RAVENGLASS ROMAN FORT
Ravenglass Roman Fort was a naval base overlooking a natural harbour formed by the confluence of three rivers. It played a key logistical role supplying Roman forts across the region particularly those on the Cumbrian coast and in the western sector of Hadrian's Wall. The remains include a portion of the bath house, one of the tallest surviving Roman structures in northern Britain.
Ravenglass is a natural safe harbour formed at the confluence of the Rivers Esk, Irt and Mite. Around AD 122, concurrently with the construction of Hadrian's Wall, the Romans built a small earth and timber fortlet on the site. This may have formed part of the Western defences extending down the Cumbrian coast from the Wall. This scheme consisted of fortlets, located a mile apart, that stretched south from the Wall's terminus at Bowness and were built to monitor movement across the Solway Firth, presumably to suppress an insurgency. To date the most southerly located fortlet believed to be associated with these defences was Milefortlet 25 located near Risehow some twenty-five miles to the north of Ravenglass. If the structure at Ravenglass was part of the same network then it would suggest the frontier extended significantly further south than previously thought. Accordingly it is more likely that the fortlet served as part of a local scheme to protect Ravenglass harbour. The site would certainly have been regarded as a strategically important asset as it would have been used as an operating base by elements of the British arm of the Roman navy (Classis Britannica) as they provided logistical support to the military sites across the region.
Around AD 130, the fortlet was demolished and replaced by an Auxiliary fort which was named Glannaventa. The fort occupied a flat plain around ten metres above high water level and was directly adjacent to the river. The precise configuration remains elusive due to partial destruction of the site from coastal erosion and construction of the railway. However, the layout seems to have been typical of forts of the period and would have had a headquarters building in the centre surrounded by barracks, workshops, granaries and a Commanding Officer's house. There was a gateway on the east, through which the road to Ambleside via Hardknott ran, and there were probably additional gateways on the other three sides. A large ditch, partly forged from a natural gully, protected the northern, eastern and southern sides. A natural gully provided additional protection to the south and was probably the fresh water source for the fort. The defences on the seaward side have been lost to coastal erosion. A large civilian settlement became established to the north of the fort, the size perhaps reflecting the existence of a trading community at the site.
By the mid-second century AD, the garrison of Ravenglass was the First Cohort of the Aelian Fleet (Cohors Primae Aelia Classica) suggesting the primary role of the site continued to be that of a naval base. It is also probable the site was associated with the exporting of minerals extracted by mining operations across the region. Certainly the natural harbour would have been ideal for supporting both shallow hulled river barges and larger seagoing vessels. The fort may also have had a role supplying the isolated garrison at Hardknott fort given it was significantly easier to approach that site from the west rather than from Ambleside in the east.
Hadrian's Wall was abandoned around AD 138 as the Romans moved back into Scotland and established the Antonine Wall on the Clyde/Forth isthmus. The new frontier was short-lived and around AD 160 Hadrian's Wall was re-commissioned although the western coast defences were not renewed at this time, presumably due to a changed military situation. However, Ravenglass remained in use as both its naval function and role in mining activity continued.
Ravenglass Fort was burnt circa-AD 197, a period when the Romans were at war with the Caledones and the Maetae tribes. Security was restored to the region in the early third century AD following the campaigns of Emperor Septimius Severus and the fort was rebuilt, this time with its ramparts revetted in stone. However, the fort was burnt again in AD 296 which mirrors the dates of another war with the Caledones and the Maetae tribes. A major Roman expedition restored stability in AD 306 and Ravenglass Fort was rebuilt again.
By the fourth century AD, the west coast of Britain was suffering from raids from Irish pirates. Ravenglass may have become involved in the defensive measures against these assaults and a non-naval garrison, the 500 strong first Cohort of Morini (Cohors I Morini), was stationed at the fort at this time. They may still have been there when Ravenglass was attacked in AD 367 during the so-called Barbarian conspiracy. The fort was rebuilt around AD 369 and remained occupied until the end of the Roman occupation of Britain in the early fifth century AD. In the subsequent centuries stone was robbed from the site to support building projects in the area, most notably the construction of nearby Muncaster Castle. In 1850 the Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness railway was cut through the fort.
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Ravenglass Roman Fort survives as low earthworks but the site has been extensively damaged by coastal erosion and construction of the Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness railway. The earthworks are on private land but can be viewed from the adjacent road. Directly adjacent are the remains of the fort's bath house which is one of the tallest surviving Roman structures in northern Britain.
Ravenglass Roman Fort Layout. The precise configuration of the fort is unclear due to partial destruction from coastal erosion and construction of the railway. However, the site was seemingly configured in a standard military pattern with a road extending to the east towards Hardknott Pass. A large civilian settlement grew up to the north.
Ravenglass Roman Fort. The fort survives as a series of low earthworks but the stone from the structure was robbed to build Muncaster Castle and Ravenglass village.
Fort Site. The fort was built directly adjacent to the river on a rise that stands around 10 metres above the high water mark.
Fort Site. The fort is on private land but can be viewed from the adjacent road.
Bath House. The fort's Bath House was used as a house during the medieval period and this saved it from the stone robbing that eliminated the remains of the fort. By the nineteenth century the structure had became known as Walls Castle. Virtually all Roman forts had bath houses which served a similar function to a modern gymnasium and leisure centre.
Lockers? Some Roman bath houses had niches in the lobby that have generally been interpreted as stowage for clothes. One survives at Ravenglass. The picture on the right is of the reconstructed bath house at Wallsend (Segedununm).
Ravenglass. Ravenglass as viewed from the summit of Black Combe. The site was a natural harbour formed by the confluence of three rivers (Esk, Irt and Mite) and was protected from the fury of the Irish Sea by sand banks. It would have been an ideal location for transferring goods between sea-going vessels and river barges.
Hadrianic Frontier Western Sea Defences. Hadrian’s Wall terminated at Bowness but extending beyond that were a scheme of fortlets spaced one mile apart with watch-towers in-between. It is not known how far they extended down the Cumbrian coast but it is unlikely they continued all the way to Ravenglass.
Ravenglass is found off the A595. There is a central village car park, details shown below, and from there the Bath House (which is adjacent to the fort) is well sign-posted.
Car Parking Option
Croftlands Drive, CA18 1SJ
Ravenglass Roman Fort