Habitancum (Risingham) Fort

Fort and Minor Settlement

Habitancum is the fort at Risingham lies in open farmland just south of the River Rede immediately west of the A68, which here departs from the line of Dere Street, the Roman road crossing the river valley just west of the fort. The only visible stone remains lie at the north-eastern corner angle, but the outlines of many buildings are easily discernable beneath a mantle of turf in the fort’s interior, as are the ditches of the defensive circuit on all sides. During a visit to the site in 2004 a piece of Roman pottery was recovered from a mole-hill in the praetentura of the fort, a ‘black coarse-ware’ rim sherd (see below), as yet undated.

The only classical reference to the Risingham fort is an obscure and tentative entry in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#184) of the seventh century, Eburo caslum, which is listed between the entries for Trimontium (Newstead, Borders) and Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland). We are fortunate, however, that in the considerable amount of epigraphic evidence collected from the Risingham site – fifty-six inscriptions on stone alone – the actual name of the station occurs on two separate stone inscriptions; an undated altar to Mogons (vide RIB 1225 infra), and a dedicatory inscription dateable to the early-third century (vide infra).

The etymology of the Latin name for the Risingham fort given in Place-Names of Roman Britain is rather obscure, but seems to consist of three parts: Habit from the Roman surname Habitus, -anc meaning unclear, but possibly indicating familial or group ownership (along the same lines as the common Anglo-Saxon place-name component -ingas, ‘people’), -ium a common Latin place-name suffix denoting ownership. The name may be rendered as ‘belonging to the people of Habitus’ and possibly indicates that the fort was built on land which had originally been cleared for occupation by a man called Habitus (Rivet & Smith, pp.371-2).

RIB1235 - Building inscription with dedication to Caracalla and Julia Domna

[...  ...]VI SEPT [...  ...]ABENIC[  ... ... ]MI BRI[...  ... ]MI FILIO DI[...]
[...] SARMATI[...  ...]INI PII PRO[...   ]ADRIANI A[...  ...  ...]I PARTICHI ET [...  ...]
[  ... ] ANTON[...]ICO MAXIM[  ...  ...] TRIB POTESTA[...]
[...]RIE PROCONSVLI PRO [...  ...]OTIONE COM[...   ]T IV[...  ...  ...]TRI AVGVST[  ...]
[...]M SENATVS HAC PATRIE PRO [...]ETATE HAC D[...]ONE [...&
For the Emperor Caesar, son of the deified Septimius Severus Pius, conqueror of Arabia, conqueror of Adiabene, Most Great Conqueror of Parthia, Most Great Conqueror of Britain, grandson of the deified Antoninus Pius, conqueror of Germany, conqueror of Sarmatia, great-grandson of the deified Antoninus Pius, great-great-grandson of the deified Hadrian, great-great-great-grandson of the deified Trajan, conqueror of Parthia, and of the deified Nerva, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus, Most Great Conqueror of Parthia, Most Great Conqueror of Britain, Most Great Conqueror of Germany, in his sixteenth year of tribunician power, twice acclaimed Imperator, father of his country, proconsul, out of their joint duty and devotion, and for Julia Domna Pia Felix Augusta, mother of our Emperor, likewise of the army, Senate and country, out of their joint duty and devotion, under the charge of …, imperial propraetorian legate, the First Cohort of Vangiones, likewise the Raetian Spearmen and the Scouts of Habitancum, devoted to their divinity and majesty, set this up.
imperatori ii: consvli iiii has been omitted on the analogy of RIB 1278 (High Rochester). It would also be possible to follow the analogy of RIB 1705 (Vindolanda) and read cos iiii imp ii, but this would make it necessary to abbreviate both titles, which is not the practice elsewhere on this stone R.P.W.5. The names of the governor, C. Iulio Marco, have been deleted.6. posvervnt 'seems to be spaced as if it were in fact the last (word), though it might be followed by some such phrase as d n m q eorvm' Richm.; this restoration is adopted here and represented in dotted letters R.P.W.Of the three fragments which Huebner quotes as unplaced, (i) is extant (RIB 1232), and does not belong to this inscription; (h) fits in l. 5; (k) fits in l. 1.For similar dedications in a.d. 213 see note to RIB 1202.

The Habitancum Fort

OS National Grid Reference: NY 8903 8621
Dimensions: c. 443 x 384 feet (135 x 117 m)
Area: c. 4 acres (c. 1.6 ha)

The fort measures about 443 feet from north-west to south-east, by about 384 feet transversely (135 x 117 metres) and covers an area of almost 4 acres (c. 1.6 ha).

Despite the large number of inscriptions uncovered at Risingham only four of the texts on stone have been firmly dated, all of which were commissioned in the first two decades of the third century; a building inscription dated 205-8AD (RIB 1234; not shown); a dedicatory inscription to the Ancestral Spirits dated 209AD (vide infra) and two altars of the Imperial cult dated between 211-217AD (RIB 1236 et 1237; both not shown).

RIB1239 - Building inscription of the Sixth Legion

LEG VI
VIC
P F F
The Sixth Legion Pia Fidelis built (this).
No commentary.

RIB1241 - Building inscription of the First Cohort of Vangiones

COH I VANG
FECIT CVRANTE
IVL PAVLLO TRIB
The First Cohort of Vangiones made (this) under the charge of Julius Paullus, the tribune.
See RIB 1213 for a dedication to Hercules by Julius Paullus.

RIB1227 - Altar dedicated to the Divinities of the Emperors

NVMINIB
[...] COH IIII GAL
EQ
FEC
To the Divinities of the Emperors the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, part-mounted, set this up.
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Full description and analysis in CSIR i, 1. 215. The drawing omits the eagle-headed terminals of the peltae: Thompson, Antiq. J 48 (1968), 55, Pl. XXX b. A crane is also depicted on an altar of the same cohort at Vindolanda: cf. RIB 1686.

RIB1215 - Altar dedicated to Hercules

DEO INVICTO
HERCVLI SACR
L AEMIL SALVIANVS
TR[...]B COH I VANGI
V S L M
Sacred to the Invincible God Hercules: Lucius Aemilius Salvianus, tribune of the First Cohort of Vangiones, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
For Salvianus see RIB 1234, a.d. 205-8; he was later buried at Lambaesis, CIL viii 2758. For the use of Camden's text on tiles found in a sixteenth-century house see RIB 2489.70H*.

The unit is recorded on two undated stones from Hadrian’s Wall; at Condercum (Benwell, Tyne & Wear; RIB 1328) on an altar to the god Antenociticus under the command of the prefect Cassianus, and on the undated tombstone of Fabia Honorata, daughter of the tribune Fabius Honoratus from Cilurnum (Chesters, Northumberland; RIB 1482).

RIB1243 - Fragmentary building inscription

[...]
[...]R COH [...]
[...  ]VME[...]
[...]XPLOR[...]
[...] SOL RE[...]
... through the agency of the First Cohort of Vangiones and the Unit of Scouts restored (this) from ground-level.
No commentary.

This irregular unit is attested on three stone texts, one of them dated to 209AD (vide RIB 1235 supra), which confirms their presence at the Habitancum fort during the campaigns of the emperor Septimius Severus into Scotland. Other units of exploratores are known, from inscriptions at the neighbouring fort of Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland; RIB 1262; 238-44AD). The Notitia Dignitatum also names two other numeri exploratori at Lavatris (Bowes, Durham) and Portus Ardaoni (Portchester, Hampshire).

RIB1240 - Building inscription

VEXIL [...]
NERV[...]
FEC[...]
A detachment (of the ... Cohort) of Nervians built (this).
No commentary.

This unit is recorded at Risingham only on this single damaged inscription. Also attested on other lone inscriptions at Segedunum (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear; RIB 1303) and Brocolitia (Carrawburgh, Northumberland; RIB 1538) along Hadrian’s Wall, and also at Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland; RIB 1683) on the Stanegate.

The Gods

RIB1217 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

[...]
[...]XI[...] G R
Q C A
IVL VICTOR
TR[...]B COH I V
ANGIONVM
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, the detachment of Raetian Spearmen, under the command of Julius Victor, tribune of the First Cohort of Vangiones, (set this up).
For this vexillatio see RIB 1216.For Julius Victor see RIB 1208, 1224.

Many altars to the gods have been recovered from the fort and its immediate neighbourhood; five to Jupiter Optimus Maximus including two dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, three to Fortuna and another three to Hercules including one to ‘Hercules the Unconquered’ (vide RIB 1215 supra), two to Victorious Mars with a third one possible, two to Moguns, and single altars to Diana, Cocidius, the Gods of the Locale, the Overseas Mother Goddesses, and the Spirit of the Emperor.

Altars to Various Deities

  1. Mogons was a Germanic mountain god. The suffix beginning Cad- is peculiar to Risingham in Britain, where it appears on one other altar (RIB 1226; not shown).
  2. Treasurer of the consular governor.

RIB1228 - Altar dedicated to the Nymphs

SOMNIO PRAE
MONITVS
MILES HANC
PONERE IVS
SIT
ARAM QVAE
FABIO NVP
TA EST NYM
PHIS VENE
RANDIS
Forewarned by a dream the soldier bade her who is married to Fabius to set up this altar to the Nymphs who are to be worshipped.
The text forms two hexameters.

RIB1209 - Altar dedicated to Diana

DEAE
DIANAE SA
CRV AEL
TIMO P
V S [...] L M
To the goddess Diana, Aelia Timo set up this holy offering, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilling her vow.
For the feminine name Timo see Herodotus vi 134, 135; Benseler-Pape Eigennamen s.v.; and PW s.v., citing several instances R.P.W.

The Settlement

The existence of a settlement outside the fort is confirmed by the discovery of several civilian tombstones, along with the usual crop of military ones which one might expect to find outside any permanent Roman military establishment.

RIB1251 - Funerary inscription for Aurelia Quartilla

D M S
AVR QVARTIL
LA VIX AN
NIS XIII M I V
D XXII AVR
QVARTINVS
POSVIT FILI
AE SVAE
Sacred to the spirits of the departed: Aurelia Quartilla lived 13 years, 4 (?) months, 22 days Aurelius Quartinus set this up to his own daughter.
No commentary.

Other Nearby Sites

Two Marching Camps and Milestone at Four Laws

There are two superimposed marching camps at Swine Hill, Four Laws, only 2½miles (4km) south-south-east of the Habitancum fort along Dere Street, lying about 60 yards west of the road (national grid reference NY90458253). The earlier and larger of the two camps measures some 168m east-west by 174m north-south and covers an area of about 6 acres (2.4ha), with three gates, each protected by internal clavicula defenses, positioned centrally in the east side and off-set towards the east on the north and south sides, no gateway being apparent on the west; the camp evidently faced Dere Street to the east.

The second camp is positioned within the north-eastern corner of the first, re-using the defences of its predecessor in its own defensive perimeter on the north and east, though with a very much weaker rampart and ditch. This camp has only two gates, both of which are positioned in the eastern rampart and protected by internal titulum defensive works. The dimensions of this camp are about 60 x 60 metres, an area of only 0.6 acres (0.3ha).

A Roman milestone was discovered along Dere Street a little to the south of the marching camps at Waterfalls (NY9181), but no more details are available.

RIB2293 - Milestone of Galerius

[...]MP C GAL VAL
XIMIANO
[   ]E [...]
For the Emperor Caesar Galerius Valerius Maximianus Pius Felix [..
Galerius was Augustus a.d. 305-11.

Marching Camp at West Woodburn

Less than a mile north of the Risingham fort is a substantial marching camp in farmland at West Woodburn in Redesdale (NY89578742). This has only its eastern and northern sides recorded, together with the north-eastern corner-angle, and parts of the south-eastern and north-western angles. The south-western half of the camp has been ploughed out but from the recorded remains an area of 27 acres (11ha) seems quite possible, enough to house half a legion or about three thousand men. The camp appears to be almost square in outline with the two known gateways positioned in the centres of the north and east defences, both protected by external tituli.

References for Habitancvm

  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Place Names of Roman Britain by A.L.F. Rivet & Colin Smith (Batsford, London, 1979);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain – Vol.1 – Inscriptions on Stone by R.G. Collingwood & R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);

Roman Roads near Habitancvm

NNW (7) to Blakehope (Northumberland) Dere Street: NNW (10) to Bremenivm (High Rochester, Northumberland) Dere Street: NNW (4) to Dargves Dere Street: SSE (13) to Onnvm (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) Dere Street: SSE (13) to Portgate Dere Street: SSE (15) to Corstopitvm (Corbridge, Northumberland)