Danum (Doncaster ) Forts

Fort and Minor Settlement

It is almost certain that Doncaster was chosen as the site for a Roman auxiliary fort because it lay on the border between the powerful and truculent Brigante tribe north of the river, and the relatively civilised and peaceful Coritani, which southern tribe had been quickly incorporated within the Roman provincial system.

Classical references to Danum

Doncaster S. Yorks. Doneceastre 1002. Donecastre 1086 ( DB ). ‘Roman fort on the River Don’. river-name (Welsh/Gaelic meaning simply ‘water, river) + OE ceaster.” (Mills)

Doncaster is fairly well attested in the classical geographies. It is mentioned in two out of the fifteen British itinera in the Antonine Itinerary of the second century, along the stretch of road between the Roman colonies at Lincoln and York, in both instances being named Danum and uniformly listed 16 miles from Castleford and 14 miles from Littleborough. Doncaster also appears in the Notitia Dignitatum of the 4th/5th century as Danum, though in the dative form (vide infra). It is likely from the context, that the Daunoni entry in the 7th century Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#235), which appears alongside that of Littleborough, refers both to the Doncaster fort and to the River Don itself.

The Roman name for Doncaster is certainly linked with the River Don, and the name Danum may be translated as ‘the (place at) the river Don’. It is possible, however, that the river itself was named after one of the most venerable iron-age mother-goddesses, named Danu in the Irish mythologies and Don in the Welsh, from whom a major dynasty of the iron-age pantheon was derived. On this basis then, the name may also be translated ‘the place (or river) of Danu’.

An Alternative ‘Ermine Street’

The Roman road through Doncaster appears on two routes recorded in the Antonine Itinerary. Both of the itinera include the same section of road between Lincoln and York, and list three stations along the route in-between these two coloniae. Iter V is entitled “the route from London to Carlisle on the Wall” and lists the road-stations from south to north, whereas Iter VIII is entitled “the route from York to London” and lists the same places in the opposite order.

This route through the North Derbyshire hills was opened up sometime in the latter half of the first century A.D., possibly by the the militaristic governor Agricola during the late seventies, although the first section of the road to the Doncaster fort had probably been in existance since the early fifties. The military objectives in the area are discussed on the Rossington page.

SE574034 – The Roman road between Lincoln and York followed the line of Frenchgate; the eastern drainage ditch of this road was discovered on the site of the Old Guildhall, running parallel to the modern building frontage. Pottery dating to the 2nd quarter of the 2nd century was found in the lower filling, which would mean that the road was built at a later date.

The Danum Garrison

Praefectus equitum Crispianorum, Dano

“The Prefect of the Crispian¹ mixed auxiliary unit, at Danum

(Notitia Dignitatum xl.20; 4th/5th C.)
  1. This unit was originally recruited from among the tribespeople living near the town of Crispiana in Upper Pannonia, near Zirc in the Bakony region of western Hungary.

The only source of information which names any of Doncaster’s garrison units is the Notitia Dignitatum or ‘Register of Dignitaries’, produced around the turn of the fifth century near the end of Roman rule in Britain. This important administrative document contains – among other things – the name of almost every military unit in the Roman empire, also the name of their respective garrison towns. The fact that Doncaster is included, highlights the importance placed by the Romans on the western route between Lincoln and York. The Doncaster entry, which appears between those for Ilkley and Bridlington, is listed under the command of the Dux Britanniarum or the ‘Duke of the Britons’.

Other Roman Sites in the Area

There is a small fortlet at Burghwallis, 6½ miles (11km) along the road north towards Castleford, a small villa at Stancil about four miles to the south, also potteries nearby at Cantley just to the east, and others near the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge.

References for Danvm

  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.253; Britannia i (1970) p.280 & fn.60;
  • Britain in the Roman Empire by Joan Liversidge (London 1968);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Roman Roads near Danvm

SE (9) to Bawtry WSW (17) to Brovgh-on-noe (Brough-on-Noe, Derbyshire) NW (7) to Bvrghwallis Itinera V/VIII: NNW (16) to Lagentivm (Castleford, West Yorkshire) Probable road: SW (12) to Templeborovgh (South Yorkshire) Itinera V/VIII: SE (4) to Rossington (South Yorkshire)