CAMBODVNVM?

Roman Fort & Minor Settlement

Slack, Outlane, West Yorkshire

NGRef: SE084176
OSMap: LR110
Type: Minor Settlement, Fort.

Plan of Cambodunum Roman fort
oriented with north at the top
Adapted from Collingwood
Roads
NE (28) to Newton Kyme (North Yorkshire)
NE (29) to CALCARIA (Tadcaster, North Yorkshire)
SW (7) to RIGODVNVM (Castleshaw, Saddleworth, Greater Manchester)

Cambodunum - The Fortress of the War God

In the early second century AD Ptolemy in his famed treatise on Geographia listed as the last of his nine poleis attributed to the Brigantes tribe of northern Britain, following the base of the Sixth Legion at Eboracum/York, a place named Camulodunum, evidently somewhere in northern England.

The Antonine Itinerary produced in the mid-second century, contains within the second road route in Britain, Iter II, a place named Camboduno somewhere in the West Riding of Yorkshire, some 9 miles from Calcaria (Tadcaster, North Yorkshire) and 20 miles from Mamucio (Manchester).

Not mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum of the late-fourth century, the next major geographical work is the 7th century Ravenna Cosmology, where appears a place named Camulodono (R&C#111), listed between the entries for Alunna (Watercrook, Lancashire) and Calunio (Lancaster, Lancashire).

"... In Cambodunum¹ where there was also a royal dwelling, he² built a church which was afterwards burnt down, together with the whole of the buildings, by the heathen who slew king Edwin.³ ..." (Bede, II.xiv)
  1. Bede's narrative makes it clear that the named town and royal dwelling lay somewhere in Yorkshire.
  2. Paulinus, who was sent by Pope Gregory as a missionary to Britain A.D.601 in the wake of Augustine. He accompanied the Kentish princess Aethelburga to the court of King Edwin of the Northumbrians in 619 and was attendant at their wedding, becoming Bishop of York in 625 and achieving the conversion of Edwin in 627, he escaped the ravages of Cadwallon and Penda in 633 and escaped to Kent with the recently widowed Queen Aethelberga. He died whilst Bishop of Rochester in 644.
  3. Edwin was born A.D.585 and became king of the Northumbrians following the death of his father Aelle in 616. He was killed in battle at Hatfield Chase near Doncaster in 633 following the revolts of Cadwalla of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia, who subsequently ravaged the lands of the defeated Northumbrians.
"CAMBODU'NUM, a city of Vindelicia, now Munchen [Munich in Germany]. Ptol. - A town of the Brigantes in Britain. Id. Camden supposes it to be Almondbury, in Yorkshire." (Lempriere)

If all these references are naming the same location, and are to be associated with the Roman fort at Slack, then what was the fort actually named? Was it Camulodunum, Cambodunon, Camulodonon or Cambodunum? This author is inclined towards the latter option, the name Cambodunum, but what is the etymology of this name? There are several possible meanings, one of which is "The Fortress of the Crooked Cow", from Welsh camm 'crooked' + Gaelic bo 'cow' + *Celtic dunon 'fortress'. O for a copy of The Place-names of Roman Britain by Rivet and Smith!

The Roman Fort at Slack

This fort measures 256 feet square (78 m²) within the defences giving an occupation area of just 1½ acres (0.6 ha). It was defended by a 20 foot wide turf rampart, the outer wall of which was laid upon foundations of stone. There are two outer ditches, separated from the rampart by a berm, 5 feet wide. The ditches are not continuous; the outer ditch is not present on the southern defensive circuit, and there appear to be no ditches outside the southern half of the north-east rampart at all; the area possibly being used as a parade ground.

The fort was built during the Flavian period, probably c.AD80, the first buildings, including the gates, were of timber construction. The buildings were later part-replaced by stone, but the fort appears to have been abandoned before the work was complete, possibly because the auxilliary garrison had been moved to the northern frontier.

The fort was partially reconstructed during the first quarter of the second century, when its internal buildings were replaced in stone. No stone revetment was ever added to the front of the rampart, and the reconstruction was incomplete when the fort was abandoned in c.AD125.

The original Flavian fort was occupied until the late-second or early-third centuries, as attested by pottery from Trajanic/Hadrianic times and Antonine wares by the 'Small S Potter', recovered from within the fort's defences. There is no indication that this fort was ever rebuilt in stone.

The Roman Military Garrison

An altarstone found in 1736 just south of the bath-house outside the east angle of the fort (vide RIB 624 infra), has as its dedicator a legionary centurion, but this is no indication that the fort held a legionary garrison as they were often known to have been commanded by experienced centurions (back this up!!!!). The altarstone dedicated by Modestus (or Modestinus, etc.) to the goddess of good fortune, may have been set up in celebration of his being sent to command the men stationed at this fort. This is just one of many possible scenarios however.

Altarstone Dedicated by a Centurion of Legio Sextae Victrix

FORTVNAE SACRVM G ANTO MODES > LEG VI VIC P F VSLM
"To Holy I>Fortuna, Gaius Antonius Modestus, centurion of the Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful, willingly and deservedly fulfills his vow."
(RIB 624, altarstone)

The Epigraphic Evidence from Cambodunum

There are four entries in the RIB for the area of the Roman fort at Slack; two altarstones and two building stones. The first to come to the attention of antiquaries was a legionary altarstone dedicated to the Goddess Fortuna (RIB 624 supra), which has now, unfortunately, been lost. Two building stones recovered in 1771 and 1775 respectively, bore the inscriptions > REBVRRINI "The century of Reburrinus [made this]." (RIB 625) and ... OPVS "... [this] work." (RIB 626), and are also both lost. The last monumental inscription to be found, and perhaps the most important not ony due to the fact that it is the only inscribed Roman stone from the area which still survives, was an altar to the "God of the Bregantes" (RIB 623 infra) found in 1882 at Lower Gate, Longwood, 1½ miles (c.2 km) to the east of the fort and now kept at the Tolson Memorial Museum, Huddersfield.

Altar to Bregans or Bregantis

DEO BREGANTI ET N AVG T AVR QVINTVS D D P ET S S
"To the God of the Bregantes¹ and the Divine Spirit of the Emperor,
Titus Aurelius Quintus dedicates this offering for himself and his family.²"

(RIB 623; altarstone)
  1. The actual name of the god could be Bregans, Bregantis, or even Bregantes, but there is no mistaking that this was the patron god of the local British tribe in the area, the Brigantes.
  2. Supposing P ET S S is to be translated "pro se et suis", a common terminating phrase in Roman dedicatory texts.

Excavations at Cambodunum

The area to the north of the fort was excavated in 1969, during which several timber buildings were identified in a vicus settlement along the line of the Roman road from Chester to York.

"... The defences [of the vicus] comprised a bank and single ditch, constructed not before c.AD120. All the abundant pottery fell within the period AD80-140, suggesting that the vicus, like the fort, had been abandoned by the early Antonine period." (Britannia, 1970)

SE085174 - A section through the north-west corner-angle of the fort in 1970 established that the external ditch was at least 5 feet (1.5m) deep also that the rampart was constructed of stacked turves c.28 feet (c.8.5m) wide. The intervallum road, originally 11½ (3.5m) wide, was resurfaced once, at which time its width was reduced to just (2.3m). There is no sign that the rampart underwent any modification. The interior buildings were of timber.

See: Classical Dictionary by John Lempriere (London, 1850);
The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford, 1965);
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede, translated by Judith McClure and Roger Collins (Oxford, 1969);
Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England by Richard Fletcher (Shepheard Walwyn, London, 1989);
Britannia i (1970) p.281;
Britannia ii (1971) p.254;
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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