NGRef: SE2299
OSMap: LR99
Type: Camp, Fort, Town

Part of a Theatrical Mask
recovered from Catterick (see below).
NW (6) to Carkin Moor
Dere Street: N (11) to Piercebridge (Durham)
NW (13) to Greta Bridge (Durham)
Possible road: WSW (10) to Wensley (North Yorkshire)
SSE (24) to Isvrivm (Aldborough, North Yorkshire)

Cataractonium - The Town of the Waterfall

"Catterick N. Yorks. Katouraktonion c.150, Catrice 1086 (DB). From Latin cataracta 'waterfall', though said to be through a misunderstanding of the original place-name which is supposed to mean '(place of) battle ramparts'." (Mills, p.73)

Catterick is named in three out of the four main Geographia; Ptolemy's Geography lists the entry Caturactonium between VINOVIVM (Binchester, Durham) and CALACVM (Burrow in Lonsdale, Lancashire), while the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#136) has the entry Cactabactonion between LAVATRIS (Bowes, Durham) and EBVRACVM (York, East Yorkshire).

The name also occurs no less than three times in the Antonine Itinerary;

The Catterick Fort

SE225992 c.440 x 440 ft?
(c.135 x 135 m?)
c.4½ acres
(c.1.8 ha)
"... The land rises at the west end of the site to a platform of high ground near Thornbrough farm ... It is unlikely that the crossing of the Swale by a Roman trunk-road would be left unguarded, but excavation alone can reveal whether this 4½-acre platform was the site of an early fort. This conjecture receives support from the street-plan just described, from which it is clear that Leeming Lane came before the town. The east to west street and the south wall are parallel, but at a little distance west of Leeming Lane this street bends northwards in a course that would bring it along the centre of the platform by Thornbrough farm. ..." (J.R.S., 1953, p.90)

The Roman fort at Catterick was likely founded during the early A.D.70's, when governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis dealt with the recently revolutionary faction of the Brigantes led by Venutius, the estranged husband of the ageing Brigantian queen Cartimandua. At the very latest, the fort must have been in place by 79, in order to guard the northern supply route of Agricola's Scottish campaigns. After an undetermined period of neglect, it would appear that the fort was recommissioned during the administration of Gnaeus Julius Verus in the aftermath of the Brigantian revolt of A.D.155, at which time the Antonine Wall - completed a mere thirteen years previously - was abandoned and the troops pulled back to Hadrian's Wall in order to contain the unruly Brigantes.

The Garrison Units

Numerus Equitum Sarmatarum Bremetenacensium?

Although no unit has been positively identified at Catterick, undated tiles found at Bainesse nearby, stamped BSAR (RIB 2479), have been tentatively identified with the above-named unit, which were known to have been stationed at BREMETENACVM (Ribchester, Lancashire; RIB 583; 238-44AD) in the mid-third century.

The Gods of Cataractonium


"To the Divine god Veterus, for the well-being of Aurelius Mucianus, (who) willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."

(RIB 727; altarstone)

Perhaps the most unusual altarstone from Roman Catterick is the one dedicated to an unnamed god referred to simply as the 'god who invented roads and pathways' (vide RIB 725 infra), though none of the other three identified altars can be deemed ordinary. Another single altar is dedicated to the 'Sacred god' Vheterus (vide supra) otherwise known as Veter or Veteres or Viter or Vitiris or Votris, an ancient German ancestral deity also revered on altars from CONCANGIS (Chester-le-Street, Durham; RIB 1046), VINDOMORA (Ebchester, Durham; RIB 1103) and from many forts along Hadrian's Wall. There is also an altar to the goddess Suria (vide infra), which is a known pseudonym for Ceres, 'the Syrian Goddess', of which there are other examples in Britain only at MAGNIS (Carvoran, Northumberland; RIB 1791 et 1792). The fourth and final altar is dedicated to the Matribus Domesticae or the 'Mother goddesses of the Household'.


"For the goddess Suria,¹ Gaius N[...] O[...], Beneficiarius,² (made this) altar."

(RIB 726; altarstone)

  1. Can also be read; 'To the Syrian Goddess', both meaning Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest.
  2. An NCO attached to a senior officer in a quasi-military role (vide infra).

The Suspected Classical Temple

A low stone podium, in form rather like the known classical temples at Corbridge, lies on the junction of the main east-west street (with the main north-west street?) in the centre of the town. Constructed sometime in the early-3rd century. There appears to be a water cistern at one corner of the building. (Lewis 1966)

Click here for the RBO Temples and Shrines Index

The Civil Settlement

The Roman town had the beginnings of a grid-like pattern of streets, but seems to have been only partially completed, and many of the insulae thus delineated were irregularly subdivided by smaller lanes.

Early occupation deposits of the town yielded the remains of wallnuts, an exotic tree not indigenous to these islands, and therefore probably cultivated. The walnut orchard seems to have failed early on, however, as the walnuts are absent from later deposits.

It is possible that Cataractonium boasted a theatre of some sort, as a ceramic, parti-coloured theatrical mask has been recovered from the ruins of the Roman town, though this may represent part of the collection of an ardent theatre-goer, or equally, may have belonged to a travelling dramatic group who could perform in any open space.


"To the Mother goddesses of the Household, Julius Victor willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow, for himself and his family."

(JRS l, 1960, p.237, no.6; altarstone)

A 'long but intermittent linear suburb' has been identified outside the Cataractonium town defences, to either side of the road south to Isurium and Eburacum. This type of linear suburb is mirrored on the same road outside the Colonia at York.

A superb example of Roman structural ironwork was found at Catterick, in the form of an iron beam sixty-eight inches (2 metres) in length, which was used to support a hot-water tank over a furnace in the bath-house. Another of these beams, sixty-four inches in length, has been found in the bath-house at Chedworth villa.


"To the spirits of the departed and to the memory of Similinia Vera, Flavius Italicus had this made for his dearest wife."

(JRS lvii, 1967, p.204, no.8; altarstone)

Other discoveries made at Catterick prove that town-life still continued long after the Roman period in Britain had ended; such evidence is usually very difficult to find because the habitation levels of the fourth-fifth centuries lie very close to modern ground-level, and in many towns interferes with the Roman occupation record.

Beneficiarius Consularis


"To the God who devised roads and pathways, Titus Irdas, singularis consularis,¹ willingly, gladly and deservedly (fulfilled) his vow. Quintus Varius Vitalis, beneficiarius consularis, restored (this) sacred temple, when Apronianus and Bradua were consuls.³"

(RIB 725; altarstone; 191AD)

  1. An auxiliary soldier seconded onto the bodyguard of the consular governor, Titus Irdas was very likely the original dedicator.
  2. Opilius Pedo Apronianus and Marcus Valerius Bradua Mauricus were consules ordinarii 191AD, a.u.c.944.

A Beneficiarius was an orderly who was assigned to a senior officer, and functioned as his aide rather than a personal servant and extracted from amongst the legionary troops. They were given administrative commands, mainly in quasi-military or civilian posts, such as organising the policing of a district, exacting customs duties and collecting taxes. There were also beneficiarii serving on each ship in the Roman navy, where they undertook the administrative duties for their vessel, and were third in command after the Optio and the Centurion. Their seniority when conducting official business depended on the rank of the officer they served, the highest of them being the consular governor of the province, a Beneficiarius Consularis.

The insignia of a Beneficiarius Consularis is depicted on an altar dedicated by one Tertinius Severus, a man of this rank serving in Legio VIII Augusta,¹ it consists of a disk with two circular holes pierced by a projecting spike.

  1. CIL, xiii, 7731; the stone now resides in the Musée de Liège.

BFC's Identified in Britain

Lancaster, Lancashire; RIB 602; altar to Mars Cocidius by Vibenius Rufus.
Catterick, North Yorkshire; RIB 725; altar by Quintus Varius Vitalis, dated 191AD vide supra.
Greta Bridge
North Yorkshire; RIB 745; altar by [G]ellinus?, BFCos of Britannia Superior.
Binchester, Durham; RIB 1030 et 1031. ???
Lanchester, Durham; RIB 1085; pedestal of altar to Silvanus, dedicated by Marcus Didius Provincialis.
Risingham, Northumberland; RIB 1225; altar to Mogons by Gaius Secundinus, BFCos of Habitancum.
Housesteads, Northumberland; RIB 1599; altar to Sol Invictus & Mithras, by Litorius Pacatianus.
Chesterholm, Northumberland; RIB 1696; altar to Silvanus by Marcus Aurelius Modestus of the Second Augustan Legion, BFCos in Britannia Superior.

The Catterick Marching Camp

There is a marching camp at Catterick Bridge (SE2399), between the River Swale and Catterick Racecourse, and partially obliterated by the latter.

See: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Air Reconnaissance of Southern Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xliii (1953) pp.81-97;
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

Roman Name

Ravenna Cosmography: Cactabactonion; Ptolemy: Caturactonium; Antonine itinerary: 1-5 Cataractoni; Antonine itinerary: 2-8 Cataractone; Antonine itinerary: 5-16 Cataractone

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