Brecon Roman Fort (Cicucium)

Fort, Industry, Milestone, Minor Settlement and Practice Work

The Roman Fort at Brecon was originally called Cicucium or Cicvcivm (Y Gaer). The fort lies on a spit of land overlooking the confluence of the Afon Ysgir with the Afon Usk, which flowed past the fort on the east. The Roman roads from Clifford in the north-east and Pen y Gaer, Margham in the south-east, met about 155 yards (c.142 m) outside the fort’s northern gateway and forded the Afon Ysgir about 150 yards (c.137 m) outside the western gateway; the hollow way between the road junction and the river crossing may still be traced. Beyond the Ysgir the road again forked, heading towards the auxiliary forts at Y Pigwn in the north-west and Coelbren in the south-west.

The earliest fort was built about AD 75 with defensive banks of clay 18 feet (c.5.5 m) wide, the remains of which are around 5 feet (c.1.5 m) high, fronted by two ditches, the inner ditch, separated from the rampart by a 5 foot (c.1.5 m) berm, was between 15 and 16 feet wide and 6 feet deep (c.4.6-4.9 x 1.8 m), a gap of between 13 to 26 feet (c.4 – 8 m) separated the outer ditch, which was about 13 feet wide by 5 feet deep (c.4 x 1.5 m).  A wooden palisade would have protected the defenders. The fort measured about 615 by 460 feet (c.187 x 140 m) inside the ramparts, giving an occupation area of about 6½ acres (c.2.6 ha). The four gateways were built of timber, as were all the internal structures, traces of the principia, praetorium, granary and barracks of which have been found. The fort faced west-north-west.

In the early years of the second century, the original rampart was raised in and faced with a stone wall, the west and south gateways and the principal buildings were rebuilt in stone, and corner turrets of stone were added to the defences. … The work of the builders, however, was never finished. The space left in the plan for the usual second granary remained unoccupied… again, neither in the praetentura nor in the retentura were the barrack-blocks ever replaced in stone.” (Wheeler)

The earliest timber fort (probably Neronian?) was burned to the ground and later replaced by another timber fort during the Flavian period. Trajanic and Hadrianic samian ware shows occupation throughout this later period, and the fort’s replacement in stone during late-Hadrianic/early-Antonine times proves the continued importance the Roman military placed on this location. The Severan campaigns saw the rebuilding of the interior of the fort with a new well being sunk next to the granaries and a bath-house built within the defences, which indicates a reduction in the garrison. Further interior alterations and repairs to the rampart wall were carried out around 367AD, and the latest coin from the site is of Gratian (Imp. 367-383).

During excavations over the years at Brecon Gaer a number of animal bones have been uncovered, including those of Ox, Sheep, Pig, Red Deer and Roe Deer; the latter two animals very likely being hunted and killed for sport as well as to supplement the soldiers’ diet. In addition, the Cicucium garrison were even treated to such delicacies as Oysters, Mussels, and two types of Edible Snail (Davies).

What did the stone fort at Brecon look like?

Brecon Gaer was, like most Roman forts, rectangular in shape with an entrance in the middle of each side. A substantial part of the rampart wall survives on the north side up to a height of about 3 metres. The insertion of heavier, more crudely shaped stone shows where it was repaired in the 4th century. Beyond the wall the fort was protected by a ditch up to 9 metres wide and nearly one metre deep.

The footings of the gates and guard-lodges survive complete with the pivot-holes in the sills in which the wooden gate revolved. At each corner was a turret built against the rear of the wall.

Inside the fort remains of the principal buildings have been excavated including the principia and praetorium. The latter was the living quarters of the commanding officer while the principia was the headquarters of the legion where the eagle standards were stored alongside the legionary shrine. This building contained a small cellar where the valuables of the legion would have been kept. The central courtyard contained a hearth and a well. Another important building was the stone granary which lay to the north of the principia. The original bath-house was probably built outside the fort but a later one was built in the north-west corner of the fort. This contained four hot or warm rooms, several unheated rooms and a cold plunge. The barracks occupied most of the area east of the principa and praetorium.

Classical References to the Roman fort at Brecon Gaer

The sole reference for the Roman name of the Brecon Gaer fort is the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century. In this document the name Cicutio (R&C#56) occurs between the entries for Alabum (Llandovery, Dyfed) and Magnis (Kenchester, Hereford & Worcester). The generally accepted form of the name is Cicucium, the meaning of which is unclear.

The Garrison Units of the Roman fort at Brecon Gaer

We know that at the time of the original fort AD 75  the troops at brecon included Ala Hispanorum Vettonum civium Romanorum from Spain. The tombstone of a young cavalryman, Candidus, has been found a mile north of the fort and is now in the Brecknock Museum, Brecon.

RIB403 - Funerary inscription for Candidus

To the spirits of the departed (and) of Candidus, son of [...]nus, trooper of the Cavalry Regiment of Vettonian Spaniards, Roman citizens, of the troop of Clemens, from ... aged 20, of 3 years' service ..
DIIS M[...]
CAND[... 4]
NI FILI [...]
HISP VETT [    ...]
CLEM DOM[  4]
AN XX STIP III H[...]
No commentary.

RIB405 - Funerary inscription for Valerius Primus

To the spirits of the departed (and) of Valerius Primus, son of ..., trooper of the cavalry regiment ..., optio his heir had this set up.
D[...] MAN[...]BVS
VA PR[...]MI [.]ET[.]
FIL [...]Q [...]LAE NER
OPT[...]NIS
Ḥ F C
An optio was an under-officer to a centurion, his second-in-command.

Stamped Tile from Y-Gaer Bath-house

LEG II AVG

“[Property of] the Second Augustan Legion.”

(Burn 24; see also at Abergavenny)

The military bath-house at Y-Gaer was placed within the northern part of the retentura of the fort, which is fairly unusual, as most bath-houses were situated outside the parent fort’s defences. The stamped tiles recovered during Mortimer Wheeler’s excavations in the mid-1920’s have subsequently been dated c. A.D. 100, and it is reasonable to assume that the bath-house also belongs to this time.

Other Roman Sites in the near the Roman fort at Brecon Gaer

There are two Roman practice works nearby at Y Gaer (SO0029), and a substantial Roman building at Maesderwen (SO0625). In addition, two Roman milestones were found together 4¾ miles to the south-east of Brecon Gaer at Llanhamlach (SO0827; RIB 2258 & 2259). The texts of both these stones are shown below.

RIB2259 - Milestone of Constantine II

The Emperor Caesar Flavius Claudius Constantinus [ ..
[...  ]
FLA
VIVS
CLA CO
NSTA
[...]TIN
[...]
Back of RIB 2258, only. See RIB 2258 for details and references.Constantine II, A.D. 317-37, or 337-40 (see below).R.G.C. regards Cla(udius) as a mistake for Val(erius) and assigning it to Constantinus I as nob(ilissimus) Caes(ar), A.D. 306-7. But Cla(udius) should refer to Constantinus II, to be dated to A.D. 317-37 if nob. Caes., or to 337-40 if Aug. V. E. Nash-Williams (to R.G.C., 16 Jan. 1936); R.P.W.

References for the Roman fort at Brecon Gaer

  • Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales – County of Brecknock by the RCAHMW (HMSO, London, 1986) pp.135-46 & figs.159-66
  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Air Reconnaissance in Roman Britain 1977-1984 by G.S. Maxwell & D.R. Wilson in Britannia xviii (1987) pp.10/11;
  • Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
  • The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia II (1971) pp.122-142;
  • The Romans in Britain – An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1969);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930);
  • The Roman Fort near Brecon by R.E.M. Wheeler in Y Cymmrodior 37 (1926). 

Map References for the Roman fort at Brecon Gaer

NGRef: SO0029 OSMap: LR160

OS National Grid Reference: SO003297
Dimensions: c.615 x 460 ft (c.187 x 140 m)
Area: c.6½ acres (c.2.6 ha)

Roman Roads near the Roman fort at Brecon Gaer

Margary #621: NNW (5) to Castell Madoc NE (17) to Clyro (Gwent) SW (17) to Coelbren (West Glamorgan) ENE (33) to Magnis (Kenchester, Herefordshire) SE (11) to Penygaer (Powys) WNW (12) to Y Pigwn (Dyfed/Powys) SW (11) to Ystradfellte