Chester-le-Street (Concangis) Roman Fort

Flavian Auxiliary Fort (AD 69–96)

Chester-le-Street Roman Fort was an auxiliary castra in the Roman province of Lower Britain (Britannia Inferior). Its ruins are located in Chester-le-Street, Durham, in England. It is situated 6 miles (10 km) north of Durham and 8 miles (13 km) south of Newcastle upon Tyne. Situated on a high bluff, overlooking the valleys of the Wear to the east and the Cong Burn to the north, the fort is in the sort of position frequently favoured by Roman military surveyors. The road north to Newcastle (Pons Aelius ) passes just to the west of the fort, so traffic along it could be easily monitored by the troops stationed nearby. This, then, is the broad outline of our knowledge of the Roman fort at Chester-le-Street and it is against this background that the most recent campaign of excavations sought to refine some of the details and increase our otherwise hazy understanding of the site.

The Roman name for Chester-le-Street in the fourth/fifth century would have been Concangis. The name (which is Celtic, rather than Roman, in origin) is thought to have meant something like ‘the horse people’.

The Concangis Fort and Garrison

Excavations conducted in 1969/70 revealed the overall dimensions of the fort as 540 by 500 feet (c.165 x 152 metres), giving an internal area of about 6¼ acres (c.2.5ha). A datable piece of pottery (of a type known as Black Burnished 2) was recovered from within the turves of the rampart which indicates that the rampart was probably constructed in the first half of the 2nd century A.D. There are signs of structural alterations occurring during the early-3rd century.

The first military camp on the site very likely dates from the late 70’s AD, possibly constructed in timber by the men of the Ninth Hispanic Legion, who were based at York, and it is interesting to note that a branch-road led south from Chester-le-Street all the way to York, over seventy miles away.

Who built Chester-le-Street (Concangios) Roman Fort?

It would appear that the stone fortifications at Chester-le-Street were built by the men of Legio Secundae Augusta, who were stationed in Britain for the entire period of Roman rule, in legionary fortresses at Exeter, Gloucester and Caerleon, all in the south-western part of the Island. It is known that the Second Augustan Legion was employed during the construction of Hadrians’s Wall in the early second century, and it is possible that the Concangis fort was re-built in stone at this time.

RIB 1050 - Building inscription of the Second Legion Augusta

The Second Legion Augusta.

LEG II AV[...]

No commentary.

Who garrisioned Chester-le-Street (Concangios) Roman Fort?

Ala Secundae Asturum – The Second Wing of Astures

RIB 1049 - Dedication to Caracalla

“[…] the knights of the Antoninian Wing¹ […] the territorium² […] the aqueduct leading to the bath-house […] constructed from its foundations, during the administration of […]dianus, pro-praetotian legate of the emperor, when Sabinus – for the second time – and Anullinus were consuls.³”

[...] EQ
[...] [...]NIANAE
[...  ]ERRITO
[...]OLO IN
[...  ...]DIANI LEG
[...  ...]VLLIN COS
  1. The identity of the Ala Antoniniana is discussed below.
  2. The land attached to the fort under military administration.
  3. Publius Catius Sabinus and Publius Cornelius Anullinus were consules ordinarii in the year 216AD (a.u.c.969), and after whom this year was named in the Roman calendar. This was the second time that Sabinus had served as consul, which was a great distinction for one outside the imperial family. The text also contains the sole record, though corrupt, of the name of the British governor at the time, one […]dianus.

The name of the cavalry unit mentioned in the above inscription is incomplete. After searching through the RIB to find other units with the Antoniniana suffix, (which indicates sterling service during the Caledonian campaigns of Severus at the beginning of the third century);  two legions and five auxiliary cohorts were found, but the only cavalry wing with the requisite suffix is Ala II Asturum Antoniniana.

Ala II Asturum Antoniniana are recorded at Cilurnum (Chesters, Northumberland; vide RIB 1465) on Hadrian’s Wall in 221AD. The undated tombstone of a seventy year old Decurion from the Second Wing of Asturians has been recorded at Lindum (Lincoln, Lincolnshire; vide RIB 266) and an altarstone, also undated, dedicated to the Mother Goddesses by Decurion Marcus Asiaticus of Ala II Asturum has been recorded at Bremetenacum (see RIB 586).

RIB 586 - Altar dedicated to the Mother Goddesses

To the Mother Goddesses Marcus Ingenuius Asiaticus, decurion of the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians, willingly, gladly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

[...  ...]RIB[...]
[...] S L L M

No commentary.

This unit is known to have been stationed at the Chesters fort only a few years after the date of the inscription at Chester-le-Street, and there is no overlap in the dates; it appears possible, therefore, that the Ala Antoniniana attested at Concangis may be identified with the Second Wing of Asturians, formerly of Lincoln and Ribchester, later posted to Chesters on Hadrian’s Wall.

Numerus Vigilum Concangenses

Praefectus Numeri Vigilum Concangios

“The Prefect of the Company of Watchmen from Concangis.”

(Notitia Dignitatum)

Listed under the overall command of the Duke of the Britains, the above extract undoubtedly identifies the Roman garrison of Chester-le-Street at the end of the fourth century. It is possible that this unit was later moved to Vinovia (Binchester, Durham) where undated tiles have been found bearing the legend Numerus Concangensium.

The Gods of Roman Chester-le-Street

The classical Roman gods are represented by the war god Mars and the sun god Apollo, and judging from the number of altars dedicated to patron deities concerned with the welfare of veteran soldiers (three out of a total of eight inscriptions!), it would appear that a fair proportion of the denizens of Roman Chester-le-Street were ex-military men. There is another altar to the Germanic deity Digenis recorded on Hadrian’s Wall between Wallsend and Newcastle (RIB 1314).

Classical References for Roman Chester-le-Street (Concangis)

The Roman name for Chester-le-Street is listed in the Notitia Dignitatum of the fourth/fifth century as Concangios, where it appears between the entries for Lavatris (Bowes, Durham) and the unidentified station, Dictium. The seventh century Ravenna Cosmology lists the name as Coganges (R&C#141), which occurs between the unknown Dixio Lugunduno (probably identifiable with the Dictium in the Notitia) and the dual entry for Corstopitum (Corbridge, Northumberland) and Lopocarium, another unknown station.

References for Concangis

  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
  • Britannia ii (1971) p.251; A.E. 1970;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);

Roman Roads near Concangis

SSW (15) to Binchester (Vinovia) Fort (Binchester, Durham) Wrekendike: N (8) to Pons Aelivs (Newcastle, Tyne & Wear) Wrekendike: NE (12) to Sovth Shields (South Shields, Tyne & Wear) Dere Street: S (6) to Old Dvrham

Sites near Chester-le-Street (Concangis) Roman Fort