NGRef: SD6175
OSMap: LR97
Type: Fort
Iter X: S (14) to Bremetenacvm (Ribchester, Lancashire)
N (17) to Low Borrowbridge (Cumbria)
Iter X: NW (15) to Alavana (Watercrook, Cumbria)
NE (24) to Virosidvm
SW (8) to Caton
SW (12) to Lancaster (Lancaster, Lancashire)

Calacum - The Flower Basket

The Roman Name for Burrow in Lonsdale

The earliest reference to this fort and settlement beside the River Lune is in Ptolemy's Geography of the second century, where the name Calatum appears among the towns of the Brigantes tribe between the entries for CATARACTONIVM (Catterick, North Yorkshire) and ISVRIVM (Aldborough, North Yorkshire), which was the tribal civitas capital.

The town also appears in Iter X of the Antonine Itinerary "The route from Glannoventa (Ravenglass in Cumbria) to Mediolanum (Whitchurch in Shropshire)", this time listed as Calacum, 19 (Roman) miles from ALAVANA (Watercrook, Cumbria) and 27 miles from BREMETENACVM (Ribchester, Lancashire).

The Meaning of the Roman Name

The etymology of the Roman name may stem from the Latin word calathus, 'wicker basket, flower basket; wine-cup; cheese-making vessel', perhaps in reference to its superb location in the Lune Valley, which would certainly be strewn with meadow flowers from spring through autumn, and would have been excellent cattle-raising country - as it still is today. This is not substantiated by further evidence, however. The modern name stems from the Old English word Burgh, meaning 'the fortified place', and is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The Calacum Fort

The fort lies on a slight prominence almost ½-mile (0.6 km) east of the River Lune, beside the A638 road from Kirkby Lonsdale to Lancaster. The plateau occupied by the fort and its annexes measures about 830 ft. by 330 ft. (250 x 100 m), covering an area of about 6¼ acres (c.2.5 ha) aligned roughly NNE-SSW. This is sufficient space to have easily housed an ala quingenaria, a five-hundred strong unit of auxiliary cavalry,. However, excavations conducted on the site in 1952/52 seemed to indicate that the fort itself occupied the southern end of the platform, and was almost square in outline measuring about 470 ft. by 445 ft. (143 x 135 m) enclosing about 4¾ acres (1.94 ha), which is enough space for a cohors peditata milliaria, a one-thousand strong auxiliary infantry unit.

The Roman Coins from Burrow-in-Lonsdale

As of 1985 there were 30 Roman coins recovered from Burrow-in-Lonsdale, ranging from Vespasian (69-79AD) to Constantius I (305-306AD). The silver coins identified are of Trajan (RIC 49ff; Imp. 98-117AD) and Sabina (RIC 413a; c.117AD?), identified bronzes are of Hadrian (RIC 974; Imp. 117-138) and Commodus (RIC 645; Imp. 180-192). Of all these coins, 13 are Antonine, which may be indicative of a re-occupation in strength during this period. There are no 3rd century coins, and only 2 tetrarchic issues of the 4th, both GENIO POPVLI ROMANI issues of Constantius I.

The evidence seems to suggest that the Roman fort at Calacum underwent at least two periods of occupation, where perhaps an original Trajanic cavalry garrison were replaced during the Antonine period by a large infantry unit, with a military presence being maintained until the 4th century at least.

Epigraphic Evidence from the Lune Valley

No latin inscriptions are listed in the RIB for Casterton or Burrow in Lonsdale, but several have been found at Overburrow, beside the Roman road south of the fort at Casterton. None of the inscriptions can be dated and none are of definite military origin, though indeed, some of the finds testify to there being a civilian settlement here. Out of the eight stones reported in the RIB only four are reproduced on this page, including all of the altars; the others texts are too fragmentary to provide any useful data.

Altar to the Deities of Medicine and Hygiene


"To the sacred gods Asclepius¹ and Hygiaea,² Julius Saturninus placed this for himself and his family [...]³"

(RIB 609; altarstone)

  1. The classical god of medicine, a son of Apollo.
  2. 'Hygiene', the goddess of health and cleanliness, the daughter of Asclepius.
  3. The end of the inscription is missing and may have contained the rank and title of the dedicator.

Altar to the River God Gontrebis


"To the sacred god Gontrebis,¹ Vatta placed this (altar)."

(RIB 610; altarstone)

  1. Or Contrebis, or even Gontrevis. The god Ialonus Contrebis is recorded on an inscription from Lancaster (RIB 600), and is associated with the River Lune.

Altar to the Numinibus Augusti and the Collegium Apollinaris


"To the guiding-spirits of the (two) Augusti, and to the Genius of the Brotherhood of Apollo, Bellinus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."

(RIB 611; altarstone)

Tombstone of Husband and Wife


"To the sacred spirits of the departed and the enduring security of resurrection, Pusinnis Civilis¹ [...]² lived fifty-four years with thirty-six years military service, and Aurelia Eubia his wife who lived thirty-seven years, Aurelius Propinquus a most loving son (placed this memorial)."

(RIB 612; tombstone)

  1. The letters CIV may not be part of the deceased's name, and may be expanded as civ[is] 'citizen', emphasising the importance placed on Roman citizenship.
  2. The missing text probably would have provided details of Pusinnis' military service.

The Hawking Hall Milestone

A Roman milestone found 4 miles north of Kirkby Lonsdale at Hawking Hall in Cumbria (RIB 2283), reads simply M P LIII 'fifty-three thousand paces' or 53 Roman miles, which corresponds quite favourably with the measured distance to Luguvalium (Carlisle, Cumbria). This milestone is particularly interesting, as it may mark the spot where Iter X of the Antonine Itinerary branches off the main north-south route and heads off across the southern Lake District past the fort at Alavana (Watercrook, Cumbria) to its northern terminus at Glannoventa (Ravenglass, Cumbria).

Another inscribed Roman milestone was found on the line of the road between Burrow-in-Lonsdale and Lancaster, 8 miles to the south-west at Caton.

See: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) pp.13/14;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.
Also: The Roman Fort at Burrow in Lonsdale - A General Survey by Tony Burnett
Salve Comite!

Calacum Related Lynx

The Pheasant Inn, Casterton, Kirkby Lonsdale

Roman Name

Ptolemy: Calatum; Antonine itinerary: 10-3 ?Calacum

Page Citation: Kevan White (2018) "Roman Britain: CALACUM"