NGRef: NZ 250 640
OSMap: Hadrian's Wall, LR88.
Type: Wall Fort, Fort, Bridge
Wrekendike: S (8) to Chester-le-street (Chester-le-Street, Durham)
Wall: W (2) to Condercvm (Benwell, Tyne & Wear)
Wrekendike: E (12) to Sovth Shields (South Shields, Tyne & Wear)
Wall: E (3) to Segedvnvm (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear)

Pons Aelius - 'The Aelian Bridge'

When the emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122AD and the need for a continuous northern frontier wall was first envisioned, the eastern terminus was to be marked by a fort at the first crossing point of the River Tyne, at Newcastle. A new bridge was built here to carry the road from the existing fort at Concangis (Chester le Street, Durham), and was called Pons Aelius after the emperor's family name, which title was - over a period - transferred to the fort itself. The only evidence we have for the Roman name comes from the Notitia Dignitatum of the 4th/5th century (vide infra). The Newcastle fort was not to mark the wall's oriental end for long, however, as an extension eastwards to another fort at Segedunum (Wallsend, Tyne & Wear) was started before the wall had been completed westward beyond Cilurnum (Chesters, Northumberland).

There are eleven inscribed stones recorded in the R.I.B. for Newcastle, four of them added since the work was first published. There are seven altarstones, a statue or altar base dedicated to the emperor's mother (RIB 1322c), a relief depicting a triad of goddesses (1318), and two building inscriptions, one of which records the restoration of the bath-house (1322d), and another recording the arrival of troops from the continent (RIB 1322; discussed below). Many of the texts from these stones are shown here.

The Auxiliary Fort and Bridge

The praetorium and principia of the Hadrianic fort at Pons Aelius were recently found in the grounds of the castle adjacent to the Castle Keep, the castle being built directly upon the site of the former Roman encampment. Originally built c.122AD to mark the eastern terminus of the Wall, the fort at Newcastle is quite small and was sited here to guard the important river-crossing, the first major encampment being nearby at Condercum (Benwell, Tyne & Wear). The unit which comprised the original garrison of the fort is unknown, however, a recently unearthed stone dedicated to the empress Julia Domna and dated to c.213AD, gives the name of the unit then stationed at Newcastle, and the Notitia Dignitatum provides the name of the late-fourth century garrison. Another recently-discovered inscription records the building or restoration of a bath-house which evidently stood outside the Newcastle fort.

C... AV... BALINEVM... A SOLO ...
"For C[aesar ...] Au[gustus ...] the bath-house [...] from its foundations [...]"
(RIB 1322d; dedicatory slab; Britannia xxx (1999), p.380, no.5)

The site of the Aelian Bridge was discovered in 1872 lying directly beneath the swing-bridge built in that year. This bridge still exists, carrying Bridge Street across the Tyne, lying betweeen the modern road-bridges of the B1307 to the west and the A167(M) to the east. The Roman road led directly south by south-east from the southern end of the bridge, beneath the modern buildings, taking the line of West Steet beyond, and did not follow the course of the Bottle Bank and Gates Head roads.

The Roman bridge had two stone abutments and, although only two piers have so far been located, it is estimated that there were originally ten. The pier found in 1872 was 16 feet wide and 20 feet long with cutwaters both upstream and down to cope with the tidal nature of the Tyne at this point in its course. The pier caisson was constructed from closely-set, iron-shod oak piles, with the internal space filled with stone rubble. The total length of the Roman bridge from bank to bank is estimated to have been 735 feet.

There are a number of small tributary streams of the Tyne which must have passed through culverts beneath the Wall. The Pandon Burn emptied into the Tyne some 150 yards downstream from the Roman bridge near the Custom House, and the substantial Ouse Bourne confluence lies over ¾ mile further downstream. Another small stream named the Skinner Bourne entered the Tyne just over 300 yards upriver from the site of the Roman bridge beyond the Mansion House, and another named the Lort Burn lay to the east about 1/3 of the distance between the Pandon and Ouse Burn confluences.

The Military Units

Legio VI Victrix is mentioned on two altarstones dredged up from the Tyne, one dedicated to Oceanus and the other to Neptune, both powerful water deities (vide infra). They are also mentioned on a dedicatory inscription which records reinforcements from the German provinces for Legio VI along with the other two British legions, II Augusta and XX Valeria. These supplementary troops were neccessary to bolster the Island's garrison after losses incurred c.150AD when the northern tribes revolted, and may have arrived in the train of the governor Gnaeus Julius Verus c.158, also mentioned on the stone.

Dedicatory Inscription from Pons Aelius (RIB 1322)

NO • AVG • PIO • P
VI • VIC • ET • LEG •
• XX • VV • CONR
RO • LEG • AVG • PR • P
Imperator Antoni-
-no Augusti Pio Pater
Patriae Vexilatio
Legionis Secundae Augusta et Legionis
Sextae Victrix et Legionis
Vicesimae Valeria Victrix Contri-
-buti ex Germania du-
-obus sub Iulio Ver-
-o Legatus Augusti pro praetore.
"For Imperator Antoninus Augustus Pious,¹ Father of his Country, detachments² for the
Second Augustan Legion, the Sixth Victorious Legion and the Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious
contributed from the two German provinces (built this), under Julius Verus
Legate of the emperor with pro-praetorian power."
(RIB 1322; dated: c.155-159AD)
  1. The emperor Antoninus Pius ruled the entire empire from July 138AD until his death from natural causes in March 161.
  2. i.e. replacement troops.
  3. Gnaeus Julius Verus was Roman governor of Britain by c.158AD.
"For the most noble Julia Augusta, mother of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and of the encampments, and of the senate, and of the fatherland. Out of loyalty and devotion under the direction of Gaius Julius Marcus the pro-praetorian legate of the emperor, the First Cohort of Ulpian Cugerni, Trajan's Own, citizens of Rome, have placed this."
(RIB 1322c; base; dated: c.213AD; Britannia xi (1980), p.405, no.6)

Cohors I Cugernorum was evidently stationed at Newcastle at the beginning of the third century, and were originally recruited from the Cugerni tribe of the Lower Rhine in Germany. The governor Gaius Julius Marcus is thought to have been in office sometime around 213AD, the year after emperor Septimius Severus, Julia Domna's husband, died at York.

Tribunus Cohortis Primae Cornoviorum, Ponte Aeli
"The tribune of the First Cohort of Cornovii at Pons Aelius."
(Notitia Dignitatum xl.34; 4th/5th C.)

At the beginning of the fifth century the Notitia Dignitatum records that Cohors I Cornoviorum was stationed at Pons Aelius; they were raised from among the Cornovii tribe who inhabited Cheshire and Shropshire, and were the only native British unit known to have been stationed on the wall.

A stone tablet was found on the south side of Hanover Square in Newcastle that records the work of Cohors I Thracum on the vallum (RIB 1323), but it is thought unlikely that this unit was ever permanently stationed here.

The Gods of Roman Newcastle

Altars to Iupitter Optimus Maximus and Silvanus

"To Jupiter best and Greatest
for the well-being and victory of the emperor."
"To the god Silvanus,
Gaius Valerius (dedicates this)."
(RIB 1316; altarstone) (RIB 1321; altarstone)

Jupiter Best and Greatest has two inscribed altarstones (RIB 1316 supra, et RIB 1317; not shown) and the Mother Goddesses likewise has two inscriptions, one of them a relief of three seated female figures (RIB 1318 infra) and another damaged altarstone (RIB 1322a; not shown), while Neptune (RIB 1319 infra), Oceanus (RIB 1320 etiam infra) and Silvanus (RIB 1321 supra) each have one. There is in addition another damaged altarstone where the name of the deity is illegible (RIB 1322b; not shown).

Altar to the Mother Goddesses from Across the Sea

"To the holy Mother Goddesses
from his fatherland across the sea
Aurelius Juvenalis (makes this offering)."
(RIB 1318; relief of Mother Goddesses)

Altars Dedicated to Neptune and Oceanus

A couple of inscriptions have been recovered from Newcastle which may have once adorned the Roman bridge; These two altars are thought to have stood to either side of the road on the central pier of the bridge, while a monumental inscription is thought to have been erected on a small archway, also on the central pier, under which all traffic on the bridge had to pass. These two altarstones were dredged up from the mud of the Tyne and are in remarkably good condition, which has led some scholars to believe that they may have been ceremoniously dropped into the water from the bridge during some sort of dedication ceremony.

Neptune "To Neptune
the Sixth Victorious Legion
Loyal and Faithful (made this)."
RIB 1319; altarstone; << vide sinistra
"For Oceanus
the Sixth Victorious Legion
Loyal and Faithful (made this)."
RIB 1320; altarstone; vide dextra >>

Pons Aelius Today

Whilst there was a substantial Roman presence at Newcastle for nearly three centuries, whatever evidence was left behind now lies buried beneath the modern city streets, and nothing much now remains to be seen. Since the Wall was made a World Heritage site, there has been a surge of archaeological interest in the Wall and its environs, which has resulted in the discovery of the first recorded milecastle at Westgate Road (see below).

Museum of Antiquities - University of Newcastle
Admission Free Car Parking Facilities for the Disabled Variable Opening Hours Information Available Site Museum
This museum contains much of the best material recovered from the eastern part of the Wall, including; a full-sized reconstruction of a Temple of Mithras, a scale model of the wall showing many of its features, and a display about the Roman army in general, plus many other exhibits, plans, reconstructions and photographs.
The Museum of Antiquities Roman collection and exhibits were moved in 2008 to the Great North Museum, also known as the Hancock Museum.

Pons Aelius Bibliography

See: Hadrian's Wall Map and Guide by the Ordnance Survey (Southampton, 1989);
Hadrian's Wall in the Days of the Romans by Ronald Embleton and Frank Graham (Newcastle, 1984) pp.47-51;
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965).
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own. Togodumnus

Pons Aelius Related Lynx

Link to maps of the area from: StreetMap Old-Maps MultiMap
Page Citation: Kevan White (2018) "Roman Britain: PONS AELIVS - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE"