OSMap: Hadrian's Wall, OL43, LR87.
Type: Wall Fort, Minor Settlement, Bath House, Water Mill, Bridge (River North Tyne).
Wall: E (6) to Onnvm (Halton Chesters, Northumberland)|
Wall: W (3½) to Brocolitia (Carrawburgh, Northumberland)
Stanegate: W (10) to Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland) via Newbrough
Stanegate: SE (6¾) to Corstopitvm (Corbridge, Northumberland)
The Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall at Chesters marks the point where the Wall crossed the River North Tyne, the first major obstacle on its route from east to west. A succession of finely engineered timber bridges with stone piers spanned the river here, and the Wall itself was continued right down to the water's edge.
The fort was evidently built after the Wall had here been completed; the foundations of the broad wall and its accompanying ditch have been found beneath the fort's principal east-west street. As is usual for cavalry forts on the Wall, it was built astride the line of the barrier, with three of its major gateways opening out onto the north side.
The name of the Chesters Roman fort is first mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum of the late-4th/early-5th century, wherein it is listed as Cilurnum, between the entries for Hunnum (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) and Procolitia (Carrawburgh, Northumberland). Another classical geographical source which contains reference to Chesters is the Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century. In this document the entry Celunnum (R&C#147), again appears between familiarly-sounding entries for Halton Chesters and Carrawburgh.
There are 42 stones bearing Latin texts recorded in the R.I.B. for Chesters, comprising 12 altars and votive stones, 9 dateable building inscriptions ranging from AD122 to 223, 10 legionary centurial stones including one of Legio VI Victrix (RIB 1471), 4 tombstones and testamentary stones including those of a trooper of Ala II Asturum (RIB 1480) and a tribune of Cohors I Vangionum (RIB 1482), also 17 other fragmentary or undefined texts. Many of these inscriptions are shown in the appropriate sections below.
|1496c||AD122-138?||to the Discipline of emperor Hadrian by Ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata|
|AD139||two to emperor Antoninus Pius by Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis|
|AD176-184||two under governor Ulpius Marcellus recording the building of an aqueduct by Ala II Asturum|
|1462||AD205-208||to emperor Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta by Ala II Asturum under governor Alfenus Senecio|
|1465||30 October AD221||to emperor Elagabalus by Ala II Asturum Antoniniana|
|1466||AD221-222||to the 'Lucky Emperors' by Ala II Asturum Antoniniana|
|1467||AD222-223||under governor Claudius Xenephon by a Prefect of Horse|
Among the seventeen undefined or fragmentary inscriptions there are a number of interesting stones, for instance; LAPIS IVLIVS "The stone of Julius" (RIB 1489) may have been a grave marker or evidence of a strange form of kleptomania, while the stone inscribed simply MILES or "The Soldiers" (RIB 1490), may have served some sort of votive function; the purpose of the stone inscribed NEILO (RIB 1491) remains uncertain but may be attributed to a Prefect called Nilus (see RIB1465 and RIB1467), alternately neillo was a form of inlaid decoration used before the development of enamels; also the stone inscribed with the letters ...D E F G H I K (RIB 1492) may have been used as a teaching aid.
|D M S FABIE HONORATE FABIVS HONORATVS TRIBVN COH I VANGION ET AVRELIA AGLECTIANE FECERVNT FILIE DVLCISSIME|
|"To the sacred shades of the departed Fabia Honorata, Fabius Honoratus, Tribune of the First Cohort of Vangiones, and Aurelia Aglectiane, made this for their most sweet daughter."|
|(RIB 1482; tombstone)|
It has been argued that the original Hadrianic unit was Cohors I Vangionum, a nominally one-thousand strong mixed unit of cavalry of infantry from the Upper Rhine. An inscription on another tombstone at Benwell suggests that the unit was split between these two forts.
|DISCIPVLINAE IMP HAD AVG ALA AVG OB VIRT APPEL|
|"For the discipline of the emperor Hadrianus Augustus, the Augustan Wing, so named by reason of their virtue, [made this]."|
|(RIB 1496c; dated: AD122-138?; Britannia x (1979), p.346, no.7)|
The first attested Cavalry unit at the Chesters fort was the Ala Augusta, a unit of obscure origin which is attested towards the end of the second century at Carlisle and also at Old Carlisle.
|COH I DALMAT FECIT|
|"The First Cohort of Dalmatians have made [this]."|
|(RIB 1496a; JRS xlvii (1957), p.229, no.14)|
It is possible that the First Dalmatian Cohort was stationed at the Chesters fort in the Antonine period. The finding of two early-Antonine building inscriptions of the Sixth Legion (vide RIB 1460 et 1461 infra) prove that work was carried out at the fort at the same time as construction was commencing on the Antonine Wall forts in Scotland, which must mean that occupation of Chesters continued during this time, very likely in order to guard and protect the North Tyne bridge.
|IMP T AEL HADR ANTONINO AVG PIO P P II COS VEXILLATIO LEG VI VIC P F|
|"For Imperator Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antininus Augustus Pius, father of his country, twice consul, a detachment of the Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful [made this]."|
|(RIB 1461; dated: AD139)|
The Sixth Legion was never stationed at the Chesters fort, but was probably responsible for its original construction during the time of Hadrian (vide RIB 1471 infra), and was certainly responsible for renovations and alterations in the Antonine period as attested by two almost identical building inscriptions (vide RIB 1461 supra; et RIB 1460 infra). A number of 'centurial stones' also unearthed at Cilurnum are probably attributable to this legion, who were normally garrisoned in the fortress at Eburacum (York).
|AQVA ADDVCTA ALAE II ASTVR SVB VLP MARCELLO LEG AVG PR PR¹|
|"This water channel [was made by] The Second Asturian Wing, under Ulpius Marcellus² the pro-praetorian legate of the emperor."|
|(RIB 1463¹; dated: AD176-184)|
From the late-second century it would seem that the fort was garrisoned for the remainder of its functional lifetime by the same unit; Ala II Asturum, a five-hundred strong cavalry force drafted from among the Astures tribe of north-eastern Spain. Its sister-unit, the First Asturian Cavalry Wing, was stationed at Condercum (Benwell, Tyne & Wear), along the Wall to the east. Aside from the dateable building inscriptions discussed below, there is, in addition, a testamentary stone marking the last earthly remains of a trooper from the unit (vide infra).
|D M AVENTINO CVRATORI ALAE II ASTVR STIP XV AEL GEMELLVS DEC HER F C|
|"To the spirits of the departed and to Aventinus Curator of the Second Wing of Astures, who served fifteen years. The decurion Aelius Gemellus, his heir, saw to the making [of this memorial]."|
The unit is first attested at the fort during the last two decades the second century on building inscriptions recording the completion of the bath-house aqueduct (RIB 1463 supra; et RIB 1416, not shown), and they were kept on station at Cilurnum during the Scottish campaigns of the emperor Severus and his son Caracalla in the early-third century (vide infra). The last mention of this regiment is in the Notitia Dignitatum which shows that the Second Wing of Asturians were retained as the Cilurnum garrison until the beginning of the fifth century.
|IMPP CAESS L SEPT SEVERO PIO PERTINACE ET M AVR ANTONINO PIO AVGG ET P SEP GETAE NOB CAES ALA II AST CVRANTE ALF SENECIONE COS ET OCLATINIO ADVENTO PROC INSTANTE ...|
|"For the Imperators, the Caesars Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, loyal emperors, and Publius Septimius Geta, noble Caesar. The Second Wing of Astures under the administration of Alfenus Senecio¹ the Consular [governor] and Oclatinius Adventus the Procurator, under the supervision of [...]"|
|(RIB 1462; dated: AD205-208)|
|IMP CAESAR M AVREL ANTONINVS P F AVG [SACERDOS AMPLISS DEI INVICTI SOLIS ELEGABALI P M] TRIB P IIII COS III P P DIVI ANTON F DIVI SEVER NEP ET M AVREL ALEXANDER NOBILISS CAESAR IMPERI ET SACERDOTI CONSORS ALAE II ASTVR [ANTON] VETSVTATE DILAPSVM RESTITVERVNT PER MARIVM VALERIANVM LEG AVGG PR PR INSTANTE SEPTIMIO NILO PRAEF EQVITVM DEDICATVM III KAL NOVEM GRATO ET SELEVCO COS|
|"For Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus (most glorious priest of the unconquered sun-god Elagabalus, Pontifex Maximus), holding tribunician power for the fourth time, consul three times, Pater Patriae, son of the deified Antoninus, grandson of the deified Severus, and for Marcus Aurelius Alexander, most noble Caesar, his partner in the emperorship and in the priesthood, the Second Wing of (Antoninus' Own) Asturians restored (this building) which had collapsed through old age, during [the administration] of Marius Valerianus, pro-praetorian legate of their emperors, under the supervision of Septimius Nilus the prefect of cavalry. Dedicated three days before the calends of November, when Gratus and Seleucus were consuls."|
|(RIB 1465; dated: 30 October AD221)|
|SALVIS AVGG FELIX ALA II ASTVR ANTONIANA|
|"To the health of our fortunate emperors,¹ the Second Asturian Wing, Antoninus' Own [dedicates this]. The virtue of the Emperors.¹"|
|(RIB 1466; dated: AD221-222)|
|... PER CL XENEPHONTEM LEG PR PR INSTANTE SEP NILO PRAEF EQVIT|
|"[...] during [the administration of] Claudius Xenephon¹ the pro-praetorian legate, supervised by Septimius Nilo,² Prefect of Horse."|
|(RIB 1467; dated: AD222-223)|
|... CVRANTE AELIO LONGINO PRAEF EQ|
|"[...] under the direction of Aelius Longinus, Prefect of Cavalry."|
|(RIB 1470; late-2nd century?)|
|Praefectus alae secundae Asturum, Cilurno|
|"The Prefect of the second wing of Astures at Cilurnum"|
|(Notitia Dignitatum xl.38; 4th/5th C.)?|
|I O M DOL PRO SAL AVGG NN GAL VERECVNDVS|
|"To Jupiter Best and Greatest for the salvation of our emperors, Gal[erius?] Verecundus [dedicates this]."|
There are twelve altars and votive stones; four (possibly five) dedicated to the Germanic warrior-god Veterus (RIB 1455 to 1458 & 1459?), three to the ruler of the Roman pantheon Iupitter Optimus Maximus (a dedication RIB 1452; and two damaged altarstones RIB 1450 & 1451, both not shown), and single stones to Bona Dea (RIB 1448), the goddess Fortuna (RIB 1449), a mysterious goddess whose name begins Rat? (RIB 1454), also on to the Mother Goddesses (RIB 1453).
|BONAE DEAE REGINAE CAELESTI ...||"To the Good Goddess who rules in heaven [...]"||1448|
|DAE FORT CONSERVATRICI VENENVS GER L M||"To the goddess Fortuna the Preserver, Venenus the German freely and deservedly [dedicates this]."||1449|
|DEA RAT V S L||"To the goddess Rat?, a vow freely fulfilled."||1454|
|MATRIBVS COMMVN PRO SALVTE DECVR AVR SEVERI|
|"To the Mother (Goddesses) of the Community for the health of the Decurion Aurelius Severus."|
|DEO SANCTO VITIRI TERTVLVS VSLM||DIBVS VETERIBVS
|SVADNVS VOTV F D VOTRI V S|
|"To the holy god Vitirius, Tertulus willingly and deservedly fulfills his vow."||"For the Veteran/Vitiran gods."||"Suadnus makes this offering to the god Votrius in fulfillment of a vow."|
|(RIB 1455)||(RIB 1456 & 1457)||(RIB 1458)|
|... ... M AVREL IANVARIVS EMERITVS PRO SE ET SVIS OMNIBVS V S L L M|
|"[...] Marcus Aurelius Januarius, veteran soldier, for himself and his entire family, willingly, gladly and deservedly fulfils a vow."|
|> SENEC... CINA VOTO NE QI LICIAT NE|
|"The century of Senec[a? ...] burned offering even though it is not lawful."|
|(RIB 1486; mid-late 4th century?)|
The above stone is very interesting as it possibly betrays only reluctant acceptance of emperor Constantine's decrees of AD324 and 325 which first outlawed pagan sacrifice and then made Christianity the official religion throughout the Roman empire. If the translation is correct, this stone must belong to the period following the decrees of Constantine and should therefore be included amongst the last known Roman inscribed stones in Britain.
A road issued from the porta decumana (south gate) at the rear of the fort and led for a little under ¾ of a mile (just over 1km) south-south-west to the Stanegate. A small civil settlement or vicus is known to have existed to either side of this road, just outside the fort's southern gateway, and in the area to the south of the bath-house where the North Tyne widely skirted the south-eastern defences of the fort. The settlement is thought to have been occupied from about the third century AD, and was probably started by the dependants and 'hangers-on' of the men forming the garrison of Cilurnum. The vicus at Chesters was observed from the air by Prof. J.K. St. Joseph in the late 1940's:
South of the fort at Chesters (Hadrian's Wall) photographs show remains of an extensive extramural settlement. The street that emerges from the south gate of the fort bends gradually westwards and is joined by side streets to left and right. These streets were lined with buildings, while other buildings occur at a little distance. They are mainly long rectangular structures, familiar from excavations in the civil settlement at Housesteads, and may be houses, shops, or sheds. Here and there appear more complicated structures, with ranges of rooms and corridors, recalling the town-houses of southern Britain.. It is clear that at Chesters the extramural settlement was large and elaborate, and will some day well repay examination (St. Joseph, 1951).
|D M M AVRELIVS VICTOR VIXIT AN L|
|"To the shades of the departed Marcus Aurelius Victor who lived fifty years."|
|(RIB 1481; testamentary text)|
There are four tombstones and testamentary stones from Cilurnum; those of a trooper of Ala II Asturum (RIB 1480), the daughter of a tribune of Cohors I Vangionum (RIB 1482), a fifty-year-old man (RIB 1481), and another tombstone recording the sad demise of an entire family.
|D M VRSE SORORI IVLIE CONIVGI CANIONI FILIO LVRIO GERM|
|"To the spirits of the departed. To Ursa the sister, to Julia the wife and to Canio the son, of Lurius the German."|
|(RIB 1483; tombstone)|
The text of the tombstone shown above reveals a personal tragedy in the life of an auxiliary soldier, possibly an infantryman of the First Cohort of Vangiones (vide supra), who seemingly lost three members of his immediate family in unrecorded circumstances.
During excavations over the years at Chesters evidence has been uncovered of the dietary habits of the settlement's inhabitants. The animal bones recovered include those of Ox, Sheep, Goat, Red Deer, Roe Deer and Boar; the latter animals very likely being hunted and killed for sport. Their diet also included a number of shellfish, such as Oysters, Mussels, Limpets and Cockles, all of which were likely transported here on a daily basis from settlements on the east coast along the River Tyne.
|LEG VI VI|
|"The Sixth Victorious Legion [made this]"|
This large Fort has a classic 'playing-card' outline and measures 434 feet east-west by 582 feet north-south, covering an area of 5¾ acres (2.3ha). The walls were of stone, five feet thick, backed by an earthen rampart and fronted by a single ditch on all sides. The defences were completed with four stone corner towers and eight interval towers, two on each face.
There are four large, double gateways; the porta praetoria to the north, the two portae principales at either end of the via principalis to east and west, and the porta decumana to the south. The first three of these large gates all open out onto the north side of the Wall, and were obviously to facilitate the rapid northward deployment of the fort's garrison. A road issued from the southern gateway which linked the fort with the old Agricolan Stanegate. In addition to the four monumental gateways there are also two smaller, single gates at either end of the the via quintana behind the headquarters building, by which the Roman Military Way, built in the mid second century, passed from east to west through the retentura at the rear of the fort.
It is almost certain that the rampart walk was built fifteen feet above ground-level, in order to interface with the Wall itself, and it is probable that all of the towers and gateways were raised about ten feet above the level of the rampart walk. If one allows for a further five or six feet for a stone parapet, the total height of the gates and towers would have been in excess of thirty feet (nine metres).
|IMP T AELIO HAD ANTONINO AVG PIO P II COS LEG VI VIC|
|"For Imperator Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, Pater [Patriae], consul for the second time.¹ The Sixth Victorious Legion [have made this]."|
|(RIB 1460; dated: AD139)|
|COH ... > FL CIVILIS||COH V > CAECILI PROCVLI¹||> HORTAESI MAXIMI|
|"The [...] Cohort, century of Flavius Civilis [made this]."||"[built by] the Fifth Cohort, century of Caecilius Proculus."||"The century of Hortaesius Maximus [made this]."|
|(RIB 1474)||(RIB 1475 & 1476)||(RIB 1477)|
|Chesters Roman Fort and Museum|
|The site museum houses some superb exhibits, including Roman sculptures, inscriptions and altars, many of them collected from the entire length of the Wall in the nineteenth century by the philanthropist John Clayton. He was a wealthy land-owner from these parts, intensely intrested in the Roman remains in the region where he lived and the buildings now on display are due mostly to his work.|
The visible remains of the fort include all six gateways, the two interval-towers in the southern defences, a small section of the fort wall to the immediate south of the northern interval tower, the principia or headquarters building, the praetorium or commanding officer's residence with its own central heating system and private bath-suite, plus the major part of two barrack-blocks and a stable.
The most impressive building remains are those of the principia or headquarters building in the middle of the fort, where the visible features give a vivid impression of how this magnificent building once must have looked, with little need to stretch the imagination.
The individual excavated areas are fenced off, to protect the remains from the intrusions of farm animals (mostly sheep), and cause some little inconvenience to the visitor, as egress is restricted to the gateways provided.
The Roman bath house at Chesters was built for the use of the soldiers stationed at the fort on the western bank of the River North Tyne, close to where the Roman bridge spanned the water course. The building has been completely excavated and the function of all of its rooms are recorded. As with all Roman bath-houses used over a period of time, various modifications and repairs had been made and the exact route the bathers took through the variously heated rooms of the building remains somewhat obscure.
|Chesters Roman Fort and Museum - Bath House|
|The Roman bath house at Chesters has been hailed certainly as the most impressive on the Wall, and is one of the best preserved examples in the whole of the Roman empire.|
The entrance fee to the Roman bath house is included in the price of entry to the Chesters Roman Fort and Museum.
The Roman bridge at Cilurnum was the first on Hadrian's Wall - travelling from east to west - and spanned over one-hundred and ninety feet across the River North Tyne, less than a quarter of a mile to the east of the Chesters cavalry fort. Examination of the remains have revealed that the Romans built two consecutive bridges here.
A small hexagonal Hadrianic abutment has been identified on the east bank, incorporated within the massive masonry of the later bridge, and measures some ten feet wide by nineteen feet long, with cutwaters both up and downstream. This surviving eastern abutment was probably mirrored by a similar construction on the west bank. A single seven-foot square pier also belonging to the original bridge has been found embedded within the massive central pier of the later bridge. It is clear from the small size of the identified remains that in its original form, the bridge was intended to carry the Wall rampart-walk only.
The single identified Hadrianic pier is located almost exactly central in the river, suggesting that the river was bridged in just two spans, but a double-spanned footbridge would have needed timbers in excess of one hundred feet in length, and, even if the required lengths of timber were readily available the bridge would have been quite unstable. We must assume that the original timber footbridge was supported on at least three piers, with only the central pier surviving until modern times.
In its second incarnation, probably during the Severan period, the bridge was rebuilt to take the Roman Military Way across the North Tyne as well as the Wall rampart-walk. Three large masonry piers with upstream cutwaters were built on the river bed to carry the large timbers of the new road bridge, and massive stone abutments supported the ends of the bridge on either bank.
In its time, the Roman bridge over the River North Tyne at Cilurnum was probably considered an astounding feat of engineering, and would have created much the same impression on the Roman traveller as the huge, curving spans of the suspension bridges over the Severn, Forth and Humber estuaries have over his modern counterpart today.
|Cilurnum Bridge Abutment and Mill Race|
|The remains of the monumental eastern abutment of the later bridge can nowadays be visited, lying some fifty feet from the water's edge, where the easternmost pier still lies buried within the bank of the river. Many of the larger stones on the site have cramp-holes by which they were lifted and positioned, and on the southern water-face there is a stone-inscribed phallus, a good-luck symbol to ward off the evil eye. At periods of low-water during dry summers, the footings of the western abutment and the two remaining stone piers become visible.
Access to the site is by foot only, via the cutting of the disused Border Counties Railway line, over a mile by road from the Chesters Roman Museum, due to the lack of a modern footbridge.
The guidebook by Les Turnbull, published in 1974, says that there were plans to build a modern footbridge across the North Tyne here for twenty years before the time his guidebooks were written. Now, another quarter of a century on, there is still no footbridge! Somebody is either being very tight-fisted, or else highly obstructive.