Burgh-by-Sands (Aballava) Roman Fort
Hadrian's Wall Fort and Vicus
Aballava – The Orchard
The area around Burgh-by-Sands is dotted with Roman military encampments, which were all placed at this strategic location to guard two nearby Solway fords, frequently used by raiding parties from the northern tribes, especially the Selgovae Tribe to the north and possibly also the Novantae in the north-west. Aside from the Hadrianic fortifications there are two earlier auxiliary forts and a number of marching camps. The Burgh village church is built from stones taken from the Wall, and marks the location of the southern defences of the fort. Evidence of a small civilian settlement or vicus has also been found outside the fort’s south-eastern defences.
Evidence From Classical Sources
The name of the fort appears first in the Notitia Dignitatum of the early-fifth century, wherein is listed the station Aballaba, between the entries for Petrianis (Stanwix, Cumbria) and Congavata (Drumburgh, Cumbria). The Burgh-by-Sands fort also appears in the seventh-century Ravenna Cosmography as Avalana (R&C#153), between the entries for Uxelludamo (another name for Stanwix) and Maia (Bowness on Solway, Cumbria).
The name is recorded in 1292 as Burg en le Sandes, and before that simply as Burch (c.1180). The origin of these names obviously stems from the Old English burh, meaning fortification or stronghold, its more modern name also referring to the location of the old Roman fort among the sandy dunes of the Solway estuary.
The Epigraphy of Aballava
There are eleven inscriptions on stone recorded in the R.I.B. for the Burgh-by-Sands fort, eight altarstones and three damaged tombstones. Only one of these stones can be dated, to the middle of the third century. All of these inscriptions are shown and translated on this page.
The Military Installations
There are a number of military installations in the are of Burgh-by-Sands. They were built starting with the Stanegate Fort built about 100 AD, with the Early Hadrianic possibly about 120 AD with a nearby Watch Tower, with the turf and wood wall being built soon afterwards. The stone wall and Late-Hadrianic Fort (see next entry) was built about 160 AD.
Late-Hadrianic Fort – Aballava
The main fort Aballava is the Late-Hadrianic Wall Fort. It was evidently a late addition to the original Hadrianic plans because turret 71B which originally occupied the site (approx. NY 3289 5914) had to be demolished before the fort could be built. The fort was then built astride the line of the Turf Wall to avoid marshy ground to the south, with the Stone Wall being re-aligned to incorporate the fort’s northern defenses, as was normal for Wall forts intended to house infantry garrisons.
The site was partly excavated in 1922 by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society conducted by R.G. Collingwood. It would appear from pottery recovered that this stone fort on the line of the Wall was built well into the Hadrianic period, very-likely at the same time as the barrier wall itself was here replaced in stone, continuing to be garrisoned until the mid-to-late-4th century.
The dimensions of the fort are not known with any accuracy, but the north-south dimension has been estimated at somewhere between 550 and 580 feet (168 – 178 m), due to the finding of the Roman Military Way in the vicarage garden. The eastern gateway was positively located during Collingwood’s investigations in 1922 just to the east of the church (at NY 3290 5908) and the western defenses are marked by a distinct drop in the road near the crossroads. This would suggest an east-west dimension in the region of 430 to 460 feet (130 – 140 m), and an occupation area anywhere between 5½ to 6¼ acres (2.2 – 2.5 ha).
The Garrison Units
Ala Primae Tungrorum – The First Wing of Tungri
The first known unit at Burgh by Sands is the Ala I Tungrorum, a five-hundred strong cavalry force enlisted from amongst the Tungri tribe of Gallia Belgica (Belgium). An inscription (LS514) recovered from the fort attests the presence of this auxiliary unit at Aballava sometime during the second century. Read more about the Ala Primae Tungrorum.
Cohors Primae Nervana Germanorum milliaria equitata
The First Cohort of Nervian Germans, one-thousand strong, part-mounted
RIB2041 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, the First Nervan Cohort of Germans, a thousand strong, part-mounted, (set this up) under the command of Publius Tuscilius … ]asinianus, the tribune.
COH [...] NERVAN[...]
P ṬVSC[...]L CLND
Epigraphic evidence has been recovered which places the Cuneus Frisiorum among the fort’s garrison during the reign of Caracalla (Imp. 198-217AD). By the reign of Philip the Arab (Imp. 244-249AD) the Frisians had been moved to Derventio (Papcastle, Cumbria; RIB 882/3), where they took the title Aballavensium from their previous station. Other Frisian cunei have also been identified at Vercovicium (Housesteads, Northumberland; RIB 1594) on Hadrian’s Wall and in its hinterland at Vinovia (Binchester, Durham; RIB 1036).
RIB2042 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus and to the Divinities of the two Emperors and the Genius Numeri
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Divinities of the two Emperors and the Genius of the unit of Aurelian Moors, Valerian’s and Gallienus’ Own, Flavius Vibianus, tribune of the cohort and commander of the unit mentioned above, (set this up) under the direction of Julius Rufinus, princeps.
VS AVGG G N
NI Q C A FL
S TRIB COH
[...]P N SS IST
[...]NTE IVL R
By the time of the joint reign of Valerian and Gallienus, Burgh-by-Sands was garrisoned by the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum, as attested on an altarstone to Jupiter Best and Greatest (RIB2042; dated: 253-258AD). The Notitia Dignitatum also places this unit at Aballaba.
The Gods of Aballava
RIB2040 - Altar dedicated to Hercules and to the Divinity of the Emperor
To Hercules and to the Divinity of the Emperor the … Cohort, ..
RIB2043 - Altar dedicated to Latis
To the goddess Latis, Lucius son of Urseius (set this up).
Altarstones Dedicated to the War God Belatucader
The Vicus or Civil Settlement
At Burgh-by-Sands, buildings of an extramural settlement were seen [during aerial survey] to east of the fort.” (St. Joseph, 1951)
RIB2046 - Funerary inscription for Julius
… Julius …, a Dacian tribesman, …
IVL PI[  ...]
RIB2048 - Fragmentary inscription
Other Sites of Interest
There are a number of temporary marching camps in the area, four to the east at Grinsdale and one at Beaumont nearby. The proximity of the Beaumont camp to the Aballava fort suggests that it may have housed the work-force which built the fort itself, though this is not proven.
The site of MileCastle 73 has been identified overlooking the Burgh Marsh from the western flank of Watch Hill at Dykesfield, about ½ mile west of the Hadrianic fort. The vallum also ends here on the edge of the Burgh Marsh, 66 miles from its origin at Newcastle, but reappears again to the west of the Drumburgh fort over three miles away across the salt-marsh, to continue the final three miles to the Wall’s western terminus at Bowness-on-Solway.
AP’s have revealed the line of a palisade and ditch, running along the ridge between Burgh village and the ford over the Sandwath at Sandsfield. It is possible that the watch-tower identified within the defences of Fort I may be associated with these earlier entrenchments, which evidently predate both of the forts. It is possible that these features represent part of a temporary north-western defence zone established during the second campaign season of governor Agricola (79AD).
Close to the line of the Roman earthwork about a mile north of the village is the King Edward I Monument, marking the spot where the English king’s forces were defeated in battle by Sir Robert Bruce near Old Sandsfield in 1307.
References for Aballava
- Hadrian’s Wall From the Air by G.D.B. Jones & D.J. Woolliscroft (Tempus, Stroud, 2001);
- Hadrian’s Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
- Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) p.55;
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
Map References for Aballava – Late-Hadrianic Fort
Roman Roads near Aballava
Wall: ESE (5.25) to Uxelodvnvm (Stanwix, Cumbria) Stanegate: E (6) to Carlisle (Luguvalium) Roman Fort (Carlisle, Cumbria) Wall: W (3.5) to Concavata (Drumburgh, Cumbria) Stanegate: W (6) to Kirkbride (Cumbria) Roman Military Way: SE (2.5) to Grinsdale