Uxelodunum (Stanwix) Fort
Bridge, Fort, Minor Settlement and Wall Fort
The Petrianum Fort – Castra Petriana
Original Infantry Fort on the Turf Wall
The course of the vallum through the area suggests that the vallum ditches were cut to accommodate the defenses of a much smaller fort situated upon the original Turf Wall. This fort of turf-and-timber construction lay wholly behind the Hadrianic barrier with the Wall forming its northern defenses and its long axis parallel to the Wall. This layout may be equated to the situation at Housesteads in Northumberland and indicates that the Stanwix fort was originally intended to house an infantry garrison. It is generally accepted that this fort was replaced in stone at the same time as the Wall itself was replaced in stone.
Later Cavalry Fort of the Ala Petriana
Sometime after the Stanwix fort had been replaced in stone the plans for the Wall fortifications underwent a review, whereupon it was decided that Stanwix was to become the garrison fort of the Ala Petriana the largest cavalry unit in the Roman province of Britannia.
To accommodate the one-thousand horses and men which constituted the new garrison the fortifications at Stanwix underwent considerable alteration. All of the internal buildings were demolished along with the south-western and northern rampart walls, the defenses were then extended to the south-west and also to the north-west, forward of the line of the wall as required by a cavalry fort; an arrangement which allowed the garrison to issue forth northwards from three large, double-gateways, two situated on each side just north of the barrier wall and another set in the middle of the north-western rampart. The garrison fort of the Ala Petriana thus measured some 580 x 700 feet (c.177 x 213 m) and enclosed an area of just over 9¼ acres (c.3.8 ha), north of the wall the rampart was fronted by three ditches and the entire defensive system covered an area in excess of 9¾ acres (c.4ha).
Excavations in 1984 uncovered an 80 foot (c.24 m) length of the north-western rampart-footings of Castra Petriana, including the foundations of an interval tower, in the car park behind the Cumbria Park Hotel off Scotland Road in Stanwix; a small section of these defences have been consolidated and remain on public display. The greater part of the Roman fort of Uxelodunum/Petrianum now lies beneath Saint Michael’s Church, where the fort’s south-eastern rampart may be seen as a slight earthwork in the church-yard.
The Epigraphy of Roman Stanwix
There are only six inscriptions on stone recorded in the R.I.B. for the Stanwix fort, two altarstones (RIB 2025/6), one of which may be dated to 167AD, two undated building inscriptions (RIB 2027/8), and two tombstones (RIB 2029/30). All of these texts are given and translated on this page.
The Builders of Uxelodunum
RIB2027 - Building inscription of the Sixth Legion
VIC P F
RIB2028 - Building inscription of the Twentieth Legion
The large fort at Stanwix housed a force of one-thousand cavalry, the Ala Petriana, the only milliary ala in the whole of Britain, which was named after a distinguished former commander of the unit, Titus Pomponius Petra. Although no epigraphic evidence has been unearthed which mentions this unit, the garrison is named in the Notitia Dignitatum of the late-4th/early-5th centuries.
The western sector of the Wall was the most dangerous, as we have seen, both on account of the nature of the ground and because of the hostile population beyond it. It is not surprising to find, then, that at Stanwix near Carlisle was stationed the Ala Petriana, the only milliary Ala in Britain. Such regiments are always found on the post of danger, and the prefect of this Ala was the most senior officer in the whole of the wall garrison. Here, then, lay Command headquarters, and it has been shown that a signalling system existed along the road from Carlisle to York, which would enable the prefect at Stanwix to communicate with the legionary legate at York in a matter of minutes
The suggestion that the Ala Petriana Milliaria was moved from Stanwix to a new fort at Newstead, perhaps during the governorship of Julius Verus (c.155AD), has since been discredited. The move is not attested by inscriptions, but the size and plan of the Newstead fort suggested that it was built to house a garrison of one thousand horse, and the only unit of that type in Britain was the Petrian Wing. An alternate and commonly accepted suggestion is that Newstead was a vexillation fortress built to house a mixed garrison of legionary and auxiliary cohorts.
The Gods of Roman Stanwix
RIB2025 - Altar dedicated to the Mother Goddesses of the household
S[...]NILI[...] V S L [...]
RIB2026 - Fragmentary dedication
IMP VERO [...]
The Civil Settlement
RIB2029 - Funerary inscription for Marcus Trojanius Augustinus
S MARCI TROIANI
AVGVSTINI ṬITVM FA
T AEL AMMILLVSIMA
RIB2030 - Fragmentary funerary inscription
Uxelodunum – The Waterside Fort
The Roman Name of Stanwix
There is some confusion over the Roman name for Stanwix, which is caused by an apparent error or double-listing in the Notitia Dignitatum, a major contemporary geographical reference. This document has an entry Petrianis which undoubtedly refers to the ‘Petrian Wing’, which we know was the garrison regiment based at the Stanwix fort. It is possible, however, that the ambiguous Axeloduno entry is also connected with Stanwix, though more likely that it refers to the large fort at Netherby. The Notitia Dignitatum entry Petrianis, occurs between the entries for Amboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria) and Aballaba (Burgh-by-Sands, Cumbria). Further light is shed on the subject by the Ravenna Cosmography which lists the name as Uxelludamo (R&C#152), between the entries for Banna (Birdoswald, Cumbria) and Avalana (Burgh by Sands).
Aside from the classical geographies there are other epigraphic sources which list the names of Hadrian’s Wall forts: the Rudge Cup, found in Wiltshire, has the name Uxelodum between the entries for Aballa (Burgh by Sands) and Camboglans (Castlesteads), also on the Amiens Patera as Uxelodunum, between the same two stations and most recently on the Staffordshire Patera, again as Uxelodunum. All of these pieces of ancient bronze cookware are discussed on the RBO page: Roman Souvenirs.
It is now commonly accepted that Petrianum was the adopted name for the Stanwix fort while its official name was Uxelodunum. This seems very likely, particularly when one considers that having a name (Welsh/Gaelic) for this, the most important fort on the length of the entire Hadrianic barrier, may have perhaps irritated the aristocratic Roman knights in the top echelons of command, perhaps insisting that it be named Castra Petriana ‘The fort of the Petrian [Wing]’ in dispatches, although there is no evidence to support this surmise.
The etymology of the accepted Roman name is possibly Welsh/Gaelic in origin, the suffix dunum being readily translated as ‘fortified place’, though the prefix is a little more difficult to interpret. The Axe/Uxe prefix may have derived from the Welsh/Gaelic word for water, which is the basis for many British river-names, such as the Exe, Axe, Usk, Esk, and others,¹ or alternately, the name may be connected with Uxellinus, a iron-age god with attributes akin to the Roman Jupiter. The name may therefore be interpreted either as ‘The Waterside Fort’ or ‘The Fortress of Uxellinus’. The modern name is a little easier to translate, and stems from the Old English stane-wic meaning the ‘stony settlement’, probably due to its being built upon the ruins of the Roman cavalry fort.
- Compare the Gaelic word for water, uisge, from which we derive the modern word Whisky, still called uisge beatha in the Scottish highlands and uisque baugh in Ireland, both of which mean ‘the water of life’.
References for Vxelodvnvm / Petrianvm
- A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain by Roger J.A. Wilson (4th Ed.; Constable, London, 2002) p.530;
- 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.310/11;
- The Carvetii by Nicholas Higham and Barri Jones (Sutton, London, 1985);
- Britannia – A History of Roman Britain by Sheppard Frere (London, 1967);
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
Roman Roads near Vxelodvnvm / Petrianvm
Wall: WNW (5.25) to Aballava (Burgh by Sands, Cumbria) Military Road: NW (17) to Blatobvlgivm (Dumfries & Galloway) Wall: E (8) to Camboglanna (Castlesteads, Cumbria) N (8) to Castra Exploratorvm (Netherby, Cumbria) Stanegate: S (0.5) to Luguvalium (Carlisle) Fort (Carlisle, Cumbria) Stanegate: E (8) to Old Chvrch (Cumbria)