NIDVM

Roman Auxiliary Fort

Neath, West Glamorgan

NGRef: SS7497
OSMap: LR170
Type: Fort, Milestone.
Roads
NE (11) to Coelbren (West Glamorgan)
Coastal road: SE (36) to Cardiff (South Glamorgan)
Possible road: W (11) to LEVCARVM (Loughor, West Glamorgan)

Nidum - "The Nest?"

The Roman name for the fort and probable harbour ar Neath appears only in the Antonine Itinerary of the mid-2nd century. Within Iter XII, entitled "the route from Moridunum [Carmarthen, Dyfed] to Viroconium [Wroxeter, Shropshire]", this document records the station Nido located 15 miles equidistant from both Leucarum (Loughor, West Glamorgan) and Bomium (Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan). The name may be related to the latin word nidus, 'nest, eyrie', but the meaning is unclear.

The Roman Fort at Nidum/Neath

N.G.REFDIMENSIONSAREA
SS747977c.525 x 525 ft
(c.160 x 160 m)
c.6¼ acres
(c.2.5 ha)

Although the presence of a Roman garrison fort at Neath had always been known from historical itineraries and various Romano-British finds from the local area, the actual position of the fort was not known until 1949, when the foundations of Roman military buildings were uncovered during initial clearance operations for a new housing estate. Excavations were immediately conducted by V.E. Nash-Williams who uncovered part of the south-eastern gateway of a stone-built 2nd-century fort. Further trial trenches revealed the location of the south-east and south-west ramparts, also a latrine in the southern corner-angle. The following year (1950) the south-western defences were sectioned and the south-eastern gateway was located and confirmed by excavation. The northern corner-angle was investigated by Swinbank in 1958, who distinguished three periods of construction in the stone-built angle tower thus revealed. The positions of the north-east and north-west ramparts were confirmed during gas mains-laying operations in 1954, 1958 and 1962.

These excavations allow us to extrapolate the ground-plan of the fort with reasonable accuracy. The defences formed an almost perfect square with rounded angles and centrally placed gateways in each side, aligned north-east to south-west and measuring 525 feet (c.160 m) across the ramparts, which thus enclosed about 6¼ acres (c.2.5 ha). These defences exhibited at least two construction phases:

  1. The original defences consisted of a timber-revetted clay and turf bank about 15 feet wide (c.4.6 m) fronted by a berm 5 feet wide (c.1.5 m) which separated the rampart from a single, shallow, V-shaped ditch 15 feet across but only 3 feet deep (c.4.6 x 0.9 m).
  2. At some later period (see below) the earthen rampart was re-faced with stone blocks and equipped with solid stone towers in each of its corner-angles, large double gateways of stone were built at all entrances; no trace of any interval towers have been recorded.

What Can You See of the Neath Roman Fort Today?

The remains of the south-western gateway is preserved behind railings beside the Neath Abbey Road, and the south-eastern gateway is similarly situated at the corner of Roman Way beside the railway embankment. The line of the ramparts are still just visible on the grammar school playing field to the west as a slight rise of only 2 feet (c.0.6 m).

The Garrison of Roman Nidum

The area enclosed within the ramparts was large enough to have comfortably housed a regiment of auxiliary cavalry with a nominal 500 troopers, an Ala Quingenaria, or a mixed unit of infantry and horse, a cohors milliaria equitata with a nominal strength of one-thousand soldiers and troopers, however, there is also the possibility that the fort housed more than one regiment. The presence of no unit has yet been confirmed.

Finds uncovered over the years include a variety of tiles used for roofing, flooring and heating, pieces of an early (1st-century) amphora, fragments of Samian tableware ranging from Flavian to Hadrianic in date, kitchenware pottery sherds were mostly late-1st/early-2nd century but one or two pieces were demonstrably Antonine in date. Six coins were also found, ranging from Augustus (Imp. 23B.C. - A.D.14) to Trajan (Imp. A.D.98-117).

The original turf and timber fort was probably founded during the governorship of Julius Frontinus sometime during the period A.D.74 to 78, with the defences being replaced in stone sometime around the turn of the 2nd century according to Nash-Williams, but both Swinbank and Dr. Simpson believe the fort was abandoned and subsequentle re-occupied and re-built in the 2nd century. There is no evidence of military occupation after the Antonine period, and it appears that the fort was abandoned by the late-2nd century, although the inclusion of Nido in the Antonine Itinerary suggest that the site retained some form of civilian occupation until perhaps the early-3rd.

Other Roman Sites/Finds in the Area

There are Roman temporary marching camps nearby; one 2½ miles to the east at Blaen-cwm-Bach (SS7998) and another five miles to the north-east at Carn Caca (SN8300).

A number of Roman milestones have been found on the coastal road to Cardiff; to the immediate south-west of the Nidum fort at Melincryddan (SS7496; vide infra), and others further along the same stretch of road at Aberafon (SS7588), Port Talbot (SS7887), Margam (SS8184) and Pyle (SS8282). In the text below, the emperors full name and titles have been added in translation, displayed within [square brackets] for clarification.

Melincryddan, 1½ miles S of Neath, West Glamorgan

IMP CES DIOCLETIANO AVG
"Imperator Caesar [Gaius Aurelius Valerius] Diocletianus [Pius Felix Invictus] Augustus¹"
(RIB 2257; milestone; dated: AD284-286)
  1. The emperor Diocletian (see milestone from Bridgend, Glamorgan; RIB 2256, note#2). The fact that no mention is made of Maximian leads me to date this stone to the two years before they began rule as joint Augusti.
See: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan by the RCAHMW (HMSO, Cardiff) vol.I, pt.ii, pp.88-90 & fig.50;
Historical Map and Guide - Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001);
Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Britons and the Roman Army by Dr. Grace Simpson (Gregg, London, 1964);
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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