Flora and fauna of Roman Britain, a living legacy
Rome’s contribution to Britain’s ecology is considered as a living legacy and the continued presence of flora and fauna in the landscape keep that legacy alive. Plants and animals can be a more enduring inheritance than the scattered remains of Roman forts and other structures. However, there have been many claims in popular books, websites, newspaper articles, cooking and gardening magazines as to what were Roman introductions. This list includes fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, flowers, birds and mammals. It has been said rabbits followed the Romans from Spain to other parts of the Roman world but, as with many of these claims, studies have been too fragmented for this to be certain. In terms of plants, much of the archaeological research on agricultural developments has focused on the methods used rather than what species were actually cultivated.
The living legacy is not always that clear. Archaeological evidence of the presence of fig seeds points to the consumption of the fruit but cannot be assumed to be proof that they were cultivated in Britain. Other possible introductions such as the brown hare are difficult to prove because of the lack of information on whether the species was absent in pre-Roman times. There is evidence that not all Roman introductions were welcome ones as well. Species such as the black rat, the granary weevil, saw-toothed grain beetle and dark mealworm are rarely mentioned as part of this legacy.
Archaeological records of plants and animals have provided us with a good resource for establishing Rome’s ecological impact on Britain and those of you who would like to read more about a recent study by Witcher 2013 see the link below. It has an interesting table of some of the species that the Roman’s may have introduced.