Roman Site in Newcastle upon Tyne
Condercum fort was the third fort on Hadrian’s Wall, after Segedunum (Wallsend) and Pons Aelius (Newcastle). It was situated on a hilltop 2 miles (3 km) to the west of the Newcastle and its name Condercum, meant ‘
Today, nothing can be seen of the fort or its adjoining wall, as the site is covered by a modern reservoir and housing estate.
What did Condercum Fort look like?
The fort at Condercum has a typical ‘playing-card’ outline and was built astride the line of the Wall with three of its major gates – the porta praetoria and both portae principales – opening out onto the north side, as was usual for a cavalry fort on the Wall. On the south side of the Wall, the Roman military road entered and exited the fort through the portae quintanae, and to the south the vallum, which closely followed the outline of the fort’s defenses, was bridged by an uncut portion of the ditch, obviously an original design feature. The fort measured 570 feet from north to south by 400 feet east to west and the defenses enclosed an area of just over five acres.
During excavations conducted over the years at Benwell a number of animal bones have been uncovered, including those of Ox, Sheep, Pig and Red Deer. In addition, the soldiers diet was supplemented by a variety of shellfish, including Oyster, Mussel, Limpet, Whelk, Cockle, Freshwater Mussel and Edible Snail.
Who Built Condercum Fort?
It is known from several building inscriptions that the defenses of the fort at Benwell were initially built by the soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion. A single altarstone dedicated by a centurion of the legion possibly indicates that at least one century from the regiment were housed at the fort while building work commenced, but the date suggests that the dedicating centurion may have been seconded to the First Cohort of Vangiones in an advisory capacity, and was not accompanied by any legionary soldiers.
Condercum Fort’s garrison in the second century
In the second century the fort was garrisoned by Cohors I Vangionum Milliaria Equitata, which was a part-mounted unit from Upper Germany with a nominal strength of one-thousand men. Only two centuriae (barrack-blocks) have been found at Benwell, and although the praetentura has not been excavated, even if it contained nothing but barracks there would only be accommodation for about half of this unit. An inscription found at Cilurnum (Chesters) confirms the presence of the First Cohort of Vangiones in the late-second century, and it is very likely that the unit was divided between these two forts at this time. The unit is recorded on an altar dedicated to the god Antenociticus, and also on a single tombstone of a soldier from the unit (vide supra).
Condercum Fort’s garrison in the late-second century
The Twentieth Legion were apparently responsible for some additional building or repair work at Benwell sometime during the late-second century. Again, it is doubtful that a cohort from this regiment was ever permanently stationed at Condercum, but it is certain that at least one century from the legion must have been temporarily resident while construction work was under way; the discovery of two altarstones dedicated by centurions of Legio XX Valeria lend support to this theory.
Although a detachment of the British Fleet is known to have built the granary at Benwell, is is extremely unlikely that any of these men were permanently stationed here. It is more likely that the cohort(s) from the Second Augustan Legion, after constructing the defences of the Condercum fort, were called away for some reason before the internal buildings were completed and the only men who could be spared to finish the task were the marines of the British Fleet, who were possibly stationed at the South Shields fort during this period.