Roman Fort and Bridge

Wroxeter, Shropshire

NGRef: SJ5607
OSMap: LR126
Type: Fort, Bridge.
Roads
See VIROCONIVM

The Auxiliary Fort

N.G.REFDIMENSIONSAREA
SJ563077c.515 x 470 ft
(c.157 x 143 m)
c.5½ acres
(c.2.25 ha)

Sited on level ground high above the eastern bank of the Sabrina fluvius (river Severn), some 2,000 ft. south of the southern corner of the Roman city defenses. There is a slope towards the river in the western part of the fort, and outside the western defenses the slope increases. To the east the ground rises gently, and the view in that direction is limited to about half a mile. The dimensions of the fort within the vallation system are about 515 ft. east-west by 470 ft. north-south (157 x 143 m), enclosing just over 5½ acres (2.25 ha); allowing for a rampart of normal size, the area available for occupation would be around 4¾ acres (1.9 ha). The defenses consisted of two V-shaped ditches, to the north both about 14 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. deep. Excavations here revealed a 12 in. layer of silt in the bottom of the ditches, above which was a 2 ft. layer of earth and stones, and then a layer with charcoal and occupation-earth, containing 2nd century pottery, both Samian and coarse wares. No trace of a rampart were discovered either from excavation or arial photography. To the south, each of the two ditches were 10 ft. wide and 6 ft. deep, The silt-filling yielding fragments of Samian, including pre-Flavian and Flavian bowls and a south Gaulish cup, whilst the filling above contained a flat-rimmed Flavian mortarium. Within the enclosure, excavations revealed a stone-walled pit and a gutter lined with wood running parallel to the line of the defenses (JRS 1953 p.84; Webster pp.71/2 & A.P. pl.V).

All these facts indicate that the fort was of the timber-built variety, and was probably the first permanent structure to be built by the Romans in this area, as a base of operations for expeditions beyond the river. The fort probably continued to be garrisoned until the scene of military campaigning had moved further north. The regular plan, the two ditches and the structures traced in the interior, establish this enclosure as a permanent Roman fort, the purpose of which is clear from it's position. There are excellent views of the river to the north and south, and the site was no doubt chosen to command the river crossing to the north, and to watch over the country beyond the Sabrina. It reasonable to assume that the auxiliary fort at Wroxeter was immediately preceeded by the campaign fortress at Eaton Constantine, Leighton, which is situated just over 2½miles (c.4.2 km) to the south-east.

The Auxiliary Garrison of Wroxeter

In 1783 part of a Roman military tombstone depicting a mounted horseman riding down an enemy was recovered just north of the Viroconium Basilica and now resides in Rowley's House Museum. The stone is extremely important as it cites the name of an auxiliary unit, a likely candidate for the garrison of the Wroxeter fort; the restored text is shown and translated below.

Cohors Primae Thracum Equitata - The First Cohort of Thracians, Part-Mounted

TIB CLAVD TIRINTIVS EQ COH ... THRACVM
ANNORVM LVII STIPENDIOR XX... H S E
"Tiberius Claudius Tirintius, trooper of the Thracian Cohort
aged fifty-seven years, with twenty-[...] years service. He lies here."

(RIB 291; tombstone; text restored)
  1. The numeral is missing, which we may assume should be I
  2. .

Cohors I Thracum equitata were a part-mounted unit from the region of modern Bulgaria, an ideal choice to man this important crossing of the River Severn. The infantry detachment would man the fort and control egress across the river - perhaps exacting a toll from native traders for use of the recently-constructed bridge - while the cavalry contingent would be employed patrolling the roads on each side of the crossing and making reconnaissance sweeps through the countryside on either bank.

The Roman Bridge

SJ 562083   Wroxeter   River Severn

A bridge must have existed near Viroconium in order to carry the road leading south-westward to Bravonium (Leintwardine), probably crossing the Sabrina (river Severn) by cutting across the southern tip of the island at the south-western end of the Roman town. The road is well attested each side, and the depth and speed of the Severn at this point make simple fording very unlikely (Arch. Journ. 1961 p.153).

See: Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
'General Index of Bridge Sites by Counties' in Archaeological Journal 1961, pp.151-164;
Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.81-97;
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

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