CRAMOND ROMAN FORT
and CRAMOND TOWER
Although not connected to the Wall itself, Cramond Roman Fort was an integral part of the Antonine frontier. Its one thousand strong infantry Regiment guarded the northern shores of Lothian and the facility also functioned as a supply base for provisioning the garrisons along the Wall. It was re-occupied during the campaigns of Septimius Severus.
Although not physically connected to the frontier itself, Cramond Fort was a key component in the Antonine Wall - the defensive line built during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius through Central Scotland. The fort was constructed around AD 142 by the Fourth Cohort of the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta) and guarded the shores of Lothian from a sea borne crossing launched from Fife, the coast of which is just over 3 miles from Cramond. Furthermore, it operated as a logistics base probably being used to offload supplies from the larger sea-going ships and transfer them to smaller vessels for movement along the River Forth. For these reasons, it was a particularly large structure; the fort enclosed just under 6 acres and also had a large annexe that descended from the high ground to the waterline. A small civilian settlement also grew up adjacent to the fort.
Cramond was connected to the Roman military network by Dere Street - the main road running along the eastern spine of the British Isles. It was positioned between Inveresk Fort (the eastern most known fort on the frontier) and Carriden Fort (Velunia) immediately behind the Wall. During the Antonine period it was garrisoned by the First Cohort of Tungrians (cohors Primae Tungrorum) - a 1,000 strong infantry regiment recruited from the area that is now modern day Belgium. This unit had previously been attested at both Vindolanda and Carrawburgh during the first occupation of Hadrian's Wall. Given the size of the latter (the only fort on that frontier not large enough to garrison an entire Regiment), it is likely the force was divided between the two locations. This seemed to continue when the Regiment moved north to Cramond as it was also recorded at Castlecary during the same period. The detachment at Cramond was under the command of a Centurion from the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix).
Cramond was abandoned at the same time as the withdrawal back to Hadrian's Wall circa-AD 164 and the Tungrians were re-assigned to Housesteads (Vercovicium) on that frontier. But this did nothing to stabilise Britannia province - a major attack was made on the restored southern frontier in AD 180 with Rudchester and Corbridge seemingly taking the brunt. Further trouble came in AD 197 when two tribes to the north – the Caledones and the Maetae – sought conflict. They were brought off initially but by AD 207 were threatening the south again. In response Emperor Septimius Severus brought an army 40,000 strong to stabilise the situation and conquer Caledonia. Arriving in Newcastle (Pons Aelius), he advanced into Scotland along the east coast with his army supplied by the British Roman Navy (Classis Britannica). As his campaign pushed along the line of the Forth, he re-established Cramond Fort to act as his primary forward port and supply depot. This time the garrison was the Fifth Cohort of Gauls (cohors Quintae Gallorum) - a 1,000 strong infantry Regiment raised in central France.
By AD 210 the Roman campaign had made progress, albeit at some cost, and the Caledonians had sued for peace surrendering control of the Central Lowlands. The following year the tribes rebelled again and Severus deployed to annihilate them but fate took a hand when the Emperor died leaving his sons in charge of the vast army. They made peace with the hostile tribes, abandoned many of Severus’ gains and returned the frontier to Hadrian's Wall. Cramond was demolished and the Fifth Cohort of Gauls were withdrawn to South Shields (Arbeia).
Little is known about the early history of Cramond Tower although it is believed to be a fifteenth century structure most likely built by the Bishops of Dunkeld. It is a standard rectangular Tower House augmented with an unusual circular stair-tower. Built on the perimeter of the old Roman Fort, it was acquired by an English merchant named John Inglis in 1622. He commenced significant modifications to increase the habitability of the structure and many of its defensive features were stripped away at this time. But occupation was short-lived as his heirs moved to a new house in 1680 leaving the tower to ruin.
Cramond Tower remained abandoned until the mid twentieth century when it was stabilised by Edinburgh City Council and sold for conversion into a private residence. In December 2011 it was damaged by a fire in the roof space but has subsequently been repaired. It remains a private residence with no access although the exterior can be viewed from the adjacent public grounds.
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The remains of Cramond Roman Fort consists of the foundations of the some of the key buildings including granaries, barracks and latrines. There are also a number of information boards interpreting the site. Cramond Tower, a private residence, can be viewed from the grounds of Kirk Cramond. There are good views over the Forth towards Fife.
Antonine Frontier. Cramond Roman Fort was a key outpost within the wider Antonine frontier even though it was not physically connected to the Wall. It would have served as a key Logistics hub and controlled access across the Firth of Forth.
Granaries. The outline of some of the key buildings can be seen including the large granaries. These storerooms were essential to ensure the garrison could feed itself during the Winter periods when resupply would have been challenging.
Firth of Forth. Cramond Roman Fort was situated on the shores of the Firth of Forth. Cramond Island can be seen near the centre of the above picture with the shores of Fife beyond.
Cramond Tower. Cramond Tower was built in the fifteenth century probably by the Bishop of Dunkeld. It re-used stone from the Roman Fort and is unusual for its round stair tower. It is a private residence with no public access.