MEDIOBOGDVM

Roman Fort

Hardknott, Cumbria

NGRef: NY2101
OSMap: LR89/90
Type: Roman Fort
photo pfmediobogdum by John
Photograph of Mediobogdum
Taken in June 2002 by John Farrer
Roads
Iter X: E (10) to GALAVA (Ambleside, Cumbria)
Iter X: WSW (7½) to GLANNOVENTA (Ravenglass, Cumbria)

This fort is definitely the most strikingly sited that I have ever seen, perched high upon a rocky spur overlooking the River Esk from the south-east, with a superb view south-westwards towards the Irish Sea. The approach from the east along the course of the Roman road from Ambleside through the Wrynose and the Hardknott Passes is most exhilarating. The small stream which once fed the bath-house standing outside the fort's southern defences makes the final approach particularly boggy but the remains of the fort, on very uneven ground, makes the arduous drive and short (but muddy) walk most rewarding. The spectacular stone defensive circuit is complete with gateways, corner and interval-towers and the buildings of the central range are all evident, only the praetorium foundations being incomplete; the barracks here, as at Ambleside to the east, were timber-built.

The only classical reference for the original Roman name of the Hardknott fort is the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#114) Mediobogdo entry, which is situated in the document as on the ground, between the forts of Galava (Ambleside, Cumbria) and Glannoventa (Ravenglass, Cumbria).

The Hardknott Roman Fort

This fort is square in outline with rounded corners measuring 375 ft (114 m) across the ditches, thus covering an area of about 3¼ acres (c.1.3 ha), although the internal dimensions were around 345 ft square (105 m²) within the ramparts, giving an occupation area of a little under 2¾ acres (c.1.1 ha).

"Hardknott Castle (Cumberland) is 375 feet square; internally it was rather less than 2¾ acres. The stone rampart-wall is 5 feet 6 inches thick and the total thickness of the rampart must have been about 20 feet. None of the gates have guard-rooms, but all except the porta decumana are double; the two archways of the porta praetoria were each about 10 feet wide and those of the portae principales about 8 feet. Two ditches are visible on the weak uphill side. inside, the central buildings were of stone; the barracks of wood; but a heated building in the retentura must have been of stone. Outside there is a bath-house, and an interesting parade ground, artificially levelled against the mountain side. It was occupied from A.D. 100-110 to A.D. 125-135." (Collingwood, 1930)
[...A]GRIC[O]LA COII¹...
"Assemble¹ with Agricola!²"
(RIB 793; slab fragment)
  1. The second word may read COH, an abbreviation of Coh[ors] or Coh[ortis], suggesting that the stone perhaps originally included the name of the legionary cohort responsible for building the fort; it may also be read COE, perhaps from Coe[rcitio] 'restraint, punishment'. I have opted for the imperative Coii!.
  2. The Agricola in question may have been a centurion, a cohort commander, or even one of two Roman governors of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola (Praeses Britanniarum AD78 - 84) or Sextus Calpurnius Agricola (Pr. Br. AD163/4 - c.166), however, the archaeological evidence does not support either of these latter two options.

The inscription shown above is the earliest - and briefest - of only two texts on stone recovered from Hardknott. The only other inscribed stone found so far is shown below, dateable to the reign of Hadrian, and confirms that a certain amount of building work was undertaken by an auxiliary infantry cohort, possibly because they were re-using an earlier structure, and only minor renovation work was required at the time.


Plan of Hardknott Castle
produced by R.G. Collingwood in 1953.

The Mediobogdum Garrison

Cohors Quartae Delmatarum - The Fourth Cohort of Dalmatians

IMP CAES DIVI TRAIANI PARTHICI FIL DIVI NERVAE NEP TRAIANO HADRIANO AVGVSTO PONT MAX ... COS III ... ... LEG AVG PR PR COH IIII DELMATARVM FECIT
"For the emperor Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the Divine Trajanus Parthicus, grandson of the Divine Nerva, Pontifex Maximus,¹ [...] consul three times,² [...] pro-praetorian legate of the emperor, the Fourth Cohort of Delmatians made this."
(RIB 793a; AD119-38; JRS lv 1965, p.222, no.7)
  1. High Priest.
  2. Hadrian was consul for the third time AD119 (a.u.c.872), with Publius Dasumius Rusticus his colleague.

As you would expect for a fort perched in such an inaccessible spot, the garrison of Hardknot was an infantry cohort, this one containing five-hundred auxiliary soldiers recruited from the Delmatian tribes, who inhabited the areas bordering the eastern Adriatic in the modern countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.

See: Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (1930) p.40;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

Also, sincere thanks to John Farrer from British Columbia, Canada, for the Hardknott pic.

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