Fort and Wall Fort
Banna – The Peak – The name of the Birdoswald fort has been in dispute for some considerable time, the argument being compounded by discrepancies in the Roman maps of the period. The name of this fort was either Banna or Camboglanna, depending on which itinerary you used. The name now favoured by Roman historians is Banna, a word (Welsh/Gaelic) meaning ‘peak’ or ‘horn’, related to the Old Welsh word ban and the Old Irish word benn. This topic is discussed further on the RBO page for Castlesteads.
The Epigraphy of Banna
There are sixty-two inscribed stones recorded in the RIB for Birdoswald, comprising: forty-four altars and other votive stones, ten building inscriptions, cohort and centurial stones, four tombstones and four other indesignated texts. These include fifteen inscriptions all dateable to the third century.
The Dateable Latin Inscriptions from Birdoswald
RIB1922 - Fragmentary dedication
[...]ES A SOLO FE[  ...]
[...] ET AFRICANO C[...]
Numismatic Evidence from Birdoswald
Of the 58 coins recovered from Birdoswald, the majority (51) were recorded during excavations in 1929, the rest (7) are casual finds recorded either in 1860, 1931 or 1934. The coins range from 5 coppers of Trajan (inc. R.I.C. 489) to 3 copper coins dating post-375. The most notable are; 6 of Antoninus Pius (inc. a single R.I.C. 417 silver issue), 3 coppers of Constantinian and 3 of Constantius II also 3 ‘Fel Temp Reparatio‘. Other coins were recovered during excavations 1987-1990 but details are not known.
The Fort(s) at Birdoswald
In 1928 it was found that the Vallum which curves round the southern side of the Birdoswald fort has a circuit which suggests that it was so shaped as to avoid a fort placed on the Wall which was considerably smaller than the later fort whose outline can nowadays be seen. This probably means that the fort was expanded in size sometime after the Vallum was built, during the construction of which, the Vallum appears to have been back-filled. This seems to have occurred very soon after the Vallum was originally completed.
RIB1917 - Centurial stone of Congaonius Candidus
CANDIDI P XXX
RIB1910 - Fragmentary dedication to Emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla
[... ]CI ET
RIB1911 - Altar dedicated to Caracalla
D N MAXIMI AC
FORT IMP CAES
M AVREL [...]
[   ] AVG [..]OC
The first fort in this area was built astride the turf wall and was itself of turf-and-timber construction, intended to house a force of 500 cavalry. By the time the Wall in this area was replaced in stone, the garrison had been changed to a cohort of infantry, and in consequence the Wall was realigned to incorporate the northern defences of the fort, to conform to the usual plan for an infantry fort on the Wall. This divergence from the original line has meant that a section of the original turf wall has been preserved for about 1½ miles (2km) to the west of Birdoswald.
RIB1912 - Dedication to Diocletian and Maximian
M[... ]IANO INVICTIS AVG ET
CONSTANTIO ET MAXIMIANO
N C SVB V P AVR ARPAGIO PR
PRAETOR QVOD ERAT HVMO COPERT
ET IN LABE CONL ET PRINC ET BAL REST
CVRANT FL MARTINO CENT PP C [...]
A building inscription recovered from the interior of the fort in 1929 records restoration work undertaken at the turn of the fourth century by an unknown unit (vide RIB 1912 supra). This is a very important find because it provides conclusive evidence that the praetorium or commanding officer’s house in an auxiliary fort was a separate and distinct entity from the principia or headquarters building.
RIB1916 - Building inscription of the Sixth Legion
VIC P F
RIB1880 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
COH I AEL DA
COR C C A IVL
NVS 𐆛 LEG II
RIB1907 - Altar dedicated by a centurion of the Sixth Legion
V C [...]
TVS 𐆛 LEG
The Garrison Units of Camboglanna
The identity of the cavalry regiment which garrisoned the original turf fort is not known, and likewise, the infantry regiment who first occupied the replacement stone fort, although it has been suggested that the latter may have been a detachment of the First Cohort of Tungrians, a one-thousand strong mixed-unit of cavalry and infantry who are known from building inscriptions at Camboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria; vide RIB 1981 et al.). This unit is too large to be housed either at Birdoswalds or the nearby fort at Castlesteads, though it is possible that the unit was divided between these two forts during the Hadrianic period.
RIB1909 - Dedication to Emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla by the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians
SEPT SEVERO PIO
PERT ET M AVR A[...]O
NINO AVG ⟦ET P SEP
GETAE NOB CAES⟧ HOR
REVM FECER COH I AEL
DAC ET I TRACVM C R SVB
ALFENO SENECIONE COS
PER AVREL IVLIANVM TR
The first positively dateable evidence recording the name of a Birdoswald garrison unit is a building inscription recovered from the interior of the fort (RIB 1909, dated: 205-208AD), which places Cohors Primae Thracum Civium Romanorum here at the beginning of the third century. This unit was a mixed regiment of infantry and cavalry recruited from amongst the war-like tribes of the Roman province of Thrace (modern Bulgaria). The building inscription is shared with the third-century garrison unit Cohors I Aelia Dacorum and perhaps indicated building repairs conducted immediately prior to the fort changing hands.
RIB1905 - Altar dedicated to Silvanus
RIB1914 - Dedication-slab
LIO LEG AVG PR
PR COH I AEL DC
CVI PRAEEST M
The third and fourth century garrison of Birdoswald was undoubtedly Cohors I Aelia Dacorum Milliaria, a one-thousand strong infantry regiment from Dacia, a Roman province on the north bank of the Lower Danube. Their presence is confirmed by epigraphic evidence recovered from the interior of the fort itself (vide infra).
RIB1872 - Altar dedicated to Cocidius
COH I AELIA
[... ]NTIVS VALERIANVS
RIB1904 - Dedication to the Standards and to the Divinity of the Emperor
ET N AV[  ...  ]
The unit with the most epigraphic evidence at the Birdoswalds fort is Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum, which is attested on thirty-one inscribed stones out of a total of sixty-two which have been recovered to date. These texts may be broken down as follows; there are twenty-four altars dedicated to Iupitter Optimus Maximus (RIB 1874-1894, 1896, 1929a/b), nine of which can be dated to the third century, two building inscriptions (RIB 1909, dated: 205-208AD, shared with Cohors I Thracum; 1914, dated: c.219AD), a statue base dedicated to the ‘Standards’ (RIB1904), an altar to Cocidius (RIB1872), another altar to an unknown god (RIB1906), a single centurial stone (RIB1918) and the tombstone of a soldier (RIB1921). This evidence all points to extended residence of the unit at the fort over several generations, with sons following in their father’s footsteps serving as soldiers in the First Cohort of Dacians.
RIB1918 - Centurial stone of Decius Saxa
COH I DAC
RIB1921 - Funerary inscription for Septimus
XXXX ṂIḶ XVIII COH I AE
H F C
In this reference we see that Cohors Primae Dacorum is identified as the late-4th century garrison of Camboglanna, which returns us to the problem outlined at the start of this web-page. There are two solutions here; either the First Cohort of Dacians were moved to the fort at Castlesteads, for which we have no corroborative epigraphic evidence, or there has been a scribal error at sometime in antiquity, perhaps made when making a copy of an earlier master document.
The Martial Gods of Roman Birdoswalds
The forty-four altars and other votive stones are mainly dedicated to the martial gods: there are twenty-four dedications to Iupitter Optimus Maximus the chief deity of the Roman pantheon (I O M; RIB 1874-1896 inclusive, and 1929a/b), many of which are dateable and are discussed below, four more altars are devoted to the Roman war god Mars (altarstones RIB 1898-1900; undefined stone 1901) and another two to the Germanic war god Cocidius (RIB 1872; 1885, shared with I O M, dated: 270-273AD). There is also a very interesting statue base dedicated to Signis or ‘The Standards’ (RIB 1904 supra), which proves that the Roman soldiers actually worshipped thier military colours.
Altarstones Dedicated to the War God Mars
- Based on the expansion S[acrum] S[umpto] S[uo].
Iupitter Optimus Maximus
The long-standing garrison unit of Birdoswalds, Cohors Primae Aelia Dacorum, seemingly had the regimental tradition of dedicating a new altar to the god Jupiter Best and Greatest every time a new commander was appointed. The unit also declared itself loyal to the emperor of the time by adopting the emperor’s name as a regimental title. A by-product of this is that many of the Birdoswald Jupiter altarstones may be dated.
RIB1875 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
[...]H I AEL DAC[... ] C PEST
RIB1883 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
COH I AEL DAC
C P MARC
RIB1885 - Altar dedicated to Cocidius and Jupiter Optimus Maximus
RIB1886 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
COH I AEL
ANA C P
RIB1892 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
COH I AELI[...]
RIB1893 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
COH I AEL ❦
ANA [.] C PEST
RIB1896 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche
COH I A[...]
C P FLAVI[...]
TRIB EX [...   ]
I PR MA[...]
Other Deities Attested at Camboglanna
RIB1873 - Altar dedicated to Fortune
RIB1897 - Altar dedicated to Latis
RIB1902 - Altar dedicated to the Mothers
VVSCO [   ]
RIB1903 - Altar dedicated to Ratis
The Vicus or Civil Settlement
A large civil settlement has long been known to exist in the area to the immediate south-west of the fort. The burial ground at Birdoswald has also been identified in the area to the south-east of the fort, close to the edge of the Irthing escarpment. The reason why the burial ground lay so far away from the vicus had been a complete mystery for quite some time, until in 1999, the site was visited by a group of archaeologists operating under the electronic eyes of Channel-4’s The Time Team, a British commercial TV channel’s award-winning history program.
RIB1919 - Funerary inscription for Aurelius Concordius
VM D V
RIB1920 - Funerary inscription for Decibalus and Blaesus
ET BLAE[  ...]
S[...]T A X ET[...]
A geophysical survey utilizing a number of geophysical techniques was carried out between May and October 1997. A preliminary Earthwork Survey of the entire site was followed by a Close-Contour Topographical Survey conducted within the fort’s defences using a Wild TC1010 Total Station.
The advantage of close-contour survey is that certain elements of micro-topography, not readily visible from the earthwork survey and often concealed by vegetation, become apparent (Biggins & Taylor, p.95).
A Resistivity Survey using a GeoScan RM15 resistivity meter was conducted only within the confines of the fort due to both cost and time considerations. This survey revealed details of the Roman drainage system and also located a number of kilns. Finally, a Magnetometer Survey using a GeoScan FM36 fluxgate gradiometer was conducted both within the fort and outside the defences for a distance of 80m to the west and 120m to the east. Evidence of an extensive civil settlement was seen along the line of the Roman Military Way to the east and the west of the fort usin this technique.
Other Military Sites in the Area
A Roman watch-tower or signal station lies just south of the Birdoswald fort at Mains Rigg on the Stanegate.
References for Banna
- Britannia xxxii (2001) pp.332/3 & fig.11 p.334; A Survey of the Roman Fort and Settlement at Birdoswald, Cumbria by J.A. Biggins & D.J.A. Taylor in Britannia xxx (1999) pp.91-110;
- Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster, 1990) pp.50-52;
- Hadrian’s Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
- Hadrian’s Wall in the Days of the Romans by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham (Newcastle, 1984) pp.234-242;
- Hadrian’s Wall History Trails Guidebook II by Les Turnbull (Newcastle, 1974);
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford, 1965).
Roman Roads near Banna
Hadrian’s Wall: E (4.25) to Banks East Maiden Way: NNW (6.5) to Bewcastle (Bewcastle, Cumbria) Wall: E (3.25) to Magnis Carvetiorvm (Carvoran, Northumberland) Wall: W (7.5) to Camboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria) Hadrian’s Wall: E (5) to Leahill Maiden Way: NNW (4) to Robin Hoods Bvtts