BEARSDEN ROMAN FORT
One of the secondary outposts of the Antonine Wall, added after a decision to move more garrisons onto the line of the frontier, Bearsden Roman Fort was built in an unusual configuration. Possibly a cavalry base it was occupied for around twenty years. Today only the Bath House survives.
In AD 138 Antoninus Pius became Emperor of Rome and sought to cement his political position with a military victory. To this end he ordered the abandonment of Hadrian's Wall, which his predecessor had established around AD 122 as the empire's northern frontier, and advanced his Legions into Central and Southern Scotland. This was an area the Romans had previously conquered during General Agricola's campaigns in the AD 80s but military cutbacks had frustrated continued occupation. Now the Romans re-conquered the territory and established a new frontier - the Antonine Wall - between Bo'ness on the Forth and Old Kilptarick on the Clyde. Replicating the configuration of Hadrian's Wall, the original intent to garrison the new frontier was to build a series of forts spaced around 8 miles apart. However, this plan was modified before construction on the frontier had completed and at least 11 additional forts were added along the line reducing the distance between each outpost to an average of around 2 miles. Bearsden was one of these additional forts and was constructed after the Wall itself had been built in the area.
Built by the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix), Bearsden took an unconventional design in that it was initially constructed as a single large enclosure and was subsequent divided into fort and an annexe. Work had already started on a Bath House before this change was made and that structure was demolished and rebuilt in the annexe. Also of note the fort seemingly had no headquarters building – instead the central large complex that existed in the middle of the fort has been identified (possibly incorrectly?) as a workshop. The fort also seems to have had significant gaps between buildings - again a particularly unusual configuration. The rest of the fort was more conventional - turf ramparts built upon a stone base and topped with a breastwork constructed with alder, hazel and willow branches. The fort's ramparts were surrounded by multiple defensive ditches, which merged into a single large one to the south. The latrines discharged into one of these ditches which was half filled with rotting sewage at the time the fort was abandoned giving archaeologists an excellent insight into the varied, but most vegetarian, diet of the soldiers (as well as indication of infestation with ringworm). The Regiment(s) that garrisoned Bearsden are unknown although archaeological assessment of the barrack configuration perhaps suggests the presence of cavalry.
The positioning of Bearsden Fort is something of a mystery. When the additional forts were added to the frontier, the intervals between the outposts were approximately 2 miles. Bearsden is in excess of 3 miles from its eastern neighbour, Balmuildy Fort, and only 1.5 miles from Castlehill in the west. There is no obvious topographical reason for this inconsistent spacing. Whilst Balmuildy was a primary fort (that proceeded construction of the Wall itself) and Castlehill occupied a naturally strong position, there is no reason why Bearsden couldn't have been built further to the east. It must be assumed there were local issues, perhaps a trade route or settlement, that made construction on this site advantageous. Alternatively it is possibly Bearsden had administrative links with Castlehill - perhaps it was the base for the mounted element of the mixed infantry/cavalry Fourth Cohort of Gauls (cohors IV Gallorum quingenaria equitata) who were known to be based at the latter.
Bearsden Fort, along with the rest of the Antonine Wall, was abandoned around AD 162 (possibly even several years before) when the Romans withdrew back to Hadrian's Wall. The soldiers burnt the structure prior to withdrawing throwing the charred remains of the buildings and breastwork into the fort's drains and ditches. Whilst future emperors, most notably Septimus Severus, fought in Scotland the frontier was never again moved north and Bearsden was never reoccupied.
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The fort has been entirely buried under the modern road and the adjacent housing estate but the remains of the Bath House are on display along with a (small) section of the stone base of the rampart of the fort’s annexe.
Bearsden Roman Fort Layout. The fort was originally built as a single enclosure and later divided into two parts (fort and annexe). It seemingly had no HQ and the fort, whilst carefully laid out, inexplicably had large open spaces.
Bearsden Bath House. The bath house was built in the annexe of the fort. Such facilities were an important part of Roman Forts equivalent to a combination of the gymnasium and NAAFI canteen found in modern military establishments