Notes: The museum is well sign-posted and on the main tourist route (Military Road) for Hadrian’s Wall. Dedicated car park for the museum along with Walltown Crag car park.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Very little remains of Carvoran other than a few earthworks and a small amount of exposed masonry. The adjacent Roman Army museum however is very much worth the visit and adds much to the wider Hadrian’s Wall experience.
1. Magna is unusual as the fort is not attached to Hadrian's Wall and lies south of Vallum, the defence ditch that marked the southern end of the military zone. The fort pre-dated the Wall, being built at the sametime as the Stanegate Road, but the decision not to incorporate it into the line suggests the fort might not have formed part of the overall disposition of forces for the Military zone.
2. Maiden Way joined the Stanegate from the south but didn't resume north until Birdoswald fort in the west. From there it headed north to Bewcastle.
Originally built to protect the junction between the Stanegate Road and Maiden Way, Carvoran Roman Fort later became part of the defences associated with Hadrian’s Wall and the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Little remains today but the grounds host an impressive Roman Army museum.
HISTORY OF CARVORAN ROMAN FORT
A fort was probably built at Carvoran, known to the Romans as Magna, around AD 80 concurrent with the construction of Stanegate Road. An earth and timber fort in the traditional playing card shape, it was strategically sited on the junction between the Stanegate Road (which ran east/west) and the southern leg of the Maiden Way - a road leading from the main Carlisle/York road leading past Whitley Castle directly to Carvoran and the central sector of what would later become the frontier zone. Probably rebuilt several times before the AD 120s, it would have played a part in sustaining the efforts of General Agricola in Scotland in the AD 80s.
The fort was rebuilt again in the AD 120s concurrent with the construction of Hadrian's Wall. The initial plan for that frontier was for the Stanegate forts to provide the garrisons and the response teams but this was quickly abandoned in favour of straddling forts over the line of the Wall itself. The forts of Housesteads, Chesters and Birdoswald were all results of that decision. However Carvoran fort, despite being located to the south of the Wall (and to the south of the Vallum), seems to have remained part of the plan for the frontier. The fort was certainly still being upgraded in AD 136, just several years before the Hadrianic frontier was temporarily abandoned.
The fort also seems to have remained in use when the Roman legions pushed north into Scotland to build the Antonine Wall along the Clyde/Forth isthmus. It is possible its strategic location on the Maiden Way meant it was preferable to keep it active. The frontier returned to Hadrian’s Wall around AD 160 and Carvoran might have been rebuilt in stone around this time.
Little remains of the site today but its location is directly adjacent to the Roman Army Museum run by the Vindolanda Trust. This small but impressive museum is well worth a visit - it details the configuration of the Roman Army and displays some exhibits recovered from the nearby archaeological treasure trove at Vindolanda fort.