Praesidium? (Bridlington)

Minor Settlement and Possible Roman Fort

Bridlington was the probably site of a Roman Port and station, however coastal erosion would have destroyed any evidence of the Roman harbour installation. There were at least four villas in the Gypsey Race area, leading to a possible harbour in Bridlington Bay. The remains of a paved road between Bridlington and Sewerby may have led to a signal tower at Flamborough. This road running thorough the Gypsy Race area could have led to the harbour and Praesidium itself.

Praesidium/Praetorio was most likely a Flavian construction, of standard playing card shape, built to hold a military cohort (double cohort) of 1,000 men.

Classical references to Praetorius

The first mention of this Roman station on the north-east coast of Britain occurs in the Antonine Itinerary of the second century. This work gives us a good idea where the station was located, but unfortunately, nothing has been forthcoming from the area of Bridlington in support of the documentary evidence. The First Itinerary is entitled “from the frontier at the entrenchments all the way to Praetorius, one-hundred and sixty-one thousand paces”, and describes the route from Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland) north of Hadrian’s Wall, to a place somewhere on the northern coast of North Yorkshire.

According to Iter I, the Praetorius station is twenty-five miles from Delgovicia, although it has been argued (by Margary for instance) that the distance listed is in error and should be fifteen miles. If this is the case, then this unidentified station is possibly located somewhere near Wetwang in North Yorkshire, which is thirteen miles from the station named Derventio which has been associated with the fort and settlement at Malton, also in North Yorkshire. The southern terminus of Iter I is probably to be found somewhere in the area of Bridlington, but unfortunately, no concrete evidence has been recovered to support this premise.

The Notitia Dignitatum Entry for Praesidium (Bridlington)

Praefectus equitum Dalmatarum, Praesidio
“The prefect of the Dalmatian Horsemen at Praesidium.” (Notitia Dignitatum xl.19; 4th/5th C.)

Another classical reference which mentions this station is the seventh century Notitia Dignitatum, the entry is shown above, which also names the late-fourth century garrison. In this instance the name is listed as Praesidium. There is a similarly-named entry in the seventh century Ravenna Cosmology, wherein is listed Presidium (R&C#173), between the unidentified entries Camulosessa and Brigomono.

The recorded names for Bridlington are all of a military nature:

  • Praetorius – praetor’s, praetorian; of a propraetor; of the emperor’s bodyguard.
  • Praesidium/Presidium – defence, protection; support, assistance; guard, garrison, convoy; defended position, entrenchment.

Ptolemy’s Description of the Area

“description of the eastern and the southern side [of Britain] next to which is the Oceanus Germanicus
Dunum Sinus 20*15 57? Tees bay, Cleveland
Gabrantuicorum Sinus with many harbors 21*00 57? Bridlington Bay, Humberside?
Ocelus Promunturium 21*15 56? Spurn Head, Humberside?
ostium Abi Flumen 21*00 56? River Humber, Humberside
Above extract from Ptolemy’s Geography of the early-second century

It is interesting to note that although Bridlington Bay was endowed “with many harbours” in the second century, there are no known physical remains anywhere along the current coastline of north-east Humberside. The most likely explanation for this lack of supporting evidence is probably due to a gradual westward shift in the coastline since Roman times, which would mean that these second-century harbours may now lie miles out to sea. The Roman signal-station at Scarborough north of Flamborough Head is particularly interesting because it shows these same forces at work, whereby the eastern side of this defensive enclosure has been lost to the eroding effects of the North Sea (Oceanus Germanicus), and the structure now stands precariously on the edge of sea-cliffs.

There are a number of Roman signal stations strung out along the North Yorkshire coast at Filey (TA1281), Scarborough (TA0589), Ravenscar (NZ9801) and Goldsborough (NZ8315), also further along the coast at Huntcliff (NZ6821) in Cleveland. Aside from the signal stations to the north of Bridlington and the “many [missing] harbours” to the south, there are two Romano-British villas about seven miles west along the road to Delgovicia, at Rudston (TA0866) almost a mile north of the road, and at Harpham (TA0863) about ½ mile south.

References for Praesidium – The Defensive Enclosure

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