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. Like Housesteads, Birrens, Crammond, Lyne and Chesters, it would cover at least 2.1 hectares, possibly 2.3 or more, and have dimensions somewhere in the region of 200m x 130m. As with most miliary forts it would have ten barracks blocks, not six (for a standard quingenary cohort). Its fortifications and inner buildings would be of stone, and would follow the plan of other forts of the same size.
Where is Praesidium located?
There have been a number of different candidates for the location of Praesidium. Newton Stewart, where the Roman road heading west on the north of the Solway Firth needed to cross the river Cree, possibly at Machermore ford NX413651 or a little downstream. Although unlikely York is a possibility if you link two lines in the Notitia: Praefectus legionis sextae and Praefectus equitum Dalmatiorum, Praesidio. Praesidio could be at one of the destinations of Roman roads on the Yorkshire coast, such as Bridlington, Filey, Whitby, or Scarborough. Another Newton Kyme near Tadcaster as it was large, occupied in the late Roman period, and close to a large henge.
Retracing the Evidence for the location of Praesidium / Praetorio
As mentioned above the name of the fort occurs in the Antonine Itinerary of the second century. It is also mentioned in the The Notitia Dignitatum as a base for a cohort of Dalmatian cavalry. Lastly the mysterious fort of Praesidium is mentioned in the seventh century The Ravenna Cosmography between two other unidentified entries, Camulosessa and Brigomono.
The First Antonine Itinerary (Iter 1), plots a course from Bremenium (High Rochester, north of the Wall) to Praetorio, a distance of 161,000 paces.
A limite id est a vallo Praetorio usque mpm clvi” (From the frontier, that is, from the entrenchments [ie. Hadrian’s Wall], all the way to Praetorio one-hundred and fifty-six thousand
The list of stopping points is as follows: Bremenium (High Rochester), Corstopitum (Corbridge), Vindomora (Ebchester), Vinovium(Binchester), Cataractoni (Catterick), Isurium (Aldborough), Eboracum (York), Derventione (Malton), Delgovicia (suspected posting station near Millington, East Yorkshire), Praetorio. Delgovicia is listed some 13 miles from Derventio (Malton) and 25 miles from Praetorio. Tracing this route on a map one finds that it is straight line travel to York, followed by a NE trip up to Malton, a southerly trip to Millington and then ..?. Praetorio or Praesidium is in the area somewhere.
The next stage of this investigation is to identify a suitable unnamed fort in the area. This task is not too difficult. Newton Kyme near Tadcaster has been identified by crop marks as a Roman fort of the period. It is unattributed and could be a candidate for Praesidium, but it lies west of York, which means that the Iter I would have to back-track through Eboracum to get there. Also, is Newton Kyne a suitable stopping place for a route? Would not York or Brough or somewhere on the coast make more sense? There are no other suitable forts in the East Riding. The fort at Brough-on-Humber was abandoned 125AD. The fort at Lease Rigg in North Yorkshire was abandoned 120AD. There are unattributed forts at Hayton and also Roall Manor Farm (discovered 1991) but both are under 1.5 hectares, suitable in size only for a quingenary cohort of 500 men). Praesidium was probably constructed for a milliary cohort (1,000 men), since our thousand-strong Legio Praesidiensis must have been accommodated there. Note that the fort at Newton Kyme is, at 4 hectares, easily big enough to hold the Praesidiensis.
But the Iter I route is moving eastwards, and the Roman roads head east, straight toward Bridlington and Flamborough Head. There are no Roman remains in the vicinityy, however, So why do two roads converge here? Ptolemy’s Geography (early second Seng) describes Bridlington Bay as “Gabranticorum Sinus, with many harbours”. None have been found, and it is thought that coastal erosion has destroyed all trace of these ports as well as a possible Theodosian signal station at Flamborough and a fort in the general vicinity of the harbour or beyond. Could this be Praesidium, now lost to the North Sea?
Classical references Praesidium?
The first mention of this Roman station of Praetorius 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 recorded names for Praetorius 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.
The Notitia Dignitatum Entry for Praesidium
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.