Habitancum (Risingham) Fort
Fort and Minor Settlement
Habitancum is the fort at Risingham lies in open farmland just south of the River Rede immediately west of the A68, which here departs from the line of Dere Street, the Roman road crossing the river valley just west of the fort. The only visible stone remains lie at the north-eastern corner angle, but the outlines of many buildings are easily discernable beneath a mantle of turf in the fort’s interior, as are the ditches of the defensive circuit on all sides. During a visit to the site in 2004 a piece of Roman pottery was recovered from a mole-hill in the praetentura of the fort, a ‘black coarse-ware’ rim sherd (see below), as yet undated.
The only classical reference to the Risingham fort is an obscure and tentative entry in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#184) of the seventh century, Eburo caslum, which is listed between the entries for Trimontium (Newstead, Borders) and Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland). We are fortunate, however, that in the considerable amount of epigraphic evidence collected from the Risingham site – fifty-six inscriptions on stone alone – the actual name of the station occurs on two separate stone inscriptions; an undated altar to Mogons (vide RIB 1225 infra), and a dedicatory inscription dateable to the early-third century (vide infra).
The etymology of the Latin name for the Risingham fort given in Place-Names of Roman Britain is rather obscure, but seems to consist of three parts: Habit from the Roman surname Habitus, -anc meaning unclear, but possibly indicating familial or group ownership (along the same lines as the common Anglo-Saxon place-name component -ingas, ‘people’), -ium a common Latin place-name suffix denoting ownership. The name may be rendered as ‘belonging to the people of Habitus’ and possibly indicates that the fort was built on land which had originally been cleared for occupation by a man called Habitus (Rivet & Smith, pp.371-2).
RIB1235 - Building inscription with dedication to Caracalla and Julia Domna
[...] SARMATI[...  ...]INI PII PRO[...   ]ADRIANI A[...  ...  ...]I PARTICHI ET [...  ...]
[  ... ] ANTON[...]ICO MAXIM[  ...  ...] TRIB POTESTA[...]
[...]RIE PROCONSVLI PRO [...  ...]OTIONE COM[...   ]T IV[...  ...  ...]TRI AVGVST[  ...]
[...]M SENATVS HAC PATRIE PRO [...]ETATE HAC D[...]ONE [...&
The Habitancum Fort
The fort measures about 443 feet from north-west to south-east, by about 384 feet transversely (135 x 117 metres) and covers an area of almost 4 acres (c. 1.6 ha).
Despite the large number of inscriptions uncovered at Risingham only four of the texts on stone have been firmly dated, all of which were commissioned in the first two decades of the third century; a building inscription dated 205-8AD (RIB 1234; not shown); a dedicatory inscription to the Ancestral Spirits dated 209AD (vide infra) and two altars of the Imperial cult dated between 211-217AD (RIB 1236 et 1237; both not shown).
RIB1239 - Building inscription of the Sixth Legion
P F F
RIB1241 - Building inscription of the First Cohort of Vangiones
IVL PAVLLO TRIB
RIB1227 - Altar dedicated to the Divinities of the Emperors
[...] COH IIII GAL
RIB1215 - Altar dedicated to Hercules
L AEMIL SALVIANVS
TR[...]B COH I VANGI
V S L M
The unit is recorded on two undated stones from Hadrian’s Wall; at Condercum (Benwell, Tyne & Wear; RIB 1328) on an altar to the god Antenociticus under the command of the prefect Cassianus, and on the undated tombstone of Fabia Honorata, daughter of the tribune Fabius Honoratus from Cilurnum (Chesters, Northumberland; RIB 1482).
RIB1243 - Fragmentary building inscription
[...]R COH [...]
[...] SOL RE[...]
This irregular unit is attested on three stone texts, one of them dated to 209AD (vide RIB 1235 supra), which confirms their presence at the Habitancum fort during the campaigns of the emperor Septimius Severus into Scotland. Other units of exploratores are known, from inscriptions at the neighbouring fort of Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumberland; RIB 1262; 238-44AD). The Notitia Dignitatum also names two other numeri exploratori at Lavatris (Bowes, Durham) and Portus Ardaoni (Portchester, Hampshire).
RIB1240 - Building inscription
This unit is recorded at Risingham only on this single damaged inscription. Also attested on other lone inscriptions at Segedunum (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear; RIB 1303) and Brocolitia (Carrawburgh, Northumberland; RIB 1538) along Hadrian’s Wall, and also at Vindolanda (Chesterholm, Northumberland; RIB 1683) on the Stanegate.
RIB1217 - Altar dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus
[...]XI[...] G R
Q C A
TR[...]B COH I V
Many altars to the gods have been recovered from the fort and its immediate neighbourhood; five to Jupiter Optimus Maximus including two dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, three to Fortuna and another three to Hercules including one to ‘Hercules the Unconquered’ (vide RIB 1215 supra), two to Victorious Mars with a third one possible, two to Moguns, and single altars to Diana, Cocidius, the Gods of the Locale, the Overseas Mother Goddesses, and the Spirit of the Emperor.
Altars to Various Deities
- Mogons was a Germanic mountain god. The suffix beginning Cad- is peculiar to Risingham in Britain, where it appears on one other altar (RIB 1226; not shown).
- Treasurer of the consular governor.
RIB1228 - Altar dedicated to the Nymphs
TA EST NYM
RIB1209 - Altar dedicated to Diana
V S [...] L M
The existence of a settlement outside the fort is confirmed by the discovery of several civilian tombstones, along with the usual crop of military ones which one might expect to find outside any permanent Roman military establishment.
RIB1251 - Funerary inscription for Aurelia Quartilla
LA VIX AN
NIS XIII M I V
D XXII AVR
Other Nearby Sites
Two Marching Camps and Milestone at Four Laws
There are two superimposed marching camps at Swine Hill, Four Laws, only 2½miles (4km) south-south-east of the Habitancum fort along Dere Street, lying about 60 yards west of the road (national grid reference NY90458253). The earlier and larger of the two camps measures some 168m east-west by 174m north-south and covers an area of about 6 acres (2.4ha), with three gates, each protected by internal clavicula defenses, positioned centrally in the east side and off-set towards the east on the north and south sides, no gateway being apparent on the west; the camp evidently faced Dere Street to the east.
The second camp is positioned within the north-eastern corner of the first, re-using the defences of its predecessor in its own defensive perimeter on the north and east, though with a very much weaker rampart and ditch. This camp has only two gates, both of which are positioned in the eastern rampart and protected by internal titulum defensive works. The dimensions of this camp are about 60 x 60 metres, an area of only 0.6 acres (0.3ha).
A Roman milestone was discovered along Dere Street a little to the south of the marching camps at Waterfalls (NY9181), but no more details are available.
RIB2293 - Milestone of Galerius
[   ]EḶ [...]
Marching Camp at West Woodburn
Less than a mile north of the Risingham fort is a substantial marching camp in farmland at West Woodburn in Redesdale (NY89578742). This has only its eastern and northern sides recorded, together with the north-eastern corner-angle, and parts of the south-eastern and north-western angles. The south-western half of the camp has been ploughed out but from the recorded remains an area of 27 acres (11ha) seems quite possible, enough to house half a legion or about three thousand men. The camp appears to be almost square in outline with the two known gateways positioned in the centres of the north and east defences, both protected by external tituli.
References for Habitancvm
- Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
- Place Names of Roman Britain by A.L.F. Rivet & Colin Smith (Batsford, London, 1979);
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain – Vol.1 – Inscriptions on Stone by R.G. Collingwood & R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Roman Roads near Habitancvm
NNW (7) to Blakehope (Northumberland) Dere Street: NNW (10) to Bremenivm (High Rochester, Northumberland) Dere Street: NNW (4) to Dargves Dere Street: SSE (13) to Onnvm (Halton Chesters, Northumberland) Dere Street: SSE (13) to Portgate Dere Street: SSE (15) to Corstopitvm (Corbridge, Northumberland)