BLATOBVLGIVM

Roman Fort & Marching Camps

Birrens, Dumfries & Galloway

NGRef: NY2175
OSMap: LR85
Type: Roman Fort, 6 Marching Camps.
Click to Enlarge
Plan of Birrens Fort
During the Antonine Period.
Roads
Military Road: NW (9) to Ladyward (Dumfries & Galloway) via Burnswark
Military Road: ESE (15) to CASTRA EXPLORATORVM (Netherby, Cumbria)
Military Road: SE (17) to VXELODVNVM (Stanwix, Cumbria)

The remains of this fort are quite impressive when approached from the south, where its southern defences, arranged along the edge of a natural scarp above the river are now covered in gorse bushes. The remains of stone-built buildings are visible across the whole of the interior, all beneath an overlying blanket of turf, except at the south-east corner, where several courses of stonework are visible; these belong not to the fortís defences but to buildings in the retentura or rear of the camp, the corner-angle itself having been lost to erosion. The extensive ditch system and entrance causeway is especially prominent on the north, and a scatter of shaped stones on the west rampart marks the position of the gateway on this side.

Erosion of Rampart
The South-East Corner Angle
showing Roman masonry exposed by erosion
  Southern Rampart
The Southern Rampart
viewed from the Burn

The only classical reference for the name of the Birrens encampment is contained in the Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century. Iter II, "the route from the 'Entrenchments' to the port of Rutupiae, four-hundred and eighty-one thousand paces", details the journey from Hadrian's Wall to Richborough in Kent. In this itinerary the name Blato bulgio appears as the northern terminus, some 12 Roman miles from Castra Exploratorum (Netherby, Cumbria), both stations lying beyond the Wall of Hadrian.

The Blatobulgium Fort

LEGIO XX VICT
"The Twentieth [Valiant and] Victorious Legion (made this)."
(RIB 2114)

The fort at Birrens is known to have undergone at least two periods of occupation and was originally built perhaps c.AD80 by governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola during Domitian's emperorship, or at sometime during the reign of emperor Hadrian, in either case by men from the Twentieth Legion (RIB 2114; not shown). The fort was likely rebuilt in the Antonine period during the governorship of Julius Verus (vide RIB 2110 infra), this time probably by the men of the Sixth Legion stationed at York (RIB 2112/3; not shown).

LEG VI VIC
"The Sixth Victorious Legion (made this).¹"
(RIB 2112)
  1. The same text is repeated on another legionary building stone RIB 2113.

A lead sling-shot was uncovered during excavations at Birrens within a layer tentatively dated to the mid-second century, which likely means that the auxiliary garrison were trained in the use of this weapon, possibly at the suspected training camp at Burnswark nearby.

Antonine Building Inscription

IMP CAES T AEL HADR ANTONINO AVG PIO PONT MAX TRIB POT XXI COS IIII COH II TVNGR MIL EQ C L SVB IVLIO VERO LEG AVG PR PRImperator Caesar Tito Aelio Hadriano Antonino Augusto Pio Pontifex Maximus Tribunicia Potestas viceni singuli consule quater Cohortis Secundae Tungrorum milliaria equitata civium Latinum [posuit] sub Julio Vero Legati Augusti pro-praetore.
"For the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, High Priest of Rome, in the twenty-first year of his holding tribunician power,¹ four times Consul, the Second Cohort of Tungrians, one-thousand strong, part-mounted, citizens with Latin rights, [set this up] under Julius Verus,² pro-Praetorian Legate of Augustus."
(RIB 2110; text restored; AD157-8)
  1. AD157/8.
  2. Gnaeus Julius Verus, governor of Britain by AD158.

The Dateable Pottery Evidence

Although there was plenty of pieces of South Gaulish decorated ware dateable to the Antonine period, there was absolutely no Flavian material.

The Blatobulgium Garrison

Legionary Units at Blatobulgium?

...VIII AVG ...XXIIPR
"[...] the Eighth Augustan [Legion and] the Twenty-Second [Legion] Primigenia."
(RIB 2116a; Britannia xxiii (1992), p.318)

There is one particular stone recovered from Birrens which is extremely interesting as it appears to contain the names of two legionary units not normally found in Britain (vide supra); the Eighth Augustan Legion is thought to have accompanied the emperor Claudius to Britain during the initial invasion in AD43 and was presumed to have returned to Rome in the emperor's train after spending a little over two weeks in the island, they are also mentioned on a military diploma? (RIB 2426.1; not available); the movements of the Twenty-Second Legion Primigenia in Britain are almost completely unknown, there being only one other stone bearing the name of this unit (vide RIB 2216), found "somewhere in Scotland", which ain't very helpful.

Western Gateway
The Western Gateway
looking towards the interior
  North-West Angle
The North-West Corner Angle
is the highest standing point

Cohors Primae Nerviorum Germanorum milliaria equitata
The First Cohort of Nerva's Germans, one-thousand strong, part-mounted

Altar to Fortune (RIB 2093)
FORTVNAE COH I NERVANA GERMANOR M EQ
"To Fortune, the First Nervian Cohort of Germans,
one-thousand strong, part-mounted."

(RIB 2093; altarstone; vide sinistra)

The first unit to be stationed at Blatobulgium was very likely Cohors I Nerviorum Germanorum Milliaria Equitata, a one-thousand strong mixed unit of infantry and cavalry originally formed during the reign of emperor Nerva (AD96-98) from among the various Germanic tribes. This unit is attested on three inscriptions from the site; an altar to the goddess Fortune (vide RIB 2093 supra), an altar to Jupiter Best and Greatest (vide RIB 2097 infra), and another altar bearing a fragmentary dedication to an unknown deity (RIB 2116.B; not shown).

I O M COH I NERVANA GERMANOR M EQ CVI PRAEEST L FAENIVS FELIX TRIB
"To Jupiter Best and Greatest, the First Nervian Cohort of Germans, one-thousand strong, part-mounted, under the command of the Tribune Lucius Faenius Felix (set this up)."
(RIB 2097; altarstone)

This unit is also attested on an undated altar (RIB 2041) at ABALLAVA (Burgh-by-Sands, Cumbria), and on another undated altar to Cocidius (RIB 966) discovered at CASTRA EXPLORATORVM (Netherby, Cumbria) which may also allude to another posting at FANVM COCIDI (Bewcastle, Cumbria).

Cohors Secundae Tungrorum Milliaria Equitata
The Second Cohort of Tungri, one-thousand strong, part-mounted

The second, and most frequently attested unit to be stationed at Birrens were the Second Cohort of Tungrians, a one-thousand strong part-mounted unit, originally recruited from amongst the Tungri tribe of Eastern Belgium. The name of this unit is recorded on no less than nine out of the twenty-four inscriptions so far recovered from the site.

DISCIP AVG COH II TVNGR MIL EQ C L
"To Majestic Discipline, the Second Cohort of Tungrians, one-thousand strong, part-mounted, citizens with Latin rights (set this up)."
(RIB 2092; altarstone)

This unit was probably in residence for a number of years, and, following losses due to battle or retirement, the garrison had to be bolstered by the addition of several small groups of Germanic tribesmen; many of whom brought their own peculiar deities to the Birrens fort.

MARTI ET VICTORIAE AVG C RAETI MILIT IN COH II TVNGR CVI PRAEEST SILVIVS AVSPEX PRAEF VSLM
"To Mars and the Victory of the Emperor, the Raetian¹ tribesmen serving in the Second Cohort of Tungrians commanded by the Prefect Silvius Auspex willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow."
(RIB 2100; altarstone)
  1. The province of Raetia lay in the region of modern Austria.
DEAE RICAGVM BEDAE PAGVS VELLAVS MILIT COH II TVNG VSLM
"To the goddess Ricagambeda,¹ (the tribesmen) of the district of Vella serving in the Second Cohort of Tungrians willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow."
(RIB 2107; altarstone)
  1. Otherwise unknown.
DEAE VIRADECTHI PAGVS CONDRVSTIS MILIT IN COH II TVNGROR SVB SILVIO AVSPICE PRAEF
"To the goddess Viradecthis,¹ (the tribesmen) of the Condrustian district serving in the Second Cohort of Tungrians under the Prefect Silvius Auspex (set this up)."
(RIB 2108; altarstone)
  1. Likewise unknown.

The Second Cohort of Tungrians is also recorded on several altars at Castlesteads on Hadrian's Wall, including at least one with the suffix Gordiana (RIB 1983), dated AD241.

Other Deities Worshipped in Blatobulgium

DEAE MINERVAE COH II TVNGRORVM MIL EQ
C L CVI PRAEEST G SILV AVSPEX PRAEF
"To the goddess Minerva,¹ the Second Cohort of Tungrians, one-thousand strong, part-mounted,
citizens with Latin rights, under their commander, the Prefect Gaius Silius Auspex (set this up)."

(RIB 2104; altarstone)
  1. The Roman goddess of wisdom, war and the liberal arts, equates with Greek Athene.
BRIGANTIAE S AMANDVS ARCITECTVS EX IMPERIO IMP F
"To Brigantia,¹ Sextus Amandus, former Imperial Architect, faithful to the emperor (set this up)."
(RIB 2091; altar bearing statuette in relief)
  1. A native goddess, patron of the Brigantes tribe from the north-east of England.
DIB DEABQ OMNIB FRVMENTIVS MIL COH II TVNGR
"To the Gods [and] to the Goddesses, for all of the Frumentarii¹
serving in the Second Cohort of Tungrians."

(RIB 2109; altarstone)
  1. The frumentarius was a junior officer in charge of the military grain supply. Their duties led them far and wide in search of grain, and they were often skilled linguists, which led to their being used in clandestine operations towards the end of the empire.
PRIAPI MENTVLA
"For the penis of Priapus.¹"
(RIB 2109; buff-sandstone slab bearing image of horned god)
  1. The Roman god of male fertility.

Other Roman Military Sites in the Area

There are several temporary camps in the neighbourhood of the Blatobulgium fort; 4 around Birrens itself (NY2174), 2 more at Middlebie nearby (NY2076) and a further 2 at Kirkpatrick-Fleming (NY2870) a short way along the road to the south-east. There is also a Roman fortlet and 2 practice works at Burnswark a little distance along the road to the north-west.

See: Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
The Roman Occupations of Scotland by B.R. Hartley in Britannia iii (1972) pp.1-55;
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.

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