Ardotalia Fort

Fort and Minor Settlement

This fort was originally built in Flavian times (c.75AD) and continued to be occupied until at least the end of the second century, as Trajanic and Hadrianic pottery has been recovered from the site, along with Antonine samian ware by the potter Advocisus. The fort had its original clay rampart reinforced with a stone wall and gateways during late-Hadrianic/early-Antonine times, and occupation into the third and fourth centuries is suggested by the discovery of coins of Marcus Aurelius and the usurper Carausius, the last dateable coin being one of Magnus Maximus. Protected by steep slopes to the north and the west, a small bath-house stood outside the north-west corner of the fort.

Melandra Castle (Fig. 9), near Glossop, is 358 by 328 feet internally (i.e. 21 acres) with a close resemblance in plan and size to Hardknot. It has a stone wall 5 feet thick, contemporary with a 15-foot clay bank ; of its four gates the decumana is single, the rest double, and there are no guard-chambers. All these features follow the Hardknot pattern. The headquarters building is of stone, and post-holes show that the barracks were of wood. The evidence of date was taken by the excavators to suggest the late first century; but the structural features point rather to the early second (Conway, Melandra Castle, 1906).¹ 1 The excavations hitherto carried out do not enable us to assert positively that there was not an earlier fort on the site. ” (Collingwood, p.42)

Melandra was used for centuries as a convenient source of stone, rubble and gravel for local builders: re-used stone has been found at Woolley Bridge; Melandra Farm and in various walls throughout the district. It is believed that considerable quantities of the stone were used in the building of Mottram Church and that the large amounts of gravel taken from the sides of the site for road levelling the 18th – 19th century may explain some of the casual finds of roman material last century.

Classical reference for Zerdotalia

The only classical reference for the Roman name of the Melandra Castle fort is the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century. In this work the name Zerdotalia (R&C#108) appears between the entries for Aquae Arnemetiae (Buxton, Derbyshire) and Mamucium (Manchester, Greater Manchester). This name has been associated with the Melandra Castle fort, but is thought to be somewhat corrupt, and the name now commonly accepted is Ardotalia.

It is thought that the Roman name for the fort was ARDOTALIA (the place of the high, dark hill – ‘talia’ is a celtic word for a steep hill which passed into Latin but it has also been suggested that the fort and the river ETHEROW both took their name from the winding, heather covered valley).

RIB279 - Centurial stone of Valerius Vitalis

CHO I
FRISIAVO
𐆛 VAL VIT
ALIS
From the First Cohort of Frisiavonians the century of Valerius Vitalis (built this).
No commentary.

Military Units at Ardotalia Fort

Ardotalia was constructed by  Cohors Primae Frisiavonum – The First Cohort of Frisiavones.

RIB279 - Centurial stone of Valerius Vitalis

CHO I
FRISIAVO
𐆛 VAL VIT
ALIS
From the First Cohort of Frisiavonians the century of Valerius Vitalis (built this).
No commentary.

RIB280 - Fragmentary building dedication to the emperor Hadrian?

IMP C[...]
T[...  ...]
For the Emperor Caesar ... Trajan ..
No commentary.

They were recruited north of the Rhine – as this area was in revolt in 96 AD, the raising of this cohort was probably done some time between 98 AD and 100 AD: there is no mention of their being in Britain until early in the second century and it is likely that they were brought in as a re-inforcement in the early Trajanic period. Evidence for the existence of this unit exists not only from the building stone found at the site but also from various diplomas and other Roman writings.

The Ist Cohort of Frisians being a ‘1st Cohort’ would have roughly a thousand men for the 1st Cohort included the specialist craftsmen such as carpenters and stone-masons who could do the skilled work of building – which explains why the ‘centurial stone’ from the walls of Melandra is of the Frisians and not the Bracara.

Cohors Tertiae Bracaraugustanorum – The Third [Infantry] Cohort from Bracara Augusta came from the colonies of BRACARA AUGUSTANOREM (BRAGA in Portugal) and were probably Iberian Celts. They were transferred from the Legionary Headquarters on the Rhine to Caerleon in 89 AD and seem to have been attached to the XX Legion Valeria Victrix at Chester.

Whilst it is unknown which of these Cohorts manned the fort, it seems more likely that the 3rd Cohort of Bracara Augustani performed this duty, as they were from a hilly region and so were more experienced in holding terrain such as that found around Glossop. The Frisiavones were from low-lying lands beyond the Rhine and so may have been divided between the lower terrain of Manchester and Northwich.

References for Ardotalia

  • Britannia i (1970) pp.283/4 & fig.7;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930). 

Map References for Ardotalia

NGRef: SK009951 OSMap: LR110

Roman Roads near Ardotalia

SE (12) to Brovgh-on-noe (Brough-on-Noe, Derbyshire) W (13) to Mamvcivm (Manchester, Greater Manchester). Doctor’s Gate Roman road ran between Ardotalia fort and Navio fort at Brough-on-Noe.