Ilkley (Verbeia) Roman Fort

Flavian Auxiliary Fort (AD 69–96) and Vicus

The site of a Roman fort at Ilkley – excavation indicated that the first fort was timber-built in circa 80 AD, abandoned in circa 100 AD, and reoccupied in circa 169 AD. It was then burnt again in circa 196-7 AD, rebuilt in stone in circa 198 AD, and reorganised and rebuilt in circa 300 AD. Finds from outside the fort show that the vicus lay chiefly to the south and extended for at least 1/2 mile east-west.

RIB 636 - Inscription

For the welfare of the Emperor-Caesars, our August Ones, Antoninus and Verus, beloved by Jupiter, Caecilius Lucanus, prefect of the cohort, (set this up).


No commentary.

RIB 637 - Inscription

The Emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus and Antoninus Caesar destined (to be Emperor) restored this under the charge of Virius Lupus, their propraetorian governor.

IM[...] SEVERVS [   ]

For the date February or June 197 to 2 May 198 see Atkinson, JRS 12 (1922) 69.For the abbreviation p(ivs) with pertinax see RIB 757 (Brough-under-Stainmore). In l. 4 imp seems to have been omitted by a mason’s error, cf. ILS 5025.For Virius Lupus see RIB 730 (Bowes).

The Garrison Units

RIB 638 - Funerary inscription for Pudens

To the spirits of the departed (and) of Pudens, tesserarius, soldier of the Second Legion Augusta.

TESSER [...]
LEG II A[...]

It is strange that the praenomen and nomen of a legionary should not be mentioned. For tesserarius see Glossary.

The tombstone of a tesserarius from Legio II Augusta raises a question about the early garrison of the Ilkley fort. This legion was stationed for most of the Roman period in the legionary fortress at Isca Silvrvm (Caerleon, Gwent), and were not used in the north of Britain until the time of Hadrian, when they were put to work on the Wall and its hinterland forts. It is unlikely that a mere tesserarius would be seconded to an auxiliary regiment, and even if he was, the fact should have been recorded on his epitaph. The finding of this tombstone then, implies that a cohort of the Second Augustan legion was stationed here at some time.

RIB 635 - Altar dedicated to Verbeia

Sacred to Verbeia: Clodius Fronto, prefect of the Second Cohort of Lingonians (set this up).


A modern replica, W W. 0.4572 × H H. 1.4732 m m, reading in l. 6 p lingon, was made in 1608 by Sir William Midleton, as recorded by the Latin text cut on the right side of the replica, which also stands in the garden at Middleton Lodge.Verbeia: goddess of the River Wharfe.

Equitum Catafractariorum

Praefectus equitum catafractariorum, Morbio

“The Prefect of the Cataphract Troopers at Morbium

(The Notitia Dignitatum xl.21; 4th/5th C.)

A cataphract was a heavily armoured horse, ridden by auxiliary soldiers who were also armoured, akin to the knights valiant of the middle-ages. Originally developed by the Parthians in the Middle-East, they were only adopted into the Roman army at relatively late stage, perhaps first being used by the emperor Hadrian following his predecessor Trajan’s eastern campaigns. There are several such units listed in the Notitia, though this is the sole example in Britain.

Unfortunately, the Morbium = Verbeia equation is based on phonetics only, and therefore very tentative.

The Roman Gods of Ilkley

RIB 634 - Fragmentary dedication

… willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

[..]IOVI [..]
V [.] S L M

No commentary.

The Civilian Settlement of Verbeia

RIB 639 - Fragmentary funerary inscription

To the spirits of the departed: Ved[.]ic[..], daughter of …, aged 30, a tribeswoman of the Cornovii, lies here.


Cornovia: from the Cornovii, who were based on Wroxeter (Haverfield, VCH Salop. 1 (1908) 215 n. 1).

The only epigraphic evidence of civilian occupation, which is also one of the most interesting inscriptions from Roman Ilkley is the tombstone of Vedica (RIB 639 supra), a thirty year-old woman of the Cornovii. The capital city of this tribe was named Viroconium Cornoviorum, possibly after a nobleman of the Cornovii who organised the last stand against the Romans on the Wrekin hillfort (which may also be named after him); the name of this iron-age noble being Viroco or perhaps Virico. It is an intriguing possibility that the thirty year old Vedica may have been the daughter of warlord Viroco of the Cornovii, who was killed during Ostorius Scapula’s push west in early 47AD. There is a picture of this stone in The Cornovii by Graham Webster (p.20, fig.10).

Classical References to Verbeia

Ilkley town used to be associated with the Olicana entry of Ptolemy’s Geography, but since the discovery of the Verbeia altarstone this view has changed, and the name is now equated with Olenacvm (Elslack, near Skipton, North Yorkshire). For the text of the Verbeia altarstone (vide RIB 635 infra).

The Ilkley altarstone is the only reference to this deity known (in Britain or elsewhere), therefore, it is more than likely that she was a local goddess – I am assuming that the deity was female based purely on the feminine ending of the name Verbeia. She may have been a goddess associated with the River Wharfe but this is not proven, and is not backed up by similar altars from other Roman stations further downstream at Adel, Newton Kyme or Tadcaster.

On the strength of the Verbeia altarstone, Ilkley has been tentatively identified with the Morbio entry from the Notitia Dignitatum (etiam vide infra). This document gives the disposition of the Roman army as it was in the 4th/5th centuries, listing the civil and military posts, and the location of every military command throughout the whole of the Roman Empire. The entry in question appears under the command of the Duke of the Britains, and is listed between Danvm (Doncaster, South Yorkshire) and Arbeia (South Shields, Tyne & Wear).

The etymology of the modern place-name offers no help in identifying the Romano-British name for Ilkley:

Ilkley W.Yorks. Hillicleg c.972, Illiclei 1086 ( DB ). Possibly ‘woodland clearing of a man called *Yllica or *Illica’. OE Pers. name + leah.” (Mills)

This same publication also gives the origins of the name of the River Wharfe, which apparently stems from an original river-name (Welsh/Gaelic) meaning ‘the winding one’; perhaps related to Old Scandinavian hvarf or hverfi ‘a bend or corner’.

References for Verbeia

  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998); 

Roman Roads near Verbeia

ESE (11) to Adel (West Yorkshire) W (13) to Elslack (Elslack, Skipton, North Yorkshire) NE (23) to Isvrivm (Aldborough, North Yorkshire) SSW (37) to Mamvcivm (Manchester, Greater Manchester)

Sites near Ilkley (Verbeia) Roman Fort