Notes: The museum is located in Maryport. A small car park is available at the museum. Travellers are advised to check opening times before travelling.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Earthwork remains of a early second century AD Roman Fort that formed part of the Cumberland coast defences of Hadrian’s Wall. The fort can be viewed from a dedicated tower enabling views to appreciate the extent of the fort. The associated museum is fascinating with various Roman alters and archeological finds.
An usually large fort built as part of the Hadrianic frontier, Maryport Roman Fort housed a combined cavalry and infantry auxiliary regiment. During the Elizabethan period many artefacts were saved by the collector John Senhouse but two hundred years later the fort was stripped of stone to build the town and port.
HISTORY OF MARYPORT ROMAN FORT
Although some evidence exists of a first century Roman Fort below the site of the 'current' visible remains, the first known Roman fortification at Maryport was Alauna. This was built by soldiers from the Second (Legio II Augusta) and Twentieth (Legio XX Valeria Victrix) Legions around AD 122 as a garrison and supply fort for Hadrian's Wall and the Cumberland Coast defences. Designed to prevent an enemy force flanking the defences of the land frontier by crossing the Solway Firth, it provided a force of troops to both respond to small scale incursions on the coast and to man the Mileforts that lined the coast upto the start of the wall at Bowness-on-Solway (Maia). Like other Roman Forts of the era it was built to the standard 'playing card' shape although was unusually large in size suggesting it may have had additional functions. A large town (vicus) seemingly grew up around the fort.
Evidence from archaeological finds in the vicinity suggest the first unit to garrison the fort was the First Cohort of Spaniards (Cohors I Hispanorum Equitata); a mixed infantry/cavalry force recruited from Spain. Around AD 140 the garrison changed to Cohors I Delmatarum who hailed from modern day Croatia. The last recorded unit to be stationed at Maryport was the Cohors I Baetasiorum, who were recruited from Holland, in the mid-second century. The fort remained occupied throughout the remainder of the Roman period. It was certainly modified in the third century with building work conducted by a vexillation from the Twentieth Legion perhaps in support of the Severan campaigns. There is no clear evidence of abandonment following the end of Roman rule so it is possible that occupation even continued even after AD 409.
The museum on the site today (situated in a former Royal Naval Artillery Volunteer Drill Hall) owes its fine array of altar stones to John Senhouse who in 1570 started a collection. This preserved much but didn't stop the fort, which was believed to be ruinous but broadly intact, being quarried for stone by his descendants in the eighteenth century to build the port and town