Habitancum Roman fort and medieval settlement
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- NY 89056 86215
Reasons for Designation
Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army.
In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded
corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one
or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary
enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the
accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used
throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between
the mid first and mid second centuries AD. Some were only used for short
periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or
less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways,
towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was
a gradual replacement of timber with stone.
Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn
Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are
important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts
are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman
forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally
Habitancum Roman fort is very well preserved and retains significant archaeological deposits. It is important as an example of a garrison fort in the frontier zone throughout much of the Roman occupation and for its role in various Scottish campaigns.
Habitancum Roman fort, also known as Risingham, is situated on a low knoll,
surrounded by low ground, above the River Rede. Today, the fort appears as a
classically rectangular shape with rounded corners measuring 135m north west
to south east by 117 north east to south west within a substantial rampart and
wall and with the remains of a medieval settlement within its walls. The
visible remains at Habitanicum are of a fort constructed in the early years of
the third century AD by the Emperor Severus; an inscribed slab, uncovered by
excavation, records the construction of the fort by a 1000 strong mounted
cohort (one of the ten units of a Roman legion). The walls of the fort are
substantial features up to 10m wide and standing to a height of 0.5 to 1.2m
above the interior of the fort. The walls were constructed of large blocks of
local sandstone infilled with rubble and earth. Most of the the large facing
stones have been removed leaving only the rubble infill. The wall is backed
internally by a substantial earthen rampart. The fort is surrounded on all
sides by medieval rig and furrow; it is thought that these rigs mask up to
four Roman ditches which would have surrounded the fort walls. There are three
gateways giving access to the interior of the fort: the west and south gates
are represented by breaks in the wall and rampart 8m wide and are carried
across the ditches on raised causeways 0.4m high. A gap in the centre of the
northern rampart is thought to represent the site of a northern gateway. Such
gateways would normally be flanked by small watch towers and it is thought
that raised and slightly spread areas on either side of the west and south
gateways are the buried remains of gate towers. The defensive circuit is
furnished with small towers at each angle and at intervals along each of the
fort walls: they are visible as grassed over mounds of masonry. A change in
the course of the River Rede has eroded part of the northern wall including
the north-west angle tower. Within the interior of the fort there are many
traces of buildings, most of which appear as small rectangular and irregular
enclosures and linear ditches; recent interpretation of these remains has
indicated that the majority are the result of post-Roman re-occupation of the
fort, the exact nature of which is uncertain. A post-Roman settlement at
Risingham is mentioned in a survey of 1604 when one Elizabeth Swan had a
holding here. The last inhabitant, William Ridley, left his cottage in 1826.
The remains of the internal Roman buildings are thought to lie beneath this
later settlement; partial excavations in the 1840s revealed the layout of the
bath house situated in the south east angle of the fort and a headquarters
building situated at the centre of the fort.
Excavations also uncovered early second century pottery and evidence of
burning beneath the present western rampart; this has been taken to suggest
that the present visible remains resulted from the reconstruction of an
earlier 2nd century fort built under the Emperor Antoninus Pius and probably
destroyed during the invasions of northern tribes recorded in the late second
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Frere, S S, St Joseph, J K S, Roman Britain from the Air, (1983), 119,121
Frere, S S, St Joseph, J K S, Roman Britain from the Air, (1983), 119 121
Johnson, A, Roman Forts, (1983), 287
Richmond, I A, 'Northumberland County History xv' in The Romans in Redesdale, (1940), 106-115
NY 88 NE 04,
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing