Luguvalium (Carlisle) Fort

British Capital, Fort and Stanegate Fort

The site of the Roman fort at Carlisle lies partly buried beneath the superstructure of Carlisle Castle Keep. The south-eastern corner-angle and substantial attached lengths of the eastern and southern ramparts, fortunately, have survived intact but buried, in the area between the Castle and the A595 Castle Way Road. These accessible defenses have been subjected to rigorous investigation using the most up-to-date methodologies which has enabled modern archaeologists to piece together a detailed picture of the sequence of forts which were built upon the site, all apparently on the same alignment and of similar size. The actual dimensions of the fort cannot be verified without demolishing the Castle, but restrictions in the local topography would seem to indicate the Roman fort platform covered an area of around 8 acres (c. 3.2 ha).

It is now known for certain that the Roman site at Carlisle is pre-Agricolan, as dendrochronological dating of timbers used in the southern rampart of the fort proved that they were cut during the Autumn/Winter of AD 72-3. It now appears almost certain that this fort was built and occupied by a vexillation of Legio IX Hispana during the closing campaigns of Quintus Petilius Cerialis against the Brigantian dissident Venutius, ‘to make contact with the sea after an advance from York’ (Frere Britannia p.100). Three large temporary marching camps at Plumpton Head, Crackenthorpe and Rey Cross, have all been attributed to the campaigns of this governor and dated sometime around 72/73AD. In further support of this, tiles and pottery sherds bearing the stamp of the Ninth Legion have been discovered at Scalesceugh about 5 miles (8km) south of Carlisle, which makes it very likely that a vexillation from this legion was involved in some way with the Flavian presence at Carlisle. The legion was permanently withdrawn from Britain around 120AD.

Excavations conducted by Miss Dorothy Charlesworth in the 1950’s identified the site of a Flavian military enclosure just to the south of the present castle, the medieval structure itself being raised over the north-eastern quadrant of the Roman fortifications. The southern gateway of the fort has been excavated recently by the Carlisle Archaeological Unit, which revealed the timber structure of the gatehouse and its adjoining rampart, the timbers being in a remarkable state of preservation. The fort was defended by a timber rampart and covered about eight acres (3ha). It was obviously located here to guard the strategic crossing over the River Eden. Coinage evidence suggest that the fort underwent some sort of re-occupation c.78-79AD during the Agricolan period, and dendrochronology again suggests that the internal buildings were rebuilt and their timbers replaced during the Autumn/Winter of AD 83-84; this fort was purposefully demolished around 103AD. It had long been thought that the fourth campaign of governor Agricola towards the Tay very likely used Carlisle as the rearward base of the Twentieth Legion during their operations in the south-west of Scotland, but it is certain that this fort remained an important rearward base during the subsequent withdrawal from the Highlands in the 90AD’s.

Another timber fort having the same dimensions and general layout was built on the same site sometime around 103-5AD, which retained a garrison until well-into the Hadrianic period. The size of the garrison was only gradually reduced, until the site was finally levelled and abandoned during the Antonine period. A passage from one of the Vindolanda writing tablets records that a centurio regionarius, a title associated with the Trajanic Stanegate, was stationed at Luguvalium in 103AD. Even without archaeological evidence, this epigraphy proves that the Stanegate extended at least to Carlisle, which probably represented the western terminus of the original Trajanic frontier system.

The Carlisle site was obviously eclipsed in importance during the Hadrianic period by the establishment of the large auxiliary cavalry fort at Stanwix which was built astride Hadrian’s Wall only ½-mile to the north-east. To the east of Carlisle for many miles the Wall was built in a narrow guage (i.e. 7’6″) upon a broad foundation (10′ wide), while to the west the narrow wall was continued upon a narrow foundation (around 8′ broad).

An inscription found at Carlisle dated to the reign of Commodus (176-192AD) refers to the ‘rout of a huge multitude of barbarians’ (RIB946), and several dedicatory inscriptions dated to the third century record legionary activity at Carlisle. Another fort, this time of stone, was built on the same site c.200AD by soldiers from the Twentieth Legion, which was finally abandoned sometime between 275-325AD. It seems likely then, that the Carlisle fort retained a legionary cohort until the fourth century, possibly in a logistic capacity, the fort becoming more of a quartermasters complex such as at Corbridge, which marked the eastern end of the Stanegate frontier. There is no entry for Luguvalium in the Notitia Dignitatum, and interestingly enough, there is no mention of Corbridge either.

The Garrison Units of Luguvalium

RIB957 - Fragmentary dedication by prefect of Ala Augusta Petriana

... from Luca, prefect of the Cavalry Regiment Augusta Petriana, decorated with a torque, one thousand strong, Roman citizens, gave it as a gift or gave and dedicated it.
[...] LVCA [...]
No commentary.

RIB946 - Dedication to Hercules

To the virtues of the Roman Hercules, Unconquered, the Founder, for the welfare of the dedicator and his fellow-soldiers, after the slaughter of a band of barbarians by the Cavalry Regiment styled Augusta for valour, Publius Sextanius ..., the prefect, from Xanten, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.
DEI HERC[...  ...]
VICTI CON[...  ...]
TIBVS PRO S[...  ...]
P SEXTANIV[  5...   ...]
TAT TRAIA[...    ]
For the significance of the Hercules cult and for the date see Rostovtseff loc. cit. The text dates to A.D. 180-92, but before the close of 192 when Commodus identified himself with Hercules. 4.  For the phrase caesa manu see RIB 1142. 7.  As the serif on the ligatured ni, though clear, is not long enough to indicate t, the nomen is Sextaniu[s], and not Sextantius. Schulze and Dessau cite no example; for Sextinius see CIL vi 26519. 7, 8.  civitas Traianensium: Xanten, 80 km. north of Cologne. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): The identification with Commodus, and so the date, remains unproven. The inscription is also discussed by Birley, Deities, 27-8. Addenda from Britannia xxx (1999): RIB 946 + add. has been re-examined. The identification of Commodus with Hercules and the restoration of ll. 1-3 are extensively discussed by R.S.O.T. in Brit. 30 (1999) 384-6.

RIB949 - Dedication to Mars Ocelus and to the Divinity of the Emperor Alexander Augustus, and to Julia Mamaea

To the god Mars Ocelus and to the Divinity of the Emperor Alexander Augustus, and to Julia Mamaea, mother of the army and senate and country, and to the whole Divine House ..
[...] DOMVI
For Mars Ocelus see RIB 309, 310.
“To the god Mars Belatucader.”
“For Victorious Mars.”
(RIB 948; altarstone)
(RIB 950)

The most attested deity of Roman Carlisle is the war god Mars who has three dedications, all shared with other deities, to Mars Belatucader (948, altarstone), Mars Ocelus (949) and to Mars Victorius (950). There are two dedications to the Genii or ‘Guardian Spirits’ (944, figurine; 945, altarstone) and another two altarstones to unknown deities (947; 954).

“For the Guardian Spirit of the Century, the centurion Bassilis Crescens donated this votive offering.”
“For the Guardian Spirit of this place.”
(RIB 944; figurine of Genius)
(RIB 945; altarstone)
“A hired mercenary from the barbaric regions, Januarius Ri[…] a poor area¹ […] willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”
“[…] he has consecrated both the altarstone and the small-temple, (and) dedicated this votive offering.”
(RIB 947; altarstone)
(RIB 954; altarstone)
  1. Never mind this section, the whole text is a bit dodgy!

In addition, single stones have been found dedicated to the companion-god Cautis (943; pedestal), the demi-god/hero Hercules (946, niche, dated: 180-192AD?), the ‘Mother Goddesses’ (951, base), the god of commerce Mercury (952, relief of Mercury), the Parcae or the ‘Fates’ (953, altarstone), the goddess Concordia by two Roman legions (964a, base), and another altarstone dedicated to ‘all of the Gods and Goddesses’ (964b, dated: 213-222AD).

“To the god Cautis, Julius Archietus has given this votive offering.”
943; pedestal
“To the Mother (goddesses) of the Ancestors, for the well-being of the holy twins.”
951; base
“For the god Mercury […]”
952; relief
“To the Fates, for a promising household, Natalis, a father, willingly and deservedly fulfills his vow.”
953; altar

The Builders of the Carlisle Forts

Legio Nonae Hispana – The Ninth ‘Hispanic’ Legion

“[Property of] the Ninth Legion.”
(Burn 33; Stamped Tile from Carlisle)

The Roman Forts at Carlisle

OS National Grid Reference: NY 3967 5614
Dimensions: unknown
Area: c. 8 acres (c. 3.2 ha)
Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
Though few Roman remains can nowadays be seen in situ, many of the archaeological finds recovered from Carlisle and many of the sites along the Wall are on display at the Tullie House Museum in the centre of the Mediaeval walled town, part of Carlisle’s Public Library and Art Gallery. Exhibits include displays on the day-to-day life in Roman Britain, including tools, ornaments, footware, glass and pottery.

Classical References to Luguvalium

The name of the town appears twice in the late-second century list of imperial road-routes the Antonine Itinerary. The first appearance occurs in Iter II the longest of the British itinera, entitled “the route from the ‘Entrenchments’ to the seaport of Rutupiae“, which details the road stations between Hadrian’s Wall (the ‘entrenchments’) to Portus Rutupiae (Richborough in Kent). In this particular route the Roman name of Carlisle is recorded as Luguvallo, 12 miles from Castra exploratorum (Netherby, Cumbria) and 14 miles from Voreda (Old Penrith, Cumbria). The town is also the northern terminus of the Fifth Itinery, “the route from Londinium to Luguvalium on the Wall, four-hundred and forty-three thousand paces”, this time named Luguvalio and listed 22 miles from Brocavum (Brougham, Cumbria).

The town also appears in the Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century as Lagubalumi (R&C#129), between the entries for Voreda (Old Penrith, Cumbria) and Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland).

The Roman name for Carlisle then, was Luguvalio, which had been changed by 1106 to Carleol, from which we derive the modern ‘Carlisle’. This is clearly a contraction of the earlier name prefixed by the Welsh word Caer or Cair, meaning ‘fort, fortress’. The word luguvalio is unlikely to be Latin, and would appear to be of British origin, possibly the second element is in some sense derived from “wall” or “Valium” and relates to the Roman wall.

We do not know exactly who Luguvalos was or how the Romano-British town came to be named after him, all we do know is that he was a iron-age noble, probably a high-ranking member of the Carvetii tribe who inhabited the countryside hereabouts.

References for Lvgvvalivm (carvetiorvm)

  • Hadrian’s Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
  • The Carvetii by Nicholas Higham and Barri Jones (Sutton, London, 1985);
  • Hadrian’s Wall in the Days of the Romans by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham (Newcastle, 1984) pp.311-316;
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
  • The Romans in Britain An anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Oxford 1932);

Roman Roads near Lvgvvalivm (carvetiorvm)

Stanegate: W (6) to Aballava (Burgh by Sands, Cumbria) SSE (6) to Barrockside Roman Military Way: W (2.5) to Grinsdale Probable Road: NW (14) to Kirkpatrick Stanegate: N (0.5) to Uxelodvnvm (Stanwix, Cumbria) WSW (10) to Old Carlisle (Old Carlisle, Cumbria) Iter II: SSE (5) to Wreay (Cummersdale, Cumbria) Stanegate: ENE (8) to Old Chvrch (Cumbria)