Northumberland and Lowlands of Scotland
The History of the Great Wall in Cumberland and Northumberland.
In this chapter I am going to relate the history of Britain`s greatest Roman monument, Hadrian`s Wall, which extended for over 73 miles/117.4km across Northumberland and Cumberland, from sea to sea, and which still exists in large part at the present day.
When the worthy Agicola was in command in Britain – and as the historian Tacitus was his son-in-law, we know much of his doings – he built two chains of forts to defend the country against the wild and warlike inhabitants of Scotland.
The northern chain, constructed in 81 A.D., ran from the Firth of Forth, not far from Edinburgh, across to the Firth of Clyde, close to Glasgow; and the southern, built in 79 A.D., passed from the mouth of the Tyne, near Newcastle, across to Solway Firth, near Carlisle. After Agicola`s recall to Rome in 85 A.D., or 86 these forts continued to be held until about 116, when, in the reign of Tajan, a great rebellion broke out in Scotland, and they were lost.
At that time the famous Ninth Legion was stationed at York, and this force having been ordered to proceed northwards to suppress the rising, its fate provides one of the most awe-inspiring incidents in all Roman history; for it marched into the Lowlands and so passed utterly out of existence. It was never heard of again, nor did a single man come back to tell how or where it was annihilated; but some day a chance discovery may lead to the excavation of its last battlefield, and the bones of the dead and their broken weapons and battered armour may be disinterred.
In 122 A.D., the Emperor Hadrian arrived in England to repair the wreck in the northern area, and he at once decided to leave Scotland severely alone, and to make the Newcastle – Carlisle line the northern frontier of the Province of Britain. Agricola had laid down a military road connecting this chain of forts, and now Hadrian constructed a series of new forts slightly to the north of this road and linked them by a broad ditch, which is generally spoken of as the Vallum. These forts were from two to eight miles/3.2 to 12.8km apart, and were each two or three acres/.8 or 1.2ha in area, being designed to hold a cohort 500 strong; but many of them were afterwards enlarged so as to accommodate 1,000 men.
A few years later the great wall itself was built, slightly in advance of the Vallum and extending to the sea at either end. This wall was made of stone, and was 8ft/2.4m thick, and some 20ft/6m. High; and at regular intervals of about a mile/1.6km there was a small fort capable of holding a hundred men, while about five hundred yards/four hundred fifty seven metres to right and left of each of these “mile castles,” as they were called, there was a turret which served as a sentry-box, having a stairway leading up to the rampart-walk on top of the wall, where the patrol marched up and down unceasingly. In front of the wall another ditch was dug, and behind it a new military road was constructed.
The big forts generally consisted of a rectangular enclosure, having in the middle the headquarters, which included the treasury strong-room and the shrine where the legionary eagles or standards were kept. Nearby were the granaries where a year`s supply of grain could be stored, and the houses and offices of the commander. There were also the men`s barracks, the workshops, armoury, and so forth; and elsewhere were the baths and latrines. Generally a small town grew up near the fort, and here were the married quarters, swarming with all those little half-cast children from whom we are descended.
The troops who manned the wall, it must be remembered, were drawn from all parts of the Roman Empire; and the bulk of these forces lived here for the next 300 years or so, intermarrying freely with the British inhabitants, and regarding Northumberland and Cumberland as their home, where they continued to live after their discharge.
Thus it can be stated as a matter beyond doubt that the modern inhabitants of these counties are in large part directly descended from the Roman troops; and the curious mixture of blood which must have resulted will be realized when it is remembered that here were garrisoned generations of Asturians from Spain, Batavians from the lower Rhine, cornovii from Shropshire, Dalmatians from the Adriatic, Dacians from Rumania, Frisians from Holland, Gauls, Lingones from Langres in France, Tungrians from Tongres in Belgium, and so forth.
The wall was completed by 125 A.D., but in 142, in the reign of Antoninus Pius, the army was pushed forward and reoccupied the forts on the Forth-Clyde line. Here, in 143, a stout wall of turf was constructed, the sods being laid like bricks, and Agircola`s forts were repaired. But about 155 there was another rising, and this line was abandoned, and was not recaptured until three years later. Then in 181 there was again a rebellion which swept the Romans back from both lines; but by 195 Hadrian`s Wall was in use once more.
Next, in 208, the Emperor Severus came to Britain, and led an expedition into Scotland, taking his troops by sea to the Firth of Forth, and disembarking them at Cramond, near Edinburgh. He then marched north of Stirling, Perth, and up beyond Aberdeen; but his health gave way, and he died in York in 211. After that the Lowlands were held until 275, when another native rising drove the Romans back to Hadrian`s Wall, which from that time onwards until the departure of the legions in the fifth century, remained a sort of camp of the northern army, if not the limit of Roman territory. More than once, it is true, they had to retire from it in face of a new Scotch (in fact it was the Picts, the Scots/Scotii tribe had not come from northern Ireland at this time) invasion, but they soon came back; and excavations show how some of the forts have been knocked about and repaired again three or four times.
The wall starts at Bowness on Solway Firth, less than a mile/1.6km from the Solway Viaduct, which here bridges the estuary and links the English and Scottish/Pictish shores; but a fragment in somebody`s garden is all that can be seen of the beginning of this mighty Roman structure. Thence it passes inland to Burgh-by-Sands, where there are traces of a fort, and the Vallum can be seen; and so it comes to Carlisle, the Roman Luguvallum, some fourteen miles/22.5km from its start, but little of it is here to be found. It then runs through flat country, where far away you may see the blue hills all around; and at length, near the village of Banks, it rises on to the uplands, and brings you to the ruins of the fort of Amboglanna.
Then crossing from Cumberland into Northumberland it passes by Greenhead and mounts up to the wild moors, where for the next sixteen or seventeen miles/25.7 or 27km it runs its most romantic course, climbing the bleak hills and descending into the rugged glens, battered by the winds and drenched by the rains, ever continuing along its switchback route towards the far-off sea. Here, in these desolate uplands, are the ruins of the fortress of Aesica, and farther on those of Vindolina stand in a secluded glen, a mile or two/1.6 or 3,2km back from the wall. Then comes Borcovicus, clinging to the edge of the great basaltic cliffs; and at last, where the land slopes down to the valley of the North Tyne, there are the famous ruins of the fortress of Cilurnum, the modern Chesters, at the point where the wall crossed the river.
Five miles/8km farther along, and three miles/4.8km back from the wall, stands Corbridge and the site of the ancient Corstopitum, a town rather than a fortress; and east of that the wall runs along the north side of the Tyne Valley to Newcastle, the ancient Pons Aelii, and thence to a spot on the river ban, still called Wallsend, where, at the buried fortress of Segadunum, it finished its course amidst the mean streets and the chimneys of the modern city.
Thus from sea to sea you may trace this tremendous rampart, for there are few places at which it has absolutely disappeared, though only on the uplands does it stand, solid and unconquerable, for many miles/kms without a break. It is one of the most awe-inspiring relics of the power of Rome in the whole world.
Newcastle Upon Tyne and Chesters in Northumberland.
In the last chapter I told the story of the great Wall of Hadrian, and showed how its course could be traced right across Cumberland and Northumberland from sea to sea, and how every few miles/kms the ruins of the fortresses which protected it were to be seen. There are so many of these that I must perforce select only a certain number; and in this chapter I will begin with a word or two about Newcastle, the Roman Pons Aelii, so called because here stood a bridge across the Tyne, dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian, whose family name was Aelius.
The fortress is now buried under the black and sombre walls of the cathedral and adjacent houses of the modern city, and only a few traces of it have been found. It was garrisoned at first by troops of the Sixth Legion from Germany, but afterwards by the first Shropshire Cohort; and I may mention in this regard that Segedunum, the fortress immediately to the east, had a garrison of Gauls, while that to the west, the ancient Condercum, was held by a Spanish force, and by a Cohort of Vangiones from Worms in Germany, and the next, Vindobala, by a cohort of Dutchmen, the 1st Cohort of the Friesians, who, by the way, are also known to have been stationed for a time at Manchester and at Melandra. (Vindobala, the modern Rudchester, has recently been excavated).
From the bed of the river at Newcastle a few important objects have been dredged, among which I may mention a figure of a goddess Fortune, an altar dedicated to Neptune by the Sixth Legion, another altar dedicated to Oceanus, also by that legion, Sixth, and Twentieth legions in the reign of Antoninus Pius.
These and a big collection of other statues, altars, inscriptions, and so on, which belong to the local Society of Antiquaries, are now exhibited under most depressing conditions in the Black Gate Museum at Newcastle. The objects are huddled together around a dismal room and are so black with grime and dust that the visitor can hardly look at them without repulsion. Yet there are wonderful things here, things of the deepest interest, each telling a story of the glories of the Roman Empire which might stir a British heart today. Surely the time is gone when museums were expected to be like charnel-houses and antiquarians were supposed to take a gloomy pleasure in dust and darkness; but here at Newcastle the passing of that epoch has not been observed, nor has it been realized that the museums of today are shiny cheery places which attempt to attract and to teach, not to repel and to disgust. I understand, however, that there is now a movement a foot to provide a better museum for this fine collection.
In the present chapter I will now speak only of the fortress of Cilurnum, which stood on the west bank of the North Tyne, some twenty miles/32km from Newcastle. At this point the great wall ran down from the windy moors into the shelter and luxuriant valley, spanning the river by a bridge resting on three stone piers, and the fortress was built on the grassy slope of the hill, a hundred yards/metres from the water.
The north Tyne is here a shallow and picturesque stream, babbling merrily over the shingle between well-wooded banks; and the Spanish cavalry which garrisoned the place and lived here generation after generation must have deemed themselves very happily situated – or so I thought as I lay musing on the grass at the edge of the river one hot summer`s day. Here there would be fishing, bathing, and hunting, I reflected, and plenty of company. For the big market town of Corstopitum, the modern Corbridge, was distant no more than six miles/9.6km as the crow flies, and this was the great road-junction to which came all the defenders of the whole length of the wall on their way to or from the military base at York, ninety miles/144km to the south.
The ruins stand within the park of a large house called “Chesters,” where lived Mr John Clayton, who partially excavated them half a century ago; and at the gates of this estate stands a delightful little museum in which is exhibited a splendid collection of altars, statues, inscriptions, and small objects found on this and other sites along the wall. Here, at the lodge, you pay your shilling/5 new pence, and are thereby permitted to see this pick-and-span museum and to walk on over the fields beside the river to the excavated areas which lie exposed before you, plainly and intelligibly, like a miniature Pompeii.
The fortress is a rectangular enclosure, having an area of five and half acres/2.2ha, surrounded by a wall pierced by six gates, where you may still see the sockets on which the doors swung, and may note the ruts of the cartwheels worn into the stone. Near the middle of the enclosure you will find the stone-flagged courtyard in front of the ruined head-quarters, and will see how once it was surrounded by a roofed colonnade. The main room in the building itself was the regimental chapel, and leading from this is the windowless strongroom, where the pay-chest was kept; and here the roof is intact, and you can walk down the original steps into this vault-like chamber. When Mr Clayton unearthed it he found the entrance closed by an iron-studded door of stout oak; but the room itself was empty except for a few coins, which had rolled into the chinks of the flagged floor and had been lost.
At the side of this courtyard was the commandant`s house, the lower walls and stone floors of which are to be seen; and the elaborate central-heating system, whereby the rooms were warmed from underneath, is now exposed to view. In another uncovered area of the ruins you may walk along a flagged street with its open drain running down the middle, while to right and left are the barrack-rooms, built in neat rows, each room having accommodated about ten men. There was a roofed colonnade or veranda t either side of the street, sheltering the doorways of these rooms, but only traces of this now remain.
Down by the river, outside the enclosure, stands the bath-house, the walls rising in places almost to their full height; and here you may see the seven arched recesses in which the bathers may have hung their clothes, the hot-rooms wherein they sat and sweated, the baths in which they washed, and so forth. Part of one of the windows of this building is preserved, and the broken glass from it was found during the excavations.
In the little museum is a statue of the deified Tyne, represented, like the Tiber, as a comfortable, reclining old gentleman; but it is difficult, somehow, to associate an English river with a portly and bearded Roman god. There is also an altar to Silvanus Cocidius, the god of the surrounding woodlands; and there is a fine statue of Cybele, the goddess of fecundity in all nature.
I have not space to write of the many interesting antiquities in the museum, but I must mention one object of outstanding importance which was found in the guard-room of the south gate of the fortress, and is now in the British Museum. It is a military diploma or certificate written upon bronze, conferring Roman citizenship upon discharged soldiers and their wives and children, these veterans being of all sorts of nationalities – Gauls, Spaniards, Dacians, Belgians, Germans, and so forth. Similar certificates have been found in other parts of Britain, and it is to be presumed that in most cases these men continued to live where they had served, and thus became our own ancestors.
The pity is that so little of this intensely interesting fortress of Cilurnum has been excavated. I should like to see the whole area dug out and exposed to view; for here the lower parts of the walls and buildings. The pavements, and the streets are so well preserved that we should be able to walk about over the ancient flagstones, in and out of the houses, and up and down the thoroughfares and alleys, seeing the place in our mind`s eye just as it was when our Roman forefathers were here; whereas, at present, more than half the site lies buried just under the grass. The cost of the work would not be great, but it is a question, of course, whether the present owner of “Chesters” would approve of a section of this charming and secluded estate being converted into one of the most thrilling show-pieces in England.
Housesteads, Carrowburgh, Birdoswold and Corbridge.
I have already described the Great Wall of Hadrian, which runs through Cumberland and Northumberland, and have spoken of two of the strongholds upon it. Now I am going to say a few words about another fortress, that of Borcovicus or Borcovicium, upon the moors some thirty miles/forty eight kms west of Newcastle.
Travelling along the modern highway across wild uplands, the wide stretches of grass slope up on the north side of the road to the bleak horizon, and here on the skyline the wall can be seen continuously outlining the summit of the hills.
On the slope of one of these hills, some distance from the road, stands a lonely farm, called Housesteads, and on the wind-swept heights above it the ruins of the fortress are to be seen and may be visited after payment of a small fee at the farmhouse.
The path leads up across the grass, where the sheep graze and the pewits swoop and flutter in the tearing wind; and at last you come to the walls of this the most lofty Roman stronghold in Britain, 880 feet/2438m above sea level, and you find that on its north side the fortress, five acres/2ha in area, looks down a steep slope to the valley where a little burn runs, and to the wide expanse of rolling uplands beyond, while to left and right the great wall passes like a ribbon along the hilltops into the blue distance.
Here were stationed the 1.000 men of the First Tungrian Cohort, originally recruited from the Germanic tribes around Tongress, in Belgium, but permanently garrisoned on these Northumbrian moors, where lived their wives and families in the Town which grew up outside the fortress. The men`s barracks inside the walls can still be seen – row behind row of neatly built rooms. Like those at Chesters which I described in the last chapter; and the four gateways by which they entered and left the enclosure yet stand to a considerable height, built of massive and well-laid masonrt.
Near the north gate is a great stone tank, but what its actual use was is not known, though at the time of its excavation, one of the labourers remarked: “That would be to wash their Scotch prisoners in.”
In the middle of the fortress is the headquarters, with its open courtyard in front, and near by are the storehouses and workshops, and the house of the commandant, all the ruins being exposed to view, though they are not quite so intelligible and clear in plan as those at Chesters. In the courtyard a bunker of coal was discovered, and in one of the buildings a store of over 800 arrowheads and much scrap-iron for their making were found. Numbers of altars, statues, and inscribed stones from this place are now in the Newcastle and Chesters museums.
Among these I may mention sculptured figures of Mars-Thingsus (A German form of the war-god) and his attendant goddesses, Beda and Fimmilena, from an archway erected by the German troops; a fine statue of winged Victory hovering above a globe; an altar dedicated to Hercules by the First Tungrian Cohort; an inscribed slab set up “according to the direction of the oracle of the Clarian Apollo,” a famous oracle in Iona; and an altar dedicated “to Cocidius, the Spirit of the Garrison,” a local British Pan.
In the British Museum there is a most interesting bracelet-purse found in the fortress, it is made of bronze, and reminds one of a modern wrist-watch, in place of the watch there being a neat little bronze purse, with cover and catch complete.
Some 300 yards/274m down the grassy slope, towards the high road, a small cave was found which was dedicated to that strange god Mithras, whose worship was so popular throughout the Roman army at the time when Christianity was first beginning to make headway.
I hardly like to touch here upon the subject of Mithras, for I should need so much space to explain the deep interest of the matter to theologians and theological critics, but I will say this much: when Christianity, which was not at first a formal religion, was organized by the Romans into a State Church, ceremonies, festivals, and ritual had to be provided, and some of these seem to have been taken over bodily from the popular Mithras worship, the parallels between Mithraism and the formal aspect of Christian ritual and mysteries being most remarkable; and thus some of the things we as Christians do and say in church today may have been done and said here in this moorland cave by Roman soldiers in honour of Mithras.
For example, December 25th was the festival of the birth of Mithras and was taken over as that of the birth of Christ; (Germanic this was mother`s night with the birth of the sun and the new year, the new day started on sunset on the 24th); and thus we may picture the garrison of this remote fortress trooping down over the snow to this cave each Christmas Day, ages before that day had been accepted by Christians as the anniversary of the nativity at Bethlehem.
Many altars and other objects were found in this cave. The inscription on one of these reads: “To the best and greatest god Mithras, the Unconquerable, Lord of all Ages. Publius Proculinus, a centurion, dedicates this, for himself and his son, in discharge of a vow willingly and rightly made.”
Between Borcovicium and Cilurnum stood the lonely fortress of Procolitia, near the modern farmhouse called Carrawburgh, but little except the line of the ramparts under the turf remains to be seen. Just to the west of the site there is a well once sacred to the British water-nymph Coventina, and a place of great renown, but now only a little swampy patch surrounded by a fence, with the masonry of the well hidden amid the reeds. Mr Clayton cleared this well many years ago and, having removed the large stones which lay on top, found underneath no fewer than 16,000 coins of gold, silver, and bronze, many small altars, some inscribed with the name of Coventina, a lot of jewellery, including Roman pearls, and a charming sculptured group representing three water nymphs.
On one tablet, row at Chesters, Coventina herself is shown floating on a water-lily – a poor piece of work, however, evidently made by a man who was pious than talented.
The coins ranged from the pre-Roman age to the end of the 4th century A.D., but after that the Picts came over the wall and destroyed the temple beside the well, so that the fair Coventina received no more offerings.
When I visited this deserted shrine the rain was beating up from the west and the wind was moaning over the dark moorland. Only that sad sound and the plaintive cry of the pewits came to my ears; and thus I came to think of Coventina not as once she was, fairy-like and a worker of miracles, but as a poor ghost wandering with dishevelled hair around the swamp, searching vainly for the departed legions of Rome and sending her sorrowful cry down the wind for evermore.
I have space to speak only of one more fortress on the wall, that of Amboglanna, near Birdoswald, about a dozen miles/19km west of Borcovicium. Here at the side of the high road is a farmhouse where you pay a fee, thereafter being permitted to walk on into the field under which the ruins lie buried. Little more than the ramparts and the gateways are visible, but these latter are in good preservation, and at the east gate you may see the sockets of the great double doors, the passage-ways, and the guard-rooms.
Here the First Aelian, or Hadrian`s Own, Cohort of Dacians, from Rumania, were stationed; and as the ruins stand in luxuriant and sheltered country at the foot of the moors, overlooking the beautiful valley of the Irthing to the south, one may suppose that the troops were well pleased with their lot. At the farmhouse I was shown a gold ring set with a red stone, which had recently been found; and a rich reward evidently awaits the future excavator of the place.
In conclusion, I must mention the town of Corstopitum, just outside the modern Corbridge, a few mile/kms back from the wall near the fortress of Cilurnum. The ruins, twenty-two acres/8.9ha in area, lie on the slope of the hill overlooking the Tyne Valley and are now in process of excavation. The Forum and several buildings have been unearthed and many objects found, including the famous Corbridge Lion, which once decorated a fountain, and a hoard of gold coins. I must also mention an altar from this neighbourhood, dedicated by Diodora, a Greek lady who was High Priestess of Astarte, to the Tyrian Hercules. Her husband was a Roman named Pulcher, who was a priest of Mars. Corbridge was the great road-junction through which the troops passed to and from the wall; and once its paved streets, now half buried under the grass, must have resounded with the tramp of the marching men of all those varied nationalities comprised in the Roman army, whose blood still runs in our English veins.
The Forth-Clyde wall, Newstead and other sites in the Lowlands of Scotland/Pictland or Caledonia as known at the time
In the last chapters I wrote of Hadrian`s Wall, that great rampart which was erected as a Roman-British barrier against the marauding Caledonians; but both before and after the building of that wall the Pictish Lowlands to the north of it were occupied intermittently. In the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, however, it was definitely decided that the whole country as far north as Edinburgh and Glasgow could be held, and another great wall was constructed, therefore, from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde, along the line of the earlier forts built in the time of Agricola. It began at Bridgeness; and here at its starting point by the waters of the Forth a great stone inscription has been found, which states that a length of 4,652 paces of the structure was built by the men of the Second Legion.
Thence the wall ran westward for thirty-five miles/56km to the Clyde, thus cutting right across Pictland, from sea to sea, at its narrowest point, following the line of the hills on the south of the valley which here traverses the country. Many of the fortresses along this rampart are known, and some of the objects found are to be seen in the Edinburgh Museum. From Polmont comes an altar was discovered dedicated by the Sixth Cohort of the Nervii, also a Belgian force; at Castlecary an altar was unearthed, dedicated by the First Cohort of the Vardulli; from Balmuildy, near Glasgow, comes an inscription recording the work of the Second Legion, and so forth. Both at Balmuildy and at Bar Hill the forts have been excavated and the buildings of the headquarters, the store-rooms, the baths, etc., have been traced.
In general, however, this wall is rather disappointing to the student, since so little of it remains to be seen; but in the area between it and the English border there is quite a number of Roman sites. Many objects, for instance, have been found at Birrens, near Ecclefechan, some thirty miles/48km north of Carlisle; and these include several inscribed altars. One of them names the First Nervian Cohort of the German contingent; another is dedicated to Mars and Victory by the Rhaetians serving in the Second Cohort of the Tungrians; another is dedicated to the British goddess Brigantia, who later became the Bridget of our fairy-tales; and yet another was set up in honour of Ricagambeda, a local goddess – which shows that the Roman garrisons mixed with the natives sufficiently to feel the need of placating their deities.
In 1919 an extroadinary discovery was made on Traprain Law, an isolated hill in Haddingtonshire, near Lord Balfour`s seat at Whittingehame. In a pit a great hoard of superb silver articles was found – cups, dishes, plates, flagons, bowls, spoons, and so forth, some of them cut or ripped into fragments, and all crushed and smashed together. Evidently they were in process of being melted down, either by robbers or by the owner himself, who, being about to fly for his life was thus converting his treasure into portable form, but could not wait to complete the job.
Most of the pieces date from towards the end of the Roman epoch in Britain, and some of them have early Christian emblems engraved upon them, though others are decorated with pagan figures. You may see them now in the museum at Edinburgh, and there is nothing in all the British Isles that can so vividly recall the splendour of the life of our Roman forefathers as does this great case-full of shining silver.
A Roman site has been excavated at High Rochester, another place between the two walls. Here, amid the ruins of a fortress, a treasure-vault was discovered, the entrance being closed by a stone slab which moved on iron wheels. When the slab was rolled back a stairway was revealed leading down into the vault; but in this subterranean chamber nothing was found except an altar inscribed by the First Cohort of the Vardulli. Elsewhere in the extensive ruins the badge of the Twentieth Legion was found, showing that detachments of this famous force were stationed here.
But the most important Roman fort in the Lowlands was situated on the high ground at the south side of the valley of the Tweed, close to the village of Newstead, between St. Boswells and Melrose, that is to say, just about half-way between the two great walls. Here the three gaunt peaks of the Eildons shoot up, isolated and tremendous, above the luxuriant trees and meadows of the valley, and, as seen from St. Boswells, form a mighty landmark which gave to the whole district its Roman name, Trimintium, “The Three Hills.” The fortress consisted of an outer wall enclosing a rectangular area of some fifty acres/20ha and an inner enclosure of twenty acres/8ha, defended by a strong wall, seven feet/2.1m thick and having four gates in it. Within this smaller fort, which was erected later then the outer rampart, there is a large building having a spacious courtyard in front of it, this being probably the headquarters; and there were also storehouses, baths, a shrine where the Eagles were kept, and so on.
The whole site was thoroughly excavated some years ago and hundreds of objects were found, which are now to be seen in the museum at Edinburgh. These include an extraordinary collection of ironworks in the fine state of preservation – agricultural implements, smiths` tools, pioneers` axes and picks, cavalry harness, bridles and bits, and so on.
There is a soldier`s iron breastplate with mountings of brass, and a fragments of brass scale-armour, the scales overlapping in rows like the feathers of a bird. There are two iron helmets in the form of human heads, the front of each case being wrought in the form of a man`s face, and being worn like a mask, with eye-holes to see through and mouth and nostril holes to breath through. The metal is too thin to have been fit for actual use in battle, and these helmets must have been worn rather at parades and ceremonies. I may mention that there is a fine example of another helmet of this kind, found at Ribchester, of which I will speak in another chapter, and now to be seen in the British Museum.
Then there is a ordinary iron helmet as worn by a Roman legionary, and there is another helmet of shining brass, a splendour creation of the metal-worker`s art, with ornamental figures beaten out upon it. Some wonderful bronze flagons and bowls were also found, and a wooden bucket clamped around with iron bands. Numbers of leather shoes were discovered, some having that net-like open-work which one sees in shoes sometimes worn by ladies of the present day. Much fine pottery came to light, and among the inscribed objects were an altar dedicated by a centurion of the Twentieth Legion and another giving the name of an officer of a cavalry regiment of Vocontians, from France. I must not omit to mention, too, a set of tent-pegs and the mallet which drove them into the ground; a pair of stout wooden wheels from a chariot or cart; some writing tablets and pens; and of course, a mass of coins.
There are no details of the disaster which led to the abandonment of the fort somewhere about 180 A.D., and now that the placid fields cover the ruins once more it is hard to imagine the horrors and the perils of those hazardous days of the great retreat to the safety of Hadrian`s Wall. All is so gracious and quiet now, and the ruins of Melrose Abbey create such an atmosphere of gentle serenity that, wandering here beside the Tweed and looking up between the stately trees to the fields and to the eternal hills towering above them, one cannot visualise the stress of those far-off times. Like the walls of the fortress, the picture of its glory and its tragedy is gone: the peace of the countryside has absorbed it; and it is not easy even to remember that the blood of the combatants, Roman and Caledonians alike, still flows today in the veins of the men of these Scottish Lowlands.
When the Romans conquered Britain the area now covered by Yorkshire and parts of the adjacent counties was inhabited by the powerful and warlike tribe of the Brigantes, whose king was named Volisius. This monarch`s only son died before him, and the throne ultimately passed to a daughter, Cartismandua, rather a “fast” young lady who, in the manner of all the smart people of Britain in those days, was very partial to everything Roman.
It will be remembered that the Ninth Legion and the army of which it was the nucleus had stationed itself at York, but it is an open question whether that place was the original Brigantian capital, or whether it began its history simply as a fortress built by the Ninth Legion as a base for their operations.
More probably the royal city of the Brigantes was Isurium, the modern Aldborough, which shows signs of much greater age
South of York the British resistance to the invaders was kept up for some years by King Caratacus (Caradoc), but finally he had to bolt into Brigantian territory, and there the Romanised Queen Cartismandua made him prisoner and handed him over to her Roman friends. She had recently married a local nobleman named Venusius, but he was all for fighting the Romans, and, on that account was soon on bad terms with his wife.
She, however, was being heavily subsidised by them and was spending the money in all manner of frivolities and charming dissipations; and at last she divorced her bellicose husband and shocked her court by marrying his handsome armour-bearer, Vellocatus.
Civil war ensued; Venusius was victorious; and the naughty Yorkshire queen had to be rescued by the Romans, who succeeded in carrying her to safety. That is the last we hear of her, but it is to be supposed that she either settled at York or Aldborough under the Legion`s protection, or else went to Rome to go to the devil in more congenial surroundings. Meanwhile, her first husband kept up the fight against the Ninth Legion for some years; and it was only after his death that the north of Britain was pacified.
In the Pictish rebellion of 116 A.D., this unfortunate legion was annihilated, and four years later the Emperor Hadrian came himself to stay in York, bringing with him the Sixth Legion to replace it; and thenceforth that force, which had the honorary appellations Victrix, Pia, Fidelis, “Victorious, Devoted, Faithful,” remained there until the end of the Roman epoch.
The place was purely a military base, and there is a notable dearth of villas or traces of civil life in the neighbourhood, though it is known that retiring soldiers were given land round about and formed a definite colony. Its Roman name was Eboracum, and if we remove the Latin termination – um, we have Eborac, the pronounciation of which was not much different from the modern York. This, or rather Eburach, seems to have been its old British name, and it maybe that this means “The Field at the Junction of the Rivers,” having reference to the junction of the Ouse and the Foss.
In the year 192 A.D., the popular Governor of Britain, Decimus Clodius Albinus, who, though born in North Africa, was of Roman family, was hailed as Emperor by the troops at York and elsewhere. He was, however, defeated by his rival, Septimus Severus, a man of African blood, who, as Emperor, came to Britain in 208 and took up his quarters at York with his two unpleasant sons, Caracalla and Geta, both Emperors after him. From this base he conducted a great war against the Picts who had overrun the Wall of Hadrian, but his health broke down – he was a man of sixty-five – and he died at York on 4th February, 211.
Severus was a fine old man in many aspects and was mentally active to the end. Has last words were: “Is there anything else to attend to? Hand it here!” But he died before the matter, whatever it was, could be submitted to him. His body was carried outside the Walls of York, dressed in the imperial purple tunic and cloak and wearing a suit of golden armour, and there it was burnt, his ashes being sent to Rome in an urn which he had inspected before his death, and to which he had muttered: “You are about to contain a man for whom the world was too small.”
In 306 another Emperor died at York: this was Constantius, a Yugo Slovac, who had been conducting a campaign against the Picts. His son, the great Constantine, was thus first proclaimed in that city, which had now become a place of such importance and magnificence that it was called “Altera Roma,” “Another Rome.” This was the period at which Christianity first became the State religion, and at the Council of Arles in 314 we read that a Bishop of York was present. In the fifth century the legions were withdrawn from Britain, and when York is once more heard of a century and a half has elapsed, and it is the capital of the new Saxon kingdom of Deira.
In the gardens of the Philosophical Society you may still see part of the wall of the Romans fortress, at the corner of which there is a large multi angular tower or bastion, one of the finest pieces of Roman building in England. It stands grey and solid, behind the trim lawns of the gardens, where the well-to-do citizens stroll, little thinking that once emperors walked here, whose word was law throughout the known world.
There are two museums in these grounds, in both of which are many Roman objects found in the city and neighbourhood, and among these I must mention a huge copper cauldron, which was more than half full of coins when discovered in 1625; a fine collection of bangles, pins, rings, and cameos, all made of shiny black jet; and the auburn hair of a Roman lady with the jet hairpins still sticking in its thick coils. This hair was found in a coffin under the booking office at the station. The following are some of the inscribed objects:- An altar to the woodland god, Silvanus, dedicated by an officer of the Ninth Legion; the sarcophagus of “Julia Fortunate, of a Sardinian family, faithful wife of Verecundus Diogenes, Governor of York”; the sarcophagus of a centurian of the Sixth Legion, dedicated “to the Gods, the Shades”; an altar dedicated to the goddess of Fortune, by Sosia Juncina, wife of a Legate of the Emperor; and the tombstone of a standard-bearer of the Ninth Legion, who was born at Venice, in France, and died at the age of twenty-eight.
There is a sarcophagus of Flavius Bellator, “a Decurion (i.e., a sort of town councillor). Of the Colony of York”; and in it is body, which was that of a man of small size, was found, a gold ring set with a ruby being still upon his finger. There is an inscribed slab bearing a dedication to Serapis, an Egyptian god, by Claudius Hieronymianus, who may have been of Egyptian nationality. He was Legate of the Sixth Legion, and he says that he set up a temple here in York to Serpis.
A touching inscription on an infant`s sarcophagus reads: “To the Gods, the Shades: for Simplicia Florentina, a most innocent being, who lived ten months. Her father, Felicius Simplex, of the Sixth Legion, dedicated this.”
Besides these you may here see some fine mosaic pavements found in the city, various objects, including much lead piping from the baths found near the old railway station; several coffins and tombs made of red tiles; a milestone; a fine collection of glass, pottery, and bronze, and a host of other things.
There seems to have been a temple to Mithras in York, for an important piece of Mithraic sculture is to be seen here, and, among other deities worshipped in the city, mention is made of the goddess Britannia.
Excavations are now in progress at a part of the old wall known as Monk Bar; but the bulk of the Roman remains lie buried under the modern city, and discoveries will only be made accidentally. Such is the fate of so much that is Roman in this country; it is imprisoned beneath the later buildings and streets of our cities, and above it we go our busy ways without a thought of the lost marvels beneath our feet.
Aldborough and other sites in Yorkshire.
In the chapter on York I pointed out that it was an open question whether the city had any history previous to the arrival of the Romans, who established the base of their northern army there, or whether it had always been a great centre of the Brigantes, the tribe which inhabited the north of England. Personally I am inclined to think that the real history of York began in Roman times, and that the ancient capital of the Brigantes was Isurium, or Iseur as they themselves probably called it, where now stands the village of Aldborough, some eighteen miles/28.9km north-west of York, and but a few miles/kms from Ripon.
The full Roman name of this city was Isurium Brigantium, “Iseur of the Brigantes”; and just as the ancient capital of the Silures of South Wales was Venta Silurium, “Venta of the Silures” (Caerwent) and was situated some miles/kms from Isca (Caerleon), where the Roman army was stationed, so this Brigantian capital was situated a few miles/kms from the military base at York.
A short distance from Aldborough there are three immense stones standing in line, like great obelisks, and these seem to be the remains of some sacred place of prehistoric times, perhaps belonging to the same period as Stonehenge. They are now called the Devil`s Arrows, the word “Devil” possibly being a corruption of “Dui,” the old god of the Brigantes. Various early British articles have been found in the neighbourhood, and in the Aldborough museum there is a primitive British statue of a god, representing in an attitude of thought with the chin resting in the hand.
At the time of the Roman conquest, Cartismandua was Queen of the Brigantes, and it seems probable that she was the descendant of the ancient royal house of that tribe, and that her ancestors had reigned here Iseur for hundreds of years before York was ever heard of. After the country had passed into Roman hands one may suppose that Iseur continued to be the tribe capital; but now the city was thoroughly Romanised, and the great men of the Brigantes regarded themselves as members of the Roman Empire, lived in houses built in the Roman style, wore Roman dress, and conducted their affairs in the Latin tongue.
So many beautiful mosaic floors have been found on the site, and so many fine houses must have stood here, that the place is often spoken of as the “Pleasure-city” of the garrison at York; but actually I think it always remained more civilian than military, and though no doubt high officials of the Roman government and legionary officers had house here, the Romanised Brigantians unconnected with the army probably supplied the bulk of the wealthy citizens.
A great many of these mosaics, recorded by early antiquarians, have now been destroyed, but there are a few still to be seen in situ; and I can best describe them and the other remains by taking the reader on an expedition to the village.
Aldborough is situated in the wide and beautiful valley of the Ouse, just outside the little market-town of boroughbridge; and from the church and green the village ascends the slope of a hill, the houses being on either side of the main road. Going first of all into the church, you will there see, at the west-end, a damaged figure of Mercury sculptured in high relief upon a block of stone; but artistically it is hardly, worthy of more than a glance. In a house opposite the church, now known as the Old Manor, there is a Roman mosaic floor which, however, is not shown to the public; a smaller piece lies hidden under the wooden floor of a neighbouring cottage; and another piece is now buried beneath the vicarage.
Going up the main street of the village, you will presently come to the Aldeburgh Arms Inn on your right, and in the garden at the back there are two mosaic floors, which will be shown to you on payment of a small fee. One of these is a really fine piece, in almost perfect condition, having elaborate designs surrounding an eight-pointed star; but the other, though good, is somewhat damaged, for it was discovered in 1832 by a farm-hand who was digging a grave for a dead calf, and it was some time before the man gave up his attempt to break a hole through it. A little higher up the road, in a garden behind a cottage on the same side, there are the remains of a building, 52feet/15.8m long by 24feet/7.3. wide, which seems to have been the Basilica. Three pieces of mosaic flooring will here be shown to you, and it is interesting to notice that in one of these there is a short inscription in Greek letters, which, however, I cannot translate, though one authority had made the doubtful suggestion that it means “Have pity.” A damaged figure in flowing robes is represented beside these letters.
The owner of the estate on which these fragments have been found allows the public to visit a Roman quarry situated amongst the trees behind, and also to inspect some small portions of the wall of the city which are still to be seen rising above the grass in the grounds; but these are hardly of outstanding interest, and you will not miss much by confining your visit to the above-mentioned mosaic floors, which are protected by sheds and are free of weeds and undergrowth. The city walls, by the way, originally enclosed an area of sixty acres/24ha, and were a mile and quarter/2km in circumference.
There remains the little museum to be seen. It is a converted greenhouse with a glass roof, through which the rain drips in wet weather and the sun beats fiercely down in fine; but in the dusty cases there are some interesting objects on exhibition, and the entrance fee need not be begrudged, though I have the hardihood to express the wish that the money collected should be spent in the better upkeep of the museum rather than in providing the annual donation to a hospital.
I will only mention a few of the antiquities in this collection, namely, a tile stamped with the designation of the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at York in the early years after the conquest; a flower-pot with a hole at the bottom for draining; a large iron shovel; a ring with a key attached to it; and a series of coins covering the period from about 50 A.D. to 400 A.D., and including one specimen having the Christian monogram upon it.
There is also here an interesting milestone inscribed with the name of the Emperor Decius, who died in 251 A.D., and with the words “20 miles/32km to C.” this letter probably standing for Cataractonium, the modern Catterick, a fortress to the north. Various pieces of mosaic flooring have been relaid in this museum, but, perhaps fortunately, they are not particularly good specimens.
Such are the main sights of Aldborough, but the place has never been scientifically excavated, and only an inkling of its former magnificence can be obtained from the fine mosaics, the best pieces of which, by the way, is now to be seen in the museum of the Philosophical Society of Leeds, this having a representation of Romulus and Remus and the Wolf upon it. But Aldborough and York are by no means the only Roman sites in Yorkshire.
At Castleshaw, in the corner of the country nearest to Manchester, a fort has been excavated and laid bare, and in the well many objects were found which are now at Saddleworth. From Stannington comes a military diploma, now in the British Museum, recording the discharge of certain veterans from the army. These include men from Austrian, Picentine. Petrian and other regiments, Hamian archers, Lunuci from Cologne on the Rhine, Menapians from near the mouth of the Meuse, and so forth; and the fact that the diploma recognises their marriage to local women and their settlement in the country, is an indication of the world-wide nature of the Roman blood which must still flow in Yorkshire veins.
At Brough, on the Humber, at the point where the great highroad from London and Lincoln to York crossed the river, some freshly minted coins have been found. Some interesting excavations have recently been conducted at Ilkley, on a site behind the Wheatsheaf Hotel; and bricks have there been found inscribed with the name of the 2nd Cohort of the Lingones from France, who were stationed there. Roman lead-mines are located in this neighbourhood. There were important forts at Doncaster, the ancient Danum, at Castleford, the old Legeolium, at Stamford Bridge, near York, then called Derventio, and at Tadcaster, the old name of which is not known; and traces of lesser stations have also been found.
At Templeborough, on the bank of the Don, near Rotherham, a fort was excavated a few years ago, and though the ruins are now covered by industrial works, the museum in Clifton Park, Rotherham, contains a collection of tombstones, altars, and small objects found there. Amongst these I may mention a tombstone dedicated to the memory of a certain lady named Verecunda Rufilia, of the tribe of the Dobuni, who died at the age of thirty-five, this monument being erected by her husband. The Dobuni were the people of Gloucestershire.
A fine piece of a paved Roman road is to be seen on the Wheeldale Moor between Whitby and York.
Along the Yorkshire coast remains of signal-towers have been discovered at Huntcliff, Coldsborough, Ravenscar, Scarborough and Filey. The tower at Scarborough stood on Castle Hill, and was built, like the others, about 370 A.D., as a protection against Saxon invaders, and appears to have been abandoned before 400. The strong walls seem to show that the tower was perhaps as much as 100 foot/30m high. The station at Huntcliff has revealed evidence of one of the last episodes in the history of Roman rule in the land of the Brigantes, for at the bottom of the well beside the tower the skeletons of the slain defenders were found in a jumble heap – grim witnesses to the collapse of the Empire of Rome.
Manchester and other sites in Lancashire.
In the days before the coming of the Romans the greater part of the later county of Lancashire lay within the kingdom of the Brigantes, the important tribe whose territory extended all over the north of England, and whose capital seems to have been at Aldborough in Yorkshire or at York itself. The fine collection of British bronze weapons and other articles in the Warrington museum will give a good idea of the civilization of Lancashire in pre-Roman times; and throughout the county there are a great many British forts of which the earthworks can still be seen.
Then came the Romans, and for some years the Brigantes struggled against them; but the invaders were irresistible, and at length the Ninth Legion pushed up from Lincoln and established itself at York, while the Twentieth Legion advanced from Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury, and made its base at Chester, so that Lancashire lay between them and was easily kept in order until, in time, it became like the rest of Britain, a loyal part of the Roman Empire.
Four great fortresses were erected within the limits of the present county. One was at Wigan, then called Coccium; another was at Manchester, the ancient Manucium (or Mancunium); the third was at Lancaster, the old name of which is not known; and the fourth was at Ribchester, near Blackburn, which was then called Brementennacum, and of which I am going to speak in the next chapter. There was also a fort of unknown name at Overborough, north of Lancaster, but this does not seem to have been used for very long.
These fortresses commanded strategic positions on the great highroads running through this part of the country. Wigan and Lancaster stood on the road from Chester and the south which ran through the Midlands and passed, via Buxton, also to Carlisle. There were Roman roads, too, from Chester to Manchester, from Manchester north-eastward to York, and others which are not now clearly to be traced; while Morecombe Bay, then called Moricambe Sinus, seems to have provided a useful anchorage for the ships of the British Fleet of the period.
Apart from Ribchester, which, as I say, requires a chapter to itself, not very much has been found on these sites. No traces of the fortress at Wigan has yet been unearthed, but a Roman altar has been discovered there, and is now built into the inner wall of the church-tower, while several coins and pieces of pottery have also come to light. At Lancaster various objects have been found, including altars, milestones, a figure of Ceres, pottery, coins, and so forth; and at Overborough several Roman antiquities have been discovered, but the site has never been excavated.
Manchester, however, has provided a certain amount of information in regard to its early history, and I will therefore devote the remainder of this chapter to it, though I must say at once that there is now nothing structural of the Roman epoch to be seen in the city, except a fragment of the wall of the fortress which still survives under a railway arch near Knot Mill station, at the power end of Deangate, the best part of a mile/1.6km south of the cathedral. Important excavations were made in this neighbourhood a few years ago, and the main lines of the fortress were ascertained and many objects were found.
These and a large collection of other Roman remains are now to be seen in the Queen`s Park museum; and here I must record some of the more important of them.
One inscribed stone tells us that “the century of Quintianus, in the 1st Cohort of the Friesians, built 24 feet/7.3m of the wall”: that is to say, a detachment of Dutchmen under the command of the Quintianus were given a section of the wall of the fortress to build, and recorded the fact in this manner. Another inscription of this kind refers to a century in the same cohort, commanded by an officer named Masavo, which was responsible for twenty-three feet/7m of the wall. A broken altar is dedicated by an officer of a regiment of the Raeti and Norici, that is to say, Swiss and Tyrolese troops, “in fulfilment of a vow.” There is also a tile stamped with the letters CIII BR, which are thought to stand for the 3rd Bracarian Cohort, consisting of troops recruited at Braga, in Portugal. There are some other tiles, too, stamped “Twentieth Legion,” but it is not certain that that legion was ever at Manchester in any strength.
I may mention here that at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, there is an inscribed altar which came from this site and which bears a dedication to “Fortune, the Preserver,” by L. Senecianus Martius, Centurion of the Sixth Legion, that is to say, the legion which replaced the ill-fated Ninth at York.
These inscriptions afford us yet another instance of the great mixture of nationalities in the Roman army in Britain. It was the policy of Rome to take recruits from one country and to use them in another, so that the whole vast Empire should gradually be wielded by association and by inter-marriage into one people. Very soon after the conquest of Britain the Romans formed regiments of British recruits, and sent them off to other lands; and we read, for instance, of the First British Cohort, stationed in Pannonia, in the year 85 A.D., though how long they remained there we do not know.
In the collection at Queens Park are numerous small objects, including a seal in lead belonging to the Emperor Severus, who died at York, and his two sons Caracalla and Geta; a gold coin of Otho (32-69A.D.); a coin of Arcadius (395-408A.D.) having upon it the Christian Chi-Rho ( which was created by St. Constantine) monogram; a fine bronze flagon; a bronze ornament in the form of a Medusa head; a silver signet ring set with a cornelian, having upon it, in intaglio, a figure of Minerva; and a host of other interesting articles.
Most of these were found in the neighbourhood of the fortress which now lies buried under the dingy streets and smoke-begrimed houses of one of the busiest parts of Manchester; and it is difficult for the visitor of the present day, standing here amidst this monstrous scene of industrial frightfulness, to picture the spot as it was when the Romans first saw it – a bare and rocky spur of high ground, sloping rapidly down to the fork of the rivers Irwell and Medlock.
The Roman name Manucium was derived from the earlier British name, which came from the root Maen “a rocky place”; and that there was some sort of British settlement here is indicated by the remains of a fortified enclosure on the site of the Chetham Hospital, and by the finds made in the district – a beautiful bronze dagger of pre-Roman times, several other weapons, a primitive dug-out canoe, pottery, and so on. The fort built by the Romans covered a rectangular area of five acres/2ha, the sides being 525 and 420 feet/160 and 128m in length. From the west gate ran the road to Wigan, spanning the Irwell by a bridge; and from the east gate the road to Buxton passed out; and from the north gate ran the great highway to Ribchester and the north.
Within the walls there must have been, as usual, the barracks, workshops and granaries, the headquarters with its colonnaded courtyard in front, and the shrine of the Eagles. The baths were probably situated outside the walls on the slope leading own to the river; and round about the fortress there would be the civilian population of Italians, Dutch, Swiss, Tyrolese, Portugese, and all the other elements comprised in the garrison. A mixed lot, indeed! – but still they were all “Romans,” and all were proud of being members of the one Empire centred in the Eternal City.
When the Saxons came and the fortress fell into ruins, this town survived, its name Manuc(ium) changing its form to Man`-Chester, and its population becoming at first the serfs of the new masters and later intermarrying with them. Thus the continuity of Manchester has been maintained for at least two thousand years; and treading its crowded streets today there must be many a man in whose veins flows the blood of those who knew the place when it was an isolated Roman fortress set upon a bare hill-top.
Ribchester in Lancashire.
The river Ribble makes it way down from the great fells in the north-west of Yorkshire, and, passing across Lancashire, runs through Preston and discharges itself into the sea between Blackpool and Southport; and at a point some eight miles/12.8km, as the crow flies, upstream from Preston, there stands on its west bank the picturesque little village of Ribchester, best approached from Blackburn, which lies about 5 miles/8km to the south-east.
Although so close to these centres of industry, the Ribble valley at Ribchester is still unspoilt and open country; and from the village you may look north-eastwards over woodland and meadow through which the wide and swiftly-flowing river makes its serpentine course, until the view is terminated by the rugged heights of the distant Pendle Hill on the one side and Longridge Fell and Harrop Fell on the other.
Hidden for the most part under the turf lie the ruins of the Roman fort of Bremetennacum, which once guarded the cross-roads, the ancient highway from Manchester to Carlisle here passing across that from Wigan and the sea to York. The river has changed its course some what since Roman times, and has engulfed and destroyed for ever the south-east corner of the fort; the churchyard occupies and conceals the site of the Praetorium, or headquarters, and some of the granaries and barracks; and the church itself hides the ruins of the temple dedicated to Minerva: but here and there, in the rectory garden and in other patches of land, a certain amount of excavation has been possible, and the main outlines of the fort, which covered 5 ¾ acres/2.3ha, have been ascertained.
Between the rectory and the church, behind the parish room, a section of the Via Principalis, or main street, has been exposed, and is still to be seen; and here, with the aid of the plan to be obtained on the spot, you may make out a portion of the paved road with its drainage system, and parts of two of the long granaries which stood beside it. A considerable quantity of grain was found in these granaries, it having been left behind when the Romans vacated the place. These ruins have rather a confused appearance, and the fruit-laden branches of the rector`s apple-trees hang low over the grass-covered walls of grey stone; but you will be led around by the caretaker, and something of their meaning will be made clear.
The excavations also revealed the north gate of the fortress, just beyond these granaries; a building, which may have been the armoury, running in under the parish room and the adjacent graves; the main walls of the headquarters near the churchyard gates; the west gate of the fortress beyond the churchyard; and a turret down by the river, near Lower Alston Farm. But these areas have now been filled in again, and there is nothing to be seen, with the exception of the line of the outer ditch or fosse on the west side.
There is, however, a little museum near the churchyard gates; and here you may see the various objects which were found in these excavations. (I may mention that some of these used to be exhibited in the museum at Blackburn, but lately they have been, very rightly, returned to Ribchester).
Amongst the inscriptions the following are of interest:- A centurion of the Sixth Legion, which was stationed at York, make a dedication with the British god of Youth, Maponus; and this is dated in the reign of the Emperor Gordian III (238-244 A.D.). The Sixth Legion evidently sent detachments to Ribchester from time to time, for another inscribed tablet was here erected by them about 169 A.D. in honour of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his imperial colleague, Lucius Verus. There is also a record of work done here by men of the Twentieth Legion, stationed at Chester.
Another inscription records the fact that the century, or legionary unit, commanded by a certain Titianus, built 27 feet/8.2m of the wall of the fortress: records such as this, referring to pieces of building-work done by the troops, are very common, and are called “Centurial Stones.” An inscription records the presence here of the Astrian Cohort, a cavalry regiment recruited in Spain; and another mentions a cavalry regiment of Sarmatae, or Hungarians, who were also stationed here. Judging by the size of the fortress, 1.000 men were permanently in garrison.
A tablet has an inscription praying for the “welfare and success” of the Emperor Caracalla and his mother, dated about 210 A.D. Caracalla was that unpleasant scoundrel of African descent, the son of the fine old Emperor Severus who died at York; and it may be remembered that he murdered his brother Geta, who had been co-regent with him. Another inscription here at Ribchester shows Geta`s name carefully hammered out, for Caracalla had given orders that it should be obliterated on every monument throughout the Empire.
Many years ago a tombstone inscription of great interest was found here, but it has since been lost and only a copy of it remains. It reads:-
“By this earth is covered she who was once Aelia Matrona, who lived 26 years, 2 months, and 8 days, and her son Marcus Julius Maximus, who lived 6 years, 3 months, and 20 days, and her mother Campania Dubitata, who lived 50 years. Julius Maximus of the Sarmatian (Hungarian) cavalry, attached to the staff of the Governor, has placed this as the memorial of a husband to an incomparable wife, of a father to a dutiful son, and in memory of a most devoted mother-in-law.”
Amongst other objects in this museum I may mention a tombstone on which the figure of a soldier is sculptured, riding a horse and driving his spear into a fallen enemy ; an altar to Minerva, found on the site of the present church; some fine capitals of columns; a brooch of solid gold; some pieces of leather from a military coat; a series of gold, silver and bronze coins, some dating from the time of Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) in whose reign, perhaps, the fortress was first built, and others recording various emperors down to the time of Gratian (367-383 A.D.), thus showing that the place was still occupied at that time; much pottery and glass; and a variety of small articles.
In St. John`s, Cambridge, there is an inscription found at Ribchester, recording the fact that in the time of the Governor Natalis, 217 A.D., the temple – perhaps that of Minerva, on the site of the church – built in accordance with the command of an oracle. But the greatest discovery made at Ribchester was that of a hoard of bronze articles, including a most beautiful bronze helmet, which is covered with figures of fighting men in relief, and there is a human mask of thin metal attached to it, which was worn in front of the face like a visor. It was found in 1796, and formed part of the ceremonial armour worn by Roman cavalry officers: similar helmets have been found in Britain, at Newstead, and in Germany and Bulgaria.
I may add that if you go into the parish church you will observe that the organ loft is supported by four pillars; the two front ones are probably Roman, and seems to have been taken from the ruins and used here by the original builders of the church.
The fortress seems to have been vacated at the time when the legions began to be withdrawn from Britain, early in the Fifth Century; and the soldiers appear to have burnt the whole place before they left. A great charred timber has been found, and some of it is to be seen in the museum, where, also, you will find a few handfuls of the grain from the granaries which likewise shows sign of having been burnt. The well in the middle of the fort, too, was found to have been carefully filled up with stones taken from the surrounding buildings, so as to render it unuseable.
After the soldiers had left, the place seems to have lain deserted for some time, for its name, Bremetennacum, was forgotten, which would probably not have been the case had some of the inhabitants remained to hand it on. The Saxons spoke of it simply as the fort, or Chester, on the Ribble, whence comes its present name, Ribchester; and in their time it must have been just a burnt-out ruin, the home of owls and rabbits. But gradually the grass grew over it, and the dust blew into it, until it was buried out of sight beneath the soil of that new England which took the place of Roman Britain.