Alavna (Ardoch)

Fortlet, Marching or Temporary Camps, Roman Fort and Watch-tower

The earthworks of the fort and camps at Ardoch are quite impressive, but there are no stone remains. The principia in the centre of the fort is easily recognisable, with the rear-range of rooms arranged along the south side and a doorway in the centre of the north, but no other internal buildings are apparent. A quick search of the molehills in the interior of the fort turned up several pieces of iron slag and a fragment of roofing tile.

Classical References for Alauna (Ardoch)

Ptolemy’s Geography gives the following information:

From these toward the east, but more northerly, are the Damnoni, among whom are the following towns: ?Colanica 20*45 59? [unknown] ?Vindogara 21*20 60? [unknown] ?Coria 21*30 59? [unknown] ?Alauna 22*45 59? [unknown] ?Lindum 23*00 59? [unknown] ?Victoria 23*30 59? [unknown]

It is possible that the Alauna entry from Ptolemy may be identified with the Ardoch site.

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.

The fort has been named Alavna Veniconvm, the suffix Veniconvm is used 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 Venicones. The Romans would have just used the name Alavna.

The Garrison Units

RIB2213 - Funerary inscription for Ammonius

To the spirits of the departed: Ammonius, (son) of Damio, centurion of the First Cohort of Spaniards, of 27 years' service, (lies here). His heirs had this made.
The full formula Dis Manibus occurs on tombstones of the first century. The name and parentage of Ammonius probably indicate a man recruited in the East (see Schulze, Zur Geschichte lateinischer Eigennamen (1933) 121).

The unit first appeared in Britain in the train of emperor Hadrian during his historic visit to the island in 122AD. They are first recorded at Alauna Carvetiorum (Maryport, Cumbria) on an altar dated 123-38AD and on several other undated stones and tiles. Recorded on a single tombstone here at Alauna Veniconum (vide RIB 2213 supra), the unit is also attested on four inscriptions dating between 213-222AD at Castra Exploratorum (Netherby, Cumbria; RIB 976-9) where it seemingly remained for some time. It is possible, however, that during its sojourn at Netherby, part of the unit may have been stationed at the Hadrian’s Wall fort of Uxelodunum/Petrianum (Stanwix, Cumbria; see the Notitia Dignitatum).

The Military Installations at Ardoch

The Northern Defences looking west

(e) Ardoch, An oblong fort of about 5½ acres, partly surrounded by five ditches of remarkable depth. Here the multiple-ditch system reaches the climax of its impressiveness, recalling the great multiple entrenchments of prehistoric hill-top camps. A glance at the ditch plan shows, what is confirmed by the findings of excavation (P.S.A. Scot., xxxii, 399), that we have here to deal with two forts, an earlier and larger, which was shortened at one end, exactly like Castell Collen (Fig. 6) or Tomen-y-Mur, when the second was built. At Ardoch, however, the builders of the later fort made use of the earlier ditches to form part of a new and very elaborate system of defence.” (Collingwood 1930 p.46)

The Northern Defences looking east

Two superimposed forts dating to the first century have been identified during excavations at Ardoch. The original Agricolan fort was briefly abandoned in favour of the Glen forts, only to be reoccupied when Inchtuthil and these outer forts were abandoned, at which time the fort was rebuilt to form part of the Gask Frontier Zone. The first watch-tower of this, the first Roman military frontier in Britain, lies to the west of the road northwards to Strageath. It seems likely that the forts at Ardoch, Strageath and Bertha were briefly reoccupied during the later Antonine Period, again only for a short time, before being finally abandoned when the Antonine wall was discontinued.

The Agricolan Fort

The first fort was probably built around the time of the Battle of Mons Graupius, possibly during the governorship of Agricola, but more likely by his successor, c.85AD. The fort may have been garrisoned by both a legionary detachment and an auxiliary unit. It is possible that this fort, and another at Strageath, were established during Agricola’s third campaign period.

The Domitianic Fort

The Procestrium Camp/Annexe

NN841101 – The defensive ditch of the so-called procestrium or annexe adjoining the fort on the north, were sectioned in 1970. The ditch was about 18ft 4ins (5.6m) wide and 4ft (1.2m) deep with a U-profile. No dateable finds were recovered, but the ditch was presumed to be ‘of Roman military origin’.

The Signal Station

The eastern defences of the largest marching camp overlie the south-eastern parts of a small, square enclosure beside the Roman road. The enclosure has several components; a central platform about 36 feet square (c.11 m²), set within an enclosure consisting of a 10 foot wide ditch with a counterscarp bank, the entire works measuring just over 100 feet across. It is very likely that this represents a signal-station beside the main military highway into the north, the next one in the sequence being that at Kaim’s Castle.

Other Roman Military Sites in the Area

Aside from the sequence of forts at Ardoch, there are nearby fortlets at Glenbank (NN8105) and Caims Castle (NN8612), and watchtowers at Greenloaning (NN8307), Black Hill (NN8410) and Westerton (NN8714), and another 2 at Sheilhill (NN8511/8512).

Epigraphic Evidence from Ardoch

Only three inscriptions on stone have so far been recovered from the Alauna fort, two of which are mere fragments of text; IMP Imp[erator] “commander-in-chief” (RIB 2211) which reveals nothing of great importance, and likewise LEG AVG PR PR leg[atus] Aug[usti] pr[o] pr[aetore] “pro-praetorian legate of the Emperor” (RIB 2212). The third inscription however, from a tombstone, has yielded the name of a probable garrison unit (vide RIB 2213 supra).

The Dateable Pottery Evidence

Occupation during the early-Flavian period is attested by decorated wares of Forms 27, 29, 37 & Curle 11. Antonine occupation is shown by single examples of three potters stamps: Avitus Form 33, Ritogenus Form 31 and Suobnus Form 18/31 (Hartley 1972).

References for Alavna Veniconvm

  • The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930);
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1955-7 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlviii (1958) p.90;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965); D.E.S. 1970 p.39;
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.248;
  • The Roman Occupations of Scotland by B.R. Hartley in Britannia iii (1972) pp.1-55;
  • D.E.S. 1973 p.41;
  • D.E.S. 1986 p.40;
  • Britannia xxv (1994) p.255;
  • D.E.S. 1993 p.98;
  • Britannia xxvi (1995) p.332;
  • D.E.S. 1995? p.81;
  • D.E.S. 1996 p.81;
  • Britannia xxviii (1997) p.405;
  • D.E.S. 1997 p.62;
  • D.E.S. 1999 p.70;
  • Britannia xxxiii (2002) p.285;
  • D.E.S. 2003 p.90;
  • Britannia xxxiv (2003) p.302.

Map References for Alavna Veniconvm

NGRef: NN8309 OSMap: LR57/58

Roman Roads near Alavna Veniconvm

NE (6.5) to Strageath Probable Road: SW (8.5) to Dovne (Dunblane, Central) SW (4) to Glenbank NE (3) to Kaims Castle NE (2) to Shiehill NE (2) to Shielhill