OSMap: Hadrian's Wall, OL43, LR87.
Type: Wall Fort, Minor Settlement.
Maiden Way: NNW (6½) to Fanvm Cocidi (Bewcastle, Cumbria)|
Wall: E (3¼) to Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland)
Wall: WSW (7½) to Camboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria)
via Leahill and Banks East
The name of the Birdoswald fort has been in dispute for some considerable time, the argument being compounded by discrepancies in the Roman maps of the period. The name of this fort was either Banna or Camboglanna, depending on which itinerary you used. The name now favoured by Roman historians is Banna, a Celtic word meaning 'peak' or 'horn', related to the Old Welsh word ban and the Old Irish word benn. This topic is discussed further on the RBO page for Castlesteads.
There are sixty-two inscribed stones recorded in the RIB for Birdoswald, comprising: forty-four altars and other votive stones, ten building inscriptions, cohort and centurial stones, four tombstones and four other indesignated texts. These include fifteen inscriptions all dateable to the third century.
|1910||AD198-209||B.I. of emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla|
|1909||AD205-208||B.I. of emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum and Cohors I Thracum|
|1911||AD212-217||altar to emperor Caracalla|
|1892||AD212-222?||altar to I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Antoniniana|
|1914||c.AD219||B.I. of governor Modius Julius by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum|
|1896||AD235-238||altar to I O M D by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum during Maximian's reign|
|1929a||AD235-238||altar to I O M D by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum during Maximian's reign|
|1922||AD236||damaged B.I. erected during the consulship of Maximinus and Africanus|
|1875||AD237||altar to I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum during the consulship of Perpetuus|
|1893||AD238-244||altar to I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Gordiana|
|1883||AD260-268||altar to I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Postumiana|
|1886||AD260-268||altar to I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Postumiana|
|1885||AD271-274||altar to Cocidius and I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Tetricianorum|
|1929b||AD276-282||altar to I O M by Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Probiana|
|1912||AD293-305||B.I. of emperors Diocletian and Maximian|
Among the dateable inscriptions from Birdoswalds is the heavily damaged stone RIB 1922, which reads ...CM... ...IMVS DI... ...ES A SOLO FEC... MAXIMINO ET AFRICANO COS, and was evidently erected during the consulship of Imperator Caesar Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus Augustus and Marcus Pupienius Africanus, who were consules ordinarii for the year AD236, a.u.c.989.
Of the 58 coins recovered from Birdoswald, the majority (51) were recorded during excavations in 1929, the rest (7) are casual finds recorded either in 1860, 1931 or 1934. The coins range from 5 coppers of Trajan (inc. R.I.C. 489) to 3 copper coins dating post-375. The most notable are; 6 of Antoninus Pius (inc. a single R.I.C. 417 silver issue), 3 coppers of Constantinian and 3 of Constantius II also 3 'Fel Temp Reparatio'. Other coins were recovered during excavations 1987-1990 but details are not known.
In 1928 it was found that the Vallum which curves round the southern side of the Birdoswald fort has a circuit which suggests that it was so shaped as to avoid a fort placed on the Wall which was considerably smaller than the later fort whose outline can nowadays be seen. This probably means that the fort was expanded in size sometime after the Vallum was built, during the construction of which, the Vallum appears to have been back-filled. This seems to have occurred very soon after the Vallum was originally completed.
|> CONGAONI CANDIDI P XXX|
|"The century of Congaonius Candidus [has built] thirty feet [of rampart]."|
Although the dimensions of the original cavalry fort at Birdoswald is unknown, the later infantry fort measures some 580 by 400 feet and covered an area of almost 5½ acres. The fort was placed on a prominent ridge looking across the Irthing Gorge towards the Stanegate in the south, and across the Midgeholme Moss to Fanum Cocidi (Bewcastle) in the north. The garrison was placed here to protect the Roman bridge across the River Irthing which lay only half a mile (0.8km) to the east.
|IMPP CAES L SEPTIMIO SEVERO PIO PERTINACI ET M AVREL ANTONIN PIO AVG|
|"For the emperors, Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax [Augustus] and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Augustus.¹"|
|(RIB 1910; dated: AD198-209)|
|PRO SALVTE D N MAXIMI AC FORT IMP CAES M AVREL ANTON P F AVG ..OC ...V...VST ...O AEDIF|
|"For the health of our lord ?maximi ac fort? Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus¹ [...]² erected this altarstone."|
|(RIB 1911; altarstone; dated: AD212-217)|
The first fort in this area was built astride the turf wall and was itself of turf-and-timber construction, intended to house a force of 500 cavalry. By the time the Wall in this area was replaced in stone, the garrison had been changed to a cohort of infantry, and in consequence the Wall was realigned to incorporate the northern defences of the fort, to conform to the usual plan for an infantry fort on the Wall. This divergence from the original line has meant that a section of the original turf wall has been preserved for about 1½ miles (2km) to the west of Birdoswald.
|DD NN DIOCLETIANO ET MAXIMIANO INVICTIS AVGG ET CONSTANTIO ET MAXIMIANIO N N C C SVB V P AVR ARPAGIO PR PRAETOR QVOD ERAT HVMO COPERT ET IN LABE CONL ET PRINC ET BAL REST CVRANT FL MARTINO CENT P P C ...|
|"For our Lords Diocletian and Maximian, the Invincible Augusti, and for Constantius and Maximianus, our most noble Caesars,¹ under his Perfection Aurelius Arpagio the governor,² the commandant's house which was covered in earth and in a ruinous state, also the Headquarters Building and the Bath House,³ were restored under the direction of Flavius Martinus, centurion in command of the Cohort[...]"|
|(RIB 1912; restored inscription; dated: AD297-305)|
A building inscription recovered from the interior of the fort in 1929 records restoration work undertaken at the turn of the fourth century by an unknown unit (vide RIB 1912 supra). This is a very important find because it provides conclusive evidence that the praetorium or commanding officer's house in an auxiliary fort was a separate and distinct entity from the principia or headquarters building.
|LEG II VI VIC P F F|
|"The Second Legion and the Sixth, Loyal and Faithful, have made [this]."|
|I O M COH I AEL DACOR C C A IVL MARCELLINVS > LEG II AVG|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, under the supervision of Aulus Julius Marcellinus, centurion of the Second Augustan Legion."|
|(RIB 1880; altarstone)|
The Second Legion is mentioned on only two stones from Birdoswalds, a building inscription shared with Leg VI Victrix (vide RIB 1916 supra), and on an altar to Iupitter Optimus Maximus dedicated by Coh I Aelia Dacorum and a centurion of the Second (vide RIB 1880 etiam supra). It is probable that centurion Marcellinus was seconded to the Birdoswalds garrison in order to provide initial training or in some other advisory capacity, but the evidence of this altarstone to Jupiter, usually placed by the commander of the regiment, suggests the possibility that Marcellinus was placed in temporary command of the fort and it's garrison unit Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum.
|... V C... L VEREIVS FORTVNATVS > LEG VI ...|
|"[...] Lucius Vereius Fortunatus, centurion of the Sixth Legion [...]"|
|(RIB 1907; altarstone)|
The Sixth Legion receives mention on three stones from Birdoswalds; on a damaged altarstone to an unknown god (vide RIB 1907 supra), on a building inscription shared with Legio II Augusta (vide RIB 1916 etiam supra), and finally, on the tombstone of a soldier (vide RIB 1929c infra).
|D M S G COSSVTIVS SATVRNINVS HIP REG MIL LEG VI VIC P F|
|"To the sacred shades of the departed Gaius Cossutius Saturninus, of Hippo Regius,¹ a soldier of the Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful."|
|(RIB 1929c; tombstone; JRS lii (1962), p.194, no.21)|
The identity of the cavalry regiment which garrisoned the original turf fort is not known, and likewise, the infantry regiment who first occupied the replacement stone fort, although it has been suggested that the latter may have been a detachment of the First Cohort of Tungrians, a one-thousand strong mixed-unit of cavalry and infantry who are known from building inscriptions at Camboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria; vide RIB 1981 et al.). This unit is too large to be housed either at Birdoswalds or the nearby fort at Castlesteads, though it is possible that the unit was divided between these two forts during the Hadrianic period.
|IMPP CAES L SEPT SEVERO PIO PERT ET M AVR ANTONINO AVG ET P SEPT GETAE NOB CAES HORREVM FECER COH I AEL DAC I TRACVM C R SVB ALFENO SENECIONE COS PER AVREL IVLIANVM TR|
|"For the emperors, Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax, and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, and Publius Septimius Geta, noble Caesar,¹ This granary was made by the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians and the First Cohort of Thracians, Citizens of Rome,² under Alfenus Senecio,³ the consular [governor], through [the agency of] the tribune Aurelius Julianus."|
|(RIB 1909; dated: AD205-208)|
The first positively dateable evidence recording the name of a Birdoswald garrison unit is a building inscription recovered from the interior of the fort (RIB 1909, dated: AD205-208), which places Cohors Primae Thracum Civium Romanorum here at the beginning of the third century. This unit was a mixed regiment of infantry and cavalry recruited from amongst the war-like tribes of the Roman province of Thrace (modern Bulgaria). The building inscription is shared with the third-century garrison unit Cohors I Aelia Dacorum and perhaps indicated building repairs conducted immediately prior to the fort changing hands.
|DEO SANCTO SILVANO VENATORES BANNIESS|
|"For the holy god Silvanus, the Hunters of Banna [dedicate this]."|
|(RIB 1905; altarstone)|
An altar to Silvanus the God of the Forest (RIB 1905 supra) uncovered at Birdoswald, was dedicated by a group calling themselves the Venatores Bannienses, or the 'Hunters of Banna'. These men may have been posted to the Birdoswald fort sometime during the fourth century from the neighbouring fort at Castlesteads in Cumbria. Some controversy still exists, however, and is discussed in the RBO page for Camboglanna (Castlesteads).
|SVB MODIO IVLIO
LEG[atus] AVG[usti] PR[o]
PR[aetore] COH[ors] I (primae) AEL[ia] D[a]C[orum]
CVI PRAE[fectu] EST M[arco]
|"Under Modius Julius,¹|
legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power,
the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians (built this),
under the command of the tribune
Marcus Claudius Menander."
|(RIB 1914; dated: c.AD219)|
The third and fourth century garrison of Birdoswald was undoubtedly Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Milliaria, a one-thousand strong infantry regiment from Dacia, a Roman province on the north bank of the Lower Danube. Their presence is confirmed by epigraphic evidence recovered from the interior of the fort itself (vide infra).
|DEO COCIDIO COH I AELIA DACORVM C P TERENTIVS VALERIANVS TRIB VSLM|
|"For the god Cocidius, the First Cohort of Aelian Daci, who are commanded by the tribune Terentius Valerianus, willingly and deservedly fulfill their vow."|
|(RIB 1872; altarstone)|
|SIGNIS ET N AVG COH I AEL DACORVM|
|"For the Standards and the Divine Spirit of the Emperor, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians [made this]."|
|(RIB 1904; statue base)|
|I O M COH I AEL DACORVM QVB PREEST AMMONIVS VICTORINVS TRIB||...TO... COH I DAC QVIB PRAEEST AMM VICTORIN TRIB|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, commanded by the tribune Ammonius Victorinus [made this]."||"[...] the First Cohort of Aelian Daci, who are commanded by the tribune Ammonius Victorinus."|
|(RIB 1874; altarstone)||(RIB 1906; base)|
The unit with the most epigraphic evidence at the Birdoswalds fort is Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum, which is attested on thirty-one inscribed stones out of a total of sixty-two which have been recovered to date. These texts may be broken down as follows; there are twenty-four altars dedicated to Iupitter Optimus Maximus (RIB 1874-1894, 1896, 1929a/b), nine of which can be dated to the third century, two building inscriptions (RIB 1909, dated: AD205-208, shared with Cohors I Thracum; 1914, dated: c.AD219), a statue base dedicated to the 'Standards' (RIB1904), an altar to Cocidius (RIB1872), another altar to an unknown god (RIB1906), a single centurial stone (RIB1918) and the tombstone of a soldier (RIB1921). This evidence all points to extended residence of the unit at the fort over several generations, with sons following in their father's footsteps serving as soldiers in the First Cohort of Dacians.
|> DECI SAX COH I DAC|
|"The century of Decius Sax[us], of the First Cohort of Dacians [built this]."|
|...SPA SEPTIMO VIXIT ANN XXXX MIL XVIII COH I AELIA DACORVM H F C|
|"[To the shades of the departed Hos]pes¹ Septimus, who lived for forty years and served for eighteen in the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians. He lies here."|
|(RIB 1921; tombstone)|
|Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae Dacorum, Amboglanna|
|"The tribune of the First Cohort of Aelian Daci at Amboglanna"|
|(Notitia Dignitatum xl.44; 4th/5th C.)|
In this reference we see that Cohors Primae Dacorum is identified as the late-4th century garrison of Camboglanna, which returns us to the problem outlined at the start of this web-page. There are two solutions here; either the First Cohort of Dacians were moved to the fort at Castlesteads, for which we have no corroborative epigraphic evidence, or there has been a scribal error at sometime in antiquity, perhaps made when making a copy of an earlier master document.
The forty-four altars and other votive stones are mainly dedicated to the martial gods: there are twenty-four dedications to Iupitter Optimus Maximus the chief deity of the Roman pantheon (I O M; RIB 1874-1896 inclusive, and 1929a/b), many of which are dateable and are discussed below, four more altars are devoted to the Roman war god Mars (altarstones RIB 1898-1900; undefined stone 1901) and another two to the Germanic war god Cocidius (RIB 1872; 1885, shared with I O M, dated: AD270-273). There is also a very interesting statue base dedicated to Signis or 'The Standards' (RIB 1904 supra), which proves that the Roman soldiers actually worshipped thier military colours.
|DEO MART CHORTIS PRI AEL DAC V P V CVI TRIB||DEO MARTI AVG ...|
|"To the god Mars, the First Cohort of Aelian Daci have placed this votive offering with their tribune."||"To the god Mars Augustus [...]"|
|(RIB 1898; altarstone)||(RIB 1900; altarstone)|
|MARTI PATRI||DEO MARTI ET VICTOR IAE AVREL MAXIMVS S S S VSLM|
|"To Mars the Father."||"To the god Mars and to Victory, Aurelius Maximus, took up this sacred undertaking himself,¹ willingly and deservedly fulfilling a vow."|
|(RIB 1901)||(RIB 1899; altarstone)|
The long-standing garrison unit of Birdoswalds, Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum, seemingly had the regimental tradition of dedicating a new altar to the god Jupiter Best and Greatest every time a new commander was appointed. The unit also declared itself loyal to the emperor of the time by adopting the emperor's name as a regimental title. A by-product of this is that many of the Birdoswald Jupiter altarstones may be dated.
|I O M COH I AEL DACORVM C P AVRELIVS FASTVS TRIB PERPETVO COS|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians commanded by the tribune Aurelius Fastus, when Perpetuus was consul.¹"|
|(RIB 1875; altarstone; dated: AD237)|
|I O M COH I AEL DAC POSTVMIANAC P MARC GALLICVS TRIB|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Postumus' Own¹ commanded by the tribune Marcus Gallicus."|
|(RIB 1883; altarstone; dated: AD260-268)|
|DEO COCIDIO I O M COH I AEL DAC TETRICIANORVM C P POMPONIVS DESIDERATVS ... TRIB|
|"To the god Cocidius [and] to Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Tetricius' Own¹ commanded by the tribune Pomponius Desideratus [...]"|
|(RIB 1885; altarstone; dated: AD271-274)|
|I O M COH I AEL DACORVM POSTVMIANA C P PROB AVGENDVS TRIB|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Postumus' Own¹ commanded by the tribune Prob[us?] Augendus."|
|(RIB 1886; altarstone; dated: AD260-268)|
|I O M COH I AELIA DAC ANTO|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Antoninus' Own¹"|
|(RIB 1892; altarstone; dated: AD212-217 or 218-222)|
|I O M COH I AEL DAC GORDIANA C PEST ...|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Gordian's Own¹ who are commanded by [...]"|
|(RIB 1893; altarstone; dated: AD238-244)|
|I O M D COH I AEL DAC C P FLAVIVS MAXIMIA TRIB EX EVOC C I PR MAXIMIN|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, commanded by the tribune Flavius Maximianus, upon his recall to service¹ by the request of the invincible Princeps Maximinus.²"|
|(RIB 1896; altarstone; dated: AD235-238)|
|I O M D COH I AEL DAC C P FLAVIVS MAXIMIANVS TRIB EX EVOC C I PR MAXIMIN|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, commanded by the tribune Flavius Maximianus, upon his recall to service¹ by the request of the invincible Princeps Maximinus.²"|
|(RIB 1929a; altarstone; dated: AD235-238; JRS xlvii (1957), p.229, no.17)|
|I O M COH I AEL DACORVM PROBIANA C P AVR VERINVS TRIB|
|"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Aelian Dacians, Probus' Own,¹ commanded by the tribune Aurelius Verinus."|
|(RIB 1929b; altarstone; dated: AD276-282; JRS li (1961), 194, no. 12)|
|"For the goddess Fortuna."|
|(RIB 1873; altarstone)|
Aside from the military gods discussed above, there are single altarstones dedicated to a range of household deities; to the goddess Fortuna (1873), the goddess Latis (1897), the 'Mother Goddesses' (1902), the rural god Silvanus (1905), the sea god Neptune (1929d), to the otherwise unknown god Daeratis (1903), also to the emperor's Health (1911). There are, in addition, six more votive stones which cannot be assigned either because the dedication is damaged (1906-8, 1923) or there was no inscription recorded (1928/9).
|DEO NEPTVNO REGINIVS IVSTINVS TRIBVNVS V L S M|
|"To the god Neptune, Reginius Justinus the tribune willingly and deservedly fulfilled a vow."|
|(RIB 1929d; altarstone; Britannia v (1974), pp.462-3, no.9)|
|"For the goddess Latis."|
|(RIB 1897; altarstone)|
|MATRIBVS PRNV... VVSCO VSLM|
|"To the Mothers, Prunus? [...] for Vuscus, a vow fulfilled willingly and deservedly."|
|(RIB 1902; altarstone)|
|DAERATI VOTVM IN PERPETVO|
|"To the Goddess Ratis,¹ a permanent offering."|
|(RIB 1903; altarstone)|
A large civil settlement has long been known to exist in the area to the immediate south-west of the fort. The burial ground at Birdoswald has also been identified in the area to the south-east of the fort, close to the edge of the Irthing escarpment. The reason why the burial ground lay so far away from the vicus had been a complete mystery for quite some time, until in 1999, the site was visited by a group of archaeologists operating under the electronic eyes of Channel-4's The Time Team, a British commercial TV channel's award-winning history program.
|D M AVRELI CONCORDI VIXIT ANN VNVM D V FIL AVREL IVLIANI TRIB|
|"To the shades of the departed Aurelius Concordius, who lived one year and five days, the son of Aurelius Julianus the tribune."|
|(RIB 1919; tombstone)|
They were able to ascertain that the civil settlement at Birdoswald had started out on the eastern side of the fort, and the burial ground was sited just to the south of this initial community. After a fairly short amount of time had passed the civilians were moved from one side of the fort to the other, possibly after a substantial land-slip had threatened the south-eastern part of the site, and probably by order of the military. Whatever the reason for the relocation, it did not seem to effect the siting of the burial grounds, which continued in use at its original position on the opposite side of the fort.
|D M DECIBAL ... VIX DIEBVS ... ET BLAES ...VIXSIT A X ET... VS FRATER...|
|"To the spirits of the departed Decibalus [...] who lived for [...] days, and Blaesus [...] who lived for ten years, and [...] a brother [...]"|
|(RIB 1920; tombstone)|
A geophysical survey utilizing a number of geophysical techniques was carried out between May and October 1997. A preliminary Earthwork Survey of the entire site was followed by a Close-Contour Topographical Survey conducted within the fort's defences using a Wild TC1010 Total Station.
The advantage of close-contour survey is that certain elements of micro-topography, not readily visible from the earthwork survey and often concealed by vegetation, become apparent (Biggins & Taylor, p.95).
A Resistivity Survey using a GeoScan RM15 resistivity meter was conducted only within the confines of the fort due to both cost and time considerations. This survey revealed details of the Roman drainage system and also located a number of kilns. Finally, a Magnetometer Survey using a GeoScan FM36 fluxgate gradiometer was conducted both within the fort and outside the defences for a distance of 80m to the west and 120m to the east. Evidence of an extensive civil settlement was seen along the line of the Roman Military Way to the east and the west of the fort usin this technique.
A Roman watch-tower or signal station lies just south of the Birdoswald fort at Mains Rigg on the Stanegate.
|Birdoswald Roman Fort, Cumbria|
|The defences of this fort though incomplete still stand to an impressive height sporting large double gateways but no buildings remain in the interior. The nearby lengths of Hadrian's Wall are very impressive, that to the west running arrow straight to the foreshortened horizon, its last visible stretch running hidden beneath the modern road, that to the east running somewhat less than straight across the fields to the Willowford Roman bridge. The site is under continual excavation, and the old farm buildings originally constructed using material from the fort have been converted into a visitor centre. The views across the Irthing valley from the southern edge of the site are superb.|