NGRef: TF7844
OSMap: LR132
Type: Minor Settlement, Saxon Shore Fort

Roads
Probable road: W (6) to Holme
Probable road: S (20) to Kempstone

Branodunum - The Fortress of Bran

"Brancaster (Norfolk), dug in 1846, was found to have walls 11 feet thick, at the base, faced and bonded with sandstone. No bastions were recognised, with the exception of projecting towers at the east gate ; and in the north-east angle an internal corner-tower, like those of second-century forts, was found. There were two gates, and the fort measured 570 feet each way, which would imply an area of between 6 and 7 acres." (Collingwood, p.49)

The Burgh Castle fort is situated near the northern coastline of Norfolk at the eastern lip of The Wash. Although in Roman times the shore of Brancaster Bay lay just outside the northern ramparts, the fort now lies . It was defended by a 10 ft. (2.9 m) wide wall backed by an earthen rampart and fronted by a single ditch, square in outline with rounded corners and internal angle-towers, measuring about 525 ft square (c.160 m²) internally (570 ft² overall), enclosing an area of about 6¼ acres (c.2.56 ha). There were four gateways, one set centrally in each rampart wall; no gatehouses are apparent, neither are there any projecting bastions, a common feature in many forts of the "Saxon Shore". The fort faced north towards the Breydon Water.

There was an extensive civilian vicus settlement just outside the eastern gateway of the fort which showed signs of occupation from around the 2nd century, the streets in this civilian area are curiously not aligned with the fort's defences. These facts have lent credence to the supposition that the late-3rd C. stone-built "Saxon Shore" fort was preceeded by a timber-built fort perhaps dating to the Neronian reprisals against the Iceni tribe following their revolt under Boudicca in the early-AD60's.

The Brancaster Entry in the Notitia Dignitatum

Equites Dalmatarum Branodunensium - The Dalmatian Horsemen of Branodunum

Praepositus equitum Dalmatarum Branodunensium, Branoduno

"The commander of the Dalmatian horsemen of Branodunum at Branodunum."

(Notitia Dignitatum xxviii.16; 4th/5th C.)

There is another regiment of Equites Dalmatarum in the Notitia Dignitatum, stationed on the north-east coast at Bridlington. It is possible that these two units of Dalmatian Horsemen were formed from a single unidentified parent unit sometime during the late-3rd or early-4th centuries, specifically in order to garrison these "Saxon Shore Defences".

Epigraphic Evidence from Brancaster

Cohors Primae Aquitanorum - The First Cohort of Aquitani

COH I AQV

"[Property of] the First Cohort of Aquitanians."

(Britannia 1975.25; stamped tile)

The classical and epigraphic evidence for Brancaster is sparse. The fort is named in the Notitia Dignitatum, a "list of dignitaries" produced in the late-fourth or early-fifth century, which names every Legionary and Auxiliary unit in the Roman empire, along with the location of their garrison fort and the military rank of their commanding officer. In the N.D. Brancaster is named Branoduno and is located between the entries for Portus Lemanis (Lympne, Kent) and Gariannum (Burgh Castle, Norfolk). The only Latin text on stone recovered from the Brancaster fort and listed in the R.I.B., is an altarstone dedicated to the demi-god Hercules (vide RIB 214b infra); there is also record of another auxiliary garrison unit in the form of stamped roofing tiles, bearing the name Cohors I Aquitanorum (see above).

Altarstone to Hercules

DEO HER

"To the god Hercules"

(RIB 214b/2432.5; Britannia 1974.2; bronze plaque)

See: The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930);
Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.81-97;
Britannia v (1974) p.461 no.2;
Britannia vi (1975) p.288 no.25;
The Roman Shore Forts - Coastal Defences of Southern Britain by Andrew Pearson (Tempus, Stroud, 2002);
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.