The fort was probably established around AD 79 to guard the crossing of the River Wear by Dere Street, the main Roman road between York, Hadrian’s Wall and Scotland, and also the fort’s via principalis. For a time one of the largest Roman military installations in the whole of Northern Britain. About 7 hectares in size it was large enough to have accommodated a battle-group formed of several cohorts of legionary infantry and one or more units of auxiliary cavalry. Even when it was reduced to 4 hectares around 160 AD it was still the largest fort in County Durham.
RIB 1038 - Building inscription of the Sixth Legion
The Sixth Legion (built this).
During excavations over the years a number of animal bones have been uncovered at Binchester, including those of Ox, Sheep, Goat, Pig, Red Deer and Boar; the latter two animals very likely being hunted and killed for sport, as well as to supplement the soldiers’ diet.
Vinovia (Binchester) Vicus
An extensive civilian settlement (vicus) existed to the north and west of the fort, the remains of which are buried under the pastures of Binchester Hall Farm. The southern part of the fort is now beneath Binchester Hall, while some of the defences were destroyed in a landslip in the 19th century. Part of the stone bridge used by Dere Street to cross the River Wear can still be seen when the river is low. In 2007, several mausolea were found to the north of the vicus.
The Garrison Units
RIB 1035 - Altar dedicated to the Suleviae
To the Suleviae the Cavalry Regiment of Vettonians … willingly and deservedly fulfilled its vow.
V S L M
The unit were earlier stationed at Cicvcivm (Y Gaer, Powys), as they are attested on two tombstones from there (RIB 403 et 405?). The building work dated to 197-202AD at the nearby fort of Lavatris (Bowes, Durham; RIB 730), was probably carried out while the unit were based here at Binchester. The undated tombstone at Aqvae Svlis (Bath, Avon; RIB 159) probably only reflects the chosen place of retirement for a veteran of the unit.
RIB 1039 - Funerary inscription for Nemonius Montanus
Sacred to the spirits of the departed: Nemonius Montanus, decurion, lived 40 years. Nemonius Sanctus, his brother, and his joint heirs set this up in accordance with his will.
NEM MONTANVS DEC
VIXIT ANN XL NEM
SANCTVS FR ET COHER
EX TESTAMENTO FECERT
RIB 1036 - Fragmentary dedication
… from the cuneus of Frisians of Vinovia, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
EX C FRIS VINOVIE
V S L M
The second part of the unit name may be Frisiorum or Frisiavonum which indicates the tribe from which the original troops were levied, either the Germanic Frisii or the Belgic Frisiavones. The Belgic tribe can be ruled out on two counts; firstly, the existence is known of a Cohort of Frisiavones in Britain and any additional levies from this tribe would most likely have been posted to this unit, secondly, cunei were mainly restricted to non-allied tribesmen who offered their services as mercenaries, the unit at Vinovia, therefore, were most likely from the Germanic Frisii.
The Gods of Vinovium
RIB 1033 - Altar dedicated to the Mother Goddesses
Sacred to the Mother Goddesses Gemellus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
V S L M
Several Roman altarstones have been recovered from Binchester, over half of which are dedicated to the Matribus Ollototae or the ‘Mother Goddesses of Ollototis’, one of these altars is shared with Jupiter Optimus Maximus who also has another altar dedicated solely to himself. There are other lone altars to Fortuna the goddess of good fortune, and also to the god of medicine, Aesculapius.
RIB 1028 - Dedication to Aesculapius and Salus
To Aesculapius and Salus for the welfare of the Cavalry Regiment of Vettonians, Roman citizens, Marcus Aurelius […]ocomas, doctor, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
[... ]TE ALAE VET
[...] C R M AVRE
[... 4]OCOMAS ME
[...    ] L M
RIB 1029 - Altar dedicated to Fortune
To holy Fortune Marcus Valerius Fulvianus, prefect of cavalry, gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
M VAL FVLVIANV[...]
V S L L M
RIB 1030 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus and the Mother Goddesses Ollototae
To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, and to the Mother Goddesses Ollototae, or Overseas, Pomponius Donatus, beneficiarius of the governor, for the welfare of himself and his household willingly fulfilled his vow.
TIS SIVE TRA
BF COS PRO
V S L A
RIB 1031 - Altar dedicated to the Matres Ollototae
To the Mother Goddesses Ollototae Tiberius Claudius Quintianus, beneficiarius of the governor, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
T[...]B CL QVIN
TIANVS BF COS
V S L M
RIB 2294 - Milestone of Gordian III
For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus ..
Classical References for Vinovia – The Vintners Way?
Binchester appears in three out of the four major classical geographies. Geography of Ptolemy has the entry Vinovium appearing under the Brigantes tribe, between Epiacvm (Whitley Castle, Northumberland) and Cataractonivm (Catterick, North Yorkshire). The Antonine Itinerary has a Vinovia near the beginning of Iter I, where it is listed nine miles from Vindomora (Ebchester, Durham) and nineteen miles from Cataractonivm, and in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#134), again as Vinovia, this time between Longovicivm (Lanchester, Durham) and Lavatris (Bowes, Durham).
The Roman name for Binchester appears to be entirely Latin in origin, a compound name from the words vinea or vinum meaning ‘vines’ or ‘wine’, and via or ‘road’. The oldest reference shows the name as Vinovium, which may indicate that the original ending was in the genitive plural. The name may be something along the lines of ‘the Way of the Vines’, which suggests that vines were grown in the area, not very likely considering the climate in Bishop’s Auckland. An alternative and perhaps more plausible translation may be ‘the Ways of the Vintners’, which would imply that there was a popular inn or tavern here. Could the original name of Binchester be derived from the name of a Roman pub? Not entirely unthinkable when you consider ‘Craven Arms’ in Shropshire for instance, a modern town named after an old coaching inn.
References for Vinovia? / Vinovivm?
- Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) pp.52-65;
- Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1951-5 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlv (1956) pp.82-91;
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
- Britannia i (1970) p.308 no.15;
- The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia ii (1971) pp.122-142;
- Britannia xxiii (1992) p.314 no.10;
- 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);
Roman Roads near Vinovia? / Vinovivm?
NNW (13) to Lanchester (Lanchester, Durham) NNE (15) to Chester-le-street (Chester-le-Street, Durham) Dere Street: S (9) to Piercebridge (Durham) SW (18) to Lavatris Dere Street: NE (10) to Old Dvrham S (6) to Sandforth Moor
Sites near Binchester (Vinovia) Fort
- Sandforth Moor Temporary Camp (10 km)
Marching or Temporary Camp
- Old Durham (13 km)
- Sedgefield Roman Settlement (14 km)
- Piercebridge (Moribum) Vicus (16 km)
- Piercebridge (Morbium) Roman Fort (16 km)
- Piercebridge (Morbium) Roman Bridge (16 km)
- Lanchester (Longovicium) Vicus (16 km)
- Lanchester (Longovicium) Fort (16 km)
Auxiliary Fort and Milestone
- Holme House Villa (16 km)
- Holmes House Roman Fort (16 km)
Trajanic Auxiliary Fort (A.D. 98–117)