The site is located at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall and guards the River Tyne. Built on the northern banks at a bend in the river it covers 1.65 ha, measuring 138m by 120m. Where the fort looks over the River Tyne, there is a steep slope, giving added natural protection. Strategically placed, this fort was built to withstand attacks from the North of Hadrian’s’ Wall, and was the eastern most terminus.
Within the Roman Empire there were 5 sites which held the name SEGEDUNUM, and there has been debate whether this is the site of that name which appears in the Notitia Dignitatum in the Roman province of Britannia – due to the archaeological evidence it is now shown to be.
The etymology (name) of the site is now generally believed to mean either strong fort or strong enclosure.
This most eastern section of Hadrian’s Wall was added later than when the main wall was erected, and is thinner than the rest, it also had no vallum here. However, a rampart and ditch did surround Segedunum, and archaeology has discovered evidence of upright wooden stakes being placed within the ditch, as a deterrent to mounted attackers. Archaeologically these date to when the wall was first constructed,
Three rows and each held two short posts on average 180mm in diameter….sharpened to make them a formidable obstacle (Breeze 2011).
The fort comprised of a defensive wall which had the usual four gates, there is also a smaller minor gate located south of the western gate. in the fort the buildings included
Sandstone was the main building material and was used in the construction of the cavalry barracks, granaries, drainage culverts and hospital latrines.
There is evidence of three phases of construction.
Phase I – 125 AD
Phase II – c.180-230
Phase III – Late 3rd Century – early 4th Century
Not all of the buildings were of stone, but the main ones were from the beginning, which is unusual for a fort at that time. One interesting fact which archaeology had shown is that some of the walls of the buildings did not have foundations, they were built directly upon a base of clay, cobble and sandstone.
The Barracks were separated into two areas, the infantry in the barracks to the north and the cavalry in the barracks located at the southern end of the site. The barracks buildings measured 28 m in length plus an additional 14m for the officers’ quarters. The cavalry barracks included stabling the horses in the same area as their riders, possibly for rapid deployment should the need arise.
Stationed at Segedunum were cohors quingenaira equitata; possibly, II Augusta Brittonum Nervianna; IV Lingonum during the 3rd-4th centuries which included 600 men, broken down to 120 cavalry and 480 infantry. The site was, overall, garrisoned for around 300 years.
A Vicus has been identified to the south of the fort, within the area protected by Hadrian’s Wall. This site was around half a mile long and stood on the Military Way. Archaeology has been able to trace industrial activity, 2-3 streets, a pottery kiln, 3rd century buildings and evidence of banks and ditches dating from this period defending the site, and the possible re-use of the site during the 4th century.
The Military Way was the road which stretched along the rear of Hadrian’s Wall and was the main link between the forts and milecastles. It stretched the complete length of the Wall from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. The road was situated between the wall and the vallum (ditch) and was constructed between 122-126 AD.
In the following timeline I have also included when inscriptions have been discovered. RIB stands for Romans Inscriptions of Britain, and there is an amazing website which gives you all of the information in much finer detail. You can visit it at https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/.
Here is the timeline for the site, (c. = around this time),
c.122 Built. Possibly garrisoned by Cohors quingenaira equitata.
c.122-126 The Military Way was constructed.
c.160 The timber barracks were replaced in stone.
c.225-250 Cohors IV Lingonum garrisoned the site.
3rd C Barracks occupied until.
c.4th C The wall was refaced.
1732 Before: RIB 1306 & RIB 1302 discovered.
1783 An inscribed stone was found as well as a damaged figure of the Roman God Mercury. RIB 1305 discovered.
1875 Before: RIB 1308 & RIB 1300 discovered.
1884 Rows of houses built upon the site.
1892 RIB 1299 discovered.
1894 RIB 1301 uncovered.
c.1896 RIB 1307 discovered.
1912 The East Gate of the fort was relocated and erected in Wallsend Park with stone taken from the site.
1929 Excavated. The outline of the fort was recorded.
1951 Field Investigation.
1968 Field Investigation.
1970’s Houses on the site were demolished.
1975-1984 Excavations undertaken.
1977 Hospital excavated. Aerial photograph.
1977-1979 The Barracks at the rear of the fort were excavated.
1978 Field Investigation.
1979 Field Investigation.
1984 Hospital excavated. The complete outline of the fort was determined.
1992 Aerial photograph.
1990’s Part of Hadrian’s Wall was excavated and reconstructed.
1993 A section of Hadrian’s Wall was uncovered near the ship yard.
1997 The Segedunum Project began – this included excavations, rebuilding of the Bath House, and converting the local ship-yard into a museum. Hospital area excavated.
1998 Barracks excavated. Shown to be unique, as the horse and men were billeted together within the same area. RIB 3281 uncovered.
2000 The Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum was officially opened to the public.
2001 A section of the defences were uncovered in the Swan Hunter Ship Yard.
2015 Bath House excavated.
Over time the site was robbed of stone for building materials. Jarrow Monastery and the local colliery used a lot of the building materials.
It is believed that the town which once stood on the site was devastated by the plague and abandoned, and the new town of Wallsend built further to the east.
Despite everything this site has been through, including the destruction of remains through agriculture and industry, aspects of it still remain today. The preservation of the remains and its memory is kept alive by the Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum, ensuring a safe future – if only this could be done at a number of other sites!
This short video by Newcastle University gives a visual depiction of the phases of the site – well worth a watch, and re-watch!
Newcastle University – How did the Roman site of Segedunum, Wallsend, transform the landscape? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSPK4LKeBdU
References & Bibliography
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