Fanum Cocidi (Brewcastle)
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.
RIB995 - Building inscription of the Second Legion Augusta and Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix
[...]G II AVG ET XX V [...]
[...] IICNC . IR [...]
[...  ]V[...] PR PR
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.
RIB996 - Building stone of the legio II Augusta
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
RIB991 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
COH I DAC [...]
ḶEG II [...]
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.
RIB992 - Dedication to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche
TEMPLVM A SO[...]
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.
- Based on the expansion: E = E[vocatus].
- Chief administrative officer, ranked very highly in the Roman military hierarchy.
- 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
- My source gives the date as 262-6AD during the time of the Gallic empire of Postumous, but does not expand.
- 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 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
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);