EPIACVM

Roman Fort

Whitley Castle, Northumberland

NGRef: NY6948
OSMap: LR86/87
Type: Roman Fort

Plan of Epiacum Roman fort
From the Archaeology of Roman Britain
by R.G. Collingwood (fig.10a, p.45).
Roads
Maiden Way: N (10) to MAGNIS (Carvoran, Northumberland)
Probable Road: NE (22) to CORSTOPITVM (Corbridge, Northumberland)
Maiden Way: S (15) to BRAVONIACVM (Kirkby Thore, Cumbria)

The Roman fort at Whitley Castle is located on the modern geographical boundary between the counties of Cumbria and Northumberland, close to the line of the Maiden Way on the western bank of the River South Tyne. The fort lies just west of the modern A689 road near Castle Nook, 2 miles north-west of Alston in the Gilderdale Forest.

The only classical geographical source for the Roman name of Whitley Castle is Ptolemy's Geography, in which the entry Epiacum heads the list of towns in the tribal lands of the Brigantes of north-east England; below the Selgovae and Votadini tribes of Borders and Northumberland.

The name Epiacum is possibly a contraction of epi-acumen meaning 'surrounding the point', which could refer to the fort's outstanding tactical position surrounding the summit of a small hill. The modern name means 'the castle in the white clearing'.

The Builders of the Epiacum Fort

VEX LEG XX V V REFEC
"A detachment of the Twentieth Legion, Valiant and Victorious, rebuilt this."
(RIB 1204)

Situated in potentially hostile country to the rear of Hadrian's Wall, Epiacum was probably built to control the lead mines in the region of Alston nearby. The wealth represented by these opencast workings very likely prompted the Romans to secure the area by the establishment of a local garrison in the early Agricolan period, perhaps no later than 80AD. By the Hadrianic period, over forty years later, the fort would have been in need of substantial refurbishment, and it is possible that the inscription above dates to the early AD120's, when the Wall itself was being built some dozen miles to the north.

Located on a small hill, the fort is posessed of an unusual diamond-shaped plan, which is arranged so as to take maximum advantage of the local terrain. These natural defenses were augmented by a massive system of ditches, up to seven on the south-western side which was the weakest.

BRIT MAX GERM MAX PONTIF MAX TRIB POT XVII[..] COS IIII P P PROCOS ... PER MILIT COH II NERV ...
"Greatest in Britain, greatest in Germany, high priest, holding tribunician power for the [...]teenth time,¹ consul four times, father of his country, proconsul [...]² by means of the soldiers of the Second Cohort of Nervians [...]³"
(RIB 1203; dated AD214-17)
  1. The text here is defective and could represent any number between XVII and XVIIII; see below.
  2. This lacuna likely contained the name and titles of the emperor under whose administration this work was commissioned; in this case easily identified as Caracalla (for his full name and titles vide RIB 1202 infra).
  3. The lettering on the bottom of the stone is missing, but may have continued along the lines of RIB 1202.

Caracalla ruled jointly with his father Severus from AD198 until they were joined in equal imperium by his younger brother Geta in 209, then came a brief period of brotherly joint-rule after their father's death in 211, until Geta was murdered the following year, thereafter Caracalla was to remain sole emperor until his own assassination in 217.

Caracalla was consul for the fourth time in 213, and his colleague, Decimus Caelius (Calvinus) Balbinus, was himself consul for the second time this year. If Caracalla was given tribunician power at the time when he was first proclaimed Caesar (heir to the throne) in 196, then the nineteenth year of his tribunicia potestas would have occurred in 215. If tribunician power was withheld until Caracalla was proclaimed joint Augustus in 198, which is thought to be the case, the date of this inscription could range from the year of his fourth consulship up until the year of his death.

The lacuna in the text where Caracalla's name and titles should appear, is most likely ascribed to the condemnation of his memory by senatorial decree. This would have resulted in his name being deliberately erased from public monuments, altars and building inscriptions throughout the empire.

The Garrison Units

Legio Sextae Victrix Pia Fidelis? - The Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful

DEO HERCVLI C VITELLIVS ATTICIANVS > LEG VI V P F
"To the god Hercules, Gaius Vitellius Atticanus, Centurion of the Sixth Legion, Victorious, Loyal and Faithful, (erected this)."
(RIB 1199; altarstone)

The discovery of an altar dedicated by a centurion serving in Legio VI Victrix does not prove that the fort was occupied by men of the Sixth Legion at any time. The centurions in the Roman legions were highly experienced military men, and as such, were often being seconded to temporary positions in the Auxilia. Because of this, combined with the lack of corroborative epigraphic evidence from the Whitley Castle site, we must assume that Gaius Vitellius was posted to the Epiacum fort from his legionary base at York, in order to provide training for the auxiliary unit stationed here; the name of the unit to which he was seconded remains unknown.

Cohors Secundae Nerviorum Civium Romanorum - The Second Cohort of Nervii, citizens of Rome

DEO APOLLINI G...IVS ... ...COH II NER ...
"To the god Apollo, Gaius Julius Marcius,¹ [commander] of the Second Cohort of Nervians, [fulfilled his vow]."
(RIB 1198; altarstone)
  1. Text restored from RIB 1202 (vide infra).

This auxiliary regiment are attested on three stone inscriptions from Whitley Castle (vide RIB 1202 infra, ac RIB 1203 et 1198 supra), all dating to the period AD213-217.

They unit was originally levied from the Nervii tribe of Belgica province, who inhabited the Hainaut region of south-eastern Belgium, extending southwards into the eastern Artois region of northern France; their cantonal capital was located at Bagacum (Bavai, France). The CR suffix usually appended to the unit name stands for civium Romanorum or 'citizens of Rome', this honour was not awarded lightly, and probably indicates that the regiment performed some outstanding act of bravery at some time in its history.

This unit have been identified on inscriptions unearthed at a number of other sites in Britain, all undated, some tentative: RIB 1240 Risingham, numeral lost; RIB 1303 Wallsend; RIB 1538 Carrawburgh; RIB 1683 Chesterholm; also identified on lead seals from Brough-under-Stainmore.

Building Inscrition of Governor Julius Marcus

... RESTITVT SVB [G IVL MAR?]CO LEG AVG PR PR ...VIR C COS PR BR
"[...] restored under the administration of Gaius Julius Marcus,¹ legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power, [most prominent] of men, most illustrious consular, governor of Britain.²"
(RIB 1205; dated: AD213)
  1. Gaius Julius Marcus was the governor of Britannia Inferior by AD213.
  2. The titles of this man have been restored: [eminentissimus] vir, clarissimus consularis, praeses Britannorum.

The Roman Gods of Whitley Castle

DEAE MENERVAE ET HERCVLI VICTORI
"To the gods Minerva and Victorious Hercules."
(RIB 1200; altarstone)

Apart from the altars to Apollo and Hercules already mentioned (vide RIB 1198 et 1199 supra), other gods were also worshipped at Epiacum; one altar was dedicated to both Minerva and Hercules (supra), and another was raised to the 'Spirits of our Ancestors' (infra).

Altar to Divi Numeni Maiestasque Eius

IMP CAES DIVI L SEPT SEVERI PII PERTINACIS AVG ARABICI ADIABENICI PARTHICI MAX FIL DIVI ANTONINI PII GERMANICI SARM NEP DIVI TRAIANI PARTH ET DIVI NERVAE ADNEP M AVRELIO ANTONINO PIO FEL AVG PARTHICI MAX BRIT MAX PONT MAX TR POT XVI IMP II COS IIII P P PRO PIETATE AC DEVOTIONE COMMVNI CVRANTE G IVLIO MARCO LEG AVG PR PR COH II NERVIORVM C R POS D N M Q E
"To the Emperor Caesar the divine Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus,¹ greatest in Arabia, Adiabene, and Parthica, son of the divine Antoninus Pius Germanicus conqueror of the Sarmatians, grandson of the divine Trajanus conqueror of the Parthians, and of the divine Nerva, grandson by adoption to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus highest in Parthica,² greatest in Britain, high priest, holding tribunician power for the sixteenth time, hailed Imperator in the field twice, consul four times, father of his country, for the loyalty and devotion of the general public, attended by Gaius Julius Marcius the pro-praetorian legate of the emperor, the Second Cohort of Nervians, citizens of Rome, erected this, to the divine spirits of our ancestors."
(RIB 1202; dated AD213)
  1. The emperor Caracalla, who came to power in February AD211 and at first shared the rule jointly with his younger brother Geta, until December the same year when the youngest son of Septimius Severus was murdered by his elder brother. Caracalla then continued to rule alone until 217 when he was himself murdered by members of his own household.
  2. Caracalla's genealogy ends here, and the inscription continues with the rest of his curriculum vitae.
See: Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
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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