Aesica (Great Chesters)

Cemetery, Fort, Marching or Temporary Camps, Minor Settlement and Wall Fort

This fort appears in the Notitia Dignitatum between the entries for Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland) and Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland), where the name appears Aesica. For the full N.D. entry see below. The fort also appears in the Ravenna Cosmography as Esica (R&C#150), between the entries for Vercovicium (Housesteads, Northumberland) and Banna (Birdoswald, Cumbria).

The Great Chesters Fort

This small infantry fort has its long axis directed along the line of the wall facing east to guard the Caw Gap, like the fort at Housesteads in relation to the Knag Burn further east, although Vercovicium is much larger than the Greatchesters fort which covers an area of only about 3 acres (c.1.2 ha). The siting of a garrison on the Wall here was obviously an afterthought, for under the north-west corner of the fort lie the footings of Mile-Castle 43, which had to be levelled in order to accomodate the fort’s interior buildings.

The site is notable in that the ‘broad wall’ foundations were laid-down before it was decided to build the Wall here in a narrower gauge, but, unlike eslewhere, the ‘narrow wall’ at Greatchesters was constructed on new footings immediately behind the broad foundations, which were perhaps prepared the previous season. The narrow wall was later to form the northern defences of the Aesica fort.

The defences are notable in that there are four external ditches on the western side of the fort, whereas the southern and eastern sides were served by only a single ditch; this suggests that the builders of the fort were concerned by the flat approach from the west. On the southern side, it appears that the outer defences interfere with the structure of the Vallum, which was evidently already in place when the fort was built.

RIB1736 - Inscription

IMP CAES TRAIN HAD[...]A
NO AVG P P
For the Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus, father of his country.
No other letters have occupied the die. For, instead of cutting an inscription in large letters, the mason has chosen to place two lines of smaller lettering in the position where they would best be seen on a tablet high up over the gate R.P.W.Hadrian received the title pater patriae in a.d. 128. Stevens dates the construction of the fort probably to a.d. 129. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Bennett notes some instances of Hadrian pater patriae before a.d. 128 (Brit. xv (1984), 234-5), but they remain exceptional.

The fort was excavated in 1897 and a number of the interior buildings were uncovered; most of the principia (headquarters building), the praetorium (commanding officer’s house), a horraeum (grain-store), and some of the centuriae (barrack-blocks). The west gate is of particular note, as it shows evidence of successive narrowings of the gateway during the entire period of occupation, until it was eventually blocked off completely. The eastern gate-house yielded an inscription which proves that the fort was built during the latter reign of Hadrian (vide supra), while another inscription tells us that the building work was possibly undertaken by the men of Legio XX Valeria Victrix, who were stationed at Chester during the winter months, but each summer during the reign of Hadrian at least, would be found working on the entrenchments and fortifications of the Wall (vide infra).

RIB1748 - Inscription

XLVIII
48
No commentary.

There are thirty-one inscribed stones recorded in the R.I.B. for Great Chesters, comprising; eleven altarstones and a statue base dedicated to various gods, six building inscriptions (only three dateable), seven tombstones and six other undefined stones including the distance marker XLVIII “Forty-eight” (RIB 1748) which recorded the building of a length of rampart wall.

The Garrison Units

RIB1725 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche

I O M
D[...]ICENO LV
CIVS MAXIM
IVS GAETVLIC
VS 𐆛 LEG XX V V
V [   ] M
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, of Dolic(h)e, Lucius Maximius Gaetulicus, centurion of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
For the same centurion see RIB 2120 (Newstead). Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For the same centurion, see also AE 1985, 735 (Novae), the altar dedicated by him in a.d. 184 as primus pilus of Legion I Italica, in fulfilment of the vow he had made when he enlisted with Legion XX Valeria Victrix 57 years before. His full name and origin are L. Maximius L. f. Voltiniae Gaetulicus Viennae.

RIB1746 - Funerary inscription for Nigrina

D M S
NIGI
AE V[...]X A XXXX
[...]VR CASITO
𐆛 L[...]G [...]
P F C[...]
Sacred to the spirits of the departed (and) to Nigrina, (who) lived 40 years: Aurelius Casitto, centurion of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis, had this set up.
No commentary.

RIB1727 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

[...] M
[...]
[...]N[..]
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, ... of Gauls ..
No commentary.

RIB1731 - Dedication to the Emperor's Victory

VICTORIAE AVG COH VI
NERVIORVM CVI PRAEEST G
IVL BARBARVS PRAEFEC V S L L M
To the Emperor's Victory the Sixth Cohort of Nervians, commanded by Gaius Julius Barbarus, the prefect, willingly and deservedly fulfilled its vow.
No commentary.

The early second century garrison was Cohors VI Nerviorum, a five-hundred strong infantry unit from the region of modern Belgium, who are attested on an inscription found in the Headquarters building in the centre of the fort. This unit was removed in the late second century and posted to Rough Castle on the Antonine Wall in Scotland.

RIB1737 - Dedication-slab

[...]VS ANTONINO ET [...]
[...]THICIS MEDICIS [...]
[...  ]I RAETORV[  ...]
[...]MISIA [..]CCI [..] ET [...]
[...]IIAT[...]
For the Emperor-Caesars Antoninus and Verus, both Augusti, conquerors of Parthia, Media, and Armenia, the Sixth (?) Cohort of Raetians ..
No commentary.

RIB1724 - Altar dedicated to Fortune

D[...  ]OR[...]V
VEXS G RETO
QVORVM CVR
AM AGIT TABE
LLIVS VICTOR
𐆛
To the goddess Fortune the detachment of the Raetian Spearmen, under the command of Tabellius Victor, centurion, (set this up).
For the Raeti Gaesati see RIB 1216, 1217, 1235 (Risingham) and 2117 (site near Jedburgh).

RIB1667 - Funerary inscription for Dagvalda

D M [...]
DAGVALDA M[...] [...  ]
PAN VIXIT AN [...]
PVSINNA [...]
[...]X TITVL[  ...]
Sacred to the spirits of the departed: Dagvalda, soldier in the First Cohort of Pannonians, lived [] years his wife Pusinna set up this tombstone.
Clayton suggested that this tombstone may have been brought from the burial-ground of the fort of Great Chesters, which overlies the site of milecastle no. 43.Birley (Cumb. Westm. AAST 2nd Ser. xxxix (1939) 216) dates this text 'late in the second century at earliest' and assigns it to coh. I Pan., noting that this tombstone of a soldier need not prove the presence of the regiment.Scherer, Corolla (1955) 206 cites Dagvalda as a compound of Celtic and German words for 'good ruler'. For Pusinna cf. CIL xiii 5156. Also cf. RIB 612, 1829.

It is possible that Cohors I Pannoniorum were stationed at Greatchesters sometime during its early history, as a tombstone belonging to a soldier of this unit was found in Mile-Castle 42 nearby (vide RIB 1667). The tombstone had been cut into a rough circular shape and was being used by the soldiers in the Mile Castle as a hearth stone. The inscription is missing the numeral associated with the unit, but the First Pannonian Cohort is assumed.

RIB1738 - Dedication-slab to Severus Alexander

IMP CAES M AVR SEVE
RVS ALEXANDER P FEL
AVG HORREVM VETV
STATE CONLABSVM MIL COH II ASTVRVM S A
A SOLO RESTITVERVNT
PROVINCIA REGENTE [...]
MAXIMO LEG [...]
VAL MARTIA[...]
[...]VS[...]
The Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Pius Felix Augustus for the soldiers of the Second Cohort of Asturians, styled Severus Alexander's, restored from ground-level this granary fallen in through age, while the province was governed by ... Maximus, emperor's propraetorian legate, under the charge of Valerius Martialis, centurion of the ... Legion, in the consulship of Fuscus for the second time and Dexter.
No commentary.

During the third century the garrison unit was Cohors II Asturum Equitata, a five-hundred strong mixed unit of cavalry and infantry, from the Astures tribe of Northen Spain. Their presence is recorded on a building inscription claiming credit for rebuilding the granary in the fort. The unit is also mentioned as the garrison of Aesica in the Notitia Dignitatum, but recorded with the numeral I (primae), which is probably an error.

The Notitia Dignitatum Entry

Tribunus cohortis primae Asturum, Aesica
“The tribune of the First Cohort of Asturians at Aesica
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.42; 4th/5th C.)

RIB1723 - Fragmentary dedication

DISC[...]P[...]
To the Discipline ..
Wrongly assigned to Vindolanda by Watkin and Huebner.

RIB1726 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche

[...] O M D
[...] SABINI FIL
[...]INA REGVLVS
[...] PVBLI[...]
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, of Doliche, ... Regulus, son of Sabinus, of the [...]ina voting-tribe ... (set this up).
On the capital is a small altar confronted by an animal. Hettner regards it as a doe, sacred to Juno, and not as a bull (see Huebner) as bulls are represented facing right. Macdonald (PSAS lxvi (1931-2) 276) says that it has been regarded as a cow, which seems more likely R.P.W.

Three Altarstones to the Germanic Warrior Triad Vheterus

“For the god Vetirus, an offering.”
“For the Veterian Gods. Placed by Romana.”
“To the Veterian Gods.”
(RIB 1728)
(RIB 1729)
(RIB 1730)

The Vicus and Bath House

The civil settlement or vicus occupied the area to the immediate south and west of the fort. A burial ground has been identified about ¼ mile (0.4km) along the road south to the Stanegate. Excavations here revealed a hoard of jewelry dated on stylistic grounds to the third-century and including a guilded bronze brooch, a silver collar pendant and a gold ring. Replicas of these objects are on display in the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle.

 

RIB1742 - Funerary inscription for Aelius Mercurialis

D M
AEL MERCV
RIALI CORNICVL
VACIA SOROR FECIT
To the spirits of the departed (and) to Aelius Mercurialis, cornicularius, his sister Vacia set this up.
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): cornicularius: see the Glossary.

Some More Greatchesters Tombstones

RIB1743 - Funerary inscription for Lucius Novellius Lanuccus

DIS MANIB
L · NOVE͡LL LAN
VCCVS · C · R · AN LX͡X
NOVEÍ¡L IVSTINA
FIL
[...] C
To the spirits of the departed: Lucius Novellius Lanuccus, Roman citizen, aged 70. His daughter Novellia Justina had this set up.
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): See further CSIR i, 6. 215. With the exception of RIB 1420 and two stones from Stanwix (RIB 2029 and 2030), this is the only tombstone from a Wall fort to bear the (almost) unabbreviated Dis Manibus formula. The explicit reference to Roman citizenship also implies an early date. Note the distinctive ligature of e and l, which also occurs in RIB 894 (a.d. 191), 1060 (a.d. 222) and 929 (a.d. 225/35), an argument for caution in dating by letter-form alone.

RIB1747 - Funerary inscription for Pervica

DIS M
PERVICAE FILIAE
[...]
To the spirits of the departed (and) to his daughter Pervica ..
Pennant wrongly assigns this to Hoddom Castle. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Pennant distinguishes this from an otherwise unknown inscription at Hoddom Castle [i.e. from Birrens] inscribed Dis Manibus Sacrum JULIA PERVICAE Filiae, which E. Birley (Dumfriess. and Gall. NHAST xxxviii, 145-6, No. 12) interprets as the lost tombstone of one Iulia Pervicae fil(ia). But it is clear from the drawing of RIB 1747 (photographed as CSIR i, 6. 216) that Pennant mis-read 1, dis m as d m s ivl. Except for RIB 1620 (Pervinca), the name Pervica is unique.

RIB1745 - Funerary inscription for Aurelia Caula

D M
AVRELIAE
CAVLA[...]
AVR[...]LIA
S[...]ILLA
[...]ORORI [...]
RISSIME
VIXIT AN
XV MS IIII
To the spirits of the departed (and) to Aurelia Caula: Aurelia S[...]illa (set this up) to her very dear sister (who) lived 15 years, 4 months.
No commentary.

The Greatchesters Bath-house

There is a bath-house situated about one hundred yards to the south-east of the fort which was supplied with water via an aqueduct from the headwaters of Caw Burn just over two miles distant from the fort. The aqueduct is in the form of a shallow channel, which winds a tortuous path for over six miles following the contours of the land. The remains of a glazed window about 5 feet high by 4 feet wide were found in one of the apses of the bath-house caldarium, evidenced by broken glass en situ and more found on the floor within the building. The sill started about one foot from the interior floor-level, and was 4 feet wide on the inside, narrowing to 3 feet at the outer wall, where the window was placed.

Aesica Today – Great Chesters Roman Fort and Settlement

Almost the entire circuit of the defences can be viewed, apart from the north-eastern corner which is obscured by modern farm buildings, and the eastern ramparts which have been levelled by farmers across the ages. The vaulted roof of the strong-room in the headquarters building was uncovered during excavations in 1893 and is still visible.

References for Aesica

  • Hadrian’s Wall From the Air by G.D.B. Jones & D.J. Woolliscroft (Tempus, Stroud, 2001);
  • 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.172-179;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Roman Roads near Aesica

Military Way: E (0.75) to Cawfields (Northumberland) Wall: E (5.5) to Vercovicivm (Housesteads, Northumberland) Stanegate: E (4.5) to Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland) Stanegate / Wall: W (3.25) to Magnis Carvetiorvm (Carvoran, Northumberland)

Visiting Aesica (Great Chesters)

Address: Chollerford, Hexham, Northumberland, NE46 4EU