VINOVIA? / VINOVIVM?

Roman Fort
Minor Settlement

Binchester, Durham

NGRef: NZ2031
OSMap: LR93
Type: Roman Fort, Minor Settlement.
Roads
Iter I: NNW (13) to LONGOVICIVM (Lanchester, Durham)
NNE (15) to CONCANGIS (Chester-le-Street, Durham)
Iter I: S (9) to Piercebridge (Durham) via Sandforth Moor
SW (18) to LAVATRIS (Bowes, Durham)

Vinovia - The Vintners Way?

Binchester appears in three out of the four major classical geographies. Ptolemy's Geography has the entry Vinovium appearing under the Brigantes tribe, between EPIACVM (Whitley Castle, Northumberland) and CATARACTONIVM (Catterick, North Yorkshire). The Antonine Itinerary has a Vinovia near the beginning of Iter I, where it is listed nine miles from VINDOMORA (Ebchester, Durham) and nineteen miles from CATARACTONIVM, and in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#134), again as Vinovia, this time between LONGOVICIVM (Lanchester, Durham) and LAVATRIS (Bowes, Durham).

The Roman name for Binchester appears to be entirely Latin in origin, a compound name from the words vinea or vinum meaning 'vines' or 'wine', and via or 'road'. The oldest reference shows the name as Vinovium, which may indicate that the original ending was in the genitive plural. The name may be something along the lines of 'the Way of the Vines', which suggests that vines were grown in the area, not very likely considering the climate in Bishop's Auckland. An alternative and perhaps more plausible translation may be 'the Ways of the Vintners', which would imply that there was a popular inn or tavern here. Could the original name of Binchester be derived from the name of a Roman pub? Not entirely unthinkable when you consider 'Craven Arms' in Shropshire for instance, a modern town named after an old coaching inn.

The Binchester Fort

LEG VI
"The Sixth Legion (made this)."
(RIB 1038)

Binchester was evidently (vide supra) built by the men of the Sixth Legion Victrix. This legion were permanently stationed at EBVRACVM (York, North Yorkshire) since entering the province in the emperor Hadrian's train during his AD122 visit to Britain. The fort would seem to have been built to secure the northern route between the legionary base and the fortifications of Hadrian's Wall.

During excavations over the years a number of animal bones have been uncovered at Binchester, including those of Ox, Sheep, Goat, Pig, Red Deer and Boar; the latter two animals very likely being hunted and killed for sport, as well as to supplement the soldiers' diet.

The Garrison Units

Ala [Hispanorum] Vettonum Civium Romanorum
The [Spanish] Wing of Vettones, citizens of Rome

I O M ALA VETTONVM C P ... ONIVS RVFVS PRAEF VSLM
"To Jupiter Optimius Maximus, the Vettonian Wing, Citizens of Rome,
(commanded by) [N]onius Rufus, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow."

(Britannia 1992.10; buff-sandstone altar fragment; restored)

The Ala Vettonum are named explicitly on three altars from the Binchester site and implicated on at least 2 other stones. This five-hundred strong cavalry regiment were recruited from the Vettones tribe of Lusitania in Hispania Ulterior. They inhabited the southern Castilla y Leon region of north-western Spain where their main town was Salmantica, now called Salamanca on the Tormes.

... SVLP VIC ... ALA VETTON CIVIS CANN VSLM
"[to an unknown god] Sulpicius Victor, [...] the Vettonian Wing citizen of Cannae,¹ willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1035; altarstone)
  1. in Apulia, on the southern Adriatic coast of Italy. Alternately he may have been born in Cannabiaca on the Pannonian frontier, which is unlikely.

The unit were earlier stationed at CICVCIVM (Y Gaer, Powys), as they are attested on two tombstones from there (RIB 403 et 405?). The building work dated to AD197-202 at the nearby fort of LAVATRIS (Bowes, Durham; RIB 730), was probably carried out while the unit were based here at Binchester. The undated tombstone at AQVAE SVLIS (Bath, Avon; RIB 159) probably only reflects the chosen place of retirement for a veteran of the unit.

D M S NEM MONTANVS DEC VIXIT ANN XL NEM SANCTVS FR ET COHER EX TESTAMENTO FECERT
"To the sacred spirits of the departed, and to Nem[...] Montanus, decurio,¹ he lived for forty years; not (at all) religious, his brothers and joint-heirs had this made according to his will."
(RIB 1039; tombstone)
  1. 'Troop commander'; in charge of a turma, a sub-division of an Ala of cavalry.

Cuneus Frisiorum Vinoviensium - The Formation of Frisians from Vinovium

...MANDVS EX C FRIS VINOVIE VSLM
"[...]mandus, veteran of the Frisian Formation of Vinovia,
willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."

(RIB 1036; altarstone)

The stone inscription shown above may name C[ohors I] Fris[iavonum], who are known from several sites in the north of England, but if this is the case why is the numeral missing? also, this does not explain the Vinovie suffix, which would not have been given to a Cohort. The unit title on RIB 1036 more likely refers to a Cuneus (plural Cunei), which was a small cavalry unit adopted into use by the Roman Imperial army during the late empire, and named after the wedge-shaped formation they adopted in battle.

The second part of the unit name may be Frisiorum or Frisiavonum which indicates the tribe from which the original troops were levied, either the Germanic Frisii or the Belgic Frisiavones. The Belgic tribe can be ruled out on two counts; firstly, the existence is known of a Cohort of Frisiavones in Britain and any additional levies from this tribe would most likely have been posted to this unit, secondly, cunei were mainly restricted to non-allied tribesmen who offered their services as mercenaries, the unit at Vinovia, therefore, were most likely from the Germanic Frisii.

There are other examples of Cunei Frisiorum; at DERVENTIO (Papcastle, Cumbria; RIB 882; AD241) and VERCOVICIVM (Housesteads, Northumberland; RIB 1594; AD222-35).

The Gods of Vinovium

MAT SAC GEMELLVS VSLM
"To the holy Mother Goddesses, Gemellus¹ willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1033; altarstone)
  1. A Roman cognomen denoting a surviving twin.

Several Roman altarstones have been recovered from Binchester, over half of which are dedicated to the Matribus Ollototae or the 'Mother Goddesses of Ollototis', one of these altars is shared with Jupiter Optimus Maximus who also has another altar dedicated solely to himself. There are other lone altars to Fortuna the goddess of good fortune, and also to the god of medicine, Aesculapius.

AESCVLAPIO ET SALVTI PRO SALVTE ALAE VETTONVM C R M AVRELIVS ...OCOMAS MEDICVS VSLM
"To Æsculapius, for the health and well-being of the Vettonian Wing, citizens of Rome, Marcus Auelius [...]ocomas, medicus,¹ willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1028)
  1. The Greek god of medicine, a son of Apollo.
  2. Medical officer.
FORTVNAE SANCTAE M VAL FVLVIANVS PRAEF EQ V S L L M
"To virtuous Fortune, Marcus Valerius Fulvianus, prefect of cavalry, willingly, gladly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1029; altarstone)

Beneficiarius Consularis

I O M ET MATRIBVS OLLOTOTIS SIVE TRANSMARINIS POMPONIVS DONATVS B F COS PRO SALVTE SVA ET SVORVM VSLM
"To Jupiter Best and Greatest and to the Mother Goddesses Ollototae whether from across the ocean (or otherwise), Pomponius Donatus, Beneficiarius Consularis, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow for the health of himself and his family."
(RIB 1030; altarstone)

Two altarstones dedicated by men each bearing the title Beneficiarius Consularis have been unearthed at Binchester. They were the chief accountants attached to the staff of the Consular governor of Britain and are discussed on the RBO page for CATARACTONIVM (Catterick, North Yorkshire).

DEAB MATRIB OLLOT TIB CL QVINTIANVS B F COS VSLM
"To the Mother Goddesses Ollototis, Tiberius Claudius Quintianus, Beneficiarius Consularis, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."
(RIB 1031; altarstone)

Roman Milestone from Willington, 4 Miles North of Binchester

IMP CAESARI MARCO ANT GORDIANO ...
"For Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus [...]¹"
(RIB 2294; milestone; dated: AD238-244)
  1. There were three emperors with this name: Gordianus I was governor of Africa when the death of emperor Maximinus Thrax in early-January AD238 elevated he and his like-named eldest son to the positions of joint Augusti. Gordianus the younger was killed in the defense of Carthage in late-January 238 and the elder Gordian committed suicide soon afterwards. The two Gordiani were replaced by Balbeinus and Pupienus by February 238, but these venerable politicians were both murdered at Rome in May 238. The praetorians then proclaimed as emperor Gordianus III the younger son of Gordian I, although the boy was then only 13 years old. He was to rule until February 244, when he was murdered by his own troops in Mesopotamia aged 19. The damaged trailing text would probably have been of some help in determining a more precise date.

Public Inscription from Vinovium

BONO REI PVBLICAE NATO
"Born for the benefit of the state."
(Britannia 1970.15; buff-sandstone slab)
  1. Inscriptions bearing variations of this same text have been uncovered in Britain at: Moridunum (Carmarthen, Dyfed; RIB 412); Voreda (Old Penrith, Cumbria; statue base; RIB 930); Hadrian's Wall, somewhere in Cumbria (RIB 2314).
See: Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) pp.52-65;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1951-5 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlv (1956) pp.82-91;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Britannia i (1970) p.308 no.15;
The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia ii (1971) pp.122-142;
Britannia xxiii (1992) p.314 no.10;
Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
Atlas of the Greek and Roman World in Antiquity by Nicholas G.L. Hammond (Bristol Classical Press);
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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