Brewcastle (Fanum Cocidi) Roman Fort

Hadrians Wall Signal Station

Bewcastle Roman Fort was built to the north of Hadrian’s Wall as an outpost fort possibly intended for scouting and intelligence. The fort at Bewcastle is very unusual in that it has an irregular hexagonal outline – most un-Roman. Originally built in the Hadrianic period, its defences were of turf and timber, revetted at the front with a stone cladding at sometime during the Antonine period in the mid-2nd century, further improvements were made during the time of Severus in the early-3rd C. The fort is roughly hexagonal with no two angles or sides quite the same, measuring about 650 feet (c. 200 m) across; the internal occupation area is about 6 acres (c. 2.4 ha). The ruins of the late-13th century Bew Castle itself occupies and thereby obliterates the north-eastern corner of the Roman fort, with the contemporary churchyard of Saint Cuthbert’s occupying much of the southern part of the fort, while the north-western quarter is occupied by the buildings of the late-17th century Demesne Farmhouse.

RIB 995 - Building inscription of the Second Legion Augusta and Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix

For the Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus the Second Legion Augusta and the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix, …, emperor’s propraetorian legate (built this).

[...] CAES TRA[...]
[...]G II AVG ET XX V [...]
[...] IICNC . IR [...]
[...  ]V[...] PR PR

4. The governor’s name remains uncertain. It is not M. Statius Priscus Licinius Italicus, as Horsley suggested, for he was governor in a.d. 161-about 163.Dr. Brenda Swinbank and J.E.H. Spaul (Arch. Ael. 4th Ser. xxix (1951) 237) assume him to be the governor (about 126-about 130) who followed A. Platorius Nepos; so also Birley in Askew Coinage 81. The recorded letters require some emendation, and Nepos is not necessarily to be excluded. R.P.W. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For discussion of this unidentified governor see Birley Fasti, 105-6, and Roxan, RIB 2401.7, n. 5. Addenda from Britannia xxix (1998): This building-inscription names a Hadrianic governor. The sequence of governors during the building of Hadrian’s Wall has now been enlarged, if not completed, by the publication of a diploma which attests L. Trebius Germanus on 20 August 127. Nollé, ZPE 117 (1997), 269-74 (with an addendum by M. Roxan, 274-6). For the sequence of governors and their terms of office, see A.R. Birley, Fasti, 100-12. Since Germanus’ name cannot be restored, the case is strengthened for attributing it to A. Platorius Nepos.

It is almost certain that the Bewcastle fort was first built in the reign of Hadrian and is contemporary with similar forts at Castra Exploratorum (Netherby, Cumbria) and Blatobulgium (Birrens, Dumfries & Galloway), which are all situated about half a days march north of the Hadrianic curtain wall.

RIB 996 - Building stone of the legio II Augusta

The Second Legion Augusta built this.


Camden, not knowing Bewcastle to have been a Roman site, presumed that the stone came from elsewhere. In 1604 this stone, specified as coming from Bewcastle Church, is illustrated by Anonymous (see below) among Roman inscriptions at Tredermaine Castle (now Triermain Castle). The arrangement of the letters both in Bainbrigg and Anonymous corresponds with the stone seen by Horsley at Naworth. The stone, therefore, may be assumed to have reached Naworth by Horsley’s time, as another Triermain stone (RIB 1944) did in 1746. Accordingly the identity of these stones may be assumed, although Anonymous draws a complete frame round the inscription whereas Horsley drew the lower margin of the die as broken.

The coins from this fort have been obtained from excavations in 1937 (15, inc. 2 illegible) and 1977 (9), and another 6 from investigations conducted between 1922 – 1962. Of these 28 identifiable coins, 6 belong to Tetricus I, 4 to Tetricus II, plus another 4 mid-3rd century radiates. This coinage evidence alone indicates an occupation into the late-4th century.

The Garrison Units

RIB 991 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, the First Cohort of Dacians … centurion of the Second Legion Augusta, willingly and deservedly fulfilled its vow.

COH I DAC [...]
[.]AT[.]E[..]T CENTVR
EG II [...]
[...  ]

2. dac: if this reading is sound the unit lacks its title Aelia (see Richmond and Birley, Arch. Ael. 4th Ser. 14 (1937) 236, Cumb. Westm. AAST 2nd Ser. xxxix (1939) 223), which is first recorded on diploma CIL xvi 93 of A.D. 146. The size of Bewcastle fort at the Hadrianic period, however, is not known, though it later held a milliary cohort R.P.W.

The only inscription on stone which identifies an auxiliary unit is an altar to Jupiter Optimus Maximus which names Cohors I Dacorum (vide supra). This unit was a one-thousand strong infantry unit levied from among the various iron-age tribes of Dacia, which province lay in the region of modern east Romania, including parts of south-eastern Hungary and northern Yugoslavia. The unit is also attested in numerous inscriptions at Banna (Birdoswald, Cumbria) dating from the early third century, and from a single undated building inscription from the vallum to the rear of Hadrian’s Wall, between Turret-7b and Mile Castle-8 (vide RIB 1365).

The Gods of Roman Bewcastle

In all, nine altars to the gods have been unearthed at Bewcastle; five dedicated to the Germanic war god Cocidius and one more to the romanised personification of this same god, Mars Cocidius, after which the fort was later to be named. Other gods were represented on a single altar to Mars Belatucadrus and two altars to Jupiter Best and Greatest. All of these inscriptions are reproduced and translated here.

RIB 992 - Dedication to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, of Doliche … [built] this temple from its foundations for the welfare ..

PRO S[...]

This stone is probably to be equated with that heard of by Horsley before 1732 ‘with templvm distinctly upon it, but then broken and destroyed.’ The stone had been broken up and used in a field-wall where Maughan found it. This breakage and destruction could well be that described by Horsley’s informant to whom the word templum was alone significant.

All of the altars recovered from the Bewcastle fort are dedicated to gods of a military nature; Jupiter Optimus Maximus was the king of the Roman pantheon; the Roman war god Mars, one of Jupiter’s sons by Juno who was here worshipped in two of his Germanic manifestations Mars Belatucadrus and of course Mars Cocidius. Also represented was Hercules, a greek hero and mortal son of Jupiter by the Theban beauty Alcmena, who was elevated to a place among the gods after his death, and was often adopted as an idol by soldiers of many nations throughout the ancient world.

* these two inscriptions are on silver plaques, both of which are illustrated on this page.
  1. Based on the expansion: E = E[vocatus].
  2. Chief administrative officer, ranked very highly in the Roman military hierarchy.
  3. Based on the expansion: EMV = EM[inentissimus] V[ir].

Altars to Cocidius from around Britain

To Cocidius at Netherby in Cumbria (Rib 966), to Cocidius at Chesterholm in Northumberland (Rib 1683), to Cocidius at Birdoswald in Cumbria (Rib 1872), to Cocidius and to Jupiter also at Birdoswald (Rib 1885; 270-73AD), to Cocidius and Silvanus at Risingham in Northumberland (Rib 1207), to Mars Cocidius at Lancaster in Lancashire (Rib 602), to Vernostonus Cocidius at Ebchester in Durham (Rib 1102), to Cocidius and the Genius of the Stronghold (Genium Praesidi) at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland (Rib 1577), to Cocidius and Silvanus also at Housesteads (Rib 1578), and to Jupiter, Cocidius and the Genium Loci at Housesteads (Rib 1583).

Altars to Cocidius from Hadrian’s Wall

From Mile Castle-37, between Housesteads and Greatchesters:
Togo-Translation: “To the god Cocidius, Vabrius willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”
RIB: 1633
From the Wall between Birdowald and Castlesteads:
Togo-Translation: “To the god Cocidius, the soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow.”
RIB: 1955
Togo-Translation: “To the god Cocidius, the soldiers of the Twentieth Legion, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow, when Apronius and Rufrius were consuls.¹”
RIB: 1956
Togo-Translation: “To the god Cocidius, a detachment of the Sixth Victorious Legion, willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow”
RIB: 1961
Description: DEO COCIDIO …
Togo-Translation: “To the god Cocidius, […]”
RIB: 1963
From the Castlesteads to Stanwix section of the Wall:
Togo-Translation: “To the god Cocidius, and to the Genius (of this place), […] Martius, centurion in the First Cohort of Batavians,² (set this up).”
RIB: 2015
Togo-Translation: “For the god Cocidius, the soldiers of the Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful (made this).”
RIB: 2020
  1. My source gives the date as 262-6AD during the time of the Gallic empire of Postumous, but does not expand.
  2. Cohors Primae Batavorum were the first of four one-thousand strong, part-mounted units, levied from the Batavi tribe who lived on an island between the Waal and the Rhine in the Roman province of Lower Germany. The area nowadays contains the large towns; Rotterdam, Sleidrecht, Geldermalsen and Tiel, all in the Netherlands.

Fanum Cocidi – The Shrine of Cocidius

The sole classical geographical reference to the Roman fort at Bewcastle is very likely the Fanocodi entry in the The Ravenna Cosmography (R&C#155) of the seventh century AD, which occurs between Maia (Bowness on Solway, Cumbria) and Brocavum (Brougham, Cumbria). This Ravenna entry has been identified with Bewcastle on the basis that out of the nine known Roman altars recovered from the site, six are dedicated to the Germanic war god Cocidius, and upon a simple expansion the Ravenna text may be read Fanum Cocidi which means ‘The Shrine of Cocidius’; this is a presumption only and uncorroborated by any further epigraphic evidence.

Other Roman Sites in the Area

Aside from the Maiden Way Roman road the Bewcastle fort was also supplied with a communication link with the Hadrian’s Wall fort at Birdoswald, in the form of a pair of signal-stations. There is a station just over 1¾ miles (3 km) to ENE at Barron’s Pike, in direct line-of sight from the fort, from where signals could be exchanged with another station situated at Robin Hood’s Butts. This second station lay about 2 miles (3.2 km) SSE of Bewcastle upon the Maiden Way but was not visible from the fort itself, it did, however, possess direct line-of-sight communication with the Wall fort. Any signals passed from Birdoswald northwards, would be relayed first via Robin Hood’s Butt, then Barron’s Pike, to Bewcastle; conversely, any south-bound messages would first have to be relayed to Baron’s Pike then to The Butts before being sent to the Wall fort.

Map References for Fanvm Cocidi

OS National Grid Reference: NY 5653 7459
Dimensions: c. 650 x 650 feet (c. 200 x 200 m)
Area: c. 6 acres (c. 2.4 ha)

References for Fanvm Cocidi

  • The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain – Vol.1 – Inscriptions on Stone by R.G. Collingwood & R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
  • A ‘New’ Signal Station in Cumbria by P. Topping in Britannia xviii (1987) pp.298-300;
  • Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) pp.49-50;
  • The Gods of Roman Britain by Miranda J. Green (Shire Archaeology, 1994);
  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Atlas of the Greek and Roman World in Antiquity by Nicholas G.L. Hammond (Bristol Classical Press);
  • A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain by Roger J.A. Wilson (Constable, London, 2002);

Roman Roads near Fanvm Cocidi

Maiden Way: SSE (6.5) to Birdoswald (Birdoswald, Cumbria) Maiden Way: SSE (2) to Robin Hoods Bvtts

Sites near Brewcastle (Fanum Cocidi) Roman Fort