BAR HILL ROMAN FORT
Towering over the Kelvin Valley, Bar Hill Roman Fort was a key outpost on the Antonine Wall, Rome’s northernmost frontier between AD 142 and 160. Garrisoned by units raised in France and Syria, it was abandoned when the Romans withdrew back to Hadrian’s Wall.
Occupying a position near a small Iron Age Hillfort and situated almost 150 metres above sea level looking down on the Kelvin Valley, the site of the mid-second century Bar Hill Fort may have hosted an earlier fortification. Some evidence suggests a small fort was built here to support the campaign of Gnaeus Julius Agricola around AD 81 although recent opinion dismisses this citing the smaller fort to be from the later campaigns of Septimius Severus in the early third century. Either way the remains seen today date from the mid-second century and was one of at least eighteen forts built on or near the line of the Antonine Wall possibly by detachments (vexillations) of the Second Augustan (Legio II Augusta) and Twentieth (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) Legions. This barrier, which temporarily replaced Hadrian's Wall as Rome's northernmost frontier, was built on the orders of Emperor Antoninus Pius from around AD 142. The Latin name for the fort is not known.
Bar Hill Fort was uniquely set back from the Wall itself; the Military Road that ran the length of the frontier ran between it and the fort. The reason is unclear but supports the argument that the fort pre-dated the Wall. The modified positioning enabled the Headquarters to be built on the summit and this may well have influence the configuration. In other ways though this was a standard fort with earth and timber ramparts and configured in the standard playing card shape associated with Roman Forts; a Headquarters building in the centre surrounded by Granaries, Commanding Officer's house and granaries with barrack blocks in the quadrants. A bath house was also included within the forts perimeter - due to the fire hazard associated with such facilities this was not the norm but probably a necessity. Unlike Hadrian’s Wall where a great earthwork known as the Vallum forged a military zone, there was no such barrier on the Antonine Wall forcing the military to include all structures within either the fort itself or in a separate enclosure known as an annexe. Whilst many Antonine Wall fortifications had such annexes, Bar Hill did not - clearly the builders had sufficient space without such an addition.
Occupied for the entire duration of the Antonine Wall, the fort was first garrisoned by the First Cohort of Hamian Bowmen (cohors I Primae Hamiorum Saggitariorum), a unit that traditionally recruited in Syria, who had been moved north from Carvoran Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. By the late AD 150s they had been returned to Carvoran. Their replacements were the First cohort of Baetasians (cohors I Baetasiorum quingenaria peditata civium Romanorum ob virtutem et fidem). This Regiment, raised in Germany, had earned Roman citizenship for “valour and loyalty” and had previously been based at Old Kilpatrick on the western terminus of the Antonine Wall.
Bar Hill Roman Fort was demolished circa-AD 160 when the Roman's withdrew back to the Solway/Tyne isthmus. The reason for the withdrawal is unknown although evidence at other forts along the Wall - most notably at Rough Castle and Castlecary - suggest significant fighting in northern Britain around AD 155-66. At the point of abandonment the timber elements of the fortifications - the watch-towers and breastwork topping the ramparts - were burnt and other buildings knocked down. Many items were dumped into the fort's well.
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The remains of Bar Hill Roman Fort includes earthworks and the foundations of an excavated Bath House and Headquarters building. In the immediate vicinity are impressive earthworks of the Antonine Wall plus the remains of a small Iron Age hillfort. The site offers superb views of surrounding area.
Bar Hill Roman Fort. The fort was unusual for being set back from the line of the Antonine Wall.
Headquarters Building. The headquarters building occupied the centre of the fort.
Bar Hill Bath House. The bath house was built within the fort. Such facilities were an important part of Roman military establishments and were the equivalent of the gymnasium and NAAFI canteen found in modern military bases.
The view north from Bar Hill Fort
Bar Hill Roman Fort can be accessed via footpaths from the east or west. Parking in the west is difficult so the best approach is via the access on Howe Road. There is off road parking in Nethercroy Road and then a sign-posted footpath/farm track leading to fort (approx 2 mile walk). This route will also take you passed the (impressive) Antonine Wall earthworks.
Nethercroy Rd, G65 9JF
Bar Hill Roman Fort