NGRef: SE1147
OSMap: LR104
Type: Minor Settlement, Fort
ESE (11) to Adel (West Yorkshire)
W (13) to Elslack (Elslack, Skipton, North Yorkshire)
NE (23) to Isvrivm (Aldborough, North Yorkshire)
SSW (37) to Mamvcivm (Manchester, Greater Manchester)

Verbeia - The Goddess of the River Wharfe?

Ilkley town used to be associated with the Olicana entry of Ptolemy's Geography, but since the discovery of the Verbeia altarstone this view has changed, and the name is now equated with OLENACVM (Elslack, near Skipton, North Yorkshire). For the text of the Verbeia altarstone (vide RIB 635 infra).

The Ilkley altarstone is the only reference to this deity known (in Britain or elsewhere), therefore, it is more than likely that she was a local goddess - I am assuming that the deity was female based purely on the feminine ending of the name Verbeia. She may have been a goddess associated with the River Wharfe but this is not proven, and is not backed up by similar altars from other Roman stations further downstream at Adel, Newton Kyme or Tadcaster.

On the strength of the Verbeia altarstone, Ilkley has been tentatively identified with the Morbio entry from the Notitia Dignitatum (etiam vide infra). This document gives the disposition of the Roman army as it was in the 4th/5th centuries, listing the civil and military posts, and the location of every military command throughout the whole of the Roman Empire. The entry in question appears under the command of the Duke of the Britains, and is listed between DANVM (Doncaster, South Yorkshire) and ARBEIA (South Shields, Tyne & Wear).

The etymology of the modern place-name offers no help in identifying the Romano-British name for Ilkley:

"Ilkley W.Yorks. Hillicleg c.972, Illiclei 1086 (DB). Possibly 'woodland clearing of a man called *Yllica or *Illica'. OE Pers. name + leah." (Mills)

This same publication also gives the origins of the name of the River Wharfe, which apparently stems from an original river-name (Welsh/Gaelic) meaning 'the winding one'; perhaps related to Old Scandinavian hvarf or hverfi 'a bend or corner'.

The Ilkley Fort


"For the health of the emperors, the August Caesars Antoninus and Verus, beloved of Jupiter, Caecilius Lucanus, prefect of the cohort [made this]."

(RIB 636; dated: 161-9AD)

The small size of the Roman fort at Ilkley is insufficient for a cavalry ala, and must have been intended to house an infantry cohort. Although the earliest inscription dates to the latter half of the second century, it is very likely that Verbeia was first built during the early campaigns of Julius Agricola c.78AD, though it was almost certainly abandoned by Hadrianic times. Only two dateable texts have been unearthed, the first is an altarstone (RIB 636 supra) which proves only that the fort was re-occupied during the governorship of Calpurnius Agricola who supervised the final withdrawal from the Antonine to the Hadrianic frontiers. The other dateable text is a building inscription (RIB 637 infra) recording restoration work undertaken in preparation for the Severan campaigns into Scotland.


"For the emperors Severus Augustus and Antoninus Caesar, fixed and restored under the care of Virius Lupus, their pro-praetorian legate."

(RIB 637; 197-202AD)

The original Flavian fort was occupied through Trajanic times attested by samian ware of the period, and an Antonine building inscription and like-dated samian ware proves that occupation was continued. Further rebuilding occurred in Severan times (vide RIB 637 supra), in 343 and also around 383. The last coins from the site are those of Valens (364-378). Judging from these facts, it would appear that the fort remained garrisoned for the majority of Roman rule in Britain.

The Garrison Units

Legio Secundae Augusta - The Second Augustan Legion


"To the spirits of the departed and to Pudens, tesserarius¹ (and) soldier of the Second Augustan Legion."

(RIB 638; tombstone)

  1. An officer allocated one per century subordinate to the centurion, whose primary duty was to oversee the watch and transmit the day's password to the sentries on duty. This was done by recording the appropriate text onto a small tablet or tessera, from which was derived the title of the post.

The tombstone of a tesserarius from Legio II Augusta raises a question about the early garrison of the Ilkley fort. This legion was stationed for most of the Roman period in the legionary fortress at ISCA SILVRVM (Caerleon, Gwent), and were not used in the north of Britain until the time of Hadrian, when they were put to work on the Wall and its hinterland forts. It is unlikely that a mere tesserarius would be seconded to an auxiliary regiment, and even if he was, the fact should have been recorded on his epitaph. The finding of this tombstone then, implies that a cohort of the Second Augustan legion was stationed here at some time.

Cohors Secundae Lingonum - The second Cohort of Lingones


"To holy Verbeia, Clodius Fronto, prefect of the Second Cohort of Lingones (dedicated this)."

(RIB 635; altarstone)

This regiment contained a nominal five-hundred foot soldiers who were originally recruited from among the Lingones tribe inhabiting the Adriatic coast of Northern Italy, the old province of Cisalpine Gaul. The name of this unit also appears on undated stamped tiles found at Ilkley (RIB 2475; not shown). They occupied the fort sometime during the second-century. The goddess Verbeia is discussed above.

Equitum Catafractariorum

Praefectus equitum catafractariorum, Morbio

"The Prefect of the Cataphract Troopers at Morbium"

(Notitia Dignitatum xl.21; 4th/5th C.)

A cataphract was a heavily armoured horse, ridden by auxiliary soldiers who were also armoured, akin to the knights valiant of the middle-ages. Originally developed by the Parthians in the Middle-East, they were only adopted into the Roman army at relatively late stage, perhaps first being used by the emperor Hadrian following his predecessor Trajan's eastern campaigns. There are several such units listed in the Notitia, though this is the sole example in Britain.

Unfortunately, the Morbium = Verbeia equation is based on phonetics only, and therefore very tentative.

The Roman Gods of Ilkley

Altar Dedicated to the God Jupiter

... ...IOVI... V S L M

"[...] Jupiter [...] willingly and deservedly fulfilling a vow."

(RIB 634; altarstone)

The Roman gods are not very well represented at Ilkley, the sole altarstone dedicated to a deity from the classical pantheon being that to Jupiter shown above, which is missing the dedicator's name and the beginning of the inscription. Aside from the altar to the local river-goddess Verbeia, also discussed above, the text of the only other altarstone is heavily damaged along each side, but is possibly dedicated to Sol Invictus 'the Unconquered Sun', another name for the Persian sun-god Mithras (RIB 639.a; Britannia xiv 1983 p.337, no.9; not shown).

The Civilian Settlement of Verbeia

Tombstone of Vedica of the Cornovii


"To the spirits of the departed and to Vedica,¹ thirty years old, daughter of Virico² of the Cornovii;³ she lies here."

(RIB 639; tombstone)

  1. Last part of name slightly restored.
  2. First part of name restored on a hunch; see below.
  3. This tribe inhabited the plains of Cheshire, Shropshire, south-west Staffordshire and northern Hereford & Worcester.

The only epigraphic evidence of civilian occupation, which is also one of the most interesting inscriptions from Roman Ilkley is the tombstone of Vedica (RIB 639 supra), a thirty year-old woman of the Cornovii. The capital city of this tribe was named Viroconium Cornoviorum, possibly after a nobleman of the Cornovii who organised the last stand against the Romans on the Wrekin hillfort (which may also be named after him); the name of this iron-age noble being Viroco or perhaps Virico. It is an intriguing possibility that the thirty year old Vedica may have been the daughter of warlord Viroco of the Cornovii, who was killed during Ostorius Scapula's push west in early 47AD. There is a picture of this stone in The Cornovii by Graham Webster (p.20, fig.10).

See: The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.
Page Citation: Kevan White (2018) "Roman Britain: VERBEIA"