High Rochester: Mars and Hercules

Inscription from High Rochester, Great North Museum © David Gill

The fort at High Rochester (Bremenium) in Northumberland was one of the most northerly outposts of the Roman Empire. The inscription, now in the Great North Museum, was discovered near to the east gate of the fort c. 1776 (RIB 1284). It was then displayed in Alnwick Castle.

The Latin text records work by a unit, vexillatio, of the 20th Legion Valeria Victrix. The inscription is flanked by figures of Mars and Hercules. Below appears to be a boar, the emblem of the legion.

A building inscription for a vexillatio of the 6th Legion Pia Fidelis is also known from the site (RIB 1283).

These two units may have been posted here, not necessarily simultaneously, to reinforce the northern frontier.

Chesters Roman Fort and Clayton Museum

2016 (rev. 2nd ed.)

English Heritage has produced an updated version of its guidebook to Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall (for earlier guides see here). This and the earlier guide are by Nick Hodgson. The coverage has grown from 40 pages to 48 pages plus the material inside the covers. There are some changes to the illustrations.

The main new section is on the Clayton Museum with sections on the Antiquarian Display; The Collection; Coventina’s Well (see here); The Corvoran Modius.

The new guide, like the old, illustrates the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and asserts the find-spot rather than inserting the phrase ‘said to be’ at the appropriate place.

Pevensey Castle: signage

Pevensey Castle © David Gill

Pevensey Castle was given to the Office of Works by the Duke of Devonshire in 1925. It became one of the front line defences of Britain in 1940.

Pevensey Castle was one of the Saxon Shore forts and was later reused as a medieval castle.

For guidebooks to the fort and castle see here.

Vindolanda: the military bath-house

Military bath-house, Vindolanda during conservation © David Gill

The military bath-house at Vindolanda lies on the northern side of the excavated vicus outside the west gate of the fort. The bath-house was one of the first structures to be excavated by the Vindolanda Trust as it was felt that it would provide visitors with something to see and therefore would generate income for the site. This was undertaken over two seasons in 1970 and 1971.

This view from the mid 1970s shows the view across the bath-house looking south towards the replica stretches of the stone and turf walls. Note the placing of a seat within the bath complex to allow visitors to look across the excavations. The conservation was undertaken by a team from the Department of the Environment.

This same view, some 40 years later, shows the present display of the bath-house taken from the viewing platform. Note how the grass has been replaced with gravel.

Military bath-house, Vindolanda © David Gill

Hadrian’s Wall: Milecastle 39

Hadrian’s Wall, Castle Nick (MC39) © David Gill

Milecastle 39 at Castle Nick lies to the west of the Roman fort at Housesteads. This photograph was taken in the early 1980s, prior to the excavations in 1985-87. The internal buildings have since been uncovered, and Hadrian’s Wall to the east has now been conserved and restored. Notice the makeshift ramp in the north-east corner of the milecastle providing access to the wall itself. The spoil heaps on the east and west sides of the milecastle have now been removed. The path has been moved away from the line of the wall.

Roman inscription at Haddon Hall

Inscription at Haddon Hall © David Gill

A Roman altar is displayed in the porch of Haddon Hall, near Bakewell in Derbyshire (RIB 278). It is reported to have been found prior to 1695 (its first known mention in Camden’s Britannia) by the river in the grounds of the hall.

The altar is dedicated to Mars Braciaca by Q. Sittius Caecilianus, prefect of the First Aquitanian cohort.

The same unit is attested at Brough on Noe (Navio; near Castleton, Derbyshire) c. AD 158, during the reign of Antoninus Pius and the governorship of Iulius Verus (RIB 283). Prior to this (probably during the governorship of Sextus Iulius Severus, c. 130) the unit seems to have been located at Carrawburgh on the line of Hadrian’s Wall (RIB 1550).

Anthony Birley has suggested that the Sittii family could be from the area of Cirta in Africa, and that Caecilianus “may also be regarded as a Numidian”.

Plan before you build a wall

Hadrian’s War near Gilsland © David Gill

The stretch of Hadrian’s Wall between Poltross Burn (MC48) and Willowford Bridge (below Birdoswald fort) is the most westerly section of the original stone wall. The turf wall started to the west of the river Irthing (and Willowford).

The wall had been planned to have been built to a width of approximately 10 Roman feet, but here it was constructed to a narrower scale of 8 Roman feet (but on the broad wall foundation). It appears that a more modest scheme was adopted to ensure the completion of the project.

Fixed Frontiers

Walltown Crags, Hadrian’s Wall © David Gill

As you stand on the northern edge of the Roman Empire it is hard not to speculate on why Hadrian decided to replace the string of forts along the military road (the Stanegate) to a fixed military frontier. Equally important is the economic cost: of the construction, but then of the garrison and upkeep of the defences. And was it effective? Within a generation the line was abandoned and the frontier moved north to the Antonine Wall.

Cavalryman from Corinium

Tombstone of Sextus Valerius Genialis, Corinium Museum © David Gill

The Corinium Museum contains a particularly find Roman tombstone of a Roman cavalryman, eq(u)es, Sextus Valerius Genialis. It was discovered at Watermoor towards the south-east corner of the (later) Roman town of Cirencester.

The relief shows Genialis riding over a fallen soldier, and aiming his lance downwards. In his left hand he has a hexagonal shield as well as what appears to be a military standard.

The tombstone is dated to the late 1st century or early 2nd century AD.

Tombstone of Sextus Valerius Genialis, Corinium Museum © David Gill

The inscription (RIB 109) reads:

Sextus Valerius Genialis, trooper (eq(u)es) of the Cavalry Regiment of the Thracians, a Frisiavone tribesman, from the troop (turma) of Genialis, aged 40, of 20 years’ service, lies buried here. His heir set this up.

Genialis came from Gallia Belgica. The unit is known to have been in Britain as late as 124, but then transferred to the Rhine.

Tombstone of Sextus Valerius Genialis, Corinium Museum © David Gill

Legio VI on Hadrian’s Wall

Legio VI inscription (inverted) in the Vicar’s Pele, Lanercost Priory © David Gill

A building inscription recording the work of Legio VI is built into the 13th century Vicar’s Pele at Lanercost Priory (RIB 1968), immediately below and to the left of the window. The inscription (incorporated upside down) records:

Leg(io) VI V[ic(trix)]
Pia Fid(elis) [f(ecit)]

It is suggested the stone was originally located on Hadrian’s Wall between Turret 49a and Milecastle 57.

Mann has noted a series of similar inscriptions naming Legio VI. One was observed at Birdoswald around 1599 (RIB 1916). Another comes from Milecastle 50 (High House) on the stone wall (i.e. to the north of Milecastle 50 on the turf wall) just to the west of the fort at Birdoswald (RIB 1934), and two more from Turret 50a (High House) on the Stone Wall (RIB 1938, 1939). Another was built into a farmhouse at Naworth, south of Turret 53a (Hare Hill) (RIB 1966), and another from Lanercost, south of Turret 53b (Craggle Hill) (RIB 1967).

Inscription in the Vicar’s Pele, Lanercost Priory © David Gill

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