Condercum (Benwell) Fort

Bath House, Fort, Minor Settlement and Wall Fort

The fort at Condercum / Condercvm  has a typical ‘playing-card’ outline and was built astride the line of the Wall with three of its major gates – the porta praetoria and both portae principales – opening out onto the north side, as was usual for a cavalry fort on the Wall. On the south side of the Wall, the Roman military road entered and exited the fort through the portae quintanae, and to the south the vallum, which closely followed the outline of the fort’s defences, was bridged by an uncut portion of the ditch, obviously an original design feature. The fort measured 570 feet from north to south by 400 feet east to west and the defences enclosed an area of just over five acres.

During excavations conducted over the years at Benwell a number of animal bones have been uncovered, including those of Ox, Sheep, Pig and Red Deer. In addition, the soldiers diet was supplemented by a variety of shellfish, including Oyster, Mussel, Limpet, Whelk, Cockle, Freshwater Mussel and Edible Snail.

Classical references for Condercum – ‘The Place with the Fine Outlook’

The Roman name for Benwell appears in two of the major classical geographies. The 4th/5th century Notitia Dignitatum gives the name Conderco, and lists the entry between Pons Aelius (Newcastle, Tyne & Wear) and Vindobala (Rudchester, Northumberland). The Ravenna Cosmography (R&C#144) of the seventh century gives the name Condecor, which appears between the entries for Segedunum (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear) and Rudchester.

The Roman Military at Benwell

RIB1330 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche and to the Divinities of the Emperors

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, of Doliche, and to the Divinities of the Emperors for the welfare of the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, father of his country, and of the Second Legion Augusta Marcus Liburnius Fronto, centurion of the same legion, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
I O [  ...]HE
NO ET N[...]MINIBVS
AVG PRO SALVTE IMP
CAESARIS T AELI HADR
ANTONINI AVG PII P P
ET LEG II AVG
M LIBVRNIVS FRON
TO 𐆛 LEG EIVSDEM
V S L M
2. For the expansion of Aug. as Aug(ustorum) see note to RIB 152.3. Antoninus Pius, A.D. 138-61, accepted the title pater patriae in 139.Birley Arch. Ael. 4th Ser. x (1933) 107, xvi (1939) 236 considers that Fronto may not unreasonably be identified with Liburnius Fronto, then a centurion in leg. XX V. V. (RIB 2077).
“To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, and to the Divine Spirits of the Emperors For the welfare of the emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Lucius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius,¹ Father of his Country, and to the Second Augustan Legion Marcus Liburnius Fronto, centurion of the same legion willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”
(RIB 1330; altarstone; dated: 139-61AD; see RIB 2077 from Hadrian’s Wall)
  1. The emperor Antoninus Pius, who was responsible for the building of the Antonine Wall between the Firths of the Forth and the Clyde in southern Scotland.

It is known from several building inscriptions that the defences of the fort at Benwell were initially built by the soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion. A single altar stone dedicated by a centurion of the legion possibly indicates that at least one century from the regiment were housed at the fort while building work commenced, but the date suggests that the dedicating centurion may have been seconded to the First Cohort of Vangiones in an advisory capacity, and was not accompanied by any legionary soldiers.

RIB1341 - Building inscription of the Second Legion

main
The Second Legion Augusta (built this).
vexillum
The Second Legion.
No commentary.

RIB1338 - Fragmentary dedication

..., centurion of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
[...]
𐆛 LEG XX V V
V S L M
No commentary.

The Twentieth Legion were apparently responsible for some additional building or repair work at Benwell sometime during the late-second century. Again, it is doubtful that a cohort from this regiment was ever permanently stationed at Condercum, but it is certain that at least one century from the legion must have been temporarily resident while construction work was under way; the discovery of two altarstones dedicated by centurions of Legio XX Valeria lend support to this theory (vide supra et RIB 1327 infra).

RIB1340 - Building inscription of the Classis Britannica

For the Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus under Aulus Platorius Nepos, emperor's propraetorian governor, the detachment of the British fleet (built this).
IMP CAES TRAIANO
HADR[...]N AVG
A PLATORIO N[...  ]EG AVG PR P[...]
VEXILLATIO C[...] BRITAN
3. Nepos governed Britain a.d. 122-about 126.

Although a detachment of the British Fleet is known to have built the granary at Benwell, is is extremely unlikely that any of these men were permanently stationed here. It is more likely that the cohort(s) from the Second Augustan Legion, after constructing the defences of the Condercum fort, were called away for some reason before the internal buildings were completed and the only men who could be spared to finish the task were the marines of the British Fleet, who were possibly stationed at the South Shields fort during this period.

RIB1350 - Funerary inscription for Decimus Julius Candidus

Sacred to the spirits of the departed: Decimus Julius Candidus, son of Quintus, of the First Cohort of Vangiones, aged 40.
D M S D IVLIV
S Q F CANDIDVS CHO
P VANGIONVM A XXXX
No commentary.

In the second century the fort was garrisoned by Cohors I Vangionum Milliaria Equitata, which was a part-mounted unit from Upper Germany with a nominal strength of one-thousand men. Only two centuriae (barrack-blocks) have been found at Benwell, and although the praetentura has not been excavated, even if it contained nothing but barracks there would only be accommodation for about half of this unit. An inscription found at Cilurnum (Chesters) confirms the presence of the First Cohort of Vangiones in the late-second century, and it is very likely that the unit was divided between these two forts at this time. The unit is recorded on an altar dedicated to the god Antenociticus (vide RIB 1328 infra), and also on a single tombstone of a soldier from the unit (vide supra).

Ala Primae Hispanorum Asturum The First Wing of Asturian Spaniards

Praefectus alae primae Asturum, Conderco
“The Prefect of the first wing of Astures at Condercum
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.35; 4th/5th C.)

RIB1348 - Inscription

... of (or for) the First Cavalry Regiment of Asturians ..
[...] NIO
[...]BI[...]VV
[...][...]SV
[...]AVG[...]E
[...  ]LAE I AS
[...] OI I
[...]V
[...] I[...]
No commentary.

RIB1337 - Dedication to the Victory of the Emperors

To the Victory of the Emperors while Alfenus Senecio was consular governor. Fortunate is the First Cavalry Regiment of Asturians.
VICTORIAE
[...]G ALFE
NO SENECIO
N[...] COS FELIX
ALA I ASTO
[..] M PRA
2.  Alfenus Senecio governed Britain 205-about 208 (Birley in Askew Coinage 81, Wright, JRS 51 (1961) 192 no. 4). 4.  For the use of co(n)s(ularis) alone see RIB 1909. For the use of felix as a predicate with the unit see RIB 1466. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): 'Mr. West of London' is identified by Birley, Antiq. J 47 (1967), 280, as James West (1704?-1772) of the Inner Temple, where 'on 4 Jan. 1736-7 he lost many curiosities' by fire (Dictionary of National Biography). RIB 1337 was presumably among them. Davies' criticism of R.P.W.'s [. .] M pra(efecto) in l. 6 is compelling, but not his conjectural expansion of pr as pr(aetoria). He rightly notes that felix is in predicate position, cf. RIB 1466 (and now see Speidel, ZPE 30 (1978), 119-22).

RIB1334 - Dedication to the Mother Goddesses of the Parade-ground and the Genius of the First Cavalry Regiment of Asturian Spaniards

To the Mother Goddesses of the Parade-ground and to the Genius of the First Cavalry Regiment of Asturian Spaniards styled ... Gordian's Own Titus ... Agrippa, prefect, restored this temple from ground-level.
MATRIRIBVS CAMPES[...]R[...]B
ET GENIO ALAE PRI HISPANO
RVM ASTVRVM [...]
[...] GORDI[...]NAE T [...]
AGRIPPA PRAE TEMPLVM A SO RES
TITVIT
The Campestres are associated with the campus (parade-ground). They were held in veneration by mounted units (see Domaszewski Religion 51, RIB 2135, 2177, 2195).4. Gordianae: this title, when combined with Pupienae Balbinae, dates to March-June a.d. 238, while Pupienus and Balbinus were Augusti and Gordian was nob. Caes. Gordian is described as nob. Caes. Aug. on CIL viii 10365 (ILS 496, where similar stones are cited).

A number of altarstones and dedicatory inscriptions have been unearthed at Benwell which honour the gods. The most prolific is the Germanic deity Antenociticus who had a temple and three altars dedicated to him (vide infra), next in popularity are Mars and Vheterus each with two (etiam vide infra). There are single altarstones to the classical deities Minerva (RIB 1352a) and Jupiter (RIB 1330, Dated: 136-61AD), also to the Mother Goddesses of the Parade Ground (RIB 1334, Dated: 238AD), the Victory of the Emperor (RIB 1337, Dated: 205-8AD), the Lamia (RIB 1331) and two altarstones dedicated to unknown gods (RIB 1338 supra, and RIB 1339, not shown).

Condercum Today

Benwell Vallum and Temple
Though nothing can be seen of either the fort or its adjoining wall, a couple of interesting sites are accessible opposite the reservoir and radio mast on the south side of the main Newcastle to Carlisle road (A186). The remains of a small temple dedicated to Antenociticus, a local deity, is preserved off Broomridge Avenue, and the original causeway over the vallum can be seen in Denhill Park a little to the west (see plan).

References for Condercvm

  • 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.51-57;
  • The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia ii (1971) pp.122-142;
  • Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Roman Roads near Condercvm

Wall: E (2) to Pons Aelivs (Newcastle, Tyne & Wear) Wall: W (7) to Vindobala (Rudchester, Northumberland)