Whitley (Epiacum) Roman Fort

Trajanic Auxiliary Fort (A.D. 98–117)

The Roman fort at Whitley Castle is located on the modern geographical boundary between the counties of Cumbria and Northumberland, close to the line of the Maiden Way on the western bank of the River South Tyne. The fort lies just west of the modern A689 road near Castle Nook, 2 miles north-west of Alston in the Gilderdale Forest. Evidence indicates that the earliest activity on the site may have been an Iron Age fortification and that there may have been an earlier Roman camp on the spur. The Roman fort had three occupation phases. Built in the early 2nd century, it appears to have been partly or wholly demolished and rebuilt soon after, before it was largely altered or rebuilt once more in around AD 300. The purpose of the fort appears not only to have been a base for troops but due to its position it enabled the Romans to exert control over the local area and in particular, over local lead production.

RIB 1204 - Building inscription of the Twentieth Legion

A detachment of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix rebuilt (this).


No commentary.

Located on a small hill, the fort is posessed of an unusual diamond-shaped plan, which is arranged so as to take maximum advantage of the local terrain. These natural defenses were augmented by a massive system of ditches, up to seven on the south-western side which was the weakest.

RIB 1203 - Dedication to Caracalla

… Most Great Conqueror of Britain, Most Great Conqueror of Germany, pontifex maximus, in his 19th year of tribunician power, four times consul, father of his country, proconsul [built this building] through the agency of the soldiers of the Second Cohort of Nervians ..

MAÍ¡X GE[...]
TIF MA͡X · TRIB P[...]
COS IIII · PÍ¡P P[...  4]
P[...] MILIT · CO[  ...]

10 Dec. 215-9 Dec. 216, if trib. pot. XVIIII is correct R.P.W.

Caracalla ruled jointly with his father Severus from 198AD until they were joined in equal imperium by his younger brother Geta in 209, then came a brief period of brotherly joint-rule after their father’s death in 211, until Geta was murdered the following year, thereafter Caracalla was to remain sole emperor until his own assassination in 217.

Caracalla was consul for the fourth time in 213, and his colleague, Decimus Caelius (Calvinus) Balbinus, was himself consul for the second time this year. If Caracalla was given tribunician power at the time when he was first proclaimed Caesar (heir to the throne) in 196, then the nineteenth year of his tribunicia potestas would have occurred in 215. If tribunician power was withheld until Caracalla was proclaimed joint Augustus in 198, which is thought to be the case, the date of this inscription could range from the year of his fourth consulship up until the year of his death.

The lacuna in the text where Caracalla’s name and titles should appear, is most likely ascribed to the condemnation of his memory by senatorial decree. This would have resulted in his name being deliberately erased from public monuments, altars and building inscriptions throughout the empire.

The Garrison Units

RIB 1199 - Dedication to Hercules

To the god Hercules Gaius Vitellius Atticianus, centurion of the Sixth Legion Victrix Pia Fidelis, (set this up).


No commentary.

RIB 1198 - Altar dedicated to Apollo

To the god Apollo Gaius … of the [Second] Cohort of Nervians ..

APO[...]N[...] G
[..] COH [...] NE[...]

For full discussion of the sculptured panels on the four sides of the capital see Wright, JRS 33 (1943) 36. On the front panel Apollo Citharoedus, nude except for his cloak pinned on the shoulders and hanging down his back, faces front and holds a plectrum in his right hand and steadies with his left his harp, which rests on the ground. On the left-hand panel the Sun-God, nude but for a cloak hanging from the shoulders, and wearing a radiate crown, faces front with right hand held at shoulder-height as if in blessing, and with left hand holding a whip placed over the left shoulder.On the back panel the central figure, draped, stands upon a projecting mass, perhaps a rock; in his right hand he holds against his shoulder an object resembling a sceptre. He is flanked by two torch-bearers, of which the right-hand figure has an upraised and the left-hand a lowered torch. Apollo here seems to be equated with Mithras and his torch-bearers. On the right-hand panel a bearded man, clad in a tunic and facing left, proffers a cup with his right hand and holds a jug at his left side. He seems to be about to make a libation to the standing figure placed opposite to him on a low platform. This figure, dressed in a tunic and with cloak thrown over the shoulders, carries a sceptre or staff in his right hand. This scene presumably shows the dedicator making a libation to Apollo, perhaps as Maponus.

This auxiliary regiment are attested on three stone inscriptions from Whitley Castle (vide RIB 1202 infra, ac RIB 1203 et 1198 supra), all dating to the period 213-217AD.

They unit was originally levied from the Nervii tribe of Belgica province, who inhabited the Hainaut region of south-eastern Belgium, extending southwards into the eastern Artois region of northern France; their cantonal capital was located at Bagacum (Bavai, France). The CR suffix usually appended to the unit name stands for civium Romanorum or ‘citizens of Rome’, this honour was not awarded lightly, and probably indicates that the regiment performed some outstanding act of bravery at some time in its history.

This unit have been identified on inscriptions unearthed at a number of other sites in Britain, all undated, some tentative: Rib 1240 Risingham, numeral lost; Rib 1303 Wallsend; Rib 1538 Carrawburgh; Rib 1683 Chesterholm; also identified on lead seals from Brough-under-Stainmore.

RIB 1205 - Fragmentary dedication-slab

… restored under … emperor’s propraetorian legate … consular governor of the province of Britain.

[...]CO LEG
[...  ]OS PR BR

The capacity in which the consularis prov. Brit. is mentioned remains obscure R.P.W.

The Roman Gods of Whitley Castle

RIB 1200 - Altar dedicated to Minerva and to Hercules Victor

To the goddess Minerva and to Hercules Victor.


No commentary.

RIB 1202 - Inscription

For the Emperor-Caesar, son of the deified Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus, conqueror of Arabia and Adiabene, Most Great Conqueror of Parthia, grandson of the deified Antoninus Pius, conqueror of Germany, conqueror of Sarmatia, great-grandson of Antoninus Pius, great-great-grandson of the deified Hadrian, great-great-great-grandson of the deified Trajan, conqueror of Parthia, and of the deified Nerva, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus, Most Great Conqueror of Parthia, Most Great

IMP CAES [...]V[...] L [...  ...  ...]
MAX FIL DIVI ANTON[...] PI[...] G[...]
FEL AVG [...]ART MA[  ...]T MA[...] PONT MA[...]

Dimensions given are of a modern replica by Bainbrigg. For Bainbrigg see Haverfield, Cumb. Westm. AAST 2nd Ser. 11 (1911) pl. facing p. 359. For similar dedications in A.D. 213 see RIB 905 (Old Carlisle), 928 (Old Penrith), 976 (Netherby), 1235 (Risingham), 1278 (High Rochester), 1705 (Vindolanda), 1741 (Great Chesters), 3284 (Newcastle Upon Tyne), and possibly 1018 (? Ambleside) and 1551 (Carrawburgh) and for the same governor in A.D. 214-16 RIB 977 (Netherby). 11, 12.  Gaius Julius Marcus, governor of Britannia Inferior A.D. 213. See Birley Arch. Ael. 4th Ser., RIB 2298. 13, 14.  coh(ors) II Nerviorum: the numeral given in Bainbrigg and Camden (Smith MS.) was emended by Camden to fit Not. Dign. Occ. xl 53 (cohors tertia Nerviorum Alione), in an attempt to identify Alione with Whitley Castle (see Haverfield, Cumb. Westm. AAST 2nd Ser. 11 (1911) 359). Addenda from RIB+add. (1995): 8.  R.P.W. hesitated whether to restore Germanici Maximi or Britannici Maximi. As Birley, Review, 230, points out, Caracalla became Britannicus Maximus first (cf. ILS 450), and Germanicus Maximus when imp iii in October(?) 213 (cf. ILS 451). Addenda from Britannia xxvii (1996): In RIB + add., the dative case should have been used in referring to Caracalla’s titles Germanico Maximo or Britannico Maximo.

Classical References to Epiacum

The only classical geographical source for the Roman name of Whitley Castle is Geography of Ptolemy, in which the entry Epiacum heads the list of towns in the tribal lands of the Brigantes of north-east England; below the Selgovae and Votadini tribes of Borders and Northumberland.

The name Epiacum is possibly a contraction of epi-acumen meaning ‘surrounding the point’, which could refer to the fort’s outstanding tactical position surrounding the summit of a small hill. The modern name means ‘the castle in the white clearing’.

References for Epiacvm

  • Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
  • Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);

Map References for Epiacvm

NGRef: NY6948 OSMap: LR86/87

Roman Roads near Epiacvm

Maiden Way: S (15) to Bravoniacvm (Kirkby Thore, Cumbria) ESE (34) to Dvrnovaria (Dorchester, Dorset) Fosse Way: ENE (23) to Ham Hill (Somerset) Fosse Way: WSW (18) to Isca Dvmnoniorvm (Exeter, Devon) Maiden Way: N (10) to Magnis Carvetiorvm (Carvoran, Northumberland) Probable Road: NE (22) to Corstopitvm (Corbridge, Northumberland)

Sites near Whitley (Epiacum) Roman Fort