Corbridge Roman Town (Coria)

Coria (also known as Corstopitum) was a fort and town in the Roman province of Britannia immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall, on the east-west road stretching from Corbridge to Carlisle (Luguvalium) and now known as the “Stanegate”. The site lies to the west of the modern town, on the north bank of the River Tyne in the English county of Northumberland. A number of forts, which are now deeply buried beneath the remains, were built during the 1st and 2nd centuries. Coria largely developed after AD 160 and continued to thrive until its abandonment in the early years of the 5th century when Roman administration in Britain collapsed.

Reconstruction of Corbridge town at its most extensive, in about AD 225
© Historic England (illustration by Peter Lorrimer)

The first fort at Cordbrige lay around 1 km west of the Roman town at Red House, and was discovered during construction of the A69 road in 1974. Dating to the late 70s and classified as a vexillation fortress, it was probably established as part of Julius Agricola’s planned conquest of Scotland. A decade later, about AD 86, this early fort was abandoned, and the garrison moved to a new turf fort on the present site. It was followed by another fort at the beginning of the 2nd century, but it was burnt down, possibly by enemy action. Afterwards, a new fort (Fort II), still in turf and timber, was built directly upon the destruction layer of Fort I to secure the new border line.

Fort II was modified in about AD 122 to provide support for Hadrian’s Wall and to accommodate a different garrison of 1,000 infantrymen. From about AD 125 until AD140, the fort at Corbridge lay vacant, while the forts on Hadrian’s Wall thrived with activity. From AD 139, when the frontier was pushed further north, and the Antonine Wall built, the first stone fort (Fort III) was erected under Quintus Lollius Urbicus. This activity is attested by a couple of inscriptions recording the work of the Second Legion during his governorship. Further alterations to the internal layout followed in the early AD 160s when the function of Corbridge suddenly changed to that of a base for legionaries. Detachments from the Twentieth Legion (Legio XX Valeria Victrix, whose main base lay at Chester) and the Sixth Legion (Legio VI Victrix, from York) were present at Corbridge. These legions built temples, granaries, a fountain house and other significant structures (known from inscriptions).

A relief of a boar. The boar was the emblem of the Twentieth Legion, who were present at Corbridge in the AD 160s.

It was not until the reign of Septimius Severus (AD 193 – 211) that the buildings, still visible on the site today, began to assume their final form. Two stone-walled compounds were built to house the legionary detachments. The eastern compound contained two houses and other buildings, while the western had workshops and a small headquarters building in which there was a strong room. These were connected with the Second (Legio II Augusta) and the Sixth Legion (Legio VI Victrix) and may have been part of the supply network for Severus’s expedition in Caledonia. The granaries were also probably rebuilt under Severus in their visible form.

By the early 3rd century, a large civilian town of 12 hectares had grown up around the core of the military garrison. Corbridge continued to thrive as a civic centre for the next two centuries and became the administrative centre of a civitas (self-governing administrative division). The town seems to have been rapidly abandoned when Roman administration in Britain collapsed in the early years of the 5th century.

The remains of the Roman town of Coria were identified in the 16th century. By the early 18th century, the site was almost entirely levelled and under the plough but in 1906 excavations began to reveal the extent of the town. The remains of the site visible today represent only a tiny fraction of the Roman town built around the site of successive forts. These include the best-preserved granaries of Britain, a market complex, an ornate fountain, and compounds for legionary soldiers. The site museum has one of the largest of the Hadrian’s Wall collections, with over 34,000 finds. It gives a vivid insight into life in the northernmost town of the Roman Empire.

Statue of a lion attacking a young stag, 3rd century AD. Museum of Cordbridge.

PORTFOLIO

The Stanegate. The broad follows what was one of the main roads through the fort, the via principalis, which connected the east and the west gates.
The granaries at Cordbridge are the best preserved of the standard military type anywhere in the Empire. The remains visible today are of those probably built under Septimius Severus.

 

The West Granary. This granary was built over an earlier one, probably belongs to the legionary supply depot of the AD 160s.
The East Granary stands higher than the west. In the east wall one of the ventilators still has the stone mullion that blocked access to the basement.
The only surviving mullion in a granary ventilator slot in Britain.
To keep the contents of these two grain stores cool and dry, the floors were raised on dwarf walls above a ventilated basement. In front of the doors were loading platforms covered with porticoes which column bases can still be seen.
The Fountain House. It is an elaborate fountain built in the late 2nd or early 3rd century as the main public water supply for both legionaries and civilians.
The Courtyard Building. This vast building may have served as the headquarters of a legionary fortress, a forum for a civil town. It has a square shape of 66m surrounded by ranges.
The west side of the Courtyard Building with the headquarters building of the Hadrianic period.
The east side of the Courtyard Building with the commanding officer’s house of an earlier fort.
The West Compound. It contained workshops and a small headquarters building in which there was a strong room.
The Principia (Headquarter Building) of the West Compound.
The Strongroom within the Principia of the West Compound. The steps led to an antechamber giving access to the shrine of the standards.
Relief found in the west principia strongroom of Hercules raising a club to strike the Hydra. Minerva (left) directs his blow.
The West Compound with the Civilian Buildings on the left and the Barracks (later workshops) on the right.
The West Compound with a water tank in the foreground and two rectangular barracks in the background.
The East Compound comprising the Headquarters (Principia), Workshops, the Barracks and the Officer’s Accommodation.
The Officers’ Accommodation. This complex originally formed two houses with an entrance corridor and seven rooms arranged around a central courtyard. They accommodated officers in charge of the legionary detachment.
The Barracks or Workshops of the East Compound. The undulating ground was caused by subsidence following the Roman departure.
The Barracks of the East Compound.
The massive base of the East Compound enclosure wall.
The Corbridge Lanx as displayed in the British Museum. It is 4th century AD Roman silver dish found near Corbridge, northern England in 1735. Once part of a large Roman treasure, only the silver lanx remains from the original find.

Source:

  • Hodgson, N, Roman Corbridge: Fort, Town and Museum (English Heritage guidebook, London, 2015) [buy the guidebook]

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