NGRef: SE574034
OSMap: LR111
Type: Minor Settlement, Fort

Roads
SE (9) to Bawtry
WSW (17) to Brovgh-on-noe (Brough-on-Noe, Derbyshire)
NW (7) to Bvrghwallis
Itinera V/VIII: NNW (16) to Lagentivm (Castleford, West Yorkshire)
Probable road: SW (12) to Templeborovgh (South Yorkshire)
Itinera V/VIII: SE (4) to Rossington (South Yorkshire)

Danum - The Place at the River Don

"Doncaster S. Yorks. Doneceastre 1002. Donecastre 1086 (DB). 'Roman fort on the River Don'. river-name (Welsh/Gaelic meaning simply 'water, river) + OE ceaster." (Mills)

Doncaster is fairly well attested in the classical geographies. It is mentioned in two out of the fifteen British itinera in the Antonine Itinerary of the second century, along the stretch of road between the Roman colonies at Lincoln and York, in both instances being named Danum and uniformly listed 16 miles from Castleford and 14 miles from Littleborough. Doncaster also appears in the Notitia Dignitatum of the 4th/5th century as Danum, though in the dative form (vide infra). It is likely from the context, that the Daunoni entry in the 7th century Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#235), which appears alongside that of Littleborough, refers both to the Doncaster fort and to the River Don itself.

The Roman name for Doncaster is certainly linked with the River Don, and the name Danum may be translated as 'the (place at) the river Don'. It is possible, however, that the river itself was named after one of the most venerable iron-age mother-goddesses, named Danu in the Irish mythologies and Don in the Welsh, from whom a major dynasty of the iron-age pantheon was derived. On this basis then, the name may also be translated 'the place (or river) of Danu'.

Roman Doncaster

It is almost certain that Doncaster was chosen as the site for a Roman auxiliary fort because it lay on the border between the powerful and truculent Brigantes tribe north of the river, and the relatively civilised and peaceful Coritani, which southern tribe had been quickly incorporated within the Roman provincial system. As soon as the presence of the Roman military had deterred unrest in the immediate area, a small settlement called a vicus became established in the protective lee of the fort. Originally this would have housed the normal camp followers, including the girlfriends, wives and children of some of the soldiers (who were not supposed to marry until retirement, but this particular rule was frequently overlooked), also publicians, prostitutes, purveyors of pastries, and anyone else seeking to profit from the five-hundred or so troops in the Danum garrison. This site, situated as it was between two native British tribes, would have attracted traders from both nations, and before long a substantial border settlement became established here at the crossing of the Don, which eventually boasted several large public buildings.

An Alternative 'Ermine Street'

Part of Ermine Street between Lincoln and York
Part of Ermine Street between Lincoln and York
(Adapted from Liversidge, Map.III, p.383)

The Roman road through Doncaster appears on two routes recorded in the Antonine Itinerary. Both of the itinera include the same section of road between Lincoln and York, and list three stations along the route in-between these two coloniae. Iter V is entitled "the route from London to Carlisle on the Wall" and lists the road-stations from south to north, whereas Iter VIII is entitled "the route from York to London" and lists the same places in the opposite order. The relevant sections of these itinera are given below.

Iter V Iter VIII
Lindo
Segeloci xiiii
Dano xxi
Legeolio xvi
Eburaco xxi
Eburaco
Lagecio xxi
Dano xvi
Ageloco xxi
Lindo xiiii

This route through the North Derbyshire hills was opened up sometime in the latter half of the first century A.D., possibly by the the militaristic governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola during the late seventies, although the first section of the road to the Doncaster fort had probably been in existance since the early fifties. The military objectives in the area are discussed on the Rossington page.

SE574034 - The Roman road between Lincoln and York followed the line of Frenchgate; the eastern drainage ditch of this road was discovered on the site of the Old Guildhall, running parallel to the modern building frontage. Pottery dating to the 2nd quarter of the 2nd century was found in the lower filling, which would mean that the road was built at a later date.

The Danum Garrison

Praefectus equitum Crispianorum, Dano

"The Prefect of the Crispian¹ mixed auxiliary unit, at Danum"

(Notitia Dignitatum xl.20; 4th/5th C.)
  1. This unit was originally recruited from among the tribespeople living near the town of Crispiana in Upper Pannonia, near Zirc in the Bakony region of western Hungary.

The only source of information which names any of Doncaster's garrison units is the Notitia Dignitatum or 'Register of Dignitaries', produced around the turn of the fifth century near the end of Roman rule in Britain. This important administrative document contains - among other things - the name of almost every military unit in the Roman empire, also the name of their respective garrison towns. The fact that Doncaster is included, highlights the importance placed by the Romans on the western route between Lincoln and York. The Doncaster entry, which appears between those for Ilkley and Bridlington, is listed under the command of the Dux Britanniarum or the 'Duke of the Britons'.

The Gods of Roman Doncaster

MATRIBVS M NANTONIVS ORBIOTAL VSLM

"To the Mother Goddesses, Marcus Nantonius Orbiotal(us),
willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."

(RIB 618;altarstone)

The only entry for Doncaster in the Roman Inscriptions in Britain is the altarstone dedicated to the Mother Goddesses given above. Although the dedicator possesses the three names indicative of Roman citizenship, only his praenomen, Marcus, is fully Roman in origin, the last two parts of his name (gens and cognomen) telling of his provincial origins. It is possible that Nantonius commanded one of the auxiliary units stationed at the Danum fort, though without further textual evidence this supposition cannot be proven.

Excavations at Danum/Doncaster in 1970

SE574035 - Excavations at roadworks south of St. George's Church in 1969 revealed a section across the east defences and some internal buildings belonging to a Trajanic/Hadrianic fort. The defences of this fort were originally of clay and gravel, which was apparently strengthened during a secondary phase in the late Antonine period. The defences overlay an earlier Roman timber building associated with coins of Vespasian. This probably represents a Flavian fort of greater dimensions than the later known fort, which was obviously demolished in order for its successor to be built on the same site. The road leading through the west gate of the later fort was also built over earlier timber buildings. The road had a coin of Vespasian upon its primary surface, and had been resurfaced twice, in the late-2nd and early-4th centuries. The internal buildings during the 1st & 2nd centuries were regularly shaped timber structures with puddled clay floors, while the 4th century was dominated by much flimsier timber buildings, sometimes on stone footings.

Other Roman Sites in the Area

There is a small fortlet at Burghwallis, 6½ miles (11km) along the road north towards Castleford, a small villa at Stancil about four miles to the south, also potteries nearby at Cantley just to the east, and others near the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge.

See: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
Britannia ii (1971) p.253;
Britannia i (1970) p.280 & fn.60;
Britain in the Roman Empire by Joan Liversidge (London 1968);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.