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
NO AVG P P
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
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
VS 𐆛 LEG XX V V
V [   ] M
RIB1746 - Funerary inscription for Nigrina
ṆAE V[...]X A XXXX
𐆛 L[...]G [...]
P F C[...]
RIB1727 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
RIB1731 - Dedication to the Emperor's Victory
NERVIORVM CVI PRAEEST G
IVL BARBARVS PRAEFEC V S L L M
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
[...]THICIS MEDICIS [...]
[...  ]I RAETORV[  ...]
[...]MISIA [..]CCI [..] ET [...]
RIB1724 - Altar dedicated to Fortune
VEXS G RETO
AM AGIT TABE
RIB1667 - Funerary inscription for Dagvalda
DAGVALDA M[...]Ḷ [...  ]
PAN VIXIT AN [...]
[...]X TITVLṾ[  ...]
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
RVS ALEXANDER P FEL
AVG HORREVM VETV
STATE CONLABSVM MIL COH II ASTVRVM S A
A SOLO RESTITVERVNT
PROVINCIA REGENTE [...]
MAXIMO LEG [...]
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.
RIB1723 - Fragmentary dedication
RIB1726 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche
[...] SABINI FIL
Three Altarstones to the Germanic Warrior Triad Vheterus
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
VACIA SOROR FECIT
Some More Greatchesters Tombstones
RIB1743 - Funerary inscription for Lucius Novellius Lanuccus
L Â· NOVEÍ¡L▸L LAN
VCCVS Â· C Â· R Â· AN LXÍ¡X
RIB1747 - Funerary inscription for Pervica
RIB1745 - Funerary inscription for Aurelia Caula
XV MS IIII
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
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)