Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) Roman Fort and City

British Civita, Neronian Auxiliary Fort (AD 54–68) and Roman Bridges

The Auxiliary Fort of Wroxeter (Viroconium) was sited on level ground high above the eastern bank of the Sabrina fluvius (river Severn), some 2,000 ft. south of the southern corner of the Roman city defences. There is a slope towards the river in the western part of the fort, and outside the western defences the slope increases. To the east the ground rises gently, and the view in that direction is limited to about half a mile. The dimensions of the fort are about 515 ft. east-west by 470 ft. north-south (157 x 143 m), enclosing just over 5½ acres (2.25 ha); allowing for a rampart of normal size, the area available for occupation would be around 4¾ acres (1.9 ha). The defences consisted of two V-shaped ditches, to the north both about 14 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. deep. Excavations here revealed a 12 in. layer of silt in the bottom of the ditches, above which was a 2 ft. layer of earth and stones, and then a layer with charcoal and occupation-earth, containing 2nd century pottery, both Samian and coarse wares. No trace of a rampart were discovered either from excavation or aerial photography. To the south, each of the two ditches were 10 ft. wide and 6 ft. deep, The silt-filling yielding fragments of Samian, including pre-Flavian and Flavian bowls and a south Gaulish cup, whilst the filling above contained a flat-rimmed Flavian mortarium. Within the enclosure, excavations revealed a stone-walled pit and a gutter lined with wood running parallel to the line of the defences (JRS 1953 p.84; Webster pp.71/2 & A.P. pl.V).

All these facts indicate that the fort was of the timber-built variety, and was probably the first permanent structure to be built by the Romans in this area, as a base of operations for expeditions beyond the river. The fort probably continued to be garrisoned until the scene of military campaigning had moved further north. The regular plan, the two ditches and the structures traced in the interior, establish this enclosure as a permanent Roman fort, the purpose of which is clear from it’s position. There are excellent views of the river to the north and south, and the site was no doubt chosen to command the river crossing to the north, and to watch over the country beyond the Sabrina. It reasonable to assume that the auxiliary fort at Wroxeter was immediately preceded by the campaign fortress at Eaton Constantine, Leighton, which is situated just over 2½miles (c.4.2 km) to the south-east.

The Auxiliary Garrison of Wroxeter

In 1783 part of a Roman military tombstone depicting a mounted horseman riding down an enemy was recovered just north of the Viroconium Basilica and now resides in Rowley’s House Museum. The stone is extremely important as it cites the name of an auxiliary unit, a likely candidate for the garrison of the Wroxeter fort; the restored text is shown and translated below.

RIB 291 - Funerary inscription for Tiberius Claudius Tirintius

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

ENDIOR XX[...] H S [...]

No commentary.

Cohors I Thracum equitata were a part-mounted unit from the region of modern Bulgaria, an ideal choice to man this important crossing of the River Severn. The infantry detachment would man the fort and control egress across the river – perhaps exacting a toll from native traders for use of the recently-constructed bridge – while the cavalry contingent would be employed patrolling the roads on each side of the crossing and making reconnaissance sweeps through the countryside on either bank.

The Roman Bridge

SJ 562083   Wroxeter   River Severn

A bridge must have existed near Viroconium in order to carry the road leading south-westward to Bravonium (Leintwardine), probably crossing the Sabrina (river Severn) by cutting across the southern tip of the island at the south-western end of the Roman town. The road is well attested each side, and the depth and speed of the Severn at this point make simple fording very unlikely (Arch. Journ. 1961 p.153).

Civitas of the of the Cornovii

The name of the settlement, meaning “Viroconium of the Cornovians”, preserves a native Brittonic name that has been reconstructed as *Uiroconion (“[the city] of *Uirokū”), where *Uiro-ku (lit. “man”-“wolf”) is believed to have been a masculine given name meaning “werewolf”. The ruins of Viroconium’s public baths at Wroxeter
Viroconium prospered over the next century, with the construction of many public buildings, including thermae and a colonnaded forum. At its peak, it is thought to have been the 4th-largest settlement in Roman Britain, with a population of more than 15,000. The Roman city is first documented in Ptolemy’s 2nd century Geography as one of the cities of the Cornovii tribe, along with Chester (Deva Victrix).

References for Wroxeter

  • Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1993);
  • The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
  • ‘General Index of Bridge Sites by Counties’ in Archaeological Journal 1961, pp.151-164;
  • Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.81-97; 

Roman Roads near Wroxeter

None identified

Sites near Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum) Roman Fort and City