Bridge, Fort, Temple Or Shrine, Town and Vexillation Fort
Coriosopitum is strategically placed beside the lowest fordable point of the Tyne, close downstream of the confluence of its North and South streams. Dere Street crossed the river here on its journey north from Eburacum (York) and continued northwards across the river into Barbaricum.
There is evidence of Iron Age round houses on the site at Corbridge. The first Romans in the area built the Red House Fort, 0.5 mi (0.80 km) to the west, as a supply camp for Agricola’s campaigns. Soon after Roman victories in modern Scotland, around AD 84, a new fort was built on the site with turf ramparts and timber gates. A second timber fort was built, guarding an important crossing of the River Tyne, when the Solway Firth–Tyne divide was the Roman frontier. Around AD 120, when Hadrian’s Wall was built, the fort was rebuilt again, probably to house infantry away from the Wall. About twenty years later, when the frontier was pushed further north and the Antonine Wall built, the first stone fort was erected under the Governor Quintus Lollius Urbicus.
After the Romans fell back to Hadrian’s Wall in AD 163, the army seems to have been largely removed from Coria. Its ramparts were levelled and a big rebuilding programme of a very different nature was instigated. A series of probable temples were erected, followed by granaries, a fountain house and a large courtyard complex, which may have been intended to become a civilian forum or a military storehouse and workshop establishment. It was never finished in its original plan.
Burnt timber buildings may relate to Cassius Dio’s reference to tribes crossing the frontier but by the early 3rd century there was more construction. Two compounds opposite the supposed forum were built as part of a military supply depot within the town. It was connected with the Second and the Sixth Legion and may have been part of the supply network for Septimius Severus’ northern campaigns.
Information on the 3rd- and 4th-century town is lacking but an elaborate house was certainly put up which may have housed an Imperial official. Coria was probably a big market centre for the lead, iron and coal industries in the area, as well as agriculture, evidenced by the granaries. A pottery store has also been identified. When occupation came to an end is unclear. It is not even known if the site was still occupied when the Anglo-Saxons arrived to found adjoining Corbridge.
Classical References to Corstopitum
Further south are the Otalini, among whom are the following towns: Coria 20*10 59°00, Alauna 23*00 58°40, Bremenium 21*00 58°45.
There is an interesting passage in the early second century geographical treatise by Claudius Ptolemaeus (see above), in which he assigns a town named Coria to the Otalini or Otadini tribe, along with other towns Alauna and Bremenium. These settlements have all been identified with Roman sites in Northumberland, at Corbridge, Learchild and High Rochester respectively. The tribal name has now been equated with the , whose territories lay mostly within the county of Northumberland in north-east England, also in the Borders region of south-east Scotland.
There is further mention of the Roman name for Corbridge in the [link_post post_id="1499"]Antonine Itinerary of the late-second century. The first route listed for Britain in this document is entitled “From the Wall at the limits [of the empire], to Praetorium“, which lists the road-stations along the route from Hadrian’s Wall to Bridlington on the north-east coast of England. The second entry in Iter I is named Corstopitum, and is listed 20 miles from Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland) and 9 miles from Vindomora (Ebchester, Durham).
There is further mention of Corbridge in the Ravenna Cosmography of the fourth/fifth century, wherein entry #142 appears as Corie Lopocarium, the first part of which has been equated with the Coria of Ptolemy (vide supra), but the suffix Lopocarium remains a mystery, and indeed, may even be the name of another town, as yet unidentified. The Corie entry appears between those of Concangis (Chester-le-Street, Durham) and Segedunum (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear).
Corbridge Northum. Corebricg c.1050. ‘Bridge near Corchester’. OE brycg ‘bridge’ with a shortened form of the old name (Welsh/Gaelic) of Corchester (Corstopitum) which is near here.” (Mills, 1998)
The names Coria from Ptolemy and Corie from the RC, may be derived from the same roots as the Gaelic word Coire ‘a round hollow in a mountainside’, and the Welsh word Cwm ‘valley, dale’; both words adequately describe the location of the Corbridge station. The Antonine name Corstopitum, is possibly a Romanisation of the original name (Welsh/Gaelic) suffixed by the Latin word strepitum ‘loud noise, resounding’, the Roman-British name therefore meaning something along the lines of ‘The Valley of the Resounding Noise’, a name which undoubtedly reflects its use as a busy legionary garrison post close to the troublesome Scottish border region. It may be significant that the entry identified with Corbridge in the Ravenna Cosmography, seems to show that by the seventh century the settlement had reverted back to its original name (Welsh/Gaelic), without the Latin suffix.
RIB1130 - Dedication to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
NVM LEG XX [   ]
[...]T VI VIC MI[...]
[...]GE[...]T IN P[...]
RIB1125 - Dedication to the Concord of the Sixth and Twentieth Legions
AE LEG VI
VI P F ET
LEG XX [   ]
RIB1154 - Inscription
LEG II AVG
The Second Legion is mentioned on at least eleven inscribed stones recovered from the Corbridge environs. Aside from the usual clutch of ‘cohort stones’ (vide supra) which proclaim responsibility for the structure of the defences and internal buildings, there are a couple of inscriptions which provide invaluable dating information (RIB 1147 & 1148), culturally important altarstones dedicated to classical gods (RIB 1127 & 1136), also a single tombstone to an unnamed soldier (RIB 1177); all texts shown below.
RIB1127 - Dedication to the Discipline of the Emperors
- Antoninus Pius was emperor from 10th July 138AD until his death from natural causes on 17th March 161. He was consul I 120AD, cos II in 139, III in 140 and consul IV in 145. The title Pater Patriae was bestowed in late 139.
- Quintus Lollius Urbicus was governor of Britain from 138/9AD to c.144AD.
There are at least a dozen stones bearing the name of the Sixth Legion; including three dateable to the latter half of the second century, three altarstones and a tombstone. This total includes the much-defaced and difficult inscription RIB 1190, which reads: …IE… …TITICIA… …VI BRIV… …TAE… …L VI VIC …F, the latter part of which contains the name of the legion.
RIB1132 - Inscription
CN IVL [...  ...]
PER L [  ...]
RIB1137 - Dedication to the Invincible Sun-god
LEG VI VIC P F F
SVB CVRA SEX
LAE LEG AVG PR PR
- An inland town of Etruria, now known as Siena.
- Prefect of the Camp, the most senior position for a centurion, after which came promotion to the order of knights, perhaps with a further career as a military tribune in command of an auxiliary infantry unit.
- The numeral must originally have read XX, an additional X being inserted sometime in antiquity.
The name of the Twentieth Legion appears on five stones from Roman Corbridge, and it seems that a Vexillatio of at least one cohort undertook building work during the latter part of the second century. This posting placed contingents from two separate legions in Corstopitum at the same time, and appears to have been cause of some disharmony, as the only altarstone dedicated by the Twentieth is one to Concordia, the dedication of which is significantly shared with the Sixth Legion (vide RIB 1125 supra).
RIB1149 - Dedication to Antoninus Pius and Lucius Verus
M AVRELIO A[...  ...]
POTESTATI[  ... ] COS [...   ...]
[...  ...] A[...]
[...]S I[...] CO[...] II
[...  ... ...] V V FECIT SV[   ]VRA
[...]M PR PR
RIB1172 - Funerary inscription for Flavinus
EQ ALAE PETR SIGNIFER
TVR CANDIDI AN XXV
STIP VII H S
RIB1178 - Fragmentary funerary inscription
RIB1128 - Dedication to the Discipline of the Emperors
[...]ES COH I V[...]
[...]RVM â†€ [   ]
[...] PRAEES[  ...]
RIB1186 - Fragmentary building inscription
Cohors Primae Lingonum Equitata was a part-mounted unit originating from the Lingones tribe of Gallia Lugdunensis, inhabiting the Bourgogne region of Central France. The First Cohort of Lingones is known from inscriptions at Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland; RIB 1276; 139-43AD) and Longovicium (Lanchester, Durham; RIB 1091/1092; 238-44AD), and possibly also here at Corbridge, where it is recorded on a single undated stone (RIB 1186 supra), which is missing the unit number.
The Roman Military Encampments
The Agricolan Vexillation Fortress at Beaufront Red House
This large early installation is described on a separate page: Beaufront Red House.
The Stanegate Auxiliary Forts at Corbridge
A Trajanic coin sealed beneath the rampart of the Stanegate fort at Corbridge proves a foundation date of 103AD or later, at the same time that the emperor Trajan was withdrawing troops from Britain (and elsewhere) for deployment in his second Dacian campaign which commenced in 105. It would appear that the original (Agricolan?) fort was burnt to the ground and the area levelled shortly after 103AD. This is not indicative of barbarian activity, who would hardly be mindful to carefully level the ground after a night’s arson attack, but is sure evidence of careful preparation of the foundations for another, larger fort built upon the same site during the early-Trajanic period. This complete rebuilding of the former fort is evidence of a change in the type of garrison unit housed at the site.
- Phase I (circa AD 86-103) The earliest fort on the site was also the largest, with defenses of turf and timber; it is possible that this fort and the nearby fortress at Beaufront Red House were occupied at the same time. The fort was deliberately dismantled and its timbers burnt.
- Phase II (circa AD 105-122) The turf-and-timber defences of this fort were built directly upon the destruction layer of Fort I; the principia and the praetorium of this fort were the first buildings of stone.
- Phase III (circa AD 122-139) There is evidence to suggest that the Corbridge site underwent a change of garrison during the Hadrianic Period, to maintain watch over the Tyne Bridge during the construction of the Hadrianic barrier.
- Phase IV (circa AD 139-163) This building phase is attested by a couple of inscriptions recording the work of the Second Legion during the governorship of Quintus Lollius Urbicus.
There is evidence of another rebuild and accompanying change of garrison in the early Hadrianic period, and a certain amount of rebuilding during late-Antonine times in the mid-second century is attested by an inscription of governor Sextus Calpurnius Agricola, who replaced Priscus around 162AD. This probably indicates the strengthening of the Hadrianic and Stanegate barriers following the withdrawal from the Antonine Wall in Scotland. By the 3rd century Corbridge had grown into a large sprawling garrison town of 12 hectares enclosed by walls and housing a legionary garrison at its centre.
The dimensions of the auxiliary forts at Corbridge are unknown, but judging from the size of the garrison units, two of which contained a nominal one-thousand men and/or horses, the forts must have covered an area of at least 8 or 9 acres (c.3.6ha). It is noteable that of all the forts on the Northern frontier only Corbridge has yielded Saxon artefacts, perhaps indicating that the Hadrianic barrier a couple of miles to the north continued to keep barbary at bay, at least for a while.
RIB1151 - Dedication to Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta
PERTINAX ET IMP C[...]ESAR M
AVR ANTONINV[...] PIVS AVG
VSTI ⟦ET P SEPTI[...]VS GETA
CAESAR⟧ HORRE[...]M [...]
FECERVNT SV[    ...]
[...] AVG [...]
The latest datable inscription found at Corbridge is RIB 1151, a restored inscription for which there are two feasible concluding lines (see above). Lucius Alfenus Senecio governed Britain from c.205AD to 208 and is the last known governor of the entire British province before it was partitioned by the emperor Septimius Severus sometime before his death at York in 211. Gaius Valerius Pudens was the immediate predecessor of Senecio, and governed Britain from c.202AD to 205.
During excavations over the years at Corbridge a number of animal bones have been uncovered, including those of domesticated Ox, Sheep, Goats and Pigs, game such as Red Deer, Roe Deer, Wild Ox and Hare, also animals such as Fox, Badger, Beaver, Vole and Mole; the latter group very likely being hunted and killed for sport and as a means of pest control. Among the bones recovered from the Red House site were those of Ox, Sheep, Goat, Pig, Red Deer and Roe Deer.
The Civilian Settlement
At Corbridge, records have been obtained of roads and buildings over a wide area around the visible remains exposed by excavation. The main street fronting the two military compounds continues in an irregular course east and west. It is flanked by buildings, and other streets branch off to north and south. A third of a mile to the west is a Romano-British temple of normal plan. The outline of the precinct-wall, which encloses an area of perhaps 120 by 110 ft., and of a central building are clearly visible, though no trace remains on the surface.” (St. Joseph, 1951)
RIB1171 - Fragmentary funerary inscription
VIXIT ANOS LXVIII
As always, the best epigraphic evidences of civilian settlement at Corbridge come in the form of tombstones.
The Dateable Latin Inscriptions from Birdoswald
Some Civilian Tombstones from Corbridge
The Gods of Roman Corbridge
RIB1142 - Altar dedicated by Quintus Calpurnius Concessinius
VS PRAEF EQ
VM MANV PR
NVMINIS DEI V S
Over twenty altarstones have been uncovered at Corbridge, mostly dedicated to various gods from the classical pantheons of Greece and Rome, although the greatest number of altars to a single god is the Romano-British amalgam Apollo Maponus, to whom there are four dedications, closely followed by the Germanic god Veterus with three. The only other gods possessing more than one dedication are Jupiter and Discipline, each with two altarstones. There are single altars dedicated to Astarte (in Greek), Concordia, Diana, Hercules (in Greek), Mercury (in relief), Minerva, Panthea, Silvanus, Sol Invictus (Mithras) and Victory; there are another six altarstones dedicated to gods whose names are illegible or otherwise unknown. A selection of the more interesting examples are shown here.
- Astarte was a powerful Syrian goddess, associated by the Greeks with Aphrodite and by the Romans with Venus.
- Tyre (or Tyrus) was an ancient city of the Phoenicians, built on an island a couple of miles from the coast of Syria; their principal deity was Hercules (or Herakles) for whom a magnificent temple was built, decorated with pillars of gold and emeralds. He was possibly worshipped here under the name Melkaart.
There are three altarstones recovered from Corbridge which are dedicated to the god Veterus or Vitiris (vide supra), an ancient German ancestral deity worshipped in Britain under a variety of names including; Veter, Veteres, Viter and Votris. The god is also known from altars at Concangis (Chester-le-Street, Durham; RIB 1046), Vindomora (Ebchester, Durham; RIB 1103) and Cataractonium (Catterick, North Yorkshire; RIB 727), also at many forts along Hadrian’s Wall.
Apollo, also known by the Romans as Phoebus (the sun), was the son of Jupiter and Latona, and brother of Diana (a.k.a. Phoebe, the moon). He was the god of the fine arts, music, poetry, medicine and eloquence, and reputed to be master of the bow and arrow, as was his sibling goddess. His temples are known throughout the Roman world, including many examples in Britain.
- Diana was the goddess of the moon, also skilled at hunting. See paragraph on Apollo, her brother, above.
- Mercury was the messenger of the gods and the patron of merchants.
- Panthea was the name conferred on Caligula’s sister Drusilla after her death and subsequent deification sometime in 38AD. The name is Greek, meaning ‘All the Goddesses’.
Milestones from Corbridge, Northumberland
- Victorinus – Became the emperor of the break-away Gallic Empire in Summer or Autumn 269AD, following the death – by strangulation – of Postumus’ successor Marius after he had been in office for only a few months. Victorinus himself was only to last until the spring of 271AD, before being killed for propositioning the wife of one of his own generals.
- This is the only visible part of the original or ‘primary’ inscription.
- Maximinus – Imperator Caesar Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, nicknamed Thrax (‘the Thracian’), ruled the Roman empire from February/March 235AD until his murder by his own troops at Aquileia in April 238. It should be noted that Guy de la Bedoyere favours the date 309-313AD, which would make the dedication to Maximinus Daia.
The Corbridge Classical Roman Temples
The sanctuary area of Corstopitum lay in two sections to the north of the military enclosures at the heart of the Roman town. The defenses of both the eastern and western compounds have a very un-military outline due to their methodical respect of the temples sacred boundaries. All of the temples so far discovered appear to be constructed in the classical style, which is to be expected in a town with a predominantly legionary population, all of whom were Roman citizens and thus inclined towards the classical pantheon. The eastern enclave contains at least five known temples (numbers 1 through 5) while the western enclave holds two (6 & 7). Unfortunately, although there have been several altarstones and religious artifacts turned-up in Corbridge over the years, none may be positively assigned to any of the classical shrines.
Corbridge Temple 1
The podium of this temple was composed of packed earth held within retaining walls of dressed stone measuring 24½ ft. wide by 33 ft. long. There were five irregularly-spaced columns along the northern front, the bases of which were 1 ft 4 ins. square, which would imply a column-height of between 10-12 ft. The north-east corner of the temple was destroyed, possibly during barbarian incursions south of Hadrian’s Wall around 296AD.
Corbridge Temple 2
Built alongside Temple 1 only 2 ft. to the east, the podium of this temple measured 31 ft. 5 ins. wide and at least 55½ ft. long. There were four columns set along the front of the temple, two spaced 10 ft. apart to either side of the door leading to the cella, the sanctuary of the temple. The form of the temple sanctuary was an open courtyard with surrounding roofed colonnade containing a massive platform set at the rear, probably to house an altar which was also open to the sky.
Corbridge Temple 3
Lying to the immediate east of Temple 2, all that survives of this temple is the front of the podium measuring 27 ft. wide; the original length is unknown.
Corbridge Temple 4
This temple is situated to the north-east of Temple 3, behind Temple 5, and unlike the three preceeding temples faced either west or east. Only the podium has survived, measuring 27 ft. 3 ins. wide by 32 ft. 8 ins. long.
Corbridge Temple 5
Like temple 4, this temple is oriented east-west and is known only from its podium, which measured about 26½ ft. wide by at least 43 ft. in length. It was situated to the immediate north of Temple 3 and just west of Temple 4, obscuring them both.
Corbridge Temple 6
This temple lies in the western enclave and is known only from its podium, which measures 12 ft. 8 ins. in width by 24 ft. 10 ins. long. It is the smallest known temple at Corbridge and is oriented north-south, its facade probably opened onto the street to the north.
Corbridge Temple 7
This temple lies to the immediate south of Temple 6 and is known only from the south-east corner of its podium, which was probably aligned east-west.
References for Corstopitvm/coriosopitvm
- 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);
- Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
- The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia ii (1971) pp.122-142;
- Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
- Hadrian’s Wall in the Days of the Romans by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham (Newcastle, 1984) pp.204-212;
- Corbridge: excavations of the Roman fort and town, 1947-80 by M.C. Bishop & J.N. Dore (HBMCE, 1989);
- Hadrian’s Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
- Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
- Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford, 1998);
Roman Roads near Corstopitvm/coriosopitvm
Stanegate: W (6.75) to Cilvrnvm (Chesters, Northumberland) Dere Street: N (2.5) to Onnvm (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) Stanegate: ESE (15) to Washing Wells (Whickham, Tyne & Wear) Dere Street: SE (9) to Vindomora (Ebchester, Durham) Dere Street: N (2.5) to Portgate Dere Street: NNW (15) to Risingham (Risingham, Northumberland) Probable Road: SW (22) to Whitley Castle (Whitley Castle, Northumberland)