BINCHESTER ROMAN FORT
Binchester Roman Fort was one of a series of outposts raised to control Dere Street, a major communications artery that ran north through the territory of the hostile Brigantes tribe. It remained garrisoned until the Romans withdrew from Britain in the fifth century AD and the site continued to be used throughout the Dark Ages and into the Medieval period.
At the time of the Roman invasion of AD 43, northern England and southern Scotland was under the control of the Brigantes tribe. However, in AD 68 its pro-Roman ruler, Queen Cartimandua, was deposed prompting warfare between the two factions. Accordingly Petilius Cerialis, who was appointed Governor of Britain in AD 71, commenced the conquest of the Brigantes. He moved the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) north to a new base in York (Eboracum), the centre of the tribe's territory. This 5,000 strong force was augmented by a similar number of auxiliary troops who were stationed at key nodal points across the wider region. One of the key lines of communication was a major military road, Dere Street, which was the main route north from York towards Scotland. Binchester was one of the forts established along the line of this road.
The first fortification at Binchester, which was known to the Romans as Vinovia, was built around AD 75. It occupied a spur of high ground which was flanked on the south and west sides by the River Wear which served as both a natural defensive barrier and a key logistical artery. Further natural defences were provided by the Coundon Burn on the south and marshy ground to the north/north-east. The fort itself, which would have been an earth and timber fortification, took the standard Roman 'playing card' layout, a rectangular layout with rounded corners. The Headquarters was located in the centre of the site and would have been flanked by the Commanding Officer's house and granaries whilst workshops and barracks would have occupied the four quadrants. The fort occupied a footprint of around 17 acres. Dere Street ran through the centre of the fort.
The ditches of the first fort were filled in sometime between AD 125 and AD 150 suggesting it was abandoned at this time. It is uncertain if there was a gap in occupation before a new fort was built around AD 150. This new facility was smaller than the original, enclosing just eleven acres, but the layout was similar. The garrison at this time was the Spanish Wing of Vettones (ala Hispanorum Vettonum), a 1,000 strong cavalry unit comprised of Roman citizens traditionally recruited from central Spain. A civilian settlement grew up along Dere Street between the fort and the river. There were also substantial civilian buildings to the south-east of the fort. At some point during the third century AD the garrison changed to the First Cohort of Frisiavones (Cohors Primae Frisiavonum), a Regiment from Holland.
Binchester Roman Fort remained in use until the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the early fifth century AD. However, whilst the Roman supply chain may have ceased to function, the fort continued to be occupied. The troops at this time had probably been recruited locally and it is possible that they continued to function as a local war band. The site continued to be used into the Anglo-Saxon period although the fabric of the fort itself had started to be stripped out - in particular stone had been robbed from the defences to build Escomb church.
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Binchester Roman Fort is open to the public as a tourist attraction. The site has been partially excavated with the remains of bath house, the Commanding Officer's house and Dere Street visible.
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.