Devana (Aberdeen)

Possible Roman Fort

The postulated fort at Devana was occupied perhaps for only a single campaign season in 84AD when the militaristic Roman governor Agricola was earning his reputation against the combined Caledonian tribes. The only other Roman campaigns which were to reach this far north were those conducted by the emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta during the years 208AD through 212, but the latter must be discounted as a foundation date because the town was mentioned by Ptolemy in the middle of the previous century. It is feasible, however, that during the Severan campaigns an auxiliary unit may well have re-used an old Agricolan site.

Classical References to Devana (Aberdeen)

Aberdeen is located, as its modern name implies,¹ at the mouth of the River Dee, in the Grampian region of Scotland. Its strategic location at the mouth of a major river valley extending into the heart of the highland massif and blessed with excellent natural mooring facilities would have made it an ideal military site for Roman campaigns into the far north of Scotland. Although no evidence of any kind of Roman encampment has ever been recorded here, it is possible that one nonetheless existed at one time or another.

  1. From Welsh or Germanic aber ‘river-mouth’ or harbour, and a contraction of the original river name Devana.

We have two classical references naming Aberdeen; Geography of Ptolemy of the second century AD names Devana as the only polis ascribed to the Taexali tribe of the eastern Grampian coast; whereas the Ravenna Cosmology of the seventh century lists the name as Devoni (R&C#215) between the towns Litinomago and Memanturum, both unidentified.

Severan and Agricolan Marching Camps in Grampian

The nearest known Roman military site to the probable Romano-British settlement of Devana is the temporary marching camp at Normandykes, which lies eight miles to the west-south-west on the north bank of the River Dee. This camp is part of a chain of such fortifications which lie in an arc across the coastal foothills of the Grampian Mountains, from Balmakewan outside Montrose thirty miles to the south-west, to Bellie overlooking Spey Bay on the northern Grampian coast, over fifty miles away to the north-east. These camps, many of which are neatly spaced an easy day’s march apart, have been dated to the Agricolan Campaigns of the late-first century and the Severan campaigns of the early-third century.

Location NGRef. OSMap Size
Balmakewan NO6666 LR45 120 acres
Kair House NO7676 LR45 >92 acres
Raedykes NO8490 LR38/45 c.110 acres
NormanDykes NO8299 LR38/45 >106½ acres
Kintore NJ7816 LR38 c.110 acres
Durno NJ6927 LR38 c.144 acres
Glenmailen/Ythan Wells NJ6538 LR29 c.111 acres c.35 acres
Burnfield NJ5447 LR29 c.40 acres
Auchinhove NJ4852 LR28/29 c.34½ acres
Muiryfold NJ4561 LR28/29 c.109 acres
Bellie NJ3561 LR28 c.24¾ acres

References for Devana – The Town on the Dee

Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001).

Sites near Devana (Aberdeen)