Habitancum Roman fort and medieval settlement


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Habitancum Roman fort and medieval settlement
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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 important.

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 century AD.

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.

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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,
RCAME, (1982)
Welfare, H,


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

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