The site sits 30 meters south of the Antonine Wall and is recorded as being the highest Roman fort in Scotland. The Military Way runs between the site and the Antonine Wall and was constructed of sandstone cobbles with evidence of kerb edging.
An Iron Age fort is located on the north eastern part of Castle Hill at the rear of Bar Hill Fort.
Bar Hill encloses 1.3 hectares. The ramparts were built upon a stone base measuring 3.6 meters wide. Defended by double ditches to the east, south and west, and a single ditch to the north. Interestingly the ditches located to the north, east and south sides all have breaks in them to accommodate the roadways, however, the northern ditch does not.
The surrounding wall gives archaeological evidence of corner towers or platforms. As with all camps and forts, there were four entrances, the ones here measured 3.6 – 4.2 meters wide, with the east and south entrances having extra protection in the way of further small ditches. The main gate is located on the eastern side. The via principalis crossed the fort, as it did will all Roman forts.
Bar Hill was constructed on the site of a previous temporary camp, of the Flavian period, which appears as an annex to the western side. It is believed to have been the labour camp to this fort. A leather shoe was uncovered in the ditch when it was cleared out.
Another earlier smaller camp is located at the south west corner which had an internal area of 0.6 hectares and is also believed to have been used when Bar Hill was being constructed. Ditches in this area are believed to belong to this earlier temporary camp.
The Fort was constructed during the time of Antonius Pius, and structural as well as archaeological evidence tells us that it was built and garrisoned by the following,
Another, unknown unit, may also have inhabited the site as a kiln was constructed within the Bath House, when it was not being used, and African type pottery was manufactured. This, along with a bronze African figurine, have been discovered at the site which have raised some questions regarding occupation by an unknown unit.
Within the fort were the usual buildings including the principia, headquarters,which were located on the highest part of the site and the south facing slope. It is the biggest building within the site. It measured 23.5 meters by 25.5 meters, and included a northern courtyard, and was dressed in sandstone blocks. Altogether there were six rooms with walls measuring 0.8 meters thick. Three rooms were located on its southern side, and in the middle was a possible temple or shrine area, which included what is believed to have been a strong room, a stone lined box-type area sunken into the floor.
Located within the principia was the well measuring 13 meters deep and 1.2 meters in diameter. When the site was excavated some great finds were uncovered here, which we will be covering in the archaeology later this week!
There is evidence on the south eastern corner that the principia was burnt, but there is no definite evidence of an attack or other destruction.
The Bath house was located by the forts northern side and included four rooms. At the eastern end was the main furnace area. There were two heated rooms and a hypocaust has been uncovered in one of them. There is also evidence of a latrine area.
It is within this bath house that a pottery kiln uncovered, suggesting the use of a military potter for items required by the inhabitants. Items produced would have been cooking vessels, basin-like bowls, mortaria, ‘lid-seated casseroles, convex-walled cooking-dishes or platters (the latter proportionately wider), and occasionally domed lids’, (Swan 1999) and African Red Slip, demonstrating that the military potters located here may well have originated from North Africa. This ties in with the bronze dancing African figure uncovered by a metal detectorist in 1976.
The pottery kiln was built into the bath house and this could only have been done if the bath house was not in use. The kiln was only used for a short time and then the bath house put back into use.
The Barracks were aligned north to south and constructed in wood. When excavations were undertaken posts of the wooden barracks were uncovered and still standing to about 0.5 meters high.
The site also included what appears to have been a workshop as well as a Harreum, (granary).
The fort was used for twenty to thirty years only and apart from the burning at the south eastern corner of the principia, there is no evidence of the fort being destroyed. The Romans tended to dismantle their forts when they were finished with them and this would appear to be the case with Bar Hill, especially as there were so many shoes found within the ditches. The Romans would dismantle their buildings etc, and place all the remains in the wells and ditches and then fill them in.
Bar Hill is a great place to visit and one which sits on the northern most edge of the Roman Empire. Although it had a short history its remains are testament to the once might and power of the Romans!
References & Bibliography
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