Leighton Vexillation Fort

Vexillation Fort

A Roman vexillation fortress has been identified from crop marks on aerial photographs near a conspicuous bend in the River Severn near Eaton Constantine in Shrophire. The fortress lies in open farmland on a low south-eastward projecting spur between Ranslet House and Eye Farm. It was defended by a triple-ditch system measuring about 920 x 1,050 feet (c.280 x 320m) within the defences, which enclosed an area of just under 22¼ acres (c.9ha). This substantial defensive system proves that this was no ordinary marching encampment and its size is sufficient to house a substantial force of around 2,500 Roman legionaries and auxiliary soldiers. The fortress was probably occupied by a contingent of Legio XIV Gemina together with a couple of auxiliary cavalry units.

The fortress seems to be aligned to the west-south-west, and it seems likely, therefore, that the camp was sited here to serve two main purposes, both tactical and strategic; firstly, the camp is in a superb tactical position to launch an attack upon the Wrekin close by to the north-east, and was seemingly purposefully sited so as not to be visible from the hillfort on the summit, being obscured by an outcropping to the south-west, secondly, the fortress was strategically located to act as a springboard for operations in the south-west across the Severn into Central Wales, where the British warlord Caratacus was stirring-up unrest amongst the local Ordovices tribe.

It is almost certain that the Leighton fortress housed a task force directed against the citadel of the Cornovii, and was constructed for that purpose by governor Ostorius Scapula sometime 47AD. Tenure was perhaps only temporary, with occupation of the site lasting for only a single campaign season, though it may equally have remained in use for a number of campaign seasons, perhaps only being abandoned when the new fortress was built nearby at Viroconium c.58AD. The presence of the auxiliary fort guarding the Severn crossing at Wroxeter, which very likely antedates the Eaton Constantine site, leds credence to the theory that the fortress here was abandoned after only a short period. This is conjecture, however, and cannot be proven (or disproven) until the site is examined in more detail.

References for Eaton Constantine – Leighton

  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1969-72 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lxiii (1973) pp.234/5;
  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1973-76 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lxvii (1977) p.145 & fig.12;
  • The Cornovii by Graham Webster (Sutton 1991; map, fig.11 p.28); 

Map References for Eaton Constantine – Leighton

NGRef: SJ5905 OSMap: LR126/127

OS National Grid Reference: SJ598055
Dimensions: c.1,050 x 920 ft (c.320 x 280 m)
Area: c.22¼ acres (c.9 ha)

Roman Roads near Eaton Constantine – Leighton

None identified

Sites near Leighton Vexillation Fort