Written Rock of Gelt: Roman quarry inscriptions


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Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Carlisle (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 52629 58735

Reasons for Designation

Hadrian's Wall marks one of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. The international importance of the surviving remains has been recognised through designation as a World Heritage Site. The military importance of the Tyne-Solway route across the Pennines was recognised by the Romans during their early campaigns through northern England and into Scotland in the second half of the first century AD. At this time a military road, the Stanegate, was constructed along with a series of forts. Subsequently the Romans largely withdrew from Scotland and there is evidence that the Tyne-Solway route was being recognised as a frontier by the start of the second century AD. This position was consolidated in the early second century by the construction of a substantial frontier work, Hadrian's Wall, under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, subsequently attempted to establish the boundary further north, between the Clyde and the Firth of Forth, but by c.AD 160 growing unrest amongst the native populations of northern Britain and pressures elsewhere in the Empire caused a retraction back to the Hadrianic line. Hadrian's Wall was then the frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain until c.AD 400 when the Roman armies withdrew from Britain. Stretching over 70 miles from coast to coast, Hadrian's Wall was a continuous barrier built of stone in the east and, initially, of turf in the west. The stone wall was originally designed to be ten Roman feet wide and sections of this width are termed broad wall. A change of plan shortly after construction began led to a reduction in the width of the Wall to eight Roman feet, such sections being termed narrow wall. Today, stretches of both wall types survive, including some sections of narrow wall built on broad wall foundations. For most of its length a substantial ditch on the northern side provided additional defence. Where the Wall crossed rivers, bridges were constructed to carry it across. Construction of the Wall was organised and executed by legionary soldiers. From the beginning the barrier was planned to comprise more than just a curtain wall. At regularly spaced intervals of about a mile along its length lay small walled fortlets known as milecastles. These were attached to the southern side of the Wall and most had a gateway through the Wall to the north. Hence they controlled crossing points through the Wall as well as affording space for a small stable garrison. Between the milecastles were two equally spaced towers known as turrets. Together the milecastles and turrets provided bases from which the curtain wall could be watched and patrolled. Both the turrets and milecastles are thought to have been higher than the Wall itself to provide suitable observation points. It is often assumed that a platform existed on the Wall so that troops could actually patrol along the wall top; it is however far from certain that this was the case. At the western end of the Wall a system of towers, small fortlets and palisade fences extended the frontier system another 30 miles or so down the Cumbrian coast and helped control shipping moving across the estuary of the Solway Firth. As originally planned, and apart from whatever space there was in the milecastles, provision for the accommodation of garrison troops manning the Wall was left with the line of forts which already lay along the Stanegate. At some point a fundamental change of plan took place and forts were constructed along the line of the Wall itself. There are now known to have been 16 forts either attached to the Wall or in close association with it. Some overlay earlier features such as turrets or milecastles. At this stage another linear element, the vallum, was also added to the defensive system to the south of the Wall. This was a broad flat-bottomed ditch flanked by a pair of linear banks. It shadows the course of the Wall for almost all its length, sometimes lying very close to it but sometimes up to a kilometre away from it. The vallum's main function was to act as a barrier to restrict access to the Wall from the south. It also had a function in linking the forts along the Wall with a method of lateral communication. When the forts were placed along the wall line no provision was made for a road to link them. This situation was clearly found impracticable and a metalled track was therefore provided in places along the vallum between the north mound and the ditch. Later, after the withdrawal back to the Hadrianic line from the Antonine Wall, various refurbishments were made throughout the frontier line. At this stage a new linear feature was added: the `Military Way'. This was a road linking all elements of the Wall defence, running from fort to fort within the area bounded by the Wall and the vallum. Throughout its long history the Wall was not always well maintained. It was often neglected and sometimes overrun, but it remained in use until the late fourth century when a weak and divided Roman Empire finally withdrew its armies from the Wall and Britain. It now survives in various states of preservation. In places, especially in the central section, the Stone Wall still remains several courses high and the attached forts, turrets and milecastles are also clearly indentifiable. Earthwork features such as the ditch, vallum and Military Way also survive well in places. Elsewhere the Stone Wall has been virtually robbed out and only its foundations survive beneath the present ground surface. Similarly, stretches of the earthwork remains, including sections of the Turf Wall, have been levelled or infilled and now only survive as buried features. Although some sections of the frontier system no longer survive visibly, sufficient evidence does exist for its position to be fairly accurately identified throughout most of its length.

Roman inscriptions were introduced into England by the Roman army who brought with them a long established practice of setting up inscribed stones as religious dedications and tombstones, as records of building work, and as milestones, and also a tradition of inscribing weapons, tools or domestic utensils, ingots of metal and so forth, with the names of the owner. Many kinds of utensils, and also bricks and tiles, were often stamped with the name of the manufacturer. Roman inscriptions are usually cut in capital letters, either monumental or rustic, but some are in cursive or graffiti form and others take the form of pictures or `doodles'. They are extremely common in the first and second centuries AD and are not uncommon later, but become rare after AD 350. After AD 400 inscriptions cease, with the exception of tombstones. The value of Roman inscriptions as historical material is immense. They are contemporary and authoritative documents, whose text is a first hand record, free from subsequent corruption by copyists. They are the most important single source for the history and organisation of the Roman Empire, and their cumulative and comparative value is astonishingly great. The Written Rock of Gelt, in the Roman quarry flanking the River Gelt, is in one of only a handful of the 50 or so Roman quarries in England to display Roman inscriptions. Collectively the Written Rock inscriptions are the most informative group of Roman quarry inscriptions in the north of England. The information recorded is of particular importance because it gives the names of men and in some instances their rank and military units, while one datable inscription offers proof of rebuilding and repair work to the Roman frontier in the early third century AD. The inscriptions are also a good example of rough and unskilled work cut by poorly trained masons, and thus illuminate the contrast between this type of inscription and that produced on many public buildings, tombstones and milestones by the finest masons who used better quality tools and materials.


The monument includes the Written Rock of Gelt, a group of nine Roman inscriptions, of which only six are now legible, cut into the sandstone rock face of a Roman Quarry about 9m above the river on the north side of the River Gelt. The quarry lies c.5.5km south of Hadrian's Wall and was used as a source of building material during repair work to the wall in the early years of the third century AD. Reading from left to right, that is from west to east, the first inscription is VEX LI EG II AVG OF APR SVB AGRICOLA OPTIONE. It is 1.6m long and is translated as `A detachment of the Second Legion Augusta; the working face of Apr... under Agricola', the word OPTIONE indicates the rank of Agricola; each centurion had an `optio', so called because he was originally nominated by the centurion. Above the first letter of the inscription there is a carved face which is slightly larger than the lettering. It consists merely of an outline, two dots for the eyes, and a straight line for the mouth, and is clearly a representation of Agricola, the NCO in charge of the working party. About 0.3m beyond the end of the inscription just described is the inscription APRO ET MAXIMO CONSVLIBVS OFICINA MERCATI. It covers an area measuring 1.02m by 0.23m and is translated as `In the consulship of Aper and Maximus, the working face of Mercatius'. This inscription can be dated to AD 207 and states that that part of the quarry was the working face of Mercatius, the officer in charge. It is the earliest dated inscription from Cumbria concerned with the repair and rebuilding of the frontier system under the Emperor Severus in the early third century. Mercatius is mentioned again in the next inscription which lies 0.3m further to the east. It measures 0.79m long and reads MERCATIUS FERNI. About 0.3m further to the east the faint inscription N I S IIV III was recorded at some time before 1867 but this is now largely illegible. About 7.6m beyond the MERCATIUS FERNI inscription is the inscription EPPIVSM. It measures 0.61m long and is translated as the individual's name `Eppius M'. A short distance below the first inscription here described, the faint inscription AVD was recorded at some time before 1867 but this also is now largely illegible. About 1.09m below the second inscription here described is the inscription IVLIN. The text is 0.46m long with deep cut letters 0.1m tall. It is translated as the individual's name `Juli(a)nus'. About 0.46m below the third inscription here described is the inscription C IVL PECVLIARIS VEXILATIO LEG XX VV. It measures 0.61m long and is translated as `The century of Julius Peculiaris; detachment of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix'. The final inscription of this group, IX X, was recorded at some time before 1732 but is now largely illegible.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 337
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 336
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 337
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 337
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 338
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 337
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 337
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 337
Collingwood, R G, Wright, R P, Roman Inscriptions of Britain, (1965), 338
Collingwood, , Wright, , Romani in Britain, (1965), 337
Davies, R W, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. New Ser.' in A Note On Some Roman Soldiers In Quarries, , Vol. LXVIII, (1968), 22-3


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.

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