Burrow (Calacum) Roman Fort

Flavian Auxiliary Fort (AD 69–96)

Calacum/Galacum or Calacvm is the Roman Name for the Roman fort at Burrow in Lonsdale. The fort lies on a slight prominence almost ½-mile (0.6 km) east of the River Lune, beside the A638 road from Kirkby Lonsdale to Lancaster. The plateau occupied by the fort and its annexes measures about 830 ft. by 330 ft. (250 x 100 m), covering an area of about 6¼ acres (c.2.5 ha) aligned roughly NNE-SSW.

Evidence suggests that a timber fort was established here late in the first century (during the Flavian dynasty) but little is known about it. Archaeological excavation of the clay-and-turf ramparts and defensive ditches also suggests a second period of occupation at a so far undetermined time. A substantial extramural settlement (vicus) seems to have developed along the roads to the north and west.

This is sufficient space to have easily housed an ala quingenaria, a five-hundred strong unit of auxiliary cavalry,. However, excavations conducted on the site in 1952/52 seemed to indicate that the fort itself occupied the southern end of the platform, and was almost square in outline measuring about 470 ft. by 445 ft. (143 x 135 m) enclosing about 4¾ acres (1.94 ha), which is enough space for a cohors peditata milliaria, a one-thousand strong auxiliary infantry unit.

Classical References to Calacum

The earliest reference to this fort and settlement beside the River Lune is in Geography of Ptolemy of the second century, where the name Calatum appears among the towns of the Brigantes tribe between the entries for Cataractonivm (Catterick, North Yorkshire) and Isvrivm (Aldborough, North Yorkshire), which was the tribal civitas capital.

The town also appears in Iter X of the Antonine Itinerary “The route from Glannoventa (Ravenglass in Cumbria) to Mediolanum (Whitchurch in Shropshire)”, this time listed as Calacum, 19 (Roman) miles from Alavana (Watercrook, Cumbria) and 27 miles from Bremetenacvm (Ribchester, Lancashire).

The Meaning of the Roman Name

The etymology of the Roman name may stem from the Latin word calathus, ‘wicker basket, flower basket; wine-cup; cheese-making vessel’, perhaps in reference to its superb location in the Lune Valley, which would certainly be strewn with meadow flowers from spring through autumn, and would have been excellent cattle-raising country – as it still is today. This is not substantiated by further evidence, however. The modern name stems from the Old English word Burgh, meaning ‘the fortified place’, and is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The Roman Coins from Burrow-in-Lonsdale

As of 1985 there were 30 Roman coins recovered from Burrow-in-Lonsdale, ranging from Vespasian (69-79AD) to Constantius I (305-306AD). The silver coins identified are of Trajan (RIC 49ff; Imp. 98-117AD) and Sabina (RIC 413a; c.117AD?), identified bronzes are of Hadrian (RIC 974; Imp. 117-138) and Commodus (RIC 645; Imp. 180-192). Of all these coins, 13 are Antonine, which may be indicative of a re-occupation in strength during this period. There are no 3rd century coins, and only 2 tetrarchic issues of the 4th, both GENIO POPVLI ROMANI issues of Constantius I.

The evidence seems to suggest that the Roman fort at Calacum underwent at least two periods of occupation, where perhaps an original Trajanic cavalry garrison were replaced during the Antonine period by a large infantry unit, with a military presence being maintained until the 4th century at least.

Epigraphic Evidence from the Lune Valley

No latin inscriptions are listed in the RIB for Casterton or Burrow in Lonsdale, but several have been found at Overburrow, beside the Roman road south of the fort at Casterton. None of the inscriptions can be dated and none are of definite military origin, though indeed, some of the finds testify to there being a civilian settlement here. Out of the eight stones reported in the RIB only four are reproduced on this page, including all of the altars; the others texts are too fragmentary to provide any useful data.

RIB 609 - Altar dedicated to Asclepius and Hygiaea

To the holy god Asclepius and to Hygiaea, for the welfare of himself and of his own, Julius Saturninus [set this up].

ASCLEP[...]O [...]
VA CVM SV[...]

It was doubtless derived from the Roman fort at Overborough.3. The normal dative is Hygiae. Here the dedicator, who favours the Greek form Asclepio, has based a Latin dative on Ὑγίεια. Cagnat in his index gives the expansion p(ro) s(alute) s(ua).

RIB 610 - Altar dedicated to Contrebis

To the holy god Contrebis Vatta set this up.


For Contrebis see RIB 600 (Lancaster). Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Rauthmell’s original drawing and text both read: deosa | ngont | rebivat | taposv (Ribchester (2000)).

RIB 611 - Altar dedicated to the Divinities of our Emperor and the Genius of the Guild of Apollo

To the Divinities of our Emperor and the Genius of the guild of Apollo Bellinus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

[...]G N ET GE
[...]O COLGF

3. colgf represents either a mason’s blunder of colge for coleg, or Machell’s partial rendering of coligni, a form of collegi, cf. RIB 2103 (Birrens).

RIB 612 - Funerary inscription for Aurelius Pusinnus and Aurelia Eubia

Sacred to the spirits of the departed and to the everlasting calm of Aurelius Pusinnus, a citizen …, (who) lived 54 years, served 36 years and of Aurelia Eubia his wife, (who) lived 37 years Aurelius Propinquus their most beloved son (set this up).

NNI CV[...]

For perpetuae securitati see CIL iii 3660 (ILS 2308) Pannonia, CIL v 5929 (ILS 7579) N. Italy, CIL iii 5960 (ILS 8027a) Raetia.For Εύβία see CIG 3990 f, 5105. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Edwards’ drawing incorporates two new fragments of the tombstone.

RIB 2283 - Milestone

53 miles


The stone seems never to have been inscribed with an emperor’s name. The distance seems to have been measured from Carlisle, via Penrith and Sedbergh, about 49 statute miles (79 km). Its re-erection in 1836 was recorded by William Moore, the owner of the site, who cut a Latin inscription lower down on the stone, reading solo erutum | restituit Gul(ielmus) Moore | an(no) MDCCCXXXVI.

A Roman milestone found 4 miles north of Kirkby Lonsdale at Hawking Hall in Cumbria (RIB 2283), reads simply M P LIII ‘fifty-three thousand paces’ or 53 Roman miles, which corresponds quite favourably with the measured distance to Luguvalium (Carlisle, Cumbria). This milestone is particularly interesting, as it may mark the spot where Iter X of the Antonine Itinerary branches off the main north-south route and heads off across the southern Lake District past the fort at Alavana (Watercrook, Cumbria) to its northern terminus at Glannoventa (Ravenglass, Cumbria).

Another inscribed Roman milestone was found on the line of the road between Burrow-in-Lonsdale and Lancaster, 8 miles to the south-west at Caton.

References for Calacvm

  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
  • Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) pp.13/14;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).

Roman Roads near Calacvm

Iter X: S (14) to Bremetenacvm (Ribchester, Lancashire) N (17) to Low Borrowbridge (Cumbria) Iter X: NW (15) to Alavana (Watercrook, Cumbria) NE (24) to Virosidvm SW (8) to Caton SW (12) to Lancaster (Calunium) (Lancaster, Lancashire)

Sites near Burrow (Calacum) Roman Fort