Alavna (Learchild)

Fort

The Learchild fort is situated on the south bank of the River Aln and was discovered from the air by Professor St. Joseph in 1945, it measures approximately 800 x 600 ft. across the defences, an area of about 11 acres (c.244 x 183m; 4.4 ha), which is quite substantial for a permanent fort and easily big enough to house three, possibly even four, auxiliary infantry cohorts, or a couple of wings of auxiliary cavalry, or likely enough a mixture of the two types; either way, the garrison here would have numbered easily over a thousand men.

Further A.P.’s taken in the early-1950’s revealed at least two periods of construction; the fort evidently either expanding or contracting its defences, no doubt in order to accommodate garrison units of differing strengths.

  • The earliest fort is a rectangular enclosure, which was defended by two double ditches with a width of approximately 2.4m and spaced 2.4m apart. The east side of the fort measured at least 76m in length and the north side at least 39.6m.
  • The later fort was a larger rectangular enclosure which completely encompassed the first fort and measured at least 231.6m along its east side and 39.6m on its north side. The enclosure was surrounded by a single ditch 4.6m wide and a clay rampart 7m wide. Both forts are preserved as intermittent very low earthworks or cropmarks.

Classical References to Alavna / Alauna (Learchild)

Listed in Ptolemy’s Geography as Alauna, one of three towns he attributes to the Otalini or Otadini tribe, and occurring between the entries for Corstopitvm (Corbridge) and Bremenivm (High Rochester), both sites in modern Northumberland. The Votadini, also known as the Wotādīni, Votādīni or Otadini.

The name Alauna also appears in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#187) between the unidentified entries Coccimeda and Oleiclavis, very likely also in Northumberland.

The meaning of the name Alauna?

Alauna is one of the commonest ancient names in Britain and on the Continent. It appears to be an adjective that served primarily as a river name, applied secondarily to forts and settlements near the mouths of those rivers, and to people and gods from there.

The suffix Votadinum is used to distinguish this particular site from others, also named Alauna in Roman times, and qualifies this town as belonging to the tribal lands of the Votadini.

Excavations at Alauna / Alavna (Learchild)

Partial excavation of the forts retrieved pottery from the ditches dated to the 1st and 2nd century AD.

References for Alauna / Alavna (Learchild)

  • Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) p.56;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1951-5 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlv (1955) p.85.

Map References for Alauna / Alavna

NGRef: NU1011 OSMap: LR81

Roman Roads near Alauna / Alavna

Devil’s Causeway: N (27) to Berwick (Northumberland) WSW (19) to Bremenivm (High Rochester, Northumberland) Devil’s Causeway: SSW (29) to Onnvm (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) WSW (14) to North Yardhope Devil’s Causeway: SSW (29) to Portgate