Chesters Roman Fort

Chesters Roman Fort Cilurnum

Built just after the wall was completed in AD 123, Chesters is the best preserved Roman Cavalry Fort in Britain.

At the turn of the 1800's Nathaniel Clayton, owner of Chesters House and Estate, moved hundreds of tons of earth to cover over the last remains of the fort as part of his parkland landscaping, thereby creating a smooth uninterrupted grassland slope down to the River Tyne. Admittedly, he did take the trouble to find and collect a number of Roman artifact which he preserved in the family. However his son John was fascinated by the vestiges of Roman presence in the neighbourhood, and went to the trouble of removing all his father's work, exposing the fort, excavating, and establishing a small museum for his finds. Not only that, but he also made excavations at Housesteads Fort, Carrawborough Mithraic Temple, and Carvoran, amongst others, and all this by apparently devoting himself to archaeology only on Mondays...

The Commandant's House Chesters Roman Barracks

Excavations looking North West

Commandant's House showing thebrick pillars of the underfloorhot air heating system.

Plan of Chesters Roman Fort

Today the site is under the care of English Heritage and is open to the public, as is the small museum of Roman finds which John Clayton built.

Chesters was obviously very important to the Romans who built a sophisticated bridge (very little of which remains today except foundations) across the River Tyne at this point. It seems very likely that Chesters was the Roman Cilurnum referred to in the late Roman Military List Notitia Dignitatum, established first as a station for cavalry and, later, footsoldiers. Hadrian himself encouraged the "Cult of Disciplina" amongst legions stationed at the wall, and an early inscription on an altar dedicated to Disciplina, found in 1978, indicates the earliest known military presence was a wing of cavalry; ala Augusta ob virtutem appellata ("named Augusta because of its valour"). The Roman Army was made up of people who enlisted from all over the Empire, and inscriptions have been found showing that those garrisoned here included the First Cohort of Dalmatians (present day Yugoslavia) and the First Cohort of Vangiones from Upper Rhineland in Germany.

It seems that Cilurnum was built to house cavalry capable of rapid strikes into the "barbarian" north, but it is not known how many times it was called upon to fulfill this function.

Model Chesters Roman Baths

The Baths, with the River Tyne beyond

Model (in Chesters Museum) showing the bridgeover the river, then the Baths, and the Barracks beyond.

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