CARVORAN ROMAN FORT
and the ROMAN ARMY MUSEUM
Originally built to protect the junction between the Stanegate Road and Maiden Way, Carvoran Roman Fort (known as Magna) later became part of the defences associated with Hadrian’s Wall and the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Only slight earthworks remain but the grounds host an impressive Roman Army museum.
The Romans occupied the Tyne-Solway isthmus in the late AD-70s during the campaigns of Gnaeus Julius Agricola against the Brigantes tribe. A series of temporary 'marching camps' were established at this time linked by the Stanegate Road, a military highway that connected Newcastle (Pons Aelis) with Carlisle (Luguvalium). One such camp was built on the site of Carvoran fort and enclosed an area of around eight acres. The site was chosen as it overlooks a gap in the Tipalt valley, an important line of communications, and was also in proximity to the junction between the Stanegate Road and the Maiden Way, a road that led north through the Pennines via Whitley Roman Fort (Epiacum).
The Carvoran marching camp probably had a fairly limited lifespan especially as Roman forces continued to advance northwards into modern day Scotland. They defeated the northern tribes at the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 83) and soon established a network of forts centred around Inchtuthil Legionary fortress on the River Tay. However, in AD 86 the military garrison in Britain was substantially reduced when the Second Adiutrix Legion (Legio II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis) was redeployed to Dacia (modern day Moldova). With the removal of the 5,000+ man Legionary force, along with their supporting Auxiliary regiments, sustaining an occupation of Scotland was no longer viable. Accordingly the Romans commenced a phased withdrawal to the Solway-Tyne isthmus and a frontier became established along the Stanegate Road. It is likely Carvoran Roman Fort was built at this time by the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix).
Carvoran Roman Fort was originally an earth and timber fortification enclosing just over three acres and configured in the standard 'playing card' layout associated with Roman forts of the time. A headquarters (Principia) building would have been in the centre of the fort flanked by a Commanding Officer's house (Praetorium) and granaries (Horraea). Workshops and barracks would have occupied the rest of the fort. The fort was known to the Romans as Magna (although the Notitia Dignitatum, a written record of Roman military dispositions dated to around AD 395, refers to it as Magnis). A large civilian settlement (Vicus) became established to the south and west of the fort straddling the Stanegate Road and Maiden Way.
The fort was rebuilt in the AD 120s concurrent with the construction of Hadrian's Wall as it was originally intended that the existing outposts along the Stanegate Road would serve the new frontier. However, this plan was quickly abandoned in favour of forts built upon the line of the Wall itself hence the construction of Birdoswald (Banna) and Great Chesters (Aesica) to the west and east of Carvoran. However, despite the construction of these new outposts, Carvoran seems to have remained in use presumably due to its strategic position at the junction between the Stanegate and Maiden Way roads. The garrison at this time was the First Cohort of Batavians (Cohors Primae Batavorum), a 500-strong regiment consisting of both cavalry and infantry that was traditionally recruited from Western Germany. Circa-AD 130 the regiment was relocated to Castlesteads (Camboglanna) and replaced with the First Cohort of Hamian Archers (Cohors Primae Hamiorum Sagittariorum), a unit from Syria.
Around AD 138 the Romans abandoned Hadrian's Wall and advanced back into Scotland where they built the Antonine Wall along the Clyde/Forth isthmus. Carvoran remained in use and was rebuilt in stone at this time although its garrison was re-deployed to Bar Hill Roman Fort. The frontier returned to Hadrian's Wall around AD 160 and the First Cohort of Hamian Archers returned to Carvoran. They remained in place until the third century AD when the garrison was changed to the Second Cohort of Dalmatians (Cohors Secundae Delmatarum).
Carvoran Roman Fort was probably abandoned in the late fourth/early fifth century concurrent with the ending of Roman rule in Britain. As late as 1599 visitors were describing the presence of substantial buildings, including a bath house, within the walls of the fort. However, today only earthworks remain of the fort itself but it is directly adjacent to the superb Roman Army Museum run by the Vindolanda Trust.
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Carvoran Roman Fort consists of a few earthwork banks and a small amount of exposed masonry, all remnants of the rebuilding of the fort during the mid-second century AD. However, the adjacent Roman Army museum is very much worth the visit and adds much to the wider Hadrian’s Wall experience.
Binchester Roman Fort. Only a small portion of the fort has been excavated but the rest of the site is likely to be in good condition under the adjoining farmland.
Excavated Remains. The excavated portion of the fort consists of a few buildings, part of Dere Street and the bath house.
Dere Street. The main Roman road north, Dere Street, ran through the fort.
Bath House. The fort's bath house is hugely impressive and a superb example of its kind. Virtually all Roman forts had a bath house which served as the recreational hub for the garrison - similar in many ways to the NAAFI and gym facilities found in modern military garrisons.
Roman Military Presence Northern England. Binchester was located upon the main north/south route known as Dere Street between Piercebridge (Morbium) whilst to the north was Lanchester (Longovicium) and beyond was Corbridge (Coria) and the Hadrianic frontier. Binchester was also sited in proximity to the junction with the road heading west along the Stainmore Pass through the Pennines.
Binchester Roman Fort. The fort straddled Dere Street whilst the River Wear, a key communications and logistical artery, was located to the immediate south and west of the facility. The earlier fort, which was established circa-AD 75, occupied around 17 acres. This was replaced circa-AD 150 by a smaller fort. A civilian settlement (not shown on plan) extended along Dere Street to the south-east.