Hadrian's Wall - Fort - Chesters (Cilurnum)

Bath House, Hadrian's Wall Fort, Industry, Roman Bridges, Vicus and Water Mill

Cilurnum or Cilurvum was a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall at Chesters and marks the point where the Wall crossed the River North Tyne, the first major obstacle on its route from east to west. A succession of finely engineered timber bridges with stone piers spanned the river here, and the Wall itself was continued right down to the water’s edge.

The fort was evidently built after the Wall had here been completed; the foundations of the broad wall and its accompanying ditch have been found beneath the fort’s principal east-west street. As is usual for cavalry forts on the Wall, it was built astride the line of the barrier, with three of its major gateways opening out onto the north side.

The Origin of the Chesters (Cilurnum) Roman Fort

The name of the Chesters Roman fort is first mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum of the late-4th/early-5th century, wherein it is listed as Cilurnum, between the entries for Hunnum (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) and Procolitia (Carrawburgh, Northumberland). Another classical geographical source which contains reference to Chesters is the The Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century. In this document the entry Celunnum (R&C#147), again appears between familiarly-sounding entries for Halton Chesters (Hunnum / Onnum) and Carrawburgh.

Cilurnum – ‘The Cauldron Pool’

The Epigraphy of Chesters (Cilurnum) Roman Fort

There are 42 stones bearing Latin texts recorded in the R.I.B. for Chesters, comprising 12 altars and votive stones, 9 dateable building inscriptions ranging from 122 to 223AD, 10 legionary centurial stones including one of Legio VI Victrix (RIB 1471), 4 tombstones and testamentary stones including those of a trooper of Ala II Asturum (RIB 1480) and a tribune of Cohors I Vangionum (RIB 1482), also 17 other fragmentary or undefined texts. Many of these inscriptions are shown in the appropriate sections below.

The Dateable Building Inscriptions

RIB # (clickable) : 1496c
Date: 122-138AD?
Description: to the Discipline of emperor Hadrian by Ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata
RIB # (clickable) : 1460 1461
Date: 139AD
Description: two to emperor Antoninus Pius by Legio VI Victrix Pia Fidelis
RIB # (clickable) : 1463 1464
Date: 176-184AD
Description: two under governor Ulpius Marcellus recording the building of an aqueduct by Ala II Asturum
RIB # (clickable) : 1462
Date: 205-208AD
Description: to emperor Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta by Ala II Asturum under governor Alfenus Senecio
RIB # (clickable) : 1465
Date: 30 October 221AD
Description: to emperor Elagabalus by Ala II Asturum Antoniniana
RIB # (clickable) : 1466
Date: 221-222AD
Description: to the ‘Lucky Emperors’ by Ala II Asturum Antoniniana
RIB # (clickable) : 1467
Date: 222-223AD
Description: under governor Claudius Xenephon by a Prefect of Horse

Some Minor Inscriptions

Among the seventeen undefined or fragmentary inscriptions there are a number of interesting stones, for instance; LAPIS IVLIVS “The stone of Julius” (RIB 1489) may have been a grave marker or evidence of a strange form of kleptomania, while the stone inscribed simply MILES or “The Soldiers” (RIB 1490), may have served some sort of votive function; the purpose of the stone inscribed NEILO (RIB 1491) remains uncertain but may be attributed to a Prefect called Nilus (see Rib1465 and Rib1467), alternately neillo was a form of inlaid decoration used before the development of enamels; also the stone inscribed with the letters …D E F G H I K (RIB 1492) may have been used as a teaching aid.

The Garrison Units of the Chesters Fort

RIB 1482 - Funerary inscription for Fabia Honorata

Sacred to the spirits of the departed (and) to Fabia Honorata: Fabius Honoratus, tribune of the First Cohort of Vangiones, and Aurelia Eglectiane made this for their most sweet daughter.


The Cohort of Vangiones was stationed at Risingham in the third century, see RIB 1235.

RIB 1461 - Dedication to Antoninus Pius

For the Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, father of his country, in his second consulship, the detachment of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis (built this).

[...   ...]DR A[...  ...]O P P [...]
[...]G VI V[...]

2.  ii cos: A.D. 139. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): The numeral before cos is conjectural and, given the possible variations of spacing and ligature, it cannot be ascertained. [ii] cos is difficult since Hadrian’s Wall seems to have been abandoned then in favour of the advance into Scotland, and Mann suggests (PSAS cxviii (1988), 132) that RIB 1460 and 1461 belong to rebuilding in c. A.D. 158 (cf. RIB 1389), which would entail restoring [iiii] cos in RIB 1460. This would make 3 rather cramped in comparison with 1 and 2.

Ala Secundae Asturum – The Second Wing of Astures

RIB 1463 - Building inscription of the ala II Asturum

Water brought for the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians under Ulpius Marcellus, emperor’s propraetorian legate.


XX.  2. alae: for this use of the dative see Wright, Arch. Ael. 4th Ser. 22 (1944) 86 n. 12. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): A.D. 180/84 in the sole reign of Commodus, see note to RIB 1329.

From the late-second century it would seem that the fort was garrisoned for the remainder of its functional lifetime by the same unit; Ala II Asturum, a five-hundred strong cavalry force drafted from among the Astures tribe of north-eastern Spain. Its sister-unit, the First Asturian Cavalry Wing, was stationed at Condercum (Benwell, Tyne & Wear), along the Wall to the east. Aside from the dateable building inscriptions discussed below, there is, in addition, a testamentary stone marking the last earthly remains of a trooper from the unit (vide infra).

RIB 1480 - Funerary inscription for Aventinus

To the spirits of the departed (and) to Aventinus, curator of the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians, of 15 years’ service his heir Aelius Gemellus, decurion, had this set up.


Huebner, following Mommsen, thinks curator means acting-commander of the regiment (cf. CIL iii 6025, ILS 2615, Syene) Birley suggests curator turmae (troop-curator) or summus curator alae, an administrative post junior to decurion (see Pap. Hamb. 39 in Meyer, Griechische Papyrusurkunden …; Lesquier L’armée romaine d’Égypte, 152).

RIB 1462 - Inscription

For the Emperor-Caesars Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Augustus and for Publius Septimius Geta, most noble Caesar, the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians [built this] under the charge of Alfenus Senecio, of consular rank, and Oclatinius Adventus, procurator, under the direction of [..

[...   ] SEPT
[...   ... ]O PIO
[...] P SEP [...]AE
[...  ...]RANTE
ALF[...]S ET
OC[...  ...   ]ROC
INS[... 6]

Watkin erroneously ascribed (b) to Vindolanda, Budge erroneously ascribed (c) to Housesteads, and Birley (JRS) recognized (c) as part of the same inscription. Severus’ rule with Caracalla as Augustus and Geta as nob. Caes. dates to A.D. 198-209. Senecio was governor of Britain from 205 to about 208 (Birley in Askew Coinage 81; JRS li (1961) 192 no. 4). 2.  Pertin]ace: this ablative seems to be a mistake for the dative case indicated by Getae in l. 4 R.P.W. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Compare RIB 1234.

RIB 1465 - Dedication to Elagabalus

The Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus, most honourable priest of the Invincible Sun-god Elagabalus, pontifex maximus, in his fourth year of tribunician power, thrice consul, father of his country, son of the deified Antoninus, grandson of the deified Severus, and Marcus Aurelius Alexander, most noble Caesar, partner of empire and priesthood, for the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians styled Antoniniana restored [this building] fallen in through age, through the agency of Marius


No commentary.

RIB 1466 - Imperial dedication of the ala II Asturum

While the Emperors are safe, fortunate is the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians, styled Antoniniana.
The Valour of the Emperors.

For the use of felix as a predicate of the unit see RIB 1337.The two emperors, of whom one is here deleted, are Elagabalus and Severus Alexander, A.D. 221-2.

RIB 1467 - Inscription

… through the agency of Claudius Xenephon, propraetorian legate, under the direction of Septimius Nilus, prefect of cavalry.

PER CL [...]
LEG PR [...]
SEP NIL[  ...]

Claudius Xenophon was governor of Lower Britain in A.D. 223.

RIB 1470 - Inscription

… under the charge of Aelius Longinus, prefect of cavalry.

[...] CV

No commentary.

Praefectus alae secundae Asturum, Cilurno
“The Prefect of the second wing of Astures at Cilurnum
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.38; 4th/5th C.)?

The Gods of Cilurnum

RIB 1452 - Dedication to Jupiter Optimus Maximus of Doliche

To Jupiter, Best and Greatest, of Doliche, for the welfare of our Emperors, Galerius Verecundus [..

I O [...] DOL
GAL VER[...  ...]

The two emperors may be Elagabalus and Severus Alexander F.H., R.G.C.

Various Altarstone to Particular Goddesses

Togo-Translation: “To the Good Goddess who rules in heaven […]”
RIB: 1448
Togo-Translation: “To the goddess Fortuna the Preserver, Venenus the German freely and deservedly [dedicates this].”
RIB: 1449
Description: DEA RAT V S L
Togo-Translation: “To the goddess Rat?, a vow freely fulfilled.”
RIB: 1454

RIB 1453 - Dedication to the Mother Goddesses

To the Mother Goddesses everywhere abiding, for the welfare of the decuria of Aurelius Severus ..

[...  ]VR SEVERI

1.  For the Matres Communes see RIB 1541. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): Abandon RIB’s translation of decuria as ‘squadron’: the ala did not have a sub-division equivalent to the modern ‘squadron’. Note that it is conjectural. E. Birley, loc. cit., suggested that Severus was the decurion commanding a turma (‘troop’), but admitted that he knew of no other inscription in which decuria was used in this sense.

Altarstones to the Germanic Warrior-God Vheterus

RIB 1455 - Altar dedicated to Vitiris

To the holy god Vitiris, Tertulus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.


No commentary.

RIB 1456 - Altar dedicated to the Veteres

To the gods the Veteres.


No commentary.

RIB 1457 - Altar dedicated to the Vitires

To the gods the Vitires.


No commentary.

RIB 1458 - Altar dedicated to Votris

… to the god Votris … fulfilled his vow.


The reading is clear, but the interpretation is obscure R.P.W.

RIB 1459 - Fragmentary dedication

… Marcus Aurelius Januarius, emeritus, for himself and all his family gladly, willingly, and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

[...] M AVR[...]

A emeritus was a time-expired soldier, equivalent to veteranus.

RIB 1486 - Inscription

No translation

C SENC [...]

The meaning is obscure. In l. 3 Haverfield suggests ne [cu]i lic[e]at. Watkin thinks cina might be part of officina, a word used by a quarry-gang in the Gelt quarries (RIB 1009).Huebner by mistake included this among Spanish inscriptions CIL ii 6327a.

The Civil Settlement

A road issued from the porta decumana (south gate) at the rear of the fort and led for a little under ¾ of a mile (just over 1km) south-south-west to the Stanegate. A small civil settlement or vicus is known to have existed to either side of this road, just outside the fort’s southern gateway, and in the area to the south of the bath-house where the North Tyne widely skirted the south-eastern defences of the fort. The settlement is thought to have been occupied from about the third century AD, and was probably started by the dependants and ‘hangers-on’ of the men forming the garrison of Cilurnum. The vicus at Chesters was observed from the air by Prof. J.K. St. Joseph in the late 1940’s:

South of the fort at Chesters (Hadrian’s Wall) photographs show remains of an extensive extramural settlement. The street that emerges from the south gate of the fort bends gradually westwards and is joined by side streets to left and right. These streets were lined with buildings, while other buildings occur at a little distance. They are mainly long rectangular structures, familiar from excavations in the civil settlement at Housesteads, and may be houses, shops, or sheds. Here and there appear more complicated structures, with ranges of rooms and corridors, recalling the town-houses of southern Britain. It is clear that at Chesters the extramural settlement was large and elaborate, and will some day well repay examination (St. Joseph, 1951).

Tombstones from Cilurnum

RIB 1481 - Funerary inscription for Marcus Aurelius Victor

To the spirits of the departed: Marcus Aurelius Victor lived 50 years.


No commentary.

RIB 1483 - Funerary inscription for Ursa, Julia, and Canio

To the spirits of the departed (and) to his sister Ursa, to his wife Julia, and to his son Canio, Lurio, a German, (set this up).


For this name see RIB 2063.

During excavations over the years at Chesters evidence has been uncovered of the dietary habits of the settlement’s inhabitants. The animal bones recovered include those of Ox, Sheep, Goat, Red Deer, Roe Deer and Boar; the latter animals very likely being hunted and killed for sport. Their diet also included a number of shellfish, such as Oysters, Mussels, Limpets and Cockles, all of which were likely transported here on a daily basis from settlements on the east coast along the River Tyne.

RIB 1471 - Building inscription of the Sixth Legion

The Sixth Legion Victrix (built this).


No commentary.

There are four large, double gateways; the porta praetoria to the north, the two portae principales at either end of the via principalis to east and west, and the porta decumana to the south. The first three of these large gates all open out onto the north side of the Wall, and were obviously to facilitate the rapid northward deployment of the fort’s garrison. A road issued from the southern gateway which linked the fort with the old Agricolan Stanegate. In addition to the four monumental gateways there are also two smaller, single gates at either end of the the via quintana behind the headquarters building, by which the Roman Military Way, built in the mid second century, passed from east to west through the retentura at the rear of the fort.

It is almost certain that the rampart walk was built fifteen feet above ground-level, in order to interface with the Wall itself, and it is probable that all of the towers and gateways were raised about ten feet above the level of the rampart walk. If one allows for a further five or six feet for a stone parapet, the total height of the gates and towers would have been in excess of thirty feet (nine metres).

RIB 1460 - Building dedication to Antoninus Pius

For the Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, father of his country, in his second consulship, the Sixth Legion Victrix (built this).

IMP T [...]
IO HAD [...]
INO AVG [...]
COS LEG [...]

Antoninus was cos. II and accepted the title pater patriae in A.D. 139.Clayton said that this came from the east gate. Haverfield, from information supplied by the workmen who excavated the stone, attributed it to the Headquarters Building (see above). Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): The numeral before cos is conjectural and, given the possible variations of spacing and ligature, it cannot be ascertained. [ii] cos is difficult since Hadrian’s Wall seems to have been abandoned then in favour of the advance into Scotland, and Mann suggests (PSAS cxviii (1988), 132) that RIB 1460 and 1461 belong to rebuilding in c. A.D. 158 (cf. RIB 1389), which would entail restoring [iiii] cos in RIB 1460. This would make 3 rather cramped in comparison with 1 and 2.

Centurial Stones from the Cilurnum Fort

“The […] Cohort, century of Flavius Civilis [made this].”
“[built by] the Fifth Cohort, century of Caecilius Proculus.”
“The century of Hortaesius Maximus [made this].”
(RIB 1474)
(RIB 1475 & 1476)
(RIB 1477)
  1. The text of RIB 1475 is missing the last I but is otherwise identical to 1476.

Cilurnum Today

Chesters Roman Fort and Museum
The site museum houses some superb exhibits, including Roman sculptures, inscriptions and altars, many of them collected from the entire length of the Wall in the nineteenth century by the philanthropist John Clayton. He was a wealthy land-owner from these parts, intensely intrested in the Roman remains in the region where he lived and the buildings now on display are due mostly to his work. The visible remains of the fort include all six gateways, the two interval-towers in the southern defences, a small section of the fort wall to the immediate south of the northern interval tower, the principia or headquarters building, the praetorium or commanding officer’s residence with its own central heating system and private bath-suite, plus the major part of two barrack-blocks and a stable. The most impressive building remains are those of the principia or headquarters building in the middle of the fort, where the visible features give a vivid impression of how this magnificent building once must have looked, with little need to stretch the imagination. The individual excavated areas are fenced off, to protect the remains from the intrusions of farm animals (mostly sheep), and cause some little inconvenience to the visitor, as egress is restricted to the gateways provided.

The Legionary Bath House

The Roman bath house at Chesters was built for the use of the soldiers stationed at the fort on the western bank of the River North Tyne, close to where the Roman bridge spanned the water course. The building has been completely excavated and the function of all of its rooms are recorded. As with all Roman bath-houses used over a period of time, various modifications and repairs had been made and the exact route the bathers took through the variously heated rooms of the building remains somewhat obscure.

  • The baths were certainly entered through a small porch at the north end of the baths, approached through an opening on its western side from the Roman Military Way which passed closely by as it left the North Tyne Bridge and angled towards the porta quintana sinistra of the fort.
  • Upon passing through the entrance porch, the visitor entered a large entrance hall and dressing room, or apodyterium, the roof of which was probably supported by a number of timber beams. Low down on the interior west wall of the changing room are seven arched niches, whose exact function remains unknown. It is possible that these small alcoves contained statuettes or other icons of a religious nature, or perhaps they were used to retain the belongings of visitors to the establishment during their ablutions.
  • An opening in the north corner of the east wall of the changing room led through a small lobby to the latrines, at the eastern end of the entrance hall. The lavatrina was built at the lowest point of the bath complex, where the waste water from the bathing area was used to constantly flush the latrines, which could comfortably accommodate a dozen or so men at a time.
  • An opening in the south wall of the changing room near its western end led to a small hallway from which several doorways led off to the variously heated rooms of the bath-house. It is possible that this hallway also served as an unguentarium where the bathers would be smothered in olive-oil – the Roman equivalent of soap – by a slave, prior to entering the heated section of the baths.
  • To the south of the small hallway was a small, square tepidarium or ‘warm room’, heated by a channelled hypocaust beneath the floor, beyond which was a rectangular caldarium or ‘hot room’. This room housed at its far end a large boiler which heated water for the hot bath or calvaeus, which was built into an apsidal bay on the western side of the hot room. The boilers and under-floor heating system was fired from a stoke-hole at the southern end of the caldarium.
  • The doorway to the west of the small hallway led via a sweating chamber or sudatorium through to a hot-dry room or laconicum. This room was heated from beneath by a hypocaust system consisting of of tile pillars, which was fired through a stoke-hole in the northern wall. The heat in this room would have been so intense that no wood could have been used in its construction, and indeed, the entrance portal is flanked by a massive stone doorway. The patrons were probably issued with sandals at the door, to avoid scorching the soles of their feet, and it is probable that sudatorium and laconicum both contained moveable wooden benches, upon which the clients would sit and sweat. This part of the bath suite seems to be a later addition, and was probably not part of the original plan.
  • At the east end of the small hallway was the cold room or frigidarium, where there was originally a cold plunge bath or pluteus at its eastern end, which was later replaced by a sluice bath built into the north wall. This room was used by the bathers both to wash off the majority of the day’s grime prior to entering the baths heated section, and also by those intrepid bathers, who, after sweating it out for a while in the hot rooms of the baths, would return to be immersed or sluiced with cold water to close the pores.
  • A second tepidarium and caldarium lies to the south of the cold room, heated by a channelled hypocaust which was fired through a stoke-hole in the south wall. It is probable that these rooms, including the frigidarium and pluteus formed the core of the original bath house.

The remains of the Bath House

Chesters Roman Fort and Museum – Bath House
The Roman bath house at Chesters has been hailed certainly as the most impressive on the Wall, and is one of the best preserved examples in the whole of the Roman empire. The entrance fee to the Roman bath house is included in the price of entry to the Chesters Roman Fort and Museum.

The North Tyne Bridge

The Roman bridge at Cilurnum was the first on Hadrian’s Wall – travelling from east to west – and spanned over one-hundred and ninety feet across the River North Tyne, less than a quarter of a mile to the east of the Chesters cavalry fort. Examination of the remains have revealed that the Romans built two consecutive bridges here.

A small hexagonal Hadrianic abutment has been identified on the east bank, incorporated within the massive masonry of the later bridge, and measures some ten feet wide by nineteen feet long, with cutwaters both up and downstream. This surviving eastern abutment was probably mirrored by a similar construction on the west bank. A single seven-foot square pier also belonging to the original bridge has been found embedded within the massive central pier of the later bridge. It is clear from the small size of the identified remains that in its original form, the bridge was intended to carry the Wall rampart-walk only.

The single identified Hadrianic pier is located almost exactly central in the river, suggesting that the river was bridged in just two spans, but a double-spanned footbridge would have needed timbers in excess of one hundred feet in length, and, even if the required lengths of timber were readily available the bridge would have been quite unstable. We must assume that the original timber footbridge was supported on at least three piers, with only the central pier surviving until modern times.

In its second incarnation, probably during the Severan period, the bridge was rebuilt to take the Roman Military Way across the North Tyne as well as the Wall rampart-walk. Three large masonry piers with upstream cutwaters were built on the river bed to carry the large timbers of the new road bridge, and massive stone abutments supported the ends of the bridge on either bank.

In its time, the Roman bridge over the River North Tyne at Cilurnum was probably considered an astounding feat of engineering, and would have created much the same impression on the Roman traveller as the huge, curving spans of the suspension bridges over the Severn, Forth and Humber estuaries have over his modern counterpart today.

The Bridge Remains

Cilurnum Bridge Abutment and Mill Race
The remains of the monumental eastern abutment of the later bridge can nowadays be visited, lying some fifty feet from the water’s edge, where the easternmost pier still lies buried within the bank of the river. Many of the larger stones on the site have cramp-holes by which they were lifted and positioned, and on the southern water-face there is a stone-inscribed phallus, a good-luck symbol to ward off the evil eye. At periods of low-water during dry summers, the footings of the western abutment and the two remaining stone piers become visible. Access to the site is by foot only, via the cutting of the disused Border Counties Railway line, over a mile by road from the Chesters Roman Museum, due to the lack of a modern footbridge. The guidebook by Les Turnbull, published in 1974, says that there were plans to build a modern footbridge across the North Tyne here for twenty years before the time his guidebooks were written. Now, another quarter of a century on, there is still no footbridge! Somebody is either being very tight-fisted, or else highly obstructive.

References for Cilvrnvm

  • Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) p.55;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • The Roman Military Diet by R.W. Davies, in Britannia ii (1971) pp.122-142;
  • Hadrian’s Wall History Trails Guidebook IV by Les Turnbull (Newcastle, 1974), pp.3-23;
  • Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
  • Hadrian’s Wall in the Days of the Romans by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham (Newcastle, 1984) pp.98-113;
  • Hadrian’s Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Outdoor Leisure Map #43 – Hadrians Wall, Haltwhistle & Hexham by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1997);

Roman Roads near Cilvrnvm

Wall: W (3.5) to Brocolitia Wall: E (6) to Onnvm (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) Stanegate: W (10) to Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland) Stanegate: E (6.75) to Corstopitvm (Corbridge, Northumberland) Hadrian’s Wall: WNW (2.25) to Limestone Corner Stanegate: W (2.75) to Newbrovgh (Northumberland) Wall: E (5) to Portgate

Sites near Hadrian's Wall - Fort - Chesters (Cilurnum)