Why are there so few - if any - sightings of ghosts of Ice Age hunters or other prehistoric peoples in the UK? Come to think of it, I'm not aware of a plethora of Anglo-Saxon reports either. The range of what Owen Davies - in his academic study The Haunted (see below) - calls 'heritage hauntings' was supplemented in more recent years by those of Romans: usually military figures and unusually in groups (legions) rather than a single ghost. Another interesting aspect is that there seems to be a disproportionate number of these 'centurions' and 'legionaries' sighted, compared with everyday Roman or Romano-British inhabitants of these isles. The variety of Roman military equipment for identification can be referenced here for example.
While reading a Christmas present, Haunted Places of Sussex, I came across this account from Chichester, known to the Romans as Noviomagus, a walled settlement on Stane Street - the plan of the city still reflects that of the Roman street pattern. Incidentally it also is the home of one of my favourite art galleries Pallant House. At 38 Wood Street there has been a public house since the 1780s, from 1992 named The Chichester - the building stands very close to the city's ancient walls. According to the book:
'It has long been claimed that the ghost of a Roman centurion still patrols the old walls and that his passage takes him straight through the pub. If the ghost does date from Roman times it seems more likely that he was a legionary, since a centurion was a senior soldier, a commander - but people have always called him a centurion and so it is pointless to quibble. The patrolling spectre has been seen by many people while others have felt him brush past. The whole figure is not in view, only the top half. This could be explained by different ground levels since Roman times.' Judy Middleton Haunted Places of Sussex (2005) pp.13-14
Probably the most famous sighting of a Roman 'legion' was made by Harry Martindale in the cellar of the Treasurer's House in York in 1953, but not recorded in print until 1972. See here. It also includes the detail of the figures being at a lower ground level.
Another celebrated ghost of a Roman 'centurion' is said to patrol the Strood (pronounced Strode) a causeway that links Mersea Island with mainland Essex to the south of Colchester. The Rev Sabine Baring Gould was the first - in 1904 - to record the local belief that the ghost could be seen at certain times of the year, especially on the night of the autumn equinox, around 23 September. He also notes that the 'ring of swords and the clang of armour' could sometimes be heard at the spot. (Westwood and Simpson Lore of the Land 269-272).
James Wentworth Day - mentioned here in previous posts - wrote that he was told about the centurion by Mrs Jane Pullen, landlady of the ancient Peldon Rose inn. She told him that she was accompanied on a walk from Barrow Hill on the island: 'The steady tramp of a man's feet, like it was a soldier marching, and he caught up with me and walked all the way down to the Strood. I could see no one, yet the feet were close beside me, as near as I could have touched him. I walked down the hill till I came on a man I knew. He was all a-tremble. He shook like a leaf. "I can hear him," he said, "but where is he? I can't see anyone." "Keep all along of me," I said to the man, "and no harm will come to you. 'Tis only one of those old Romans come out of the barrow to take his walk." (J Wentworth Day Ghosts & Witches 44-47).
In 1962 a man was digging in one of the burial mounds at Barrow Hills, when the ground gave way and he fell into a hollowed-out chamber. Archaeologists later discovered some Roman artefacts and an urn containing human ashes - the fabled centurion? At some unspecified date after this two naval officers driving over the causeway at night saw in the headlights a figure wearing a helmet and metal plates. When they stopped the car and got out there was nobody to be seen. (Westwood & Simpson ibid)
There is evidence of pre-Roman and Roman occupation of the island.
It seems that stories of Roman ghosts do not pre-date the 20th century. According to Owen Davies:
'The most recent addition to the corpus of heritage hauntings is also the most venerable - the roman [sic] legionnaire [sic]. A search on the internet reveals numerous sightings in diverse places such as London, Derby, the Isle of Wight and an old Roman road near Weymouth. Some readers will be familiar with a well-known case of a troop of soldiers seen by a plumber working in a York cellar in 1953. However, such sightings are a modern phenomenon, with almost all of them dating to the last fifty years. The earliest reports I have found concern a Roman centurion seen patrolling the Strood, Mersea Island, which was first recorded in 1904 and a ghostly Roman army that marched on certain nights along Bindon Hill, Dorset, to their camp on Ring's Hill during the 1930s. Distinguishing between the ghost of a Bronze Age warrior and an Iron Age one would be the task of an archaeologist, but thanks to "Swords and Sandals" film epics and the inclusion of the Roman invasion in the curricula, the dress of the Roman soldier has become as recognisable as that of a monk or cavalier. Clothes truly make the ghost.' (Owen Davies The Haunted p.42)
'It's a very odd fact', Dr Porter the materialist interposed musingly, 'that the only ghosts people ever see are the ghosts of a generation very, very close to them. One hears of lots of ghosts in eighteenth-century costumes because everybody has a clear idea of wigs and small-clothes from pictures and fancy dresses. One hears of far fewer in Elizabethan dress, because the class most given to beholding ghosts are seldom acquainted with ruffs and farthingales; and one meets with none at all in Anglo-Saxon or Ancient British or Roman costumes, because those are only known to a comparatively small class of learned people, and ghosts, as a rule, avoid the learned ... as they would avoid prussic acid. Millions of ghosts of remote antiquity must swarm about the world, though, after a hundred years or thereabouts, they retire into obscurity and cease to annoy people with their nasty cold shivers. But the queer thing about these long-barrow ghosts is that they must be the spirits of men and women who died thousands and thousands of years ago, which is exceptional longevity for a spiritual being don't you think so ..?'