SEGEDUNUM ROMAN FORT
Garrisoned by a 600-strong combined infantry/cavalry regiment, Segedunum Roman Fort marked the eastern terminus of Hadrian's Wall. It was occupied until Roman military forces withdrew from Britain in the early fifth century AD. The site is now a major museum and includes a viewing tower, a superb museum and a reconstructed Roman Bath House.
When Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) became Roman Emperor in AD 117 he ended centuries of expansionism and initiated a policy of entrenchment. In Britain, which he visited in AD 122, he ordered construction of a permanent frontier along the Tyne/Solway isthmus. Now known as Hadrian's Wall, this frontier was originally intended to stretch from the west coast to the eastern most fording point over the River Tyne at Newcastle (Pons Aelius). However, around AD 124 the frontier was extended a further three miles east to provide additional security. Wallsend Roman Fort, which was known as Segedunum, was built at the eastern extremity of this extension.
Segedunum Roman Fort was designed to garrison a cohors equitata, a mixed regiment of 480 infantry soldiers and 120 cavalry troopers. It was configured in a traditional 'playing card' layout enclosing an area of around four acres. Like all the forts on the Wall east of the River Irthing, but unlike most Roman outposts elsewhere, the defences were built in stone from the start. Five gateways provided access and egress with three of them leading out to the north of the frontier enabling the garrison to rapidly deploy if required. Internally the fort conformed to the standard Roman layout. At the centre was the Headquarters (Principia) with the Commanding Officer's house (Praetorium) directly adjacent. A double granary (Horraea) was also centrally located and had space to store sufficient food to sustain the garrison for a year. Barracks were located to the north and south. A civilian settlement grew up sandwiched between Hadrian's Wall and the River Tyne. The first garrison of the fort is not known.
Hadrian's Wall was abandoned circa-AD 138 when the Romans moved back into Scotland and re-established a new frontier along the Antonine Wall. It is uncertain if Segedunum remained occupied during this period but, if not, it was re-activated when the Romans returned to Hadrian's Wall around AD 160. Later in that century the internal buildings of the fort were upgraded and a hospital, perhaps replacing an earlier facility, was constructed within the fort. The garrison at this time was the Second Cohort of Nervii (Cohors II Nerviorum Civium Romanorum), a unit recruited from the area that is now Belgium. By the late fourth/early fifth century this unit had been replaced with the Fourth Cohort of Lingones (Cohors IV Lingonum Equitata), another unit from Belgium.
Little is known as to Segedunum’s fate immediately after the Roman forces withdrew in the fifth century AD. It is possible that the site continued in use, perhaps by a local war band like at Birdoswald, but it is more likely it was abandoned fairly quickly once the Roman supply chain broke down. Certainly the fort had been abandoned by the time of the Norman Conquest and the settlement of Wallsend had moved further inland probably to reduce the risk from raiders coming along the Tyne. The site remained undeveloped until the eighteenth century when a colliery was established in the vicinity. This remained in operation for around 100 years and its final closure didn't occur until 1969. As coal mining declined, shipbuilding came to the Tyne and the company that would later become Swan and Hunter established itself directly to the south of Segedunum. In the early twentieth century the site was buried under a housing estate and remained hidden until the 1970s when the (by now rundown terraced houses) were demolished and the fort unearthed.
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Segedunum (Wallsend Roman Fort) is a must see attraction for anyone visiting Hadrian's Wall. Although the fort only exists as foundations, a viewing tower has been constructed giving an excellent view of its layout. A reconstructed Bath House, based on the ruined one at Chesters, and a small segment of (reconstructed) Hadrian's Wall form part of the attraction.
Segedunum Roman Fort Layout. The viewing tower gives a superb view of the fort's layout. In the photograph to the left the Commanding Officer's house can be seen in the foreground with the Headquarters behind and cavalry barracks to its left.
Hadrian's Wall. The fort straddled Hadrian's Wall with three major gates providing access to the north of the frontier. After the fort the Wall headed directly for the River Tyne where it terminated at the low water mark. The wall may have ended with a statue of Hadrian.
Headquarters Building. Located in the centre of the fort the Principia included the shrine, offices and strongroom. It would originally have been a substantial building designed to impress.
Hadrian's Wall. The stub of Hadrian's Wall as it emerges from Segedunum's South-East tower can still be seen.
Bath House. The reconstructed bath house is based on the (ruined) one at Chesters Roman Fort. Despite its name, the facility was much more than just a means to keep clean and would have included gym and canteen facilities.
Cavalry Barracks. Reconstruction of a cavalry barracks..
Strongroom. The vault within the Headquarters building.
Hadrian's Wall. A section of Hadrian's Wall has been unearthed and is backed by a reconstruction segment of what the wall may have looked like. The wooden stumps indicate where anti-personnel obstacles were injected into the berm between the Wall and ditch.
Military Standards. Reconstructed military standards for both infantry and cavalry forces. Throughout its use, Segedunum was garrisoned by a part-mounted unit.