Birdoswald Roman Fort (Banna)

Picture of Birdoswald Roman Fort

Grid Reference
Owned by
English Heritage
28 March - 30 September 10am-6pm daily
1 October - 1 November 10am-5pm daily
Winter 10am-4pm Sat & Sun only
Public Transport
185 bus to upper Denton and 3/4 mile walk along Hadrians Wall.
Car Park
English Heritage car park
Toilets, Museum shop, Museum, Cafe

Birdoswald stands high above a bend on the river Irving. The fort continued to used after the Romans had left, and details of this are shown in the museum. In the turbulent years before the union of England and Scotland, a Bastle House was built here in the 1580's. The Tweedles who built the bastle were probably reivers themselves, and the Bastle was attacked a number of times. A bastle house was a fortified farm house built to protect the owners and their cattle from the notorious border reivers who used to raid all the border area between England and Scotland, fleeing back across the border to escape pursuit.

Birdoswald is in one of the prettiest locations along the wall. The north gateway has been destroyed, but the other gateways have all been excavated. The west gate still has pivot holes for the gates, and you can make out ruts from the carts that used to traverse the gate. The two granaries, drill hall and work shops have also been unearthed.

The Roman fort covers an area of about five and a half acres, which is about half an acre more than Housesteads.

There is still some confusion as to what the Roman name of Birdoswald should have been, it could have been either Banna or Camboglanna. This is because there are three main sources for the names of these forts, namely, the Ravenna Cosmography (a compilation of the seventh century of the countries of the known world), the Notitia Dignitatum (an official document listing Roman Army units) and the so-called Rudge Cup and Amiens Skillet (a small bowl and skillet dating from about 150 AD, with a running border around their rims representing the wall and carrying the names of the forts). The Ravenna only names one fort (Banna) between Stanwix and Graet Chesters, where as there are two, Birdoswald and Castlesteads. The Rudge cup lists two, and from the order suggests that Castlesteads is Camboglanna and Birdoswald is Banna. However the Notitia list the garrison AMBOGLANNA (AMBOGLANNA was probably an error and its true name was CAMBOGLANNA meaning 'crooked glen') as the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians; this is the unit that is known to have garrisoned Birdoswald. To confuse things further, an alter has been found at Birdoswald, which was dedicated to Silvanus God of the Forest by a group called the hunters of Banna.

The fort was occupied by a cohors milliaria, which was an infantry cohort with almost twice the strength of the normal auxiliary cohort. The cohors milliaria was organised into ten centuries to give a total paper strength of about eight hundred men. There are only a few milliaria units recorded in Britain.

Under the emperor Hadrian, the Roman fort was occupied by the cohors I Tungorum milliaria, one of the Vindolanda tablets gives a unit strength report for this cohort, which shows the difference between the actual and theoretical strengths. The net strength of these is given as 752 including six centurions, but most of these are on various duties away from the fort; this includes 46 as guards of the governor, 337 including 2 centurions at Coria (probably Corbridge). In total 456 soldiers including 5 centurions are away from the fort. Of the ones left , 15 are sick, 6 wounded and no less than 10 have inflammations of the eyes, leaving only one centurion and 264 men fit for service at the fort.

The visitor centre brings the history to life, with full scale models of Roman soldiers. It also describes the border raids of the medieval and tudor times. Occasionally their are re-enactments of the border reivers by local re-enactment groups.

Channel 4 Time Team did an excavation of the Roman cemetery at Birdoswald in January 2000. Time Team excavation.

The wall itself is in particular good condition to the East of Birdoswald. If you walk in this direction you soon have to descend steeply to the bottom of the valley and then crosses a new and beautifully built footbridge across the river Irving. The riverbank makes a pretty place for a picnic and you can occasionally find fossils in some of the boulders. Just back from the river are the impressive remains of the Roman bridge abutment.