Carpow Legionary Fort

Vexillation Fort

The Roman Fort of Carpow was situated at the confluence of the rivers Tay and Earn in what is now Scotland. It was a large fortress with an area of thirty acres occupied by two legions at different times, Legio II Augusta and Legio VI Victrix, and thus of solid, permanent construction using stone, brick and tiles. The fort was occupied from the late second century AD until the early third century AD. The site of the fort has not been comprehensively excavated but it is believed to have served as a naval supply depot for Roman forces in the central lowlands. Its occupation also coincided with the campaigns of Septimius Severus in the area.

However, its site on the southern side of the Tay estuary is incompatible with its use as a base for Severan offensive operations to the north and, along with other evidence, it is more likely that the fortress was built under Commodus in 185 to support his campaigns.

Classical References to Carpow Legionary Fort

Horrea Classis – The Granaries of the Fleet

The identification of the the Carpow vexillation fortress with the name Horrea Classis is tentative to say the least. The basis for this assumption is the Poreo Classis entry in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#221). This name is listed between the unknown towns Leviodanum and Levioxava, and from their position in the text would all appear to be positioned somewhere around the Fife/Tayside area of Scotland.

Below these¹ toward the west are the Venicones, whose town is Orrea 24*00 58°45.” (The Geography of Ptolemy)

  1. The Vacomagi of Northern Grampian.

There appears to be supporting evidence in Geography of Ptolemy of the second century, which places the Venicones tribe in the Fife and Tayside region of Scotland, and assigns to them a single town named Orrea. This is very likely a copyist’s mistake, a mis-spelling of the word Horrea ‘granary, storehouse’.

Temporary Home of the Second Augustan Legion

The ‘Vexillation’ Fortress

The fortress was observed on aerial photographs taken during the 1940’s and was estimated at that time to have axial dimensions of about 940 ft. by 570 ft (c.287 x 174 m), with the major axis aligned north-south; this would give an area of approximately 12¼ acres (c.5 ha).

Excavations in 1969

NO208179 – The foundations of an Iron-Age ‘ring-groove-house’ 38ft (c.11.6m) internal diameter with walls 28in (71cm) wide were uncovered during trial-trenching north of the principia in 1969. At the same time, the south gate (porta principalis dextra) was partly excavated and found to be constructed of sandstone on a foundation of heavy cobbles. The twin gateway here was not equipped with any guard rooms. Drainage channels leading beneath each doorway still contained the iron fastenings of a wooden water pipe used to channel ground water away from the camp. Several coins were found in the demolition layer of the west channel; denarii of Faustina, Lucilla, Severus and Caracalla.

Excavations in 1970

NO208179 – A number of excavations were conducted on this site in 1970:

  1. The south gateway was found to be larger than the N and E gates, measuring (12.19m) wide and (9.15m) in depth, and somewhat asymmetrical in plan. Four water channels ran beneath the gateway, three of which still contained the iron collars which originally connected wooden water pipes, the fourth channel was partly filled with building debris, including pieces of a large but fragmentary inscription (Brit. II (1971) p.292).
  2. The ditch of the SE annexe was found to be 20ft (6.1m) wide and 5ft (1.52m) deep. Large pits within the annexe proved to be of modern origin.
  3. No trace of internal buildings were revealed during trial trenching inside the NE corner-angle of the fort.

Temporary Marching Camps

There are a number of temporary marching camps in the neighbourhood; two nearby at Carpow (NO2017) south of the fort, one a little way to the west at Carey in Tayside (NO1716) and another on the opposite side of the Tay Estuary at Saint Madoes also in Tayside (NO2019). There are in addition three more marching camps in Fife to the south and east of the fort, at Auchtermuchty (NO2411), Edenwood (NO3511) and Bonnytown (NO5412).

References for Horrea Classis

  • Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) p.63;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1955-7 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xlviii (1958) p.91;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1961-1964 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lv (1965) p.82;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1965-1968 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lix (1969) pp.110-11 & fig.2;
  • Britannia i 1970 pp.273/4; Britannia ii (1971) p.248; Carpow and Caracalla by R.P. Wright in Britannia xi (1980) p.289;
  • Britannia vii (1976) p.299; Britannia viii (1977) p.361; Britannia xi (1980) p.351;
  • A Find of Roman Scale Armour from Carpow by J.P. Wild in Britannia xii (1981) p.305;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Roman Britain 1977-1984 by G.S. Maxwell & D.R. Wilson in Britannia xviii (1987) p.27;
  • Britannia xxi (1990) p.310;
  • Britannia xxiv (1993) p.278;
  • Britannia xxxiv (2003) p.302.

Map References for Horrea Classis

NGRef: NO208179 OSMap: LR58

Roman Roads near Horrea Classis

None identified

Sites near Carpow Legionary Fort