhead in Northumberland, England, served as a crucial junction point where three major Roman roads intersected: the Stanegate, the Maiden Way, and the Military Road.
Recent excavations, conducted as part of a 5-year project by the Vindolanda Trust to study Magna and its surrounding landscape, have shed new light on the historical significance of this location. Supported by a generous grant of £1.625m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project aims to explore the mysteries of Magna and the adjacent areas.
The steelyard beam, crafted from copper alloy, dates back to the Roman period and measures approximately 22 cm. It features a decorative integral central fulcrum hole designed to accommodate a suspension chain. One end of the beam exhibits a typical triple bevel design with a suspension hole, allowing for the hanging of a weighing pan with chains. On the other end, counterweights were used to create an official balance for weighing goods.
A distinctive feature of this steelyard is the presence of eleven evenly spaced, tiny circular silver inset points, set 10mm apart, used as markers for moving the measuring weights along the arm. This portable weighing instrument likely played a crucial role for proficient Roman tax officials, traders, or merchants who conducted trade transactions at the milecastle.
Milecastle 46’s strategic positioning made it an ideal spot for tax collection and control, as it facilitated efficient access to the northern regions beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Roman authorities used trading posts like this to tax goods entering and leaving the borders of the Empire, contributing to potentially lucrative trade activity. Both the Roman army and the Emperor benefitted from this thriving commerce.
During the later Roman period, significant trade involved sending cut silver and glass artifacts northward out of the empire to gain the loyalty of northern tribes. However, this practice might have unintentionally contributed to an increase in raids from beyond the frontier into the province of Britannia.
The discovery of the Roman steelyard beam at Milecastle 46 provides valuable insights into the ancient trading practices, tax collection strategies, and the historical importance of Hadrian’s Wall as a vibrant center of commerce and control during the Roman era. As archaeologists continue to unravel the secrets of this ancient site, we gain a deeper understanding of Britannia’s past and the interconnectedness of its various regions.
Header Image Credit : The Vindolanda Trust