HARDKNOTT ROMAN FORT

Built around AD 120 in the shadow of England’s highest mountain, Hardknott Fort enabled the Romans to control the pass and oversee mining operations in the area. It was abandoned when the Antonine Wall was established but, when the frontier returned south twenty years later, it was at least partially reactivated.

History

 

Hardknott Roman Fort is dramatically sited on the foothills of Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain. It controlled the Esk valley and the east/west route through the Hardknott and Wrynose passes which connected it to the forts at Ravenglass and Ambleside. It was built around AD 120 and, although construction work was normally done by Legionaries, Hardknott seems to have been raised by Auxiliary troops albeit they may simply have been upgrading an earlier fort. It was known by the Latin name of Mediobogdo. The fort was garrisoned by the Fourth Cohort of Dalmatians (Cohors Quartae Delmatarum), a 500-strong infantry regiment drawn from modern day Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro.

 

The fort was configured in a square with round corners and enclosed an area of just under three acres. A ditch surrounded the site with evidence of a second ditch on the more vulnerable north-east side. A headquarters building occupied the centre of the facility. This was flanked by a Commanding Officer's house and twin granaries. The rest of the site was occupied by timber framed barracks and workshops. A bath house, which would have served as a gym and recreational space, was located outside of the fort due to the high risk of fire associated with such structures. A flat area to the north-east of the fort is believed to have been a parade ground or training area.

 

The role the fort played in the wider military disposition is uncertain. It was abandoned around AD 140 when the Romans vacated Hadrian's Wall and moved north to the Clyde/Forth isthmus (on the Antonine Wall) suggesting it played a part in the wider frontier scheme. One of the reasons mooted for the construction of Hadrian's Wall was a Cumbrian insurgency with the Wall severing the area from any support from the Scottish lowlands. If so it is possible that after twenty years of occupation, that threat had receded. Alternatively, or as well, Hardknott Fort might have been used to support Roman mining operations in the area. The Lake District was rich in lead which the Romans used extensively and it is possible Hardknott was linked with such activities (as at Whitley Castle for example) either for the benefit of the wider Empire or to support the military zone associated with the frontier.

 

It is not clear whether Hardknott Roman Fort was fully reactivated when the frontier returned to Hadrian's Wall around AD 158. Compared with the wall's first occupation, the military lay down in Cumbria was reduced (for example the western seaboard defences were not garrisoned from the mid-second century AD onwards) suggesting that the threat within Cumbria had reduced by this period. However, archaeological evidence does suggest that Hardknott Fort was used periodically but this may just have been to provide temporary shelter to passing patrols.

 

Bibliography

 

Breeze, D.J (2011). The Frontiers of Imperial Rome. Pen and Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley.

Breeze, D.J (2002). Roman Forts in Britain. Shire Archaeology, Oxford.

Burton, A (2010). Hadrian's Wall Path. Aurum Press Ltd, London.

Campbell, D.B (2009). Roman Auxiliary Forts 27BC-AD378. Osprey, Oxford.

English Heritage (2010). An Archaeological Map of Hadrian's Wall, 1:25,000 Scale. English Heritage, London.

Fields, N (2005). Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70-235. Osprey, Oxford.

Historic England (2015). Hardknott Roman Fort, List entry Number: 1009349. Historic England, London.

Ordnance Survey, Historic England and RCAHMW (2016). Roman Britain. 1:625,000 Scale. Ordnance Survey, Southampton.

Shotter, D (1998). The Roman Frontier in Britain. Carnegie Publishing Ltd, London.

Waite, J (2011). To Rule Britannia. The History Press, Stroud.

What's There?

Hardknott Roman Fort is dramatically sited within the heart of the Lake District whilst the ruins are well preserved. A visit is essential!

Hardknott Roman Fort. The fort occupied a spur overlooking the Esk valley. It was laid out in a square configuration with rounded corners. It was surrounded by a ditch with an additional trench protecting the vulnerable north-east side. A bath house was built just outside the walls whilst a parade ground was located to the north-east of the fort.

South Gate. The fort had four gates with each having a double arched entrance.

Headquarters Building. The Headquarters building was located in the centre of the fort.

Granaries. The fort had two granaries. All supplies for the fort would have been brought up from the port facilities at Ravenglass or overland from Ambleside.

Angle Tower. A tower was constructed in each of the corners of the fort.

Commanding Officer's House. The Commanding Officer's house was  never completed.

Getting There

Hardknott Roman Fort is found on Hardknott Pass Road between Beckfoot and Skelwith Bridge. The site is not sign-posted but can be seen from the road. The approach from the east is narrow, windy and with some fairly steep gradients making it unsuitable for large cars. Visitors are advised to consider an approach from Ravenglass in the west. There is a small lay-by in vicinity of the fort.

Hardknott Roman Fort

CA19 1TH

54.402400N 3.201683W