VIROCONIVM CORNOVIORVM

Roman Legionary Fortress
British Tribal City

Wroxeter, Shropshire

NGRef: SJ565088
OSMap: LR126
Type: Legionary Fortress, Tribal City (Cornovii), Aqueduct, Classical Temple, Romano-Celtic Temple, Possible Provincial Capital of Britannia Secunda.
Roads
Iter II: N (10) to RVTVNIVM (Harcourt Park, Shropshire)
Possible road: WSW (30) to LEVOBRINTA (Forden Gaer, Powys)
Watling Street (Iter II): E (12) to VXACONA (Redhill, Shropshire)
Probable tactical road: SE (22) to Greensforge (South Staffordshire)
Watling Street West (Iter XII): SSW (19) to Stretford Bridge (Shropshire)

Evidence from the Classical Geographies

Wroxeter Basilica Wall
Viroconium Cornoviorum - The Hadrianic Palaestra South Wall (Looking South-West)
Originally planned as the Flavian forum basilica, but incorporated into the Hadrianic bath-suite as an exercise-hall,
the building measured 245 x 66 feet (c.74.5 x 20 m); the adjoining bath-house was accessed through the large opening.
Known as the "Old Work", this is the tallest free-standing Roman structure in Britain.

"... From these¹ toward the east are the Cornavi, among whom are the towns: Deva² [the garrison town of] Legio XX Victrix [... and] Viroconium ..."
Above quote from Ptolemy's Geography
  1. The Ordovices tribe of north-west Wales.
  2. The fortress of the Twentieth Legion was at Chester in Cheshire.

Aside from the entry from Ptolemy given above, the Roman name of Wroxeter occurs twice in the Antonine Itinerary of the late second century. The town appears as Urioconio in the middle of Iter II entitled "The Route from the Wall to Portum Ritupis", which details each Roman road-station along the entire 491 mile route from Blatobulgium (Birrens, Dumfries & Galloway) some twenty-four miles beyond Hadrian's Wall in the north all the way to Richborough in Kent, the main port of embarkation for the continent. In the Second Itinerery the Viroconium entry is listed 11 miles from Rutunium (Harcourt Park, Shropshire) and 11 miles from Uxacona (Redhill, Shropshire).

The town is also one of the termini of Antonine Iter XII entitled "The Route from Moridunum to Viroconium". This route is reported to be one-hundred and eighty-six miles long, and starts from the unknown station Moridunum, which is perhaps located somewhere near Honiton in Devon. In the Twelfth Itinerary Wroxeter is named Viriconio and is listed twenty-seven miles from Bravonium (Leintwardine, Hereford & Worcester).

Wroxeter also appears in the seventh century document the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#79), where it is listed as Utriconion Cornoviorum between the entries for Levobrinta (Forden Gaer, Powys) and the unknown station Alauna. The name of the town Utriconion is here suffixed by the word/phrase Cornoviorum which means 'of the Cornovii', which was used either;

  1. to distinguish the town from another, like-named settlement within the territory of another tribe, or
  2. to indicate that the town was the centre of administration for the tribe, the civitas capital.

So far as is known, the name Utriconion or Viriconium is unique not only within the province of Britain but also across the Roman empire. There would be absolutely no reason to suffix the name for the purpose of distinction or clarity, so the town must have been the tribal capital.

The Civitas Cornoviorum

Monumental Inscription from the Wroxeter Forum

IMP CAES DIVI TRAIANI PARTHICI FIL DIVI NERVAE NEPOTI TRAIANO HADRIANO AVG PONTIFICI MAXIMO TRIB POT XIIII COS III PP CIVITAS CORNOVIORVM
"To Imperator Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus,¹ the son of the divine Trajanus Parthicus, the grandson of the divine Nerva, Chief Priest, holding tribunician power for the fourteenth time,² consul three times, Father of the Fatherland, the Civitas of the Cornovii."
(RIB 288; monumental dedication; dated AD129-130)
  1. The emperor Hadrian, after whom the famous wall across the north of Britain is named.
  2. This narrows the date to between AD129 and 130.

Further evidence to confirm Wroxeter as the administrative - and commercial - centre of the Cornovii is the inscription which would have appeared above the colonnaded entrance to the forum in the centre of the town (RIB 288 supra) the dedicatory text of which terminates with the words Civitas Cornoviorum or 'The Civitas of the Cornovii'. The inscription had fallen from its place during a catastrophic fire which destroyed the front of the building sometime during the late second century, and was found almost intact amid toppled stacks of samian-ware bowls and mortaria which probably represent the working stocks of a wealthy pottery salesman who could afford the rent charged for this choice location from which to ply his wares - though it didn't do him much good.

Building Inscription from Wroxeter Baths

BONO REI PVBLICAE NATVS
"For the benefit of the children of the republic.¹"
(RIB 289; statue base)
  1. This phrase is usually translated: "Born for the good of the state".

Across the Watling Street opposite the forum was a monumental baths complex constructed during the Hadrianic period in the early second century, replacing the Flavian bath-house which had been abandoned whilst only half-completed late in the previous century. The large Hadrianic bath-house was joined on the north by a huge palaestra or 'exercise hall' which opened onto the Watling Street to the west and formed the formal entrance hall to the baths themselves. Also adjoining the baths along the Watling Street there was a large public lavatorium and a square macellum or indoor market. These four excavated buildings occupied a complete block of the Roman city grid and this entire area is now open to the public.

Viroconium Cornoviorum - The Town of Viroco of the Cornovii

Wroxeter Bath House
Viroconium Cornoviorum - The Hadrianic Bath-House (Looking North-East)
The pilae of the underfloor heating system were found in situ, covered by the remains of the baths superstructure.
After its collapse into ruin, the bath-house was robbed of much of its building-stone over the centuries.

The most convincing argument concerning the origin and development of the name Viroconium is that it is a Romanisation of the Celtic name for the town which was perhaps Viriconon, meaning 'The Town of Virico', a personal name which is known to have been used in Gaul. The name was perhaps transferred here from the hillfort perched almost a thousand feet above the surrounding plain on the nearby volcanic intrusion named the Wrekin. This hillfort was destroyed by fire, probably during the Roman advance through the area, and was the possible scene of the glorious death of the Cornovian noble Virico, at the head of a few hundred 'die-hard' tribesmen. Also of note is the tombstone of the Cornovian woman Vedica from Ilkley in Yorkshire (RIB 639), apparently the daughter of someone whose name ended -rico.

Romano-British Temples at Wroxeter

Classical Temple - Wroxeter 1

This large structure measuring 50 ft. across the front by 98 ft. long overall, stands just south of the Wroxeter forum facing east onto the Watling Street. The temple consisted of a rectangular cobbled court enclosed by walls only 2 ft. thick, accessed through an entrance in the middle of its eastern side. The facade was supported upon 6 columns spaced roughly 10 ft. apart and about 1 ft. 8 ins. in diameter, which would suggest a height of around 15 ft.; this also gives a good indication as to the height of the enclosure wall. In the eastern half of the court a colonnade is suggested by a set of narrow, linear stone foundations spaced about 6ft. from the outer wall, which possibly supported a series of wooden pillars and a timber roof of a covered walkway.

The western half of the courtyard, lacking a colonnade, was dominated by a rectangular podium measuring 31 ft. by 24¾ ft. with 5 ft. wide walls, its long axis oriented N-S. The floor in the front part of the cella was raised about 4 ft. 7 ins. above the courtyard, accessed by four steps from the east, while the floor in the rear was raised a further 1 ft. 10 ins. above courtyard level. The appearance of this central cella is in dispute, but the finding of a 2½ ft. tall Corinthian capital nearby suggests that the facade may have sported Corinthian columns around 20 ft. tall, probably in tetrastyle, that is, with four columns equally spaced across the front of the shrine. Two 3 ft. square bases found close to the NE and SE corners of the shrine very likely supported statues of the deity. The temple was originally constructed in the latter half of the 2nd century and was abandoned by the early-4th. There is evidence to support the view that this temple may have been dedicated to Jupiter (Lewis, 1966, p.70).

Suspected Romano-Celtic Temple - Wroxeter 2

A square Romano-Celtic style temple was recorded on A.P.'s lying to the north of the forum. Its identification is uncertain.

Suspected Classical Temple - Wroxeter 3?

Another suspected temple site lies just south-east of the baths complex. The building measures roughly 100 ft. from east to west by about 50 ft. transversely, its massive walls and prime location within its own insula or 'city block' close to the centre of the Roman City, mark this monumental building as a probable temple along classical lines.

The Roman Military at Wroxeter

There are a number of Roman forts and camps in the immediate area of Viroconium:

  1. A large vexillation fortress lay five kilometres to the south-east at Eaton Constantine, Leighton (SJ5905), which was probably built to house a task force directed against the Cornovian citadel on the Wrekin.
  2. About a kilometre to the south of Wroxeter Village (SJ5607) was a smaller Auxiliary Fort that housed a cohors equitata of Thracians. It was probably the first permanent fort to built in the area in c.AD50. Its purpose was strategic and twofold; the infantry element of this specialised auxiliary unit would be housed in a defensible fort guarding an important crossing of the Sabrina Fluvius (River Severn), whilst its cavalry wing would be busily employed patrolling the supply road to the east and the road over the river to the south.
  3. A Legionary Fortress was established just north of the present village of Wroxeter in c.AD58. The cohorts of Legio XIV Gemina had been dispersed during earlier campaigns into several smaller units ranging in size from a single cohort of around five hundred men to a vexillatio comprised of several cohorts. These had previously been housed in winter quarters throughout the Midlands; they were now gathered from their various postings, with the bulk of the legion moving along Watling Street from their previous campaign base at Manduessedum (Mancetter). The later city of Viroconium Cornoviorum was built on the site of the fortress once the legion had departed north to the new legionary base at Deva (Chester) in c.77AD.

The area also bristles with Roman marching camps; three near the vexillation fortress at Leighton (SJ5905), one nearby at Cound (SJ5605), two at Norton (SJ5609), one more at Attingham Park (SJ5509) and yet another a little to the north-west at Uffington (SJ5213).

Legio Quartae-Decimae Gemina - The Fourteenth 'Twin' Legion

... VALERIVS... F GAL LVG MILES LEG XIIII
"[...] Valerius [...] son of [...] from Gallia Lugdunensis,¹ a soldier in the Fourteenth Legion."
(RIB 296; tombstone)
  1. Southern Gaul. The provincial capital was Lugdunum (Lyons, France).

The Fourteenth Legion were probably the original builders of the Wroxeter fortress. They are recorded on three inscriptions, all tombstones.

Tombstone of an Aquilifer of Legio XIV Gemina

T FLAMINIVS T POL FAV ANNORVM XXXXV STIP XXII MIL LEG XIIII GEM MILITAVI AQ NVNC HIC SVM HOC LEGITE ET FELICES VITA PLVS MINVS ESTE DI VVA VINI ET AQVA PROHIBENT VBI TARTAR ADITIS VIVITE DVM SIDVS VITAE DAT TEMPVS HONESTE
"Titus Flaminius, of the Pollentian voting tribe from Faventia,¹ forty five years old with twenty-two years service, campaigning as a soldier of the Fourteenth Legion 'Gemina', Aquilifer.² - I am now [following] a more or less upright and happy life; whereas in the underworld they are compelling [one to drink], the gods here are forbidding the fruits of wine and water as a means to live life as long as the stars, passing away time with honour."
(RIB 292; tombstone)
  1. A town at the crossing of the Via Aemilia over the Anemo, south-west of Ravenna near the Adriatic coast of northern Italy, now known as Faenza on the Lamone.
  2. Standard bearer in charge of the Legionary Eagle Standard; a very exhalted rank.

Tombstone of a Soldier of Legio XIV Gemina

M PETRONIVS L F MEN VIC ANN XXXVIII MIL LEG XIIII GEM MILITAVIT ANN XVIII SIGN FVIT H S E
"Marcus Petronius, son of Lucius, of the Menenian voting tribe, from Vicetia,¹ thirty-eight years old, a soldier of the Fourteenth Legion Gemina with eighteen years military service; he was the signifer.² He lies here."
(Burn 4; RIB 294; tombstone)
  1. Vicetia was a city in Northern Italy now known as Vicenza. It should be said that the letters MEN VIC may be expanded men[soris] vic[arius] 'deputy surveyor'; the layout of the words on this stone does not conform to the general formula - name, rank, unit, age, years of service - so this suggestion is not beyond the realms of possibility.
  2. The standard bearer of the legion. In a standard obituary this title should have occurred immediately after the name of the deceased (see note 1 above).

Legio Vicesimae Valeria Victrix - The Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious

G MANNIVS C F POL SECVNDVS POLLENT MIL LEG XX ANORV LII STIP XXXI BEN LEG PR H S E
"Gaius Mannius Secundus, son of Gaius, of the Pollentian voting tribe from Pollentia,¹ a soldier of the Twentieth Legion, fifty-two years old with thirty-one years service, beneficiarius of the pro-praetorian legate.² He lies here."
(RIB 293; tombstone)
  1. Pollentia Bagiennorum was a major city on the Tanarus river in the territory of the Bagienni tribe of northern Liguria, now known as Pollenzo on the Tanaro river in the Piemonte district of north-west Italy. There is also another town on the island of Baleares Maior (Majorca) named Pollentia Baleareum.
  2. According to The Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary a soldier bearing the title beneficiarius was 'exempted from certain military services', presumably in order to perform other specialised duties. The inscription is here expanded ben[eficiarius] leg[atus] [pro] pr[aetore], which indicates that Mannius was seconded onto the staff of the provincial governor. It is possible, however, given the absence of a second PR from the inscription, that his title may have been ben[eficiarius] leg[ionis] pr[imae] or 'the first beneficiarius of the legion', which would indicate that Mannius was the most senior of all of the beneficiarii seconded onto the personal staff of the legionary legate.

Legio XIV were recalled by emperor Nero in AD68 to help suppress the revolt of Julius Vindex in Germany, and were replaced at Viroconium by Legio XX Valeria Victrix who were moved up from Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter, Devon). The Twentieth Legion are recorded at Wroxeter only on a single tombstone (RIB 293 supra).

Cohors Primae Thracum - The First Cohort of Thracians

Cohors Primae Thracum were believed to have been stationed in the auxiliary fort guarding the River Severn crossing, just to the south of Viroconium at Wroxeter Village. This fort was made redundant by the building of the nearby legionary fortress, and was probably demolished around AD58, shortly after the Fourteenth Legion took residence.

The Civil Settlement

The Roman town of Viroconium Cornoviorum was situated at a bend on the Sabrina Fluvius (River Severn) and started life as a small settlement to either side of Watling Street in the area of the present village of Wroxeter in Shropshire. Located to the north of the auxiliary fort (mentioned above) which probably precipitated its foundation, the first civil buildings were of wooden construction, and erected sometime after AD50. When the legionary fortress was built c.AD58, some of these original wooden buildings were demolished to make way for its southern defences. The civil settlement gradually gravitated from the area between the southern ramparts and the Severn crossing, to the north side of the defenses, along either side of Watling Street where it entered the northern gate of the fortress.

"Demolition of the legionary fortress cleared the site for the civitas capital of the Cornovii, and the alignment of the fortress survived in the street-grid of the subsequent town." (Webster, p.398)
This image has been adapted from Peter Salway's superb Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, aligned with north at the top. The road system is shown in red, the fortress and its annexe to the north-west are both shown in green. The teal line to the north of the fortress shows the line of the defensive bank and ditch surrounding the early canabae settlement, the larger grey outline shows the defences of the later city. The River severn lies to the west and was bridged across the southern tip of the large island. The line of the aqueduct is shown where it enters the eastern defences of the town. The grey areas at the centre of Viroconium occupying blocks in the city grid to either side of the Watling Street are the only parts currently visible to the public, the Hadrianic forum to the west and the bath-house, lavatorium and macellum complex to the east.

The settlement expanded in Flavian times, but money seemed to run out, as the Flavian bath-house was abandoned unfinished by the end of the 1st century. It was subsequently demolished and replaced with a Forum during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, which was dedicated in 130AD. During this period the waters of a tributary stream of the Severn were diverted via a V-shaped aqueduct channel, to feed a massive public bath complex together with a Macellum or courtyard-market which occupied the same insula (city-block) as the bath-house, and built into its south-west corner.

A regularly laid-out street system divided the city into spacious, rectangular blocks, many of which were occupied by large, opulent residences of local tribal magnates, whose houses often contained over 20 rooms on the ground floor, some with private baths and flush toilets. Viroconium eventually became the 4th largest town in Roman Britain at 180 acres (73 hectares).

Excavations at Viroconium in 1969/70

"... In the adjacent corridor [to the piscina] a layer of roof tiles with pieces of molten lead lay on the floor and covered radiate coins of the late third century. This implies that this part of the Baths, like the Basilica, ceased to be used at latest by c.AD339, which is when the new Constantinian issues became very common."

Three lead-weighted darts or javelin-heads were uncovered in the area of the Basilica in 1969. These weapons, along with another held at Rowley's House Museum have all been dated typologically to the 4th/5th century. Excavations during 1970 in the levels beneath the Basilica and Bath House revealed the gravel floors of former military barracks.

Javelin from Wroxeter
One of three lead-weighted javelins from Wroxeter
found on the site of the basilica in 1969
See Britannia 1971

Civilian Tombstone Recording Two Internments

D M PLACIDA AN LV CVR AG CONIVGE A XXX D M DEVCCVS AN XV CVR AG FRATRE
"To the spirit of the departed Placida, aged fifty-five years, the responsibility for this undertaking [fell upon] her husband of thirty years." "To the spirit of the departed Deuccus, fifteen years old, his brother was responsible for undertaking [this memorial]."
(RIB 295a/b; tombstone; inscribed on two faces)

The English Heritage Site

English Heritage run a visitor center at Wroxeter. I intend to visit the place again soon, this time with a digicam. Watch this space!

Prices: 3.10 adults, 2.10 OAP's, 1.60 children < 16. (2000 prices shown!)
Opening times:
1 Apr. - 30 Sep. 10:00 'til 18:00.;
1-31 Oct. 10:00 'til 18:00 or dusk.
1 Nov. - 31 Mar. 10:00-16:00 Wed. - Sun.
Closed Xmas Eve, Xmas & Boxing Day.
English Heritage Regional Office: 01604 730 320

Viroconium Visit - July 2005

Viroconium Visit - 17 Jan 2000

Thanks to my friend Clive for driving me over to Wroxeter one Monday in his works van. I managed to take these photo's whilst perched on the roof of the vehicle, thus giving me a somewhat elevated view of the site. As you can see, there are no visitors on Mondays at this time of the year.


1. The Basilica lies on the left, the bath-house is in the background, and the public lavatories are in the right foreground. Taken from Watling Street, just south of the National Trust entrance buildings.

2. The Macellum or enclosed market is in the foreground of this pic, with the huge entrance to the public bath-house at the rear. Taken from Watling Street in the south-west corner of the site.

3. View of the columns forming the colonnade in front of the forum at Viroconium. Taken from the same location as above. This is the place where the inscription dedicated to emperor Hadrian confirming the Civitas Cornoviorum was found.

Hostelries in the Wroxeter Area

There are no pubs in Wroxeter itself, the nearest one to the National Trust site in the centre of the ancient city is about a mile away to the north-east, on the B5061 near Uckington.

The Horseshoe Inn, Uckington [-rating 7/10.]
Proprietors: Brewer's Fayre.
Opening Times: All day (I think).
Beer: Boddington's Bitter and Murphy's, plus two guest beers at any time (Speckled Hen and Flower's Original when I last visited). The usual bland Lager.
Food: Standard Brewer's Fayre. Served every day.
Comments: The interior has been substantially renovated fairly recently, though the two original log fires have been retained. A good base of operations for a walk in the Wroxeter area. The minor road running along the side of the pub car park is actually the Watling Street Roman road, which leads, somewhat drunkenly, across the fields to enter through the north-eastern defences of the city. Well worth a visit.

Click here for the Romano-British Walled Towns page

Click here for the RBO Temples and Shrines Index

Bibliography and References

See: The Towns of Roman Britain by John Wacher (2nd Ed., BCA, London, 1995) pp.362-377 & fig.165;
Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford 1981);
The Cornovii by Graham Webster (Sutton, London, 1975);
Britannia ii (1971) pp.260/1 & fig.8;
The Romans in Britain - An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1969);
Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) p.84;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1951-5 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlv (1956) p.88;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1955-7 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlviii (1958) p.95;
Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1969-72 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lxiii (1973) p.234;
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.

Viroconium Related Lynx

A Guide to the Roman City of Uriconium at Wroxeter by J.A. Morris F.R.S.A. Ace!
Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit (BUFAU)
The Wroxeter Hinterland Project Brill! site from (BUFAU)
Wroxeter Hinterland Project This is a superb page by the Birmingham University Field Archaeology Unit. The 1995 pictures of crop-marks visible from ground-level are astounding. The Absolute Biz!
Wroxeter Roman Fortress Part of the 'Access to Archaeology Project' (BUFAU)
Wroxeter Roman Vineyard
Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

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