NGRef: SD9390
OSMap: LR98
Type: Minor Settlement, Fort


Plan of the Roman fort at Virosidum
(adapted from Collingwood, fig.7, p.31)
Roads
SW (24) to Calacvm (Burrow in Lonsdale, Lancashire)
Possible road: E (8) to Wensley (North Yorkshire)

The Brough-by-Bainbridge Roman Fort

N.G.REF DIMENSIONS AREA
SD937903 c.330 x 270 ft
(c.100 x 82 m)
c.2 acres
(c.0.8 ha)

In outline the fort describes a regular parallelogram, with both the shorter east and west sides each about 270 feet (c.100 m) long internally, and the longer north and south sides both about 330 feet (c.82 m) in length, being parallel to each other. The acute north-east and south-west corners subtend an angle of about 85 degrees, while the obtuse north-west and south-east angles both measure about 95 degrees. The area thus enclosed is only about 2 acres (c.0.8 ha), which is rather small, and perhaps points to part of the garrison unit being stationed elsewhere. There are gateways set centrally in each of the four sides, and what appear to be titulum outworks defending both the northern and western entrances. The rampart was fronted by a double ditch system on all sides apart from the west, where there are a number of irregularly spaced defensive outworks, possibly the remains of an annexe. The fort was oriented towards the east. The original rampart was of packed clay on a cobble foundation, having a width of about 20 feet, probably faced with timber, surmounted by a wooden parapet and punctuated by wooden gateways. A stone revetment was added to the front of the rampart probably at the beginning of the third century (see below), and an annexe defined by a stone rampart-wall which appears to be attached to the fort's defences on the east may also date to this period (Collingwood pp.38, 89 & fig.7 p.31; JRS 1953 p.88).

"The fort of Brough-by-Bainbridge (Fig. 7), in Wensleydale, seems to belong to the same series [along with others at Slack, Ribchester and Elslack] of Flavian foundations in Brigantian country. it is about 330 by 270 feet internally, or 2 acres; and was at first defended by a clay rampart about 20 feet across, laid on a cobble foundation, with a wooden parapet and wooden gateways.[3 Proc. Leeds Philos. Soc., vol. I, part vi; vol. II, pt. ii.]" (Collingwood p.32)

The foundation date of the fort is not known with any certainty, but its general layout suggests that it is probably Flavian, and its location deep in Brigantian territory may indicate a connection with the Brigantian campaigns of Quintus Petillius Cerialis who was governor of Britain c.71-74AD. It is possible that the fragmentary inscription RIB 724 (not shown) may be dated to this initial period of occupation. Other building work is attested at the fort during the campaigns of the emperor Septimius Severus and his sons in the Scottish Lowlands at the beginning of the third century.

Virosidum - The Settlement of True Men

The only classical reference for the name of the fort at Brough by Bainbridge is the Notitia Dignitatum, which was produced towards the end of the fourth century. The fort is the very last one listed under the commands of the "Right Honourable Duke of the Britains", and the entry is given in full below.

The Virosidum Entry in the Notitia Dignitatum

Tribunus cohortis sextae Neruiorum, Uirosido

"The tribune of the Sixth Cohort of Nervii at Uirosidum."

(Notitia Dignitatum xl.56; 4th/5th C.)

The placename Virosidum seems to be entirely Latin in formation, perhaps from the noun vir 'man, male, true men', and the verb sido 'to settle down', with the meaning 'the settlement of true men' - i.e. loyal to the emperor. If a Latin etymology is correct, it would indicate that the fort was founded on a virgin site, as the Romans were in the habit of adopting local names for their towns in particular, and, as one would expect for a Roman fort sited in the middle of nowhere from the legionary's perspective, the place was given an entirely Roman name.

Other Epigraphic Evidence from Brough-by-Bainbridge

Building Inscription of Governor Gaius Valerius Pudens

IMP CAESARI LVCIO SEPTIMIO SEVERO PIO PERTINACI AVG ET IMP CAESARI M AVRELIO ANTONINO PIO FELICI AVG ET P SEPTIMIO GETAE NOBILISSIMO CAESAR DD NN IMP ANTONINO II ET GETA CAESARE COS CENTVRIAS SVB CVRA C VALERI PVDENTIS AMPLISSIMI COSVLARIS COH VI NERVIOR FECIT CVI PRAEEST L VINICIVS PIVS PRAEF COH EIVS D

"For Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus, and Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus, and Publius Septimius Geta, Noble Caesar,¹ when our lords Imperator Antoninus for the second time and Geta Caesar were consuls,² under the administration of Gaius Valerius Pudens,³ the most distinguished of consulars, the centuries of the Sixth Cohort of Nervians made this under the command of Lucius Vinicius Pius, designated prefect of the same cohort."

(JRS li (1961), p.192, no.4; also JRS lix (1969), p.246; Dated: c.202-205AD)

  1. The emperors Septimius Severus and his eldest son Caracalla, also his youngest son Geta.
  2. Caracalla held the consulship for the second time 205AD (a.u.c. 958), with his brother Geta as junior colleague.
  3. Gaius Valerius Pudens was governor of Britain from c.202/3AD until 205 or later.

Cohors Sextae Nerviorum - The Sixth Cohort of Nervii

In the early third century the rampart was strengthened by the addition of a stone revetment, the renovation work being undertaken by the Sixth Cohort of Nervians, a regiment of auxiliary infantry soldiers recruited from amongst the Nervii tribe of Belgica province. This unit is mentioned on three out of the five recorded inscriptions on stone, also in the Roman administrative document the Notitia Dignitatum (vide infra). Two of the inscriptions mention the same commanding officer, one Lucius Vinicius Pius. The first inscription is dated to the administration of governor Gaius Valerius Pudens, at which time his title is defined as PRAEF[ectus] COH[ortis] D[esignatus] or 'Designated Prefect of the Cohort' (vide JRS 1961.4 supra). He is entitled praefectus on the second stone, but there is a suggestion that this was still only a temporary command and his actual rank was that of military tribune in one of the British legions (vide RIB 722 infra).

Building Inscriptions of Governor Lucius Alfenus Senecio

IMP CAESARI L SEPTIMIO SEVERO PIO PERTINACI AVGVSTO ET IMP CAESARI M AVRELIO ANTONINO PIO FELICI AVGVSTO [ET P SEPTIMIO GETAE NOBILISSIMO CAESARI] VALLVM CVM BRACCHIO CAEMENTICIVM FECIT COH VI NERVIORVM SVB CVRA L ALFENI SENECIONIS AMPLISSIMI COS INSTITIT OPERI L VINICIVS PIVS PRAEF COH EIVSD LEGIO ...

"For Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus, and Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus (and Publius Septimius Geta, most noble Caesar),¹ the ramparts and its branches² were faced in stone by the Sixth Cohort of Nervians under the administration of Lucius Alfenus Senecio,³ most distinguished consular, these works were established by Lucius Vinicius Pius, prefect of the selfsame cohort, from the legion [...]"

(RIB 722; dated: 205-209AD)

  1. The emperor Septimius Severus and his eldest son, later known as Caracalla. The name and titles of Caracalla's brother Geta were deleted in antiquity, probably on Caracalla's orders following his fratricide at Rome in December 211AD. Geta's name has been restored by the RIB.
  2. i.e. the gate-houses, corner-towers and interval-towers.
  3. Lucius Alfenus Senecio was governor of Britain c.205-209AD. It should be noted that the inscription is part-missing on the right and the ending is damaged, and an alternate reading for the last two lines is given in the R.I.B.: AMPLISSIMI V C INSTITIT OPERI L VIVIVS PIVS PRAEP COH C LEGIONIS....
...CAESARI AVGVSTO MARCI AVRELII FILIO ... SVB CVRA L ALFENI SENICIONIS AMPLISSIMI VENTS PIVS

"[...] Caesar Augustus, the son of Marcus Aurelius [...] under the administration of Lucius Alfenus Senecio, most widely honoured and faithful."

(RIB 723; dated: 205-209AD)

Although there is no physical evidence to prove whether any of the internal buildings of the fort were rebuilt at this time, it is thought that they had been originally of an all-timber construction and would probably have required complete replacement during the third-century refurbishment.

Centurial Stone from the Virosidum Defences

COH VI NER > IVLI MARTINI

"The Sixth Cohort of Nervians, century of Julius Martinus [made this]."

(RIB 724; JRS lii (1962), p.193, no.11)

See: Chronicle of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre (Thames & Hudson, London, 1995);
Chronology of the Ancient World by E.J. Bickerman (Thames & Hudson, London, 1980);
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;
The Archaeology of Roman Britain by R.G. Collingwood (Methuen, London, 1930).
All translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.