There is some archaeological evidence that the site may have previously been an Iron Age hillfort, and that the local area was originally wooded, with birch trees. It is widely believed that Oswald, King of Northumbria, had a hunting lodge here. This may also have attributed its current name.
Standing on the Military Way there was also a Roman road called the Maiden Way running to Bewcastle. The site was one of strength and good positioning. It stood on a spur of land overlooking the River Irthing and is defended by cliffs on the southern and eastern sides. To the west it was defended by two ditches approximately 13m apart.
Originally a timber fort was constructed on the site when this section of Hadrian’s Wall was made of turf only. It was believed by the Romans that there was no limestone available in this area, which was vital for the mortar, so they built the Wall in turf. However, after scouring the landscape they found limestone was available and then the stone fort was built, and this section of Hadrian’s Wall was then constructed in stone.
Where the fort stood was once located Turret 49A which was demolished. The location of the original turret is in the centre of the via Principalis and this is the alignment of the original section of Hadrian’s Wall. The stone wall was diverted 50m to the north of the new stone fort.
Gateways were positioned at the usual cardinal points, and there may have had a monument at the site of the West Gate. The South Gate was a double gateway. Two gateways have been identified in the eastern wall, however, one of these has been shown to be where stone was robbed from the fort to use as building materials. The main eastern gateway was a single gateway. In 1851 the pivot holes for the large wooden gates could still be seen at the site.
The fort itself measured 178.5 m by 123 m, covering and area of 2.2 ha. It included the usual buildings of a fort, and a couple of surprises….
Remains of a vicus has been identified through geophysical survey located to the east and west of the site. The eastern vicus was larger and more scattered than the western one. The actual size of the vicus is unknown as some areas have been lost to the erosion of the cliffs.
Here is the timeline for the fort, (c. = at about this time).
125BC- AD 129 Dating from: Wrist purse.
123 This section of the turf wall was completed.
125 The timber fort was completed.
135-170 Dating from: Pottery uncovered at the site.
175 Dating from: Coin
c.218 A possible Antonine garrison was at the fort.
271-284 Dating from: Coins.
297-305 The praetorium, principia and bath house were restored and repaired.
3rd C Dating from: Flanged bowl.
3rd C Cemetery dates from.
3rd-4th C Dating from: Pottery.
330-370 Dating from: A calcite gritted war jar.
C.350 One of the granaries was partially dismantled.
4th C The northern granary fell down.
c.500 Garrisoned until.
5th-6th C Two long halls were built on the site of the granaries.
13th/14th C A tower house was built on part of the site.
1745 Farmhouse built on part of the site.
1852 Stone was taken by a local farmer from the east wall.
1928 First Scheduled.
1945 Remains of the turf Wall and Turret 49A discovered.
1949 A wrist purse, containing denarii was discovered by the south gate.
1959-1960 Cemetery discovered on the western side of the fort.
1987 Geophysical Survey of the site.
1997 Scheduling amendment.
2000 Excavated by Time Team.
2004 English Heritage acquired the site. Surveyed.
2100 Two coins discovered at the site – a sestertius of Septimius Severus; and a half fallis of Justin or Justinian.
There have been a lot of inscriptions uncovered at the site. For a full list please visit – https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/ – and search BIRDOSWALD.
For more in-depth research go to – https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/birdoswald-roman-fort-hadrians-wall/history-and-stories/history/sources/
References & Bibliography.
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Haverfield, F. 1898. Report of the Cumberland Excavation Committee, 1897, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 15, pp.172–90 Available at https://archive.org/stream/transactionsofcuvol15no1cumb#page/172/mode/2up.
Haverfield. F. 1898. Inscriptions preserved at Birdoswald, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 15, pp. 197–200. Available at https://archive.org/stream/transactionsofcuvol15no1cumb#page/196/mode/2up.
Haverfield. F. 1899. Report of the Cumberland Excavation Committee, 1898, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 15, pp. 345–64. Available at https://archive.org/stream/transactionsofcuvol15no2cumb#page/344/mode/2up.
Hodgson. E. 1898. Notes on the excavations on the line of the Roman Wall in Cumberland, in 1896 and 1897, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 15, pp. 201–10. Available at https://archive.org/stream/transactionsofcuvol15no1cumb#page/200/mode/2up.
Hodgson. E. 1899. Notes on the excavations on the line of the Roman Wall in Cumberland, in 1898, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 15, pp. 365–76. Available at https://archive.org/stream/transactionsofcuvol15no2cumb#page/364/mode/2up.
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