Hadrian’s Wall Exploration 14 – Corbridge

I have already blogged the village and the church, now let’s have the Roman site, the stores and the Bridge Abutment. This might take a while, and I’ll do three blogs! It is an English Heritage site – website. There’s a good audio guide which I much enjoyed.

 

I have always known Corbridge as “Corstopitum”, but it is now thought its Roman name was Coria. This means “hosting place”, so it may well have been a meeting place for the peoples of the Tyne Valley before the Romans – archaeologists have found a pre-Roman building under the current town. The Roman army first came this far north in the AD 70s. The first Roman occupation was half a mile west of the current town under Red House Farm and the A69. Although the Romans won the battle of Mons Graupius in AD 83 the troops were soon withdrawn from Scotland. It may well be that it was then that a new fort was built on this site, where the newly engineered Dere Street crossed the Tyne. (One job I need to do is walk to the Corbridge bridge abutment). Fort 1 dates to AD 86. In Hexham Abbey, a church I still need to blog, we have the tombstone of Flavinius, standard-bearer of the auxiliary cavalry unit ala Petriana. It suggests that this elite cavalry regiment, 500 strong, garrisoned this Fort. Letters found at Vindolanda show that Corbridge was an important centre in the 90s, with soldiers coming her on leave.

In the early Second Century there were severe military setbacks in the North and in AD 105 Corbridge was burnt down, possible by enemy action. A new fort was built at Corbridge as part of the new frontier line, the Stanegate Frontier (The Stanegate is the road that runs parallel to the Wall). The buildings were again of timber, and set within a turf rampart.

In AD 122 the emperor Hadrian decided to strengthen and supplement the Stanegate Frontier by building a Wall. The role of Corbridge changed as the forts were built along the Wall, the principia was given its stone shrine, granaries were moved to the east side of the fort, and the barracks were rebuilt.

When Hadrian died in AD 138 his successor, Antoninus Pius, advanced into Scotland and Corbridge, on the Dere Street, the main road north, must have been the scene of frantic activity. The fort was rebuilt within the existing turf rampart, but for the first time stone was used in the main buildings. By AD 158 Hadrian’s Wall was being recommissioned and the army withdrawn from Scotland. The barracks of the fort were rebuilt in stone.

In the AD 160s Corbridge became a base for legionaries. Patrols east/west along the Wall, north/south along Dere Street. That decade probably saw the bridge across the Tyne rebuilt as a magnificent stone structure of six arches. There was some more building work at the fort, and there is evidence of a destructive fire – the result of an enemy attack? We know that the Wall was breached in AD 180 or 181. Many of the timber buildings destroyed may have belonged to traders or merchants. Corbridge was already acquiring the character of a town and may have been given the official status of a civitas capital at this time.

Septimus Severus (reigned 192-211) restored stability to the northern frontier and Corbridge remained a legionary base. The central part of the site achieved its visible layout, with the building of special walled compounds for the legionary units, and the granaries were completed in their current visible form (bottom photo on right and over the page). The fountains and public water supply are probably of the same period.

By the early 200s an extensive civilian town had grown up outside the fort – there is a huge amount that has not been excavated. This town became a major centre, and stayed as a substantial civilian settlement for many decades.

 

corbridge-reconstruction

The entire site must have covered about 50 acres, but only a little has been properly excavated and is on view.

CORBRIDGE ROMAN SITE Aerial view NMR_17688_09

CORBRIDGE ROMAN SITE Aerial view NMR_17688_09

It seems to have been rapidly abandoned in the early years of the C5. By the C6 the Saxons had settled half a mile east of the Roman town at a good fording place, presumably the old Roman bridge had become unusable. The fort was a useful quarry – some of it is in the crypt at Hexham and there are a row of pillars at Chollerton church.

The Stanegate runs through the middle of the site – here is an evening photo.

1 - DSC01497On the north side are the granaries. On the photo above is the two rectangles on the right hand side in front of the museum. They were probably built under Septimus Severus at the end of the C2 – there is an inscription from a granary re-used in the crypt at Hexham Abbey. As we saw at Housesteads, they have a ventilated basement, the walls have been buttressed, and there were loading platforms onto the Stanegate. In the C4 the Stanegate was rebuilt at a higher level. Lovely to have a poke round the stones.

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The water tank to the right of the above photo is the Fountain House – the main public water supply for both legionaries and civilians. “The fountain gave life and sparkle to stale aqueduct water by cascading it into an open tank and from there into a public trough.” The tank stands beside the Stanegate, the main east-west road. The Lion we will see in the museum was originally here – OK, I’ll show you the Lion now. It was probably carved in the C2 or C3 as a funerary monument, and later adapted to be a fountain. How about a replica of him in my garden? Roman aqueducts in Britain tended to be cleverly constructed channels where water flowed quite long distances, then there was a settlement tank and a fountain would help to aerate the water.

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Just past that is the Courtyard, with the Headquarters building and Commanding Officer’s residence. Although most of the masonry has gone, what is left is quite impressive. I wonder what lies under the fields towards the village.

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On the south of the Stanegate we have a wonderful jumble of ruins. There are two legionary compounds, both of which would have held between 100 or 200 men, based here in the C3. Shops, workshops, granaries and storerooms.

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There are lovely poppies on the west of the site.

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