What is a Robber Trench?; Roman Dodecahedron; Castra Martis, Bulgaria.

What is a Robber Trench?

A robber trench is a mark or stain in the ground where archaeological remains have been removed -or robbed – away. Old buildings were used as a source of free building material, and this was especially common in Medieval and Roman times.

When buildings go out of use their foundations are usually buried and the above ground material is either left where it is or taken away to be used in other buildings. In some areas building material is very valuable and this is why some people in the past robbed away the foundations that were in the ground.

89 The Mount York © Archaeological Planning Consultancy Ltd 2004
89 The Mount York
© Archaeological Planning Consultancy Ltd 2004

When the foundations of the building have been dug out and carried away it leaves a mark in the ground. This comes from either earth being placed in the hole after the building material has been removed, or from natural causes when the hole has been left open and soil, leaves, and plants etc have settled. In either case, the stratigraphy has been disturbed and this results in a change in soil colour,which years later is seen as a stain in the ground.

Archaeologists have to be really careful when excavating, to notice and changes in the soil, especially when they know, from their research, that a building once stood at, or near, the area where they are digging.


Archaeology Wow!! –  Roman Dodecahedron

The Roman Dodechahedron is a hollow object that has been found throughout Europe (Wales, Hungary, France, Germany and Switzerland) which has historians and archaeologists really puzzled!

Roman Dodecahedron ©Wiki Commons
Roman Dodecahedron
©Wiki Commons

The objects are made either of stone or bronze, measure 4-11 cm in size and have 12 flat pentagonal faces. On each face there is a central hole which is paired in size to the opposite face. There are 6 different size holes altogether. Small balls are located on each vertices (20 in total) which enables the Dodechahedron  to stand on any side.

The items have been dated by stratigraphy to the 2nd and 3rd centuries and in total 100 have been found to date. They are not mentioned in any of the historical sources, either in writings or illustrations, and no one knows what the were used for!

There are many possibilities that have been suggested for its use and function including

  • A dice
  • Survey instrument
  • Candlestick holders
  • Gauges to calibrate water-pipes
  • Army Standard bases
  • Religious artefact.

Another suggestion has been put forward following the discovery of a Dodechahedron in Switzerland. This one was slightly different in that in its center was a silver covered lead core with the signs of the zodiac inscribed upon it. Some now believe that the 12 sides represented the 12 months of the year.

Whatever it was used for,or represented, the Roman Dodechahedron is a beautiful artefact and I am sure will keep people guessing for many years to come!!



Archaeological Site Guide – Castra Martis, Bulgaria.

Castra Martis is the remains of a Roman Fort in Bulgaria. It once stood within the Roman province of Dacia ripensis and was constructed in the 3-4th century, possibly by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The fort guarded the main road from Naissus to Bononia, through the Vrashka Pass, in the Balkan Mountains.

The site was not large and it only had a small garrison. It measured 40 x 40 m square and had corner towers that measured 12.5 m in diameter. Internally there were just two barrack blocks, and a Roman Bath house stood just outside the fort to the north west.

Castra Martis 1 ©Wiki Commons
Castra Martis 1
©Wiki Commons

In 408 AD the fort was attacked by the Huns and Sciri under the command of a Hun named Uldin, who had previously been an ally of Rome. He attacked and took the fort, killing its garrison. His victory did not last long as the Romans soon counter-attacked and re-took the fort. They improved its defences and also those of all their other forts along the Danube River, including Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).

Castra Martis  ©Wiki Commons
Castra Martis
©Wiki Commons

The fort was later restored by the Byzantine Emperor Lustinianus (527 – 565) however, it was further attacked in 586/587 by the Eurasian Avars and then abandoned. In the 13/14th century it was partially restored but today remains the focus point at the center of the town of Kula.


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