Vercovicivm (Housesteads)

Fort, Minor Settlement, Quarry, Temple Or Shrine and Wall Fort

Vercovicium – ‘The Village on the Slope’

The Roman fort at Housesteads is situated on the eastern end of a mile long crag of whinstone stretching between the Knag Burn in the east and the Bradley Burn to the west. The well-preserved remains of the fort and adjoining sections of Hadrian’s Wall, together with the nearby civil settlement or vicus and its surrounding halo of Romano-British temples and industrial sites, make Vercovicium perhaps the most interesting place on the entire length of the Wall.

The etymology of the Roman name for Housesteads appears to be wholly Latin in origin and may refer to the settlement on the hillside south of the Wall, but the actual name of the fort is in dispute. The name appears as Borcovicium in the fifth century Notitia Dignitatum, where it is listed between the entries for Brocolitia (Carrawburgh, Northumberland) and Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland), the former fort on the Wall and the latter on the Stanegate. The Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century lists the name Velurtion, this time between the entries for Carrawburgh and Aesica (Great Chesters, Northumberland), but a dedicatory inscription recovered from the site suggests that the name may actually begin VER… (vide RIB 1594 infra); hence the modern acceptance of the name Vercovicium, translated as ‘The Settlement on the Slope’ (from Latin: vergo incline + vicus village or settlement).

The Auxiliary Infantry Fort

The fort covers an area of about 5 acres (2 hectares) and anomalously faces east instead of north, utilizing the steep cliff of Housteads Crags to augment its northern defences, which also delineated the course of the Wall. The curious alignment suggests that the fort was built primarily to defend against barbarian incursions along the course of the Knag Burn to the east, and replaced the nearby fort at Vindolanda on the Stanegate.

For a general description of the fort itself, the masterful R.G. Collingwood’s The Archaeology of Roman Britain (pp.41-42) states:

Housesteads (built about A.D. 120-125) measures internally 570 by 330 feet (4¼ acres), and has a stone rampart-wall about 5 feet thick with a clay bank behind it bringing the total thickness of the rampart up to about 20 feet. Its four gates are all double, and have guard-rooms entered from the archways; and the via principalis and via quintana divide its internal area into three equal portions, all occupied by stone buildings. Six long blocks occupy the praetentura and six the retentura; in the centre are the headquarters, granaries, commandant’s house, and other buildings. The garrison was a milliary cohort; the ten barrack-blocks of its ten centuries can be easily distinguished from among the other buildings. Its ditches have not been explored. Outside a bath-house and traces of an extensive civil settlement with temples, etc., have been recognised and in part excavated.

During excavations over the years at Housesteads a number of animal bones have been uncovered, including those of Ox, Sheep, Pig and Red Deer; the latter animal very likely being hunted and killed for sport, the others domesticated. (See the article: The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia II (1971) pp.122-142).

Dateable Building Inscriptions From Housesteads

Housesteads fort was first erected c.128AD, after the broad wall foundations had been laid down but before the narrow wall was built, and was destroyed (and rebuilt) several times during its lifetime, in 197AD, 296 and 367, before being finally abandoned around the turn of the fifth century. Artillery platforms may have been added to the ramparts in the early-third century.

RIB1612 - Dedication to Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta

For the Emperor-Caesars Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Augustus, and for the most noble Caesar Publius Septimius Geta, the First Cohort of Tungrians, a thousand strong, (set this up) by order of Lucius Alfenus Senecio, imperial pro-praetorian legate.
IMP CA[ ... ]PT [...]
[...  ]ERT [...]
[...]
[...] [...]AE [...]
[...]VIT PÍ¡RA[...]
[...  ]EG A[...]
This falls within the dates A.D. 198-209 during the joint rule of Septimius Severus and Caracalla, before Geta became Augustus. Note to EE ix 1184, item 3: R.C. Bosanquet to F.H., Sept. 1898, reported that in the Headquarters Building with two fragments of an inscription with cable-border he had found 'the lower half of a c or g (not upper part of a p or r)'. Accordingly, F.H. in in PSAN² 2nd Ser. 8 (1899) 253 recorded that 'the other [fragment], from the last line, bears a smaller g or c'. In 1899, however, he inspected these fragments (MS. x f. 52) and described this one as 'top of r, p (?)' with cable-moulding above. In Arch. Ael. 2nd Ser. xxv (1904) 279 no. 4 he wrote: 'The other fragment contained only part of one letter and what letter is uncertain.' In EE ix 1184 he recorded three fragments im, p, and (from the bottom line) c, forgetting that this supposed c (reported in PSAN) was by now figuring as the broken p of the initial imp fragments R.P.W. Addenda from Britannia xxxvii (2006): When fragment (f) was first found R.P.W. commented: 'As PRA[ in this context could not be interpreted as praefectus, praesidium or praetentura, it appears necessary to regard it as praetorium, which is the building in which it was found, although it is placed after the verb which governs it' [our italics]. But this sequence, subject-verb-object, although it is colloquial Latin and often found in 'curse tablets', for example, is inappropriate to a formal dedication on stone. Not surprisingly, it is never found in RIB (except, as it happens, in Richmond and Wright's imaginative restoration of RIB 1051(b); it is also required by the metre of RIB 1228 and 2059, but these are informal and metrical.) This difficulty disappears if pra[ecepto] is restored instead, 'by order of Lucius Alfenus Senecio, imperial propraetorian legate'. praeceptum is the standard term for an order given by higher authority, whether it be that of a general, emperor or god. Thus in Britain Tacitus uses it of a manoeuvre ordered by Agricola, praecepto ducis. (Agricola 37; see further, TLL x.2 (iii), s.v. praecipio, 454-5; this verb is used by Flavian-period decurions at Carlisle and Vindolanda, of orders given by their commanding officer: see Tab. Luguval. 16.3, ita ut praecepisti, and Tab. Vindol. II, 628 i.4, rogo domine praecipias.) It is not found in RIB, but the cognate verb is used of a third-century governor's order that a temple be rebuilt, restitui pr(ae)cepit. (Brit. vii (1976), 378-9, No. 2, where there is space on the stone for AE, but no sign that it was ever cut.) In other provinces it is occasionally found, as ex praecepto, for governmental initiatives. Examples in particular can be found for Septimius Severus. (A building-inscription, CIL viii 8991: turrim ruina lapsam ex praecepto P(ubli) Aeli Peregrini v(iri) e(gregii) proc(uratoris) Aug(ustorum) Rusaditani restitueru[nt]. Two special promotions, CIL iii 10471 (ILS 1153): ex praec(epto) dom(inorum) n(ostrorum); and CIL viii 11174 (ILS 1440): ex sacro praecepto. [div]ino pr[aecepto] is a possible restoration of RIB 1051(a).) So it is acceptable in a Severan inscription at Housesteads, as a variant of the phrasing found elsewhere, notably in RIB 740 and 1234, iussu L(uci) Alfeni Senecionis. This governor's building inscriptions already show unusual variation of phrase: compare RIB 746, sub cura L(uci) Alfeni] Senecionis (thus also 722, 723); RIB 1462, [cu]rante Alf[eno Senecione]; RIB 1909, sub Alfeno Senecione. (RIB 740, with its cable-moulded border and ansae, gives an impression of what RIB 1612 would have looked like. RIB 746 also has a cable-moulded border) It follows that this fragment belongs to RIB 1612 after all. The inscription was evidently broken into many pieces, and dispersed as building-material across the central area of Housesteads. Like many building-inscriptions, it does not name the building built (or rebuilt), since this was unnecessary: it formed a prominent part of it. No doubt it was the principia.

RIB1613 - Inscription

For our Lords Diocletian and Maximian ..
D [...  ...]
M[...  ...]
No commentary.

RIB1646 - Centurial stone of Julius Candidus

From the first cohort the century of Julius Candidus (built this).
COH I 𐆛 IV
LI CANDID
Stevens assigns it to sector 36b-39a.For the same centurion see RIB 1632.

RIB1572 - Centurial stone of Gellius Philippus

The century of Gellius Philippus (built this).
𐆛 GELLI
PHILIPP[...]
Brought presumably from sector 34a-35.Part of the right-hand end has broken away since Bruce's drawing was made.For the same centurion see RIB 1668. Stevens thinks that this century was the terminal one in its cohort. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For the same centurion see also Brit. iv (1973), 329 No. 8 (Black Carts, coh vi) and xviii (1987), 369 No. 11 (Willowford, cho v).

The Roman Legions at Housesteads

RIB1582 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, the soldiers of the Second Legion Augusta ..
I O M
MILITES
LEG II A[...]
[...]
No commentary.

RIB1583 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, to Cocidius, and to the Genius Loci

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the god Cocidius and to the Genius of this place the soldiers of the Second Legion Augusta on garrison-duty willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow.
I O M
ET DEO COCIDIO
GENIOQ HVIS
LOCI MIL LEG
II AVG AGENTES
IN PRAESIDIO
V S L M
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): See note to RIB 1577. The wheel symbol is typical of altars dedicated to Jupiter: cf. RIB 827, 1981 and 1983, and see Green, The Wheel as a Cult-Symbol in the Romano-Celtic World (1984), 345-7.

RIB1577 - Altar dedicated to Cocidius and to the Genius of the garrison

To Cocidius and to the Genius of the garrison Valerius, soldier of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis, set this up as his vow.
COCIDIO [...]
GENIO PR[...]
SIDI VALE
RIVS M L[...]
G VI V P F V P
In view of the frequent occurrence of Deo preceding Cocidio it is possible that Deo once existed on the capital of this altar, but no clear trace is now discernible R.P.W. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Except perhaps for RIB 1130, this altar and RIB 1583 are the only instances of praesidium in RIB, and the explicit reference to a legionary garrison [not a building-party] on Hadrian's Wall is noteworthy.

RIB1609 - Fragmentary dedication

..., centurion of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
[...] 𐆛
LEG VI V P F
V S L L M
No commentary.

RIB1618 - Funerary inscription for Anicius Ingenuus

To the spirits of the departed (and) to Anicius Ingenuus, medicus ordinarius of the First Cohort of Tungrians: he lived 25 years.
D M
ANICIO
INGENVO
MEDICO
ORD COH
I TVNGR VIX AN XXV
4, 5.  medicus ordinarius: the surgeon is here described as serving in the ranks (ordinarius), see Mommsen Huebner (ed.), Ephemeris Epigraphica Vol. iv, addit. tertia (1881) p. 239 n. 1, Domaszewski Rangordnung 45. For medicus duplic(arius) see RIB 2315*, CIL x 3441 (Misenum). Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): medicus ord(inarius) is better explained by Davies, Ep. Stud. 8 (1969), 88-90 as a surgeon who ranked as a centurion [ordinatus or ordinarius], but this is not certain. The hare carved in the tympanum is probably a symbol of life and immortality: CSIR i, 6. 198. For a photograph see Gilson, Arch. Ael. 5th Ser. 6 (1978), 162-5 with Pl. VI.

RIB1619 - Funerary inscription for Hurmius

To the spirits of the departed (and) to Hurmius, son of Leubasnus, soldier of the First Cohort of Tungrians, beneficiarius of the prefect: Calpurnius, his heir, had this set up.
D M
HVRMIO
LEVBASNI
MIL COH I
TVNGROR
BF PRAEF
CA[...]PVR[...]VS HER F C
A beneficiarius was a soldier, usually a legionary, seconded for special duties by favour (beneficium) of a specific senior officer; in particular the beneficiarius consularis, an officer on the governor's staff, who might be out-posted. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): 3.  The name Leubasnus or Laubasnius is well attested in Belgica and the Rhineland; it is likely to be Tungrian: see Roxan RMD i 52 and Alföldy, Ep. Stud. 5 (1968), 6 = Mavors iii, 133.
Tribunus Cohortis Primae Tungrorum Borcovicio
“The Tribune of the First Cohort of Tungrians at Borcovicium.”
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.40; 4th/5th C.)

RIB1586 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus and to the Divinities of the Emperors

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Divinities of the Emperors the First Cohort of Tungrians, one thousand strong, under the command of Quintus Verius Superstis, prefect, (set this up).
I O M
ET NVMINIBVS
AVG COH I TV
NGRORVM
MIL CVI PRAEE
ST Q VERIVS
SVPERSTIS
PRAE[...]TVS
For the expansion of Aug. as Aug(ustorum) see note to RIB 152.

RIB1580 - Altar dedicated to Hercules

To Hercules the First Cohort of Tungrians, one thousand strong, under the command of Publius Aelius Modestus, prefect, (set this up).
HERCVLI
COH I TVNGROR
MIL
CVI PRAEEST P AEL
MODESTVS PRAE
No commentary.

Although not mentioned on any inscription in stone this unit of auxiliary bowmen is eloquently attested at the fort, in the shape of a tombstone of an auxiliary soldier. This second century tombstone (< vide sinistra) suggests the presence of at least part of Cohors I Hamiorum Sagittariorum, a regiment of bowmen from Syria.

Unfortunately the tombstone is uninscribed but carries a carved image undoubtedly that of an archer, lightly armoured in a short tunic with a peculiarly pointed helmet upon his head and a military cloak about his shoulders, the man is depicted armed with a curved short bow held by his left side, a dagger on his belt and a hatchet grasped in his right hand; the soldier also appears to have a quiver of arrows suspended from a baldric at his right shoulder.

The First Cohort of Hamian Bowmen is the only such regiment known to have been stationed in Britain and they have been attested at the nearby fort at Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland) on the Stanegate, where they were stationed in Hadrianic times. They would undoubtedly have proved an excellent defensive unit, able to shoot their arrows some considerable distance from the northern battlements of the Housesteads fort.

RIB1594 - Altar dedicated to Mars and the two Alaisiagae and to the Divinity of the Emperor

To the god Mars and the two Alaisiagae and to the Divinity of the Emperor the Germans being tribesmen of Twenthe of the cuneus of Frisians of Vercovicium, styled Severus Alexander's, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow.
DEO
MARTI EÍ¡T DVABVS
ALAISIAGIS EÍ¡T N AVG
GER CIVÍ¡ES TVIHAÍ¡NTI
CVNÍ¡EI 3.  For this expansion of N. Aug. in the singular see note to RIB 152. 4.  For Tuihanti see RIB 1593. For the different readings of the place-name see Richmond and Crawford Arch. xciii (1949) 48, and the section-heading to Housesteads. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): A cuneus literally means 'wedge', and represented a third-century unit-title of uncertain significance, consisting of cavalry or non-Roman irregulars.

At the end of the third century came the addition of the Cuneus Frisiorum, a small, irregular cavalry force of Frisian tribesmen from Tuihantis (modern Twenthe in Holland). This regiment is attested on a single inscribed stone from outside the Housesteads fort, an altar to Mars and the Aliasagae goddesses. There are two other examples of Cunei Frisiorum; at Derventio (Papcastle, Cumbria; RIB 882; 241AD) and Vinovia (Binchester, Durham; RIB 1036; undated).

RIB1576 - Altar dedicated to the Alaisiagae and to the Divinity of the Emperor

To the goddesses the Alaisiagae, Baudihillia and Friagabis, and to the Divinity of the Emperor the unit of Hnaudifridus gladly and deservedly fulfilled its vow.
DEABVS
ALAISIA
GIS BAV
DIHILLIE
ET FRIAGA
BI ET N AVG
N HNAV
DIFRIDI
V S L M
For this expansion of N. Aug. in the singular see note to RIB 152.

By the fourth century the Numerus Hnaudifridi, a Germanic mercenary unit is recorded on a single altarstone to the Alaisagae goddesses. It has been mooted that this unit may be synonymous with the Cuneus Frisiorum on the premise that the original irregular ‘Wedge’ of Frisians may have become depleted to such low numbers, that by the fourth century the unit merited the status of a mere Numerus, and that the commander of the force, one Hnaudifridus, bears a name which is certainly Germanic in origin, and may indeed have been that of a Frisian tribesman.

The Vicus or Civil Settlement

The civil settlement at Housesteads occupied the area to the immediate south and east of the Wall fort, along each side of the two minor roads which linked the fort with the Stanegate to the south-east and to the south-west. The civil buildings were arranged in terraces due to the steep nature of the surroundings, and identified remains include a number of domestic dwellings, shops and taverns, some with shuttered frontages. The buildings in the vicus were mainly rectangular in plan, arranged with their long axes at 90° to the main street. The remains of a couple (or five) of these civilian houses lie just outside the southern gateway of the fort, their gable-ends fronting the original Roman roadway indicating that it led straight down the hill and not by the less strenuous, meandering course of the modern road which serves the farmhouse.

The civil settlement was at its most prosperous in the late-third to early-fourth centuries, but was abandoned by the late fourth century following barbarian raids from the north. A considerable proportion of the civilian population were then re-housed within the defences of the fort itself, and a number of internal buildings appear to have been re-furbished and altered to accommodate them, including even the principia or headquarters building, the former administrative centre of the fort. There was plenty of room to spare in the fort at this time due to the depletion of the garrison over the years, from a nominal force of one-thousand down to only about three-hundred men.

Temples and Altars

There have been over thirty altars to pagan gods unearthed at Housesteads, the greatest number dedicated to Jupiter the head of the Roman pantheon who has nine, closely followed by the war god Mars with seven, both of these powerful deities were often observed by the military. After the two classical gods the Germanic god Vheterus is honoured with six altarstones, the Persian god Mithras has three, the Germanic god Cocidius is mentioned on another three, and the Germanic goddesses known collectively as the Alaisagae also have three, though all of their altars are shared with other deities. There are a number of other altarstones to a wide variety of gods, some shared, others not; to Greek Hercules, Latin Silvanus, also one to the Mother Goddesses and at least another four unidentified. The texts from a selection of these altarstones are given and translated on this page, those naming military units above, others below. All of the known religious texts on stone are tabulated below:

A Breakdown of Housesteads Deities

No. of Stones: 9
Name of Deity: Iuppiter Optimus Maximus
Description: (Jupiter Best and Greatest): 1581, 1582, 1583 [IOM et Cocidius et Genio Loci], 1584, 1588 [IOM et Num Aug], 1589
No. of Stones: 9
Name of Deity: Numen Augusti
Description: (the Divine Spirit of the Emperor): 1576 [Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1584-1588 [IOM et Num Aug], 1593 [Mars Thincsus et Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1594 [Mars et Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1596 [Mars et Victoria et Num Aug]
No. of Stones: 7
Name of Deity: Mars
Description: 1590 [statue base], 1591, 1592, 1593 [Mars Thincsus et Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1594 [Mars et Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1595 [Mars et Victoria], 1596 [Mars et Victoria et Num Aug]
No. of Stones: 6
Name of Deity: Veterus
Description: 1562 [Hueteri], 1563 [Huitri], 1604-1607 [Veteribus]
No. of Stones: 3
Name of Deity: Cocidius
Description: 1577 [Cocidius et Genio Praesidi], 1578 [Silvanus Cocidius], 1583 [IOM et Cocidius et Genio Loci]
No. of Stones: 3
Name of Deity: Alaisagae
Description: 1576 [Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1593 [Mars Thincsus et Alaisagae et Num Aug], 1594 [Mars et Alaisagae et Num Aug]
No. of Stones: 3
Name of Deity: Sol/Mithras
Description: 1599 [Sol Inv Mytras], 1560 [252AD; Sol Inv Mitras], 1561 [Sol]
No. of Stones: 2
Name of Deity: Victoria
Description: 1595 [Mars et Victoria], 1596 [Mars et Victoria et Num Aug]
No. of Stones: 2
Name of Deity: Genii
Description: (Guardian Spirits): 1577 [Cocidius et Genio Praesidi], 1583 [IOM et Cocidius et Genio Loci]
No. of Stones: 1
Name of Deity: Mercury
Description: 1597 [M Calve]
No. of Stones: 1
Name of Deity: Matres
Description: (Mother Goddesses): 1598
No. of Stones: 1
Name of Deity: Silvanus
Description: 1578 [Silvanus Cocidius]
No. of Stones: 1
Name of Deity: Dis Deabus
Description: 1579
No. of Stones: 4
Name of Deity: unknown
Description: 1608-1611

Possible Nymphaeum Housesteads Temple 1

A small, simple apsidal shrine measuring 13¾ ft. by 16½ ft. with a semicircular wall on the north-west side, lies just south of the vicus settlement, north of Chapel Hill. Inside, four heavy stone slabs set upright in a rough square encloses a strongly-flowing freshwater spring at the bottom of a 4½ ft. well. Two uniscribed altars were found within the building which proves its sanctity, and it is very likely that this very small temple, which may comfortably accommodate no more than six worshippers, was connected with the worship of some unknown water deity, or group of deities, perhaps the water nymphs. Finds of coins and pottery sherds have provided evidence of a construction date for the building around the mid-2nd century and its demise during the early-4th. Other nymphaea are known at Carrawburgh and Chedworth.

Temple of Martius Thincsus and the Goddesses Alaisiagae Housesteads Temple 2

RIB1593 - Altar dedicated to Mars Thincsus, the Alaisiagae, and the Divinity of the Emperor

To the god Mars Thincsus and the two Alaisiagae, Beda and Fimmilena, and to the Divinity of the Emperor the Germans, being tribesmen of Twenthe, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow.
DEO
MARTI
THINCSO
ET DVABVS
ALAISIAGIS
BEDE ET FI
MMILENE
ET N AVG GER
M CIVES TV
IHANTI
V S L M
9–10.  cives Tuihanti: Scherer suggests that they came from the district of Twenthe in the province of Over-Yssel, Holland. The sculptured lintel (see Clayton Arch. Ael. 2nd Ser. x (1886) pl. i, Budge Cat. (1907) pl. on p. 193) has in its central panel a figure of Mars with sword, shield, and spear and at his right side a goose. The Alaisiagae, portrayed naked and cross-legged, each extend towards Mars what appears to be a palm-branch, and carry a wreath in their other hand R.P.W. For this expansion of N. Aug. in the singular see note to RIB 152.

RIB1591 - Altar dedicated to Mars

To the god Mars Quintus Florius Maternus, prefect of the First Cohort of Tungrians, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEO
MARTI QVINT
FLORIVS MA
TERNVS PRAEF
COH I TVNG
V S L M
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For the same prefect see RIB 1578. See also note to RIB 202.

RIB1595 - Altar dedicated to Mars and to Victory

To Mars and Victory ..
MARTI
ET VIC
TORIAE
[...]
No commentary.

RIB1596 - Altar dedicated to Mars and Victory and the Divinities of the Emperors

To the god Mars and Victory and the Divinities of the Emperors under the charge ... custos armorum ..
DEO
[...]ARTI ET
VICTORIAE
ET NVMINIB AVGG
SVB CVRALIC . VI
. IVIC ... II .
.. V . IS VALLVTI
ALPIBAIIRISI
. I . I ... SIC ..
VS ... VIVIOB
4 NDICII
... CVS ARM
.. SD .. T
Wrongly ascribed to Ebchester by Bruce.A custos armorum was the soldier in a century or a turma responsible for the arms and armour.

The Mithraeum Housesteads Temple 3

RIB1599 - Altar dedicated to Mytras

To the invincible Sun-god Mytras, Lord of Ages, Litorius Pacatianus, beneficiarius of the governor, for himself and his family willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEO
SOLI INVI
CTO MYTRAE
SAECVLARI
LITORIVS
PACATIANVS
BF COS PRO
SE ET SVIS V S
L M
Cumont, loc. cit., says Saecularis refers to the Ludi Saeculares of A.D. 246. Richmond, loc. cit., comments on the tendency to eclecticism, 'in which Sol, Mithras and Saeculum become a single concept'.A beneficiarius was a soldier, usually a legionary, seconded for special duties by favour (beneficium) of a specific senior officer; in particular the beneficiarius consularis, an officer on the governor's staff, who might be out-posted.

RIB1600 - Altar dedicated to Mitras

To the invincible Sun-god Mitras, Lord of Ages, Publicius Proculinus, centurion, on behalf of himself and his son Proculus, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow in the consulship of our Lords Gallus and Volusian.
L. 1 on the die seems to be part of a primary inscription, presently replaced by deo soli cut on the capital. The purpose of this change appears to be the avoidance of shadow from the deep overhang of the capital R.P.W.3. For Saecularis see note to RIB 1599.In A.D. 252 the consuls were the emperors Gallus (for the second time) and Volusian.

Situated to the south of the fort was a small temple dedicated to Mithras, the Persian Sun-God. It measured 54 feet in length by 16 feet broad, and had a paved central isle 6½ feet wide running between platforms raised at least 2 feet high on either side. A sanctuary at the far end of the temple was flanked on each side by a small altar stone, and contained a sculpted relief of the Birth of Mithras. A spring provided the building with running water, which was presumably required for ritual purposes. There is another superb example of a Mithraeum at the nearby fort of Carrawburgh.

RIB1601 - Altar dedicated to the Sun-god

To the Sun-god Herion willingly and deservedly (made) this vow.
SOLI
HERION
V L M
On the capital is the head of the Sun-god, radiate, with a whip in his hand R.G.C.

RIB1578 - Altar dedicated to Silvanus Cocidius

To the god Silvanus Cocidius Quintus Florius Maternus, prefect of the First Cohort of Tungrians, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEO
SILVANO
COCIDIO
Q FLORIVS
MATERNVS
PRAEF COH
I TVNG
V S L M
No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For the same prefect see RIB 1591. See also note to RIB 202.

RIB1598 - Altar dedicated to the Mother Goddesses

To the Mother Goddesses the First Cohort of Tungrians ..
[...]TRIBVS
COH I TVNGR
[...]V[...]
No commentary.

Altarstones to the God Hueterus

Description: DEO HVETERI SVPERSTES ET REGVLVS VSLM
Togo-Translation: “To the god Hueterus, the survivors and Regulus willingly and deservedly fulfill their vow.”
RIB: 1602
Description: DEO HVITRI ASPVANIVS PRO ET SVIS VOT SOL
Togo-Translation: “To the god Huitris, Aspuanius fulfills a vow for himself and his family.”
RIB: 1603
Description: VETERIBVS POSVVIT AVRE VICT V
Togo-Translation: “To the Veterian gods, Aurelius Victor places this offering.”
RIB: 1606

RIB1589 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, for the welfare of Desidienus Aemilianus, prefect, both his own (and) his family's, (the dedicator) set this up and willingly fulfilled his vow in the consulship of Tuscus and Bassus.
I O M
PRO SALVTE
DESIDIENI AE
[...]LIANI PRAEF
[...] ET SVA SV[...]
[...]M POSVIT VOT
[...]Q SOLVIT LIBE
NS TVSCO ET BAS
SO CO[...]
Bainbrigg assigned it to Chester in the Wall (or Busy Gap); Horsley, with hesitation, to Vindolanda, while Hodgson, Bruce, and Huebner assigned it to Carvoran. For the attribution to Housesteads see Haverfield (loc. cit.), Birley, Cumb. Westm. AAST 2nd Ser. 51 (1951) 181. The text is grammatically muddled, for posuit lacks a subject. It seems probable that the prefect was the dedicator. But the mason, obsessed by the idea that the dedication was made for the prefect's welfare, forgot that the prefect was in fact the dedicator and put his name into the genitive instead of the nominative case. The original draft may have been something like: pro salute sua et suorum Desidienius Aemilianus praefectus posuit ... . 7, 8.  In A.D. 258 Tuscus and Bassus were consuls. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Desidienus: Birley, Review, 229, cf. CIL iii 12916 for this nomen.

RIB1597 - Altar dedicated to Mars

To the god Mars Calve(...), a German, (set this up).
DEO M
CALVE
GER
No commentary.

Along the precipitous Housesteads Crags to the west of Vercovicium the usual broad foundation of the Wall was discarded, and it seems that this section was planned from the outset to be built in a narrower gauge.

The area surrounding the Housesteads fort is bristling with other shrines and signs of industrial and agricultural activity:

  • Bath House – A military bath-house has been found to the east of the fort on the opposite bank of the Knag Burn.
  • Industrial Furnace – Evidence of large-scale iron-working was discovered in a building just outside the east gate of the fort to the south of the Military Way.
  • Lime Kiln – Identified in the area between the eastern fort ramparts and the Knag Burn.
  • Cultivation Terraces – Evidence of extensive cultivation of the surrounding hillsides is evident in the form of these furrows, which run along the gentle slopes to the south of Houseteads Crags.
  • Quarries – Nearby quarry workings which supplied building stone for the Wall and fort, were at one time mistakenly identified as a military amphitheatre. [The exact location of these quarries is unknown to me, but may possibly lie north-east of the fort at the western end of Kennel Crags, where an ovoid feature north of the Wall is depicted on the OS Outdoor Leisure Map #43 at grid ref. SY791690. ]
  • Cemeteries – Two possible Roman cemeteries have been identified; the first to the south-west of the Mithraeum, and the second between the Stanegate road and the Knag Burn, south-east of the Temple of the Matres.

Excavations on the site of the valetudinarium or military field hospital in the centre of the fort (NY790688) in 1970 revealed evidence that the building continued to be used after it had ceased to function as a field-hospital.

Vercovicium Today

Housesteads Roman Fort, Civil Settlement and Museum
The visible remains of the fort at Housesteads date primarily to the third and fourth centuries, and include the principia or regimental headquarters building, the praetorium or commanding officer’s residence, a valetudinarium or field hospital, and examples of barracks, bath-houses, latrines, workshops and granaries. Visitors to the site may be under the impression that the north gate of the fort was not used, as it opens out upon a precipitous rocky cliff, this was not the case, for the Roman engineers included in their plans a causeway or ramp leading up to this northern gate which was removed during the course of modern excavations at the Housesteads fort.
Of the vicus which occupied much of the area surrounding the fort, several buildings can be seen, mainly along the road leading from the fort’s southern gateway south and then east towards the Newborough fort on the Stanegate.

Vercovicium Digipix

References for Vercovicivm

  • 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.130-151;
  • Hadrian’s Wall History Trails Guidebook III by Les Turnbull (Newcastle, 1974);
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.250; Britannia i (1970) pp.276/7 & Fig.4;
  • Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966) p.73 & fig.74;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Roman Roads near Vercovicivm

Wall: E (5) to Brocolitia Military Way: W (4.75) to Cawfields (Northumberland) Military Way: E (2.75) to Coesike Wall: W (5.5) to Great Chesters (Great Chesters, Northumberland) Probable road: SW (4.25) to Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland)