PINNATA CASTRA

Roman Legionary Fortress & Marching Camps

Inchtuthill, Tayside

NGRef: NO1239
OSMap: LR53
Type: Legionary Fortress, 3 Marching Camps.

Inchtuthill Legionary Fortress
Adapted from The Roman Imperial Army
by Graham Webster (p.184, fig.34).
Click image for detailed plan.
Roads
Possible Military Road: SSW (9) to Bertha (Perth, Tayside)
Probable Military Road: SW (3½) to Cargill (Tayside)

Pinnata Castra - The Fortress on the Wing?

The name of the Inchtuhill fortress is mentioned in two of the classical geographical sources, in Ptolemy's Geography the name appears Pinnata Castra, between the unidentified towns Tamia and Tuesis, and in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#211) as Pinnatis between another two unknown entries, Iberran and Tuessis, the latter of which can no doubt be equated to the like-named entry in Ptolemy.

The etymology of the name is purely Latin, the first part castra means simply 'the fortress' but the second part pinnata presents more of a problem. The root word is obviously pinna/pinnatus meaning 'feather' or 'winged', but the ending is uncertain. The word pinna can also be taken to mean 'the raised part of an embattled parapet' referring no doubt to the shape of the crenellations on the battlements, if we accept this meaning the name could then be translated as 'the Fortress with Battlements'. However, the same could be said for every Roman legionary fortress, so why should the battlements here be worthy of note? An alternative suggestion is that the name may allude to the remote location of Inchtuthill, with a translation along the lines 'the fortress on the wing', a name which would be fully justified for this, the northernmost fortress in the entire Roman empire.

The derivation of the modern name is complicated, but seems stem from the Anglicisation of the Gaelic word inis meaning 'riverside/water meadow', here compounded with the Anglicisation of tulach 'hillock, knoll' together with the fully-English word meaning the same thing. A loose translation of the modern name Inchtuthill, would be 'the hillock in the river-meadow'.

The Inchtuthill Fortress

The Inchtuthill fortress covered 50 acres (20 hectares) - a fairly standard size - and was probably built sometime after the battle of Mons Graupius (possibly Durno in Grampian) to police the newly-subjugated Caledonian tribes. The battle is narrated in Tacitus' Agricola (chapters xxix-xxxvii), and was fought in AD84. The fortress was abandoned before it was completed following the withdrawal of the Second Legion Adiutrix from Britain in AD86, which was to leave the south of the province severely at threat. Although no building inscriptions or any other epigraphic evidence has been recovered from the site of the fortress, it is assumed to have been built by the Twentieth Legion, who were removed back to England to man recently abandoned fortress of the IInd at Chester.

Defenses consisted of a turf rampart 13 ft. (c.4 m) thick, revetted at the front by a stone wall 5 ft. (c.1.5 m) thick, fronted by a berm of 16 ft. (c.4.9 m) and a ditch 20 ft. wide and 6½ ft. deep (c.6 x 2 m) with a counterscarp bank formed from the ditch upcast, 22 ft. wide and surviving to a height of 3½ ft. (c.6.7 x 1.1 m). The ditch upcast, of loose gravel and sand, was laid upon a foundation of three or four courses of turf and had probably been surmounted by obstacles such as cervuli. These were tree branches stuck fast into the ground to impede enemy soldiers; the name is an allusion to the antlers of deer, in Latin cervus.

The Dateable Pottery Evidence

A considerable amound of dateable pottery was recovered during excavations at Inchtuthill. The stamps of seven potters have been recorded; there are four of Logirnus, three of Iullinus, two each of both Secundus and Patricius, and single examples of Censor, Frontinus and Pontheius. The decorated wares comprised of nineteen of Form 37, sixteen Form 27 and two of Form 30. Much of the pottery recovered had contemorary examples in the Pompeii hoard and can therefore be dated c.AD75-90.

Marching Camps and Stone Quarries

There are three temporary marching camps in close proximity to the fortress at Inchtuthill (NO1239), and another a couple of miles to the north at Steeds Stalls (NO1142). There is no doubt that at least one or two of the nearer camps would have been used to house the work-force involved in the building of the fortress, whereas the further camp may have been placed to provide a protective enclosure for the workers in the nearby stone quarries on the Hill of Gourdie (NO1042).

Click here for a detailed plan of the fortress

See: Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) pp.63/4;
Roman Britain in 1952 in J.R.S. xliii (1953) p.104;
Roman Britain in 1953 in J.R.S. xliv (1954) pp.84;
Roman Britain in 1954 in J.R.S. xlv (1955) pp.122/3;
Roman Britain in 1955 in J.R.S. xlvi (1956) p.122;
Roman Britain in 1956 in J.R.S. xlvii (1957) p.98;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1955-7 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlviii (1958) p.???;
Roman Britain in 1957 in J.R.S. xlviii (1958) p.132;
Roman Britain in 1958 in J.R.S. xlix (1959) pp.103/4;
Roman Britain in 1959 in J.R.S. l (1960) p.213;
Roman Britain in 1960 in J.R.S. li (1961) p.160;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1958-1960 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. li (1961) p.???;
Roman Britain in 1961 in J.R.S. lii (1962) p.162;
Roman Britain in 1962 in J.R.S. liii (1963) pp.126/7;
Roman Britain in 1963 in J.R.S. liv (1964) p.153;
Roman Britain in 1964 in J.R.S. lv (1965) p.200;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1961-1964 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lv (1965) p.???;
Roman Britain in 1965 in J.R.S. lvi (1966) pp.198/9;
The Roman Occupations of Scotland by B.R. Hartley in Britannia iii (1972) pp.1-55;
Air Reconnaissance in Roman Britain 1977-1984 by G.S. Maxwell & D.R. Wilson in Britannia xviii (1987) p.27;
Roman Britain in 1981 in Britannia xiii (1982) p.336;
Roman Britain in 1989 in Britannia xxi (1990) p.310;
D.E.S. 1994 p.85;
The Roman Imperial Army by Graham Webster (Constable, London, 1996).

Inchtuthill Roman Fortress

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