Cowbridge (Bomium?)

Minor Settlement

An early Roman settlement – possibly a 1st century fort – lies beneath modern Cowbridge. The town of Cowbridge lies on the line of the Roman road between Cardiff and Neath. Pottery evidence suggests a date around AD 80, and a bathhouse has been excavated.

The town of Cowbridge stands atop at a 1st century Roman settlement. The origins of the Roman presence here are shrouded in mystery. The settlement may be the site recorded as Bovium (or Bomio), though that site has also been identified with the Roman fort at Cardiff.

The settlement was slowly abandoned after the legions departed. Finds of 1st century funerary monuments also suggest the 1st century military site. Pottery shards show that there was activity here by around AD 80. Whatever the nature of the site, a settlement grew up along a later road, with stone and timber buildings lining the route. Evidence of iron working on a large scale also suggests a military presence.

The Roman site was occupied into the 4th century, but there are almost no remains visible above ground today. There are large ditches behind the Midland Bank and more ditches near the local authority depot.

Later occupation in the area appears to be mainly industrial as extensive evidence of iron smelting and smithing has been recognised.

Military Units in Cowbridge

The Roman settlement was first unearthed in 1977 when excavations on Coopers Lane, opposite Old Hall, found evidence of shops and houses. More excavations behind Bear Lane discovered evidence of a large military presence. Finds of bricks stamped with an imprint of Legio Secundae Augusta – The Second Augustan Legion suggests a sizeable military site. The bricks were found in the remains of a 2nd century bathhouse, or thermae. The bathhouse was abandoned by the early 2nd century. It seems likely that the Second Augustan Legion was based at Cowbridge until it was posted north to defend Hadrian’s Wall.

Roman Milestones in Glamorgan

A number of Roman milestones have been found on the coastal road between Neath and Cardiff. One lies to the immediate south-west of the Nidum fort at Melincryddan (SS7496), and others have been unearthed further along the same stretch of road at Aberafon (SS7588), Port Talbot (SS7887), Margam (SS8184) and Pyle (SS8282). In the texts below, the full names and titles of the emperors have been added in translation, displayed within [square brackets] for clarification.

RIB 2251 - Milestone of Victorinus

For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Piavonius Victorinus Augustus.

IMP [...]

In l. 2 mc is a mason’s error for C(aesari) M(arco) Henzen.Victorinus, A.D. 268-70.

RIB 2253 - Milestone of Licinius

For the Emperor Caesar, our Lord, Valerius Licinius Pius Felix Augustus.

[...] NO V
[...] LIC
[...] P F A

Left face of RIB 2252. For other details see RIB 2252, 2256.Valerius Licinianus Licinius, A.D. 308-24. See also RIB 2231, Tintagel.

RIB 2254 - Milestone of Maximinus Daia

For the Emperor Caesar Flavius Valerius Maximinus Invictus Augustus.

IM[   ]
FLA [...]

On the back there is an early Christian epitaph: hic iacit cantvsvspaterpa͡vlinvsMaximinus Daia, A.D. 309-13.

RIB 2255 - Milestone of Postumus

For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus Augustus.


Postumus, A.D. 258-68; see also RIB 2232, 2260.

RIB 2256 - Milestone of Diocletian and Maximian

For the Emperor-Caesars Diocletian and [Maximian], Invicti Augusti.


Back of RIB 2252. For other details see RIB 2252, 2253.Diocletian and Maximian, A.D. 286-305.

The emperor Postumus was the founder of the short-lived, breakaway ‘Gallic Empire’ which controlled much of the western half of the Roman world during the third quarter of the third century. While governor of Lower Germany for the emperor Gallienus (sole rule AD260 – 268), he defeated a large raiding force of Alemanni and was afterwards proclaimed emperor by his troops in Autumn AD260. He then went on to defeat other raiding parties of Frankish tribesmen throughout the western provinces and by the end of 261 was master of all of Gaul (Gallia Lugdunensis, Narbonensis & Aquitania), the two Germanies (Superior & Inferior), Belgium, Spain and Britain. When he refused to march on Rome in February 269 he was murdered at his capital Augusta Treverorum (Trier, West Germany) by one of his own generals, Cornelius Laelianus, who succeed him as emperor of the Gallic Empire, which was to exist as a separate state for almost 15 years before being absorbed back into the Roman Empire proper during the early reign of Aurelian.
The emperor Diocletian. He was commander of the Household Cavalry of emperor Carus during the Persian expedition of AD283 which came to an unexpected halt upon the untimely death of the emperor – killed by a ‘lightning bolt’ it was said – whereupon Carus’ sons succeeded to the Empire. Carinus the the elder son won a victory over the Quadi in 283 and campaigned in Britain in 284, while in the east the younger son Numerian continued with the Persian campaign of his father, capturing Ctesiphon in late 283. During the winter of 283/4 Numerian was almost blinded by an eye infection and confined to a litter in which he was to travel back to Rome and in which he was murdered by the praetorian commander Lucius Flavius Aper outside Nicomedia in November 284. Aper was tried by a military tribunal and publicly executed, whereupon the Roman army in the East declared their general Diocletian emperor. The following year Diocletian defeated Carinus at the Battle of the River Margus (now the Morava near Belgrade), and was to rule for 20 years before abdicating in favour of Galerius in May 305. He starved himself to death in relative obscurity sometime in December 311.
The emperor Maximian, who was appointed Caesar by Diocletian in 285 and became joint Augustus in April the following year. Diocletian then ruled over the eastern half of the empire from his palace at Spalato (Split, Croatia) while Maximian ruled in the West. He had Britain wrested from his control by the usurper Carausius in late 286 and tried – unsuccessfully – to recover the island in 289. On the request of Diocletian he adopted Flavius Valerius Constantius in March 293 with the title of Caesar at the same time as Diocletian adopted Galerius in the East. Caesar Constantius defeated Carausius and captured Gesoriacum (Boulogne, France) in summer 293, forcing the pretender to retreat across the Channel where he was killed by his advisor Allectus. Britain was finally recovered by Constantius during the campaign season of 297. Maximian abdicated together with Diocletian in May 305, and was succeeded in the West by Constantius. He committed suicide at Massilia (Marseilles, France) in July 310.

All of these milestones show that there was a considerable amount of road-building or resurfacing work going on in Britain during the latter half of the third century and the early part of the fourth.

References for

  • 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);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Sites near Cowbridge (Bomium?)