Viroconivm Cornoviorum (Wroxeter) Legionary Fort

Legionary Fort

Roman legionary fortress at Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) was built on a strategic crossing-point on the River Severn. Though the site of the Roman town had long been known through the presence of upstanding ruins, the major excavations reported here have shown how the town plan was dominated by the underlying fortress. This fortress had been established by Legio XIV c. AD 60 and had then been partially rebuilt c. AD 66 when the legion was replaced by Legio XX. The fortress was downgraded in the late 70s to become a depot for stores before final abandonment c. AD 90. The excavations produced extensive evidence for the laying out and construction of the legionary earth and timber defences and of an area within the fortress to the north of the via praetorian where mess halls, barrack blocks and a storehouse were found, as well as considerable quantities of coins, metalwork, pottery and glass.

The Civitas Cornoviorum grew up on the site of the fort and the line of the east wall of the fort was used for the town fortifications.

The Roman Military at Wroxeter

There are a number of Roman forts and camps in the immediate area of Viroconium:

  1. A large vexillation fortress lay five kilometres to the south-east at Eaton Constantine, Leighton (SJ5905), which was probably built to house a task force directed against the Cornovian citadel on the Wrekin.
  2. About a kilometre to the south of Wroxeter Village (SJ5607) was a smaller Auxiliary Fort that housed a cohors equitata of Thracians. It was probably the first permanent fort to built in the area in c.50AD. Its purpose was strategic and twofold; the infantry element of this specialised auxiliary unit would be housed in a defensible fort guarding an important crossing of the Sabrina Fluvius (River Severn), whilst its cavalry wing would be busily employed patrolling the supply road to the east and the road over the river to the south.
  3. A Legionary Fortress was established just north of the present village of Wroxeter in c.58AD. The cohorts of Legio XIV Gemina had been dispersed during earlier campaigns into several smaller units ranging in size from a single cohort of around five hundred men to a vexillatio comprised of several cohorts. These had previously been housed in winter quarters throughout the Midlands; they were now gathered from their various postings, with the bulk of the legion moving along Watling Street from their previous campaign base at Manduessedum (Mancetter). The later city of Viroconium Cornoviorum was built on the site of the fortress once the legion had departed north to the new legionary base at Deva (Chester) in c.77AD.

The area also bristles with Roman marching camps; three near the vexillation fortress at Leighton (SJ5905), one nearby at Cound (SJ5605), two at Norton (SJ5609), one more at Attingham Park (SJ5509) and yet another a little to the north-west at Uffington (SJ5213).

RIB296 - Funerary inscription for Valerius

… Valerius …, son of …, of the Galerian voting-tribe, from Lugdunum, a soldier of the Fourteenth Legion.

[...]LERI
[...] F GAL
[...] MILES
[...]I

CIL vii 157 states wrongly that it was in Shrewsbury Museum.Lugdunum [Lyons] was enrolled in Galeria.

The Fourteenth Legion were probably the original builders of the Wroxeter fortress. They are recorded on three inscriptions, all tombstones.

RIB292 - Funerary inscription for Titus Flaminius

Titus Flaminius, son of Titus, of the Pollian voting-tribe, from Faventia, aged 45, of 22 years’ service, a soldier of the Fourteenth Legion Gemina I did my service, and now am here. Read this and be either more or less fortunate in your lifetime. The gods prohibit you from the wine-grape and water, when you enter Tartarus. Live honourably while your star grants you time for life.

[   ]LAMINIVS T POL FA[...]
[...]NORVM XXXXV STIP XXII MIL LEG
[...]II GEM MILITAVI AQ NVNC HIC S[...]
[...] LEGITE ET FELICES VITA PLVS MIN[...] [...]
[...]I VVA VINI ET AQVA PROHIBENT VI
TA[...]TAR ADITIS VIVITE DVM S[...]
VITAE DAT TEMPVS HONESTE

No commentary. Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): For the iconography cf. ILS 2341 (photograph in Speidel, BJ 176 (1976), 137 Pl. 6); for the abbreviation cf. CIL viii 2782, etc. This is the second eagle-bearer recorded from Britain; cf. Tab. Vindol.II 214.

RIB294 - Funerary inscription for Marcus Petronius

Marcus Petronius, son of Lucius, of the Menenian voting-tribe, from Vicetia, aged 38, a soldier of the Fourteenth Legion Gemina, served 18 years, was a standard-bearer and lies buried here.

M PETRONIVS
L F MEN
VIC ANN
XXXVIII
MIL LEG
XIIII GEM
MILITAVIT
ANN XVIII
SIGN FVIT
H S E

3. vic Vicetia (now Vicenza) belonged to the Menenian tribe. The expansion vic(sit) is less probable.Leg. XIIII Gemina received the additional titles Martia Victrix in A.D. 61. Though the single title GEM occurs on some inscriptions even after this date, it is more likely that this inscription is earlier than A.D. 61. The absence of cognomen for Petronius suggests a date very soon after a.d. 50. See Bushe-Fox, Excavations at Wroxeter, Shropshire, in 1912 (1913), 20. Despite Webster (Birm. AST lxxiii (1955) 107) there seems to be no reason to think that leg. XIIII was not stationed at Wroxeter.

RIB293 - Funerary inscription for Gaius Mannius Secundus

Gaius Mannius Secundus, son of Gaius, of the Pollian tribe, from Pollentia, a soldier of the Twentieth Legion, aged 52, of 31 years’ service, beneficiarius to the legionary legate, lies here.

G MANNIVS
G F POL SECV
NDVS POLLENT
MIL LEG XX
ANORV LII
STIP XXXI
BEN LEG PR
H S E

3. Pollentia, in Liguria, reg. ix.7. Webster (Birm. AST lxxiii (1955) 107) shows that this inscription does not prove that leg. XX was actually stationed at Wroxeter.A beneficiarius was a soldier, usually a legionary, seconded for special duties by favour (beneficium) of a specific senior officer; in particular the beneficiarius consularis, an officer on the governor’s staff, who might be out-posted.

Legio XIV were recalled by emperor Nero in 68AD to help suppress the revolt of Julius Vindex in Germany, and were replaced at Viroconium by Legio XX Valeria Victrix who were moved up from Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter, Devon). The Twentieth Legion are recorded at Wroxeter only on a single tombstone (RIB 293 supra).

RIB291 - Funerary inscription for Tiberius Claudius Tirintius

Tiberius Claudius Tirintius, trooper of the … Cohort of Thracians, aged 57, of … years’ service, lies here.

TIB CLAVD TIRI
NTIVS EQ COH [..]
THRACVM AN[...]
ORVM LVII STI[...]
ENDIOR XX[...] H S [...]

No commentary.

Cohors Primae Thracum were believed to have been stationed in the auxiliary fort guarding the River Severn crossing, just to the south of Viroconium at Wroxeter Village. This fort was made redundant by the building of the nearby legionary fortress, and was probably demolished around 58AD, shortly after the Fourteenth Legion took residence.