Newton On Trent Roman Fort

Vexillation Fort

It has been speculated that the river embankment itself formed the western defences of this vexillation fortress, as only the north, south and eastern sides of the double-ditched enclosure can be discerned on aerial photographs. It is more likely however, that the defences were originally of normal composition, the western side of which has succumbed to the erosion processes of the river and is therefore no longer visible. The observable defences measure 1,000 feet from north to south by at least 840 feet from east to west (c.305 x 256 m). If the gateways observed in the north and south defences were placed centrally, the east-west dimension would have been around 1,040 feet, giving an area for the fort of 23¾ acres (c.9.7 ha). However, the area enclosed by the original defences could have been in excess of 30 acres (c.12 ha), depending on how much of the west side of the fortress has been worn away by the river Trent over the years.

There is a polygonal outwork surrounding the fortress, which consists of a series of narrow linear ditches, mostly singular, but with a 100m stretch of double-ditch outwork running almost parallel with the central eastern rampart and about 100m from it. It has been suggested that this ditch system represents the original defences of the work-force assigned to the fortress’ construction, though it could equally be a later development to improve the defences of the fortress itself.

The Site at Newton on Trent

Located at the north-western end of a short elevated ridge running from SSE to NNW between the villages of Newton-on-Trent and North Clifton in Lincolnshire, the site of the Roman vexillation fortress at Newton-on-Trent overlooks a pronounced bend in the River Trent from the east, and affords fine views in all directions. The fortress lies 9½ miles (15km) due west of the later Roman Colonia at Lindum (Lincoln), and 9½ miles (15km) due north of the major Roman settlement of CROCOCALANA (Brough) on the Fosse Way, further upstream along the river.

There are no known Roman roads in the immediate area. The nearest road is that running north-west between Lindum and Eburacum (York), which passed through the settlement of SEGELOCVM (Littleborough) about five miles (8km) to the north, on the opposite side of the river from the auxiliary fort at Marton, which guarded the river-crossing. At the time that the fortress was built, however, the only Roman road in existence would have been the Fosse Way, marked by the course of the modern A46(T) running between Newark-on-Trent and Lincoln, which passes by just under seven miles (11km) to the south-east.

A Romano-British pottery kiln has been unearthed at Little London (SK8377) near Torksey Lock, halfway between Marton and the Newton-on-Trent fortress along the modern A1133 primary road.

Garrison Fortress on the Brigantian Border

The fortress evidently faced west, looking over the River Trent – which here flows from south to north – across the lowlands of Nottinghamshire, to the rough peaks of East Derbyshire beyond. These were probably counted among the tribal lands of the southern Brigantes, that prolific race occupying the entire highland part of northern England, who were ruled at the beginning of the Romano-British era by Queen Cartimandua, along with her Consort Venutius.

A Potted Early History of the Brigantes

Cartimandua was made a Client of Rome c.48AD, following the general uprising of the British tribes in the early governorship of Publius Ostorius Scapula. The fortress at Newton-on-Trent was probably established by a vexillation of Legio IX Hispana at this time, while the other half of the legion was garrisoned in a similar fortress at Water Newton in Cambridgeshire, on the borders of the other Roman Client State, the Iceni of Norfolk.

While the rest of the Roman army was engaged in the occupation of southern lowland Britain and against the war-like tribes of Wales, successive governors of the province were content to leave the Brigantian queen to manage her own affairs in the north, especially since she had proven her loyalty by the capture and subsequent handing-over of the British war leader Caratacus in 51AD. The betrayal of Caratacus was to cause considerable dissention within the Brigantian State, however, and during the following governorship of Aulus Didius Gallus, Cartimandua divorced herself from the prince-consort Venutius, in favour of her own armour-bearer Vellocatus, probably a much younger man. Venutius was to respond by inciting insurrection within his native tribal lands in the north-east of England, and a civil war broke out within the Brigantes which threatened the Roman province had not Cartimandua managed to capture the brother and other relations of her estranged husband. For the next few years the Brigantes were held in stalemate, with Venutius continuing in control of the northern part of the tribe and Cartimandua holding sway in the south.

Throughout this period, the bulk of the garisson were kept on station at the Newton-on-Trent fortress, with some legionary cohorts og the Ninth probably engaged from time to time constructing roads and Auxiliary forts in the area east of the Trent and south of the Humber, in particular the nearby fort at Marton.

During the governorship of Marcus Vettius Bolanus c.69AD, the situation in the north of Britain was dramatically changed. Venutius, the estranged prince-consort and a distinguished warrior, much enraged over his belittlement by his pro-Roman ex-wife, had been gathering together a large anti-Roman force from amongst the northern tribes and, conscious of the upheaval in Rome at that time, attempted an armed take-over of the Brigantian State. He was swiftly successful, and his forces threatened the life of the old Queen who had to be rescued by a Roman force sent by the governor to her support. It is quite possible that the Roman forces which were sent to her aid originated from the fortress at Newton-on-Trent.

Bolanus was basically a diplomat, sent from the court of Vitellius to appease the soldiers and natives of Britain during the troubled time following the suicide of Nero (68AD). The new emperor Vespasian, who had himself seen action in Britain during the 43AD conquest, immediately saw that a more forceful governor was needed in the province, the man chosen for the task was Quintus Petillius Cerialis, recently victorious in Germany against the renegade Civilis. One of the first actions of the new governor was to push forward with the vexilio of the Ninth Legion stationed at Newton-on-Trent, to establish a new vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge in South Yorkshire as a prelude to his operations contra Brigantes. This was probably the end of the Roman occupation of the Newton-on-Trent fortress.

Map References for Newton On Trent

OS National Grid Reference: SK824737
Dimensions: c.1,040 x 1,000 ft (c.317 x 305 m)
Area: c.23¾ acres (c.9.7 ha)

References for Newton On Trent

  • Air Reconnaissance in Britain, 1961-1964 by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. lv (1965) pp.74-6 & fig.2;

Roman Roads near Newton On Trent

None identified

Sites near Newton On Trent Roman Fort