The fort at Maryport formed part of the ‘Western Sea Defences’, a line of forts and watch-towers strung along the north-western coastline of Cumbria; a western extension of Hadrian’s Wall. The fort is considerably larger than that necessary to accommodate the units which have been attested here. This surplus area has suggested to some scholars that Maryport may have been the administrative centre for the whole of the Western Sea Defences, but this cannot be proven.
Classical References for Alauna (Maryport)
Not listed in Ptolemy’s Geography, the Antonine Itinerary or the Notitia Dignitatum, the only classical geographical source for the name of the Roman fort and settlement at Maryport is an entry in the Ravenna Cosmography (R&C#118). The station Alauna appears in this document between Gabrosentum (Moresby, Cumbria) and Bibra (Beckfoot, Cumbria). The modern town was founded in the late eighteenth century and named Mary Port, after the wife of the landowner and industrialist Humphrey Senhouse who built the harbour here in 1762.
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.
It is possible that the Roman name for the fort and settlement at Maryport is derived from a word (Welsh/Gaelic) which described its location, perhaps meaning ‘beautiful, wonderful’ (q.v. Gaelic alainn(e) ‘elegant, beautiful, splendid’). A plausible alternative, given the many altarstones found on the site, is that the name may be derived from a word (Welsh/Gaelic) for ‘shrine’ or ‘altar’ (q.v. Welsh allor (plural allorau) ‘altar(s)’).
The suffix Carvetiorum was used on this site 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 Carvetii. The Romans would have just used the name Alavna.
The Alauna Fort
The site of the Maryport fort overlooking the Solway Estuary is certainly picturesque but the Roman remains are less than spectacular, especially when compared with the magnificence of sites such as Hardknott or Housesteads. The earthworks of the fort and associated vicus settlement of Alauna were out-of-bounds for essential groundskeeping during my visit in April 2004 but the reconstruction of a Roman watch-tower in the grounds of the Senhouse Roman Museum did, however, offer a limited view of the fort’s defences with the civil settlement beyond.
RIB852 - Building inscription of the detachments of the legio II Augusta and XX Valeria Victricix
ET XX V V
Building Inscriptions from the Second and Third Centuries
- The emperor Hadrian, who ruled from August 117AD, upon the death of his adoptive father Trajan, until July 138 when he died from natural causes at Baiae.
- The honourific title, of a short-lived Roman dynasty, was employed from 238 to 244AD.
The fort was built by legionaries from both the Second and Twentieth legions (vide RIB 852 supra), very likely at sometime during the reign of the emperor Hadrian (vide RIB 851 supra). Some building work was undertaken by the auxiliary regiment Cohors I Hispanorum (RIB 855; not shown) and possibly by their successors Cohors I Delmatarum (vide RIB 850 infra). There was another spate of building in the middle of the third-century, this time by detachments from the Twentieth Legion (RIB 854 etiam supra).
Building Inscription of Cohors I Hispanorum
During excavations over the years at the Maryport fort a number of mollusc shells have been uncovered, including those of Oyster, Mussel and Edible Snail. (See the article: The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia II (1971) pp.122-142).
The Alauna Garrison Units
RIB814 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Augustus
M FIL VOLTINIA
[...]ORNELIANVS 𐆛 LEG
[  ...]ETENSIS PRAE
[...]TVS COH I
HISP EX PROVINCIA
NEMAVSO [...] S L M
The most frequently attested unit at Maryport – and probably the first to occupy the fort – was Cohors I Hispanorum Equitata, a five-hundred strong part-mounted unit recruited from amongst the tribes of the Roman Spanish provinces. The Notitia Dignitatum indicates that by the turn of the fifth century, the unit had been moved on to Vxelodvnvm (Stanwix, Cumbria). Of the twenty-three altars to Jupiter found at Maryport (vide infra), ten are inscribed with the name of this regiment and a further six were dedicated by men known to have commanded the unit, which likely indicates that they were stationed here for a substantial period.
Altar to Jupiter Dedicated by the Tribune Marcus Maenius Agrippa
- This man was later to become Prefect in command of the British Fleet, the Classis Britannica (CIL xi.5632).
RIB850 - Dedication to Antoninus Pius
ANTONIN[...] AVG PII P [...]
[...]AVLVS [...] F PALATINA
[... ]VS ACIL[...]ANVS
PRAEF C[...]H I DELMATAR
RIB832 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus
PRO SALVT AN
PRAEF COH I DELM
RIB838 - Altar dedicated to Military Mars
COH I BAETASIO
RVM C R
CVI PRAEEST V[...]
PRAEF V S L L M
Iuppiter Optimus Maximus
The usual place you would expect to find altars dedicated to Jupiter was in the principia or regimental headquarters building in the centre of the fort, but at Alauna no less than twenty-three altar-stones dedicated to the god Jupiter Best and Greatest were found buried at regular intervals beneath the parade-ground outside the camp. It is thought that there was only one active altar to Jupiter Optimus Maximus beside the parade-ground at any given moment, and a new one was perhaps dedicated by the unit commander each year, at which time the old altar was ceremoniously buried beneath the parade-ground so as to prevent desecration. This procedure possibly took place on the 3rd January, when the troops renewed their ‘Oath of allegiance’ to the emperor and state.
Other Gods Attested in Alauna
- This altar is dedicated to a number of deities; the local spirit or genius, to the goddesses Fortuna, Roma and Fata Bona. The dedicator is obviously ‘hedging his bets!’.
- Saldae near modern Bejaia, Northern Algeria.
The back of this particular altar stone was inscribed with the graffito VOLANTI VIVAS, perhaps the precursor of the modern day anonimity ‘Kilroy was here!’
- ????????? = Ã†sculapius, the god of medicine, a son of Apollo.
- The dedicator has the three names indicative of Roman citizenship but no official titles, either military or magisterial, which suggests that he was a privatus or civilian, quite possibly a physician.
- A iron-age war god, often associated with Mars.
- An orderly or non-commissioned officer whose duties were primarily administrative. They were assigned one per century and ranked junior to the centurion.
Latest Archaeological Investigations at Maryport
A magnetometric survey conducted in 2000 revealed the outline of the principia or regimental headquarters building in the centre of the fort with a clearly defined strongroom in the building’s back range, while outside the defences a substantial vicus settlement was seen to extend for at least 330 yards (300m) along the road to the north-east (Britannia, 2001).
Alauna Related Links
References for Alavna [carvetiorvm]
- The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930);
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain – Vol.1 – Inscriptions on Stone by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
- Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966); Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
- Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995); Britannia xxxii (2001) pp.337-9 & fig.13 p.338;
Map References for Alavna [carvetiorvm]
NGRef: NY 038 372 OSMap: LR89
Roman Roads near Alavna [carvetiorvm]
military road: NNE (7.5) to Beckfoot (Beckfoot, Cumbria) military road: SSW (5) to Bvrrow Walls (Burrow Walls, Cumbria) Possible Road: ENE (15) to Old Carlisle (Old Carlisle, Cumbria) SE (6) to Papcastle (Papcastle, Cumbria)