Bar Hill Fort
Antonine Wall and Fort
Bar Hill an Antonine Fort – Aside from the outline of its defensive earthworks, the only visible remains here are the foundations of the principia in the fort’s interior and a linear bath-building sandwiched between the defensive ramparts and the Antonine curtain-wall, the two being detached.
[Antonine] Bar Hill (Fig. 8) is a squarish fort of 3 acres, lying close to the Antonine Wall. It has a single ditch towards the Wall, double on the other three sides. The berm measured from 6 to 8 feet ; the rampart was of turf and was built on a 12-foot stone foundation. The four gates were about 12 to 14 feet wide, single, and built of timber. The two most exposed to attack were protected by tituli (cf. Brough-by-Bainbridge, Fig. 7). At the corners were traces of towers or artillery platforms in the thickness of the rampart. Inside were found the usual headquarters and granary and another building in stone, and a stone bath-house laid close against the north rampart. There were no certain traces of other stone buildings, and the barracks were of wood. The underlying Flavian fort has been described above (G. Macdonald and Park, The Roman Forts on the Bar Hill, Glasgow, 1906).” (Collingwood, pp.46/47)
The Bar Hill fort measures 375 ft. east-west by 369 ft. north-south (c.114 x 112 m) between the ramparts, giving an occupation area of almost 3¼ acres (c.1.3 ha). The fort is detached from the rampart wall itself, lying about 20 – 30 yards to the rear of it. The only other Wall fort to be built separate from the Wall was at Old Kilpatrick. A consequence of this was that the fort was defended nu a single ditch on its north side, facing the Wall, and double-ditches elsewhere. There are four gateways in the ramparts, those on the north and south placed centrally in their sides while those on the east and west are displaced slightly to the north; the gap in the ramparts to the west is not matched by a corresponding causeway across the ditches. There is a short titulum outside the ditch causeway on the south and a longer earthwork protecting the entrance gap on the east. The Military Way passed to the north, between the fort rampart and the Antonine rampart wall.
The fort was excavated in 1902-5 and 1978-82, during which a number of animal bones were uncovered, including those of Ox, Sheep, Pig, Red Deer, Boar and Fox; the latter animal very likely being hunted and killed for sport and as a means of pest control, certainly not for food. Other finds of note include a number of leather shoes, of men, women and children. Among the artefacts recovered from the interior of the fort was a wooden wheel with an iron rim, the hub of the wheel made of elm, the spokes of willow. It is likely that this wheel, and fragments of another three found in rubbish pits at Newstead, were taken as booty or tribute from the lowland Caledonian tribes. Wheel ruts worn away by cart-wheels such as these were noted in one of the fort gateways during excavations.
Possible Agricolan? Fortlet
Our last Flavian site shall be Bar Hill. Here, on the line of the Antonine Wall, the ditches of an earlier fort were found while digging was going forward in a second-century castellum ; and as it was clear that these earlier ditches had silted up naturally and become overgrown with brushwood before the later fort was built, it was inferred that they belonged to one of the castella which Agricola built on a line between the Forth and Clyde.¹ The fact that no objects of any kind (except one shoe) were discovered, was regarded less as invalidating this conclusion than as showing that the occupation was a very short one. The ditches were from 8 to 11 feet wide and on average about 4 feet deep. Their ground-plan was somewhat complicated ; but it appeared certain that the fort had occupied a rectangular space measuring 180 by 145 feet, with an annexe on the west. Some traces of an earthen rampart were found, but no stone foundation ; if the rampart was 10 feet wide, the internal dimensions would be 160 by 125 feet, or nearly half an acre. Nothing is known of the internal buildings, but a gap about 15 feet wide in the ditch indicates the position of a single gateway.” (Collingwood, p.35)
- Stated in Tacitus’ Agricola chap.23; see Mollins.
The Roman occupation of Bar Hill was possibly first established during the campaigns of governor Agricola sometime around 80AD. A small fort of less than ½ acre was found beneath the Antonine Wall fort. It was enclosed by a defensive system consisting of a narrow rampart perhaps 10 feet in width and two (or more) ditches between 8 to 11 feet wide and around four feet deep. There was a single gateway through these defences, near which a sandal from the late-1st C. was found in the ditch infill. The occupation period of this fortlet appears to have been very short, perhaps only a single winter, abandoned when the scene of action had moved north to the Tay. Having said all this, the fortlet lying beneath the Antonine fort at Bar Hill and another at Croy Hill, are now both thought not to be Agricolan, possibly not even constructed by the Roman military, perhaps even by the native inhabitants prior to the coming of Rome.
The Garrison Units at Bar Hill Fort
RIB2171 - Building Inscription of the Second and Twentieth Legions
LEG II AVG ET
LEG XX V V F
RIB2173 - Distance Slab of the Twentieth Legion
T AELIO HADRI
AVG PIO P P
LEG XX VAL VIC F
PER MIL P III
RIB2170 - Honorific Building Inscription of the First Cohort of Baetasians
T AE[  ...  ...]TONINO
I B[...  ] R OB
RIB2169 - Altar dedicated by First Cohort of Baetasians
RIB2166 - Altar dedicated to Mars Camulus
[...]ILITES COH [...]
RIB2167 - Altar dedicated to Silvanus, with plinth
[...]OH I HAM[...]
V S L L M
The First Hamian Cohort were the only regiment of auxiliary archers in the entire Roman army of Britain, recruited from a tribe native to Syria. They are recorded at other forts in Britain at Carvoran (vide RIB 1792) on the Stanegate also at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall, both sites in Northumberland.
RIB2172 - Funerary inscription for Gaius Julius Marcellinus
COH I HAMIOR
Of the nine inscribed stones recorded in the R.I.B. for Bar Hill, five are altarstones. These contain dedicatory inscriptions to the popular Roman gods Apollo (RIB 2165), Mars (RIB 2166) and Silvanus (RIB 2167), also one dedicated to an unknown god (RIB 2168; not shown) and another altarstone containing only the name of a garrison unit (RIB 2169).
RIB2165 - Altar dedicated to Apollo
Ṇ[  ..]CỌ [...]
[.] S 
Pottery marked with the stamps of eight Antonine potters has been unearthed at the Bar Hill fort: Avitus Form 31, Beliniccus Form 31, Cinnamus Form 37 (3), Divicatus Form 33, Felicio Form 27, Geminius Form 33, Malluro Form 31 and Peculiaris Form 31.
The Numismatic Evidence
Forty Roman coins have been recovered from the Bar Hill fort, the most yielded from any fortification along the Wall. These range from a denarius of Mark Antony found with 12 other coins in the well of the principia courtyard, to a bronze coin of Gordian III, also including 11 of Hadrian, 10 of Trajan (8 of which were found in the well), and 9 coins which cannot be classified.
RIB2312 - Inscription
T AE[...] HADRI
AVG PIO P P
Classical References to Bar Hill Fort
The Ravenna Cosmography lists BEGESSE as one of the places in a line at Forth-Clyde “neck”. The first is VELUNIA (Carriden), the next is like Mumrills. The sixth and seventh are MEDIO (Balmuildy) & NEMETON (Old Kilpatrick). This left BEGESSE amongst three other forts to be assigned to locations. These have been assigned to locations based on size and early occupation which meant that Bar Hill would be Begesse. For more see article on: Nemthur.
|NA||G:beag, OI: becc (little)
OI: barr (top)
OI: ess, esso(waterfall)
OI: geis (taboo)
|began (to bow, bend, turn)
Beges-ig (Beg’s Island)
+ æsc (ash tree), æsce, æxe (ashes), axe (axe)
|Latin: beccus (beak)|
Bar Hill appears to derives from either Welsh Bar or Gaelic Barr meaning hill-top, so it literally means “Hill Hill”. So with an ending like Early Irish geis (taboo) we could consider “Taboo hill”. In Old English “esse” is the ending in a number of words like Ælmesse (alms), hægtesse (witch) & Lindesse, which is a shortening of Lindes-ig (Lind’s Island). Therefore one etymology would be “Beg’s Island”. There are raised areas like Nether Inch and Inch Less, that were effectively islands along the Kelvin valley. Likewise Old English began (bend) could refer to a river bend. Irish “beag-ess” seems possible with a translation of “little waterfall”, but the ridge on which the Antonine wall runs, does not have significant streams flowing down it. However (like many places) there are some small streamlets on bar hill. The easiest to match to the topology of Bar Hill is Old English berg (hill). If so it could be Berg – Aesc or “Ash hill”
References for Bar Hill Fort
- The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (1930);
- The Roman Wall in Scotland by Sir George MacDonald (Oxford, 2nd Ed. 1934) pp.271-285;
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
- The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies in Britannia ii (1971) pp.122-142;
- The Roman Occupations of Scotland by B.R. Hartley in Britannia iii (1972) pp.1-55;
- Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
- Air Reconnaissance in Roman Britain 1977-1984 by G.S. Maxwell & D.R. Wilson in Britannia xviii (1987) pp.28/9;
- Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
- A Survey of the Coin Finds from the Antonine Wall by Richard Abdy in Britannia xxxiii (2002) pp.189-217.
Map References for Begesse
NGRef: NS 70746 75926 OSMap: LR64