NGRef: NY704667
OSMap: Hadrian's Wall, OL43, LR87.
Type: Wall Fort, Minor Settlement, Cemeteries, Marching Camps.
Roads
Wall: E (5½) to Vercovicivm (Housesteads, Northumberland)
Stanegate: E (4½) to Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland)
Stanegate / Wall: W (3¼ / 2¾) to Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland)

Aesica - ?

This fort appears in the Notitia Dignitatum between the entries for Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland) and Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland), where the name appears Aesica. For the full N.D. entry see below. The fort also appears in the Ravenna Cosmography as Esica (R&C#150), between the entries for Vercovicium (Housesteads, Northumberland) and Banna (Birdoswald, Cumbria).

The Greatchesters Fort

Aesica
Plan of Aesica (Greatchesters) Adapted from
Hadrian's Wall in the Days of the Romans
by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham.

This small infantry fort has its long axis directed along the line of the wall facing east to guard the Caw Gap, like the fort at Housesteads in relation to the Knag Burn further east, although Vercovicium is much larger than the Greatchesters fort which covers an area of only about 3 acres (c.1.2 ha). The siting of a garrison on the Wall here was obviously an afterthought, for under the north-west corner of the fort lie the footings of Mile-Castle 43, which had to be levelled in order to accomodate the fort's interior buildings.

The site is notable in that the 'broad wall' foundations were laid-down before it was decided to build the Wall here in a narrower gauge, but, unlike eslewhere, the 'narrow wall' at Greatchesters was constructed on new footings immediately behind the broad foundations, which were perhaps prepared the previous season. The narrow wall was later to form the northern defences of the Aesica fort.

The defences are notable in that there are four external ditches on the western side of the fort, whereas the southern and eastern sides were served by only a single ditch; this suggests that the builders of the fort were concerned by the flat approach from the west. On the southern side, it appears that the outer defences interfere with the structure of the Vallum, which was evidently already in place when the fort was built.

Building Inscription of the Emperor Hadrian

IMP CAES TRAIN HADRIANO AVG P P
IMP[eratori] CAES[ari] TRAI[a]N[o] HADRIANO AUG[usto] P[ater] P[atriae]¹
"For Imperator Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus, Father of the Fatherland.¹"
(RIB 1736; dated: AD128-138)
  1. Hadrian took the title Pater Patriae in AD128, therefore, the east gate - and presumably the rest of the fort - must have been built sometime after this date.

The fort was excavated in 1897 and a number of the interior buildings were uncovered; most of the principia (headquarters building), the praetorium (commanding officer's house), a horraeum (grain-store), and some of the centuriae (barrack-blocks). The west gate is of particular note, as it shows evidence of successive narrowings of the gateway during the entire period of occupation, until it was eventually blocked off completely. The eastern gate-house yielded an inscription which proves that the fort was built during the latter reign of Hadrian (vide supra), while another inscription tells us that the building work was possibly undertaken by the men of Legio XX Valeria Victrix, who were stationed at Chester during the winter months, but each summer during the reign of Hadrian at least, would be found working on the entrenchments and fortifications of the Wall (vide infra).

The Epigraphy of Aesica

There are thirty-one inscribed stones recorded in the R.I.B. for Great Chesters, comprising; eleven altarstones and a statue base dedicated to various gods, six building inscriptions (only three dateable), seven tombstones and six other undefined stones including the distance marker XLVIII "Forty-eight" (RIB 1748) which recorded the building of a length of rampart wall.

The Dateable Inscriptions

RIB #
(clickable)
DateDescription
1725AD127-150?Altar to Jupiter by Leg XX Valeria Victrix
1736AD128-138B.I. of the emperor Hadrian
1737AD166-169B.I. of Antonine and Julius Verus by Coh VI Raetorum
1738AD225B.I. of emperor Severus Alexander by Coh II Asturum
1751AD238-244fragmentary inscription to one of the Gordian emperors

Five of the recorded inscriptions can be dated, but only a single stone with any accuracy, indeed, two of these stones are only tentatively dated at best, including the heavily-damaged building slab RIB 1751, inscribed ...V ...GORD... ...PROVINCIAM REGENTE ...C... "[...] Gordianus [...] the province they will rule [...]". This stone can be dated somewhere between January AD238 when the former governor of Africa, Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus, was proclaimed emperor by the imperial bodyguard following the suicide of Maximinus Thrax at Carthage, and February 244 when the young emperor Gordian III was murdered by his own praetorian commander Philip the Arab in Mesopotamia.

The Garrison Units

I O M DOLICENO LVCIVS MAXIMIVS GAETVLICVS > LEG XX V V VSLM
"To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, Lucius Maximius Gaetulicus, centurion in the Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1725; altarstone; dated: c.AD127-150?)
  1. The inscription AE 1985.735 erected by the same man in AD184 states that his date of enlistment with the Twentieth was 127.
D M S NIGRINAE VIX A XXXX AVR CASITTO > LEG VI VIC P F C
"To the sacred shades of the departed Nigrina, who lived forty years, Aurelius Casitto, centurion in the Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful, attended to [this memorial]."
(RIB 1746; tombstone)
I O M ... GALOR ...N...
"For Jupiter Best and Greatest [...] of Gauls [...]"
(RIB 1727; altarstone)
RIB1731
VICTORIAE AVG COH VI(I)¹
NERVIORVM CVI PRAEEST G
IVL BARBARVS PRAEFEC V S L M
"To August Victory, the Sixth¹ Nervian Cohort
under the command of the prefect Gaius Julius
Barbarus, willingly and deservedly fulfill a vow."
(RIB 1731; statue base)
  1. The numeral VII appears on the stone but it is thought that this is an error on behalf of the Roman mason.

The early second century garrison was Cohors VI Nerviorum, a five-hundred strong infantry unit from the region of modern Belgium, who are attested on an inscription found in the Headquarters building in the centre of the fort. This unit was removed in the late second century and posted to Rough Castle on the Antonine Wall in Scotland.

IMP CAESARIBVS ANTONINO ET VERO AVGVSTIS PARTHICIS MEDICIS ARMEN IACIS COH VI RAETORVM ... ...MISIA ..CCI.. ET ... ...IAT ...
"For their emperors, the Caesars Antoninus and Verus, the Augusti of Parthia, Media and Armenia, the Sixth Cohort of Raetians [...]"
(RIB 1737; dated: AD166-169)

The late second century garrison was Cohors VI Raetorum, who are attested on an inscription recorded during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD166-169). This five-hundred strong infantry unit was one of only eight known to have been recruited from amongst the Celtic tribes of Raetia (modern Switzerland).

DAE FORTV VEXS G RETOQVORVM CVRAM AGIT TABELLIVS VICTOR >
"For the Goddess Fortune, the detachments of Gaesatians and Raetians have undertaken this under the management of Tabellius Victor the centurion."
(RIB 1724; altarstone)

In the late 3rd century the garrison was reinforced by the inclusion of Vexillatio Gaesatorum Raetorum, an irregular detachment of Celtic spearmen from Raetia (modern Switzerland). The unit is attested on an inscription found at the fort (RIB 1724; not shown), the only evidence for the existence of this regiment in Britain.

It is possible that Cohors I Pannoniorum were stationed at Greatchesters sometime during its early history, as a tombstone belonging to a soldier of this unit was found in Mile-Castle 42 nearby (vide RIB 1667). The tombstone had been cut into a rough circular shape and was being used by the soldiers in the Mile Castle as a hearth stone. The inscription is missing the numeral associated with the unit, but the First Pannonian Cohort is assumed.

IMP CAES M AVR SEVERVS ALEXANDER P FEL AVG HORREVM VETVSTATE CONLABSVM MIL COH II ASTVRVM S A A SOLO RESTITVERVNT PROVINCIA REGENTE ... MAXIMO LEG AVG PR PR CVR VAL MARTIALE > LEG ... FVSCO II ET DEXTRO COS
"For Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Pius Felix Augustus,¹ the Second Cohort of Asturians, Severus Alexander's Own, restored from it's foundations this granary, which had collapsed through old-age, when the province was governed by [...] Maximus,² legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power, under the direction of Valerius Martialis, centurion of Legion [...] when Fuscus, for the second time, and Dexter were consuls.³"
(RIB 1738; restored inscription; dated: AD225)
  1. Severus Alexander became emperor in March AD222 when his adoptive father Elagabalus was hacked to death in the Castra Praetoria at Rome, and ruled until his own untimely death at the hands of his trusted praetorian commander Philip the Arab in March 235.
  2. The governor Maximus is known only from this single inscription.
  3. Tiberius Manilius Fuscus and Sergius Calpurnius Domitius Dexter were ordinary consuls for AD255 (a.u.c. 978).

During the third century the garrison unit was Cohors II Asturum Equitata, a five-hundred strong mixed unit of cavalry and infantry, from the Astures tribe of Northen Spain. Their presence is recorded on a building inscription claiming credit for rebuilding the granary in the fort. The unit is also mentioned as the garrison of Aesica in the Notitia Dignitatum, but recorded with the numeral I (primae), which is probably an error.

Tribunus cohortis primae Asturum, Aesica
"The tribune of the First Cohort of Asturians at Aesica"
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.42; 4th/5th C.)

The Gods of Roman Greatchesters

DISCIPVLINAE
"For Discipline."
(RIB 1723; altarstone)

There are a dozen altars and votive stones recorded for Great Chesters; three altarstones to Jupiter (RIB 1725 - 1727) and another three to the Germanic god Vheterus (RIB 1728 - 1730), single altarstones to Discipline (RIB 1723) and the goddess Fortuna (RIB 1724), another inscribed simply DEO or "For the God" (RIB 1732; altarstone), a statue base dedicated to Victoria (RIB 1731), and another two damaged altarstones to unknown gods (RIB 1733/4; not shown).

Altar of Jupiter Best and Greatest

I O M D ... SABINI FIL ...INA REGVLVS ... PVBL...
"For Iupitter Optimus Maximus of Doliche, the son of Sabinus [...]ina Regulus [...] publicanus¹ [...]"
(RIB 1726; altarstone)
  1. The publicani were the contractors for public works, also the collectors of Roman taxes.

Three Altarstones to the Germanic Warrior Triad Vheterus

DEO VETIRI V DIBVS VETERIBVS POSSIT ROMANA DIBVS VETERIBVS
"For the god Vetirus, an offering." "For the Veterian Gods. Placed by Romana." "To the Veterian Gods."
(RIB 1728) (RIB 1729) (RIB 1730)

The Vicus and Bath House

The civil settlement or vicus occupied the area to the immediate south and west of the fort. A burial ground has been identified about ¼ mile (0.4km) along the road south to the Stanegate. Excavations here revealed a hoard of jewelry dated on stylistic grounds to the third-century and including a guilded bronze brooch, a silver collar pendant and a gold ring. Replicas of these objects are on display in the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle.

Tombstone of Aelius Mercurialis

D M
AEL • MERCV
RIALI CORNICVL
VACIA • SOROR
FECIT
Dis Manibus
Aelius Mercurialis
cornicularius
Vacia soror
fecit.
"To the shades of the departed
Aelius Mercurialis,
the Regimental Secretary,¹
[Aelia] Vacia [his] sister²
has made [this]."
(RIB 1742; tombstone)
  1. Possibly of the Second Cohort of Asturians. For the duties of a Cornicularius, see the RBO Roman Military Glossary.
  2. This woman evidently lived near her brother, perhaps in the civil settlement attached to the Greatchesters fort. It is possible that their father was a former soldier from the local garrison who married a British woman and settled down in the Aesica vicus following his retirement from the army. Whatever their family history, Mercurialis died whilst in service to be mourned by his sole surviving relative, his sister Aelia Vacia.

Some More Greatchesters Tombstones

DIS MANIB L NOVELL LANVCCVS C R AN LXX NOVEL IVSTINA FIL F C
"To the shades of the departed Lucius Novell[ius?] Lanuccus, citizen of Rome, seventy years old, Novel[ia?] Justina his daughter attended to the making [of this memorial]."
(RIB 1743; tombstone)
DIS M PERVICAE FILIAE
"For the shades of the departed Pervica, her sister [made this]."
(RIB 1747; tombstone)
D M AVRELIAE CAVLAE AVRELIA S...ILLA SORORI CARISSIME VIXIT AN XV MS IIII
"To the shades of the departed Aurelia Caula, Aurelia S[cint]illa¹ [made this] for a most-loveley sister, who lived for fifteen years and four months."
(RIB 1745; tombstone)
  1. The restoration of the bereaved sister's second name is based solely on the fact that it fits. The name means 'spark'.

The Greatchesters Bath-house

There is a bath-house situated about one hundred yards to the south-east of the fort which was supplied with water via an aqueduct from the headwaters of Caw Burn just over two miles distant from the fort. The aqueduct is in the form of a shallow channel, which winds a tortuous path for over six miles following the contours of the land. The remains of a glazed window about 5 feet high by 4 feet wide were found in one of the apses of the bath-house caldarium, evidenced by broken glass en situ and more found on the floor within the building. The sill started about one foot from the interior floor-level, and was 4 feet wide on the inside, narrowing to 3 feet at the outer wall, where the window was placed.

Aesica Today

Greatchesters Roman Fort and Settlement
Admission Free Car Parking
Almost the entire circuit of the defences can be viewed, apart from the north-eastern corner which is obscured by modern farm buildings, and the eastern ramparts which have been levelled by farmers across the ages. The vaulted roof of the strong-room in the headquarters building was uncovered during excavations in 1893 and is still visible.

Aesica Bibliography

See: Hadrian's Wall From the Air by G.D.B. Jones & D.J. Woolliscroft (Tempus, Stroud, 2001);
Hadrian's Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
Hadrian's Wall in the Days of the Romans by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham (Newcastle, 1984) pp.172-179;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own. Togodumnus

Aesica Related Lynx