Maryport (Alavna) Roman fort, part of the Roman frontier defences along the Cumbrian coast, its associated vicus and a length of Roman road


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

Allerdale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 04055 37473

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 in the second half of the first century AD when a military road, the Stanegate, was constructed along with a series of forts. There is evidence that the Tyne-Solway route was being recognised as a frontier by the start of the second century AD, but the line was consolidated in the early second century AD by the construction of a substantial frontier work, Hadrian's Wall, in c.120 AD. Subsequent attempts to establish the boundary further north, between Clyde and Forth, failed by c.160 AD. Hadrian's Wall then remained the frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain until c.400 AD when Roman armies withdrew from Britain. For most of its course, the 70 miles of Hadrian's Wall running from coast to coast comprised a continuous stone wall (which in places was first temporarily built of turf) with permanent structures sited at intervals of one Roman mile (milecastles) and at third of a mile intervals (turrets) between the milecastles. At a later date, the Wall was strengthened by 16 full-size garrison forts built either on, or close to, the Wall. To the north of the Wall, for most of its length, lay a substantial defensive ditch and to the south a complex of banks and ditches provided east-west communication and demarcated the frontier zone from the province. To the west of Bowness-on-Solway, where the Wall reached the sea, however, the frontier had a different character and served a slightly different purpose. At the western end of the Wall a system of milefortlets and towers, spaced similarly to the milecastles and turrets along the Wall, extended the frontier system for at least 27 miles down the Cumbrian coast and helped control movement across the estuary of the Solway Firth. In places these milefortlets and towers were supplemented by lengths of palisade fences. 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. The frontier works along the Cumbrian coast survive as earthworks or buried archaeological remains, the latter sometimes visible on aerial photographs. They survive in this form largely as a result of the more ephemeral materials of which they were built (timber and turf instead of the stone of Hadrian's Wall land frontier) rather than because of poor survival of archaeological remains. Components of the coastal frontier which have surviving archaeological remains, whether visible or not, will generally be considered of national importance.

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 with one or more outer ditches. 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. 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. The attached vicus comprised a cluster of buildings such as domestic residences, workshops, shops and temples, together with roads, trackways, enclosures, fields and garden plots. Such vici were similar to contemporary small towns although they lacked the planned street grid normally evident in the latter. Normally they also lacked the defences surrounding the small towns. Unlike other towns vici were probably administered by the military authorities rather than being self-governing. The close juxtaposition of the fort and vicus allows the civilian communities to be investigated. In this instance the close proximity of the site to the Hadrianic frontier region was probably of considerable contemporary importance and activities within the vicus are thought to have been closely linked to wider activities within the frontier region. Roman roads were the first artificially made-up routes in Britain and were introduced by the Roman army from c.AD 43. They facilitated both the conquest of the province and its administration. Additionally Roman roads acted as commercial routes and became foci for settlement and industry. They provide important evidence of Roman engineering skills as well as the pattern of conquest and settlement. A combination of antiquarian investigation, limited excavation and aerial photography have shown that buried remains of Maryport Roman fort, its associated vicus and a length of Roman road survive well and extensively. The monument retains considerable information about its origin and form and will contribute to any further study of the Roman frontier defences along the Cumbrian coast.


The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of Maryport Roman fort - identified as the site of Alavna noted in classical sources - together with the buried remains of a large part of its associated vicus or civilian settlement. The vicus has been identified by a combination of antiquarian investigation and aerial photography. The vicus is located to the north and north east of the fort and includes a 420m length of Roman road running from the north gate of the fort through it. The fort formed part of the second century AD Roman frontier defences of forts, milefortlets and towers set approximately one third of a Roman mile apart along the vulnerable low-lying coastal plain of north west Cumbria and augmented in places by palisade fences. The monument is located on a sandstone ridge between 45m-56m OD close to the cliff edge from where there are extensive views in all directions but particularly out to sea and across the Solway Firth towards south western Scotland. The fort survives as a substantial undulating platform measuring approximately 140m square internally, and excavation has shown that it was defended by four ditches on the northern side and at least three ditches on the eastern side. Aerial photographs show that at least two ditches provided defence on the fort's south and west sides. Aerial photographs also show that the vicus extended over a considerable area to the north and north east of the fort. These photographs show a combination of dark crop marks representing infilled ditches and light crop marks which indicate the presence of buried remains of substantial stone buildings, some of which flank the Roman road which is also clearly visible on the aerial photographs. Interpretation of these photographs by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in 1993 indicated the presence of a trackway or boundary ditch flanked in part by a further group of buildings, and a large number of rectangular or curvilinear enclosures of various sizes representing fields, garden plots and land division within the vicus. There is a long history of recorded antiquarian investigation and limited excavation at this monument going back to the late 16th century when the then owner, John Senhouse, had begun to form the Netherhall Collection of inscriptions and sculptures which later became the largest private collection of Roman antiquities from any British site. The Senhouse family continued investigations of the fort and vicus throughout the next three centuries and the monument is known to have provided a ready supply of building material for the growing town of Maryport. In 1870 the biggest single find of Roman inscriptions ever made in Britain came to light when 17 buried altars were found in the vicus close to the site of the second century AD parade ground north of the fort. Ten years later Robinson traced the Roman road running through the vicus from the fort's north gate, and beside it he found numerous rectangular strip houses, that is, long narrow stone buildings lying endwise to the road. These buildings were generally internally subdivided to give an open front onto the street which served as a shop, behind this the middle room functioned as a workshop and the rear room provided living accommodation for the family. Other buildings found by Robinson included temples and tombs. In the third century AD the parade ground was moved to the south side of the fort and its original area was taken over by the expanding vicus. Limited excavation of the fort in 1966 found the well preserved remains of barrack blocks and stables or storage buildings and indicated that the fort had been constructed during the Hadrianic period (AD 117-138) and remained in use until the late fourth or early fifth century. A study of the Roman altars, building inscriptions and dedication slabs from the fort and vicus reveal evidence for some of the garrisons stationed at the fort. The cohors I Hispanorum, a unit 1000 strong, built the fort in the early years of Hadrian's reign. By the mid second century the fort was occupied by the cohors I Delmatarum and in the early third century the garrison was the ala II Asturum, a cavalry unit originally raised in Spain. One other garrison, the cohors I Baetasiorum, is known from inscriptions to have been stationed at Maryport, possibly in the late second century. All modern field boundaries and gateposts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included.

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:
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Books and journals
Ravenna Cosmography
Bellhouse, R, 'CWAAS Research Series' in Roman Sites On The Cumb Coast: A New Schedule Of Coastal Sites, (1989), 56
Bellhouse, R, 'CWAAS Research Series' in Roman Sites On The Cumb Coast: A New Schedule Of Coastal Sites, (1989), 48-51
Bellhouse, R, 'CWAAS Research Series' in Roman Sites On The Cumb Coast: A New Schedule Of Coastal Sites, (1989), 49
Jarrett, M G, 'CWAAS Extra Series' in Maryport, Cumbria: A Roman Fort and its Garrison, (1976), 1-94
Jarrett, M G, 'CWAAS Extra Series' in Maryport, Cumbria: A Roman Fort and its Garrison, (1976), 1-94
Robinson, J, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. Old Ser.' in Notes On Excavations Near The Roman Camp, Maryport 1880, (1881), 237
Robinson, J, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. Old Ser.' in Notes On Excavations Near The Roman Camp, Maryport 1880, (1881), 248
AP No. CCC 1595, 34, Cumbria County Council, Maryport Roman fort,
AP No. DL 1024, St Joseph, Maryport Roman fort, (1949)
AP No. DL1024, St Joseph,J.K., Maryport Roman fort, (1949)
AP No. MUCS 115,37, Manchester University, Maryport Roman fort,
RCHME, Cumberland Coast Events Record - Tower 23a, (1995)
RCHME, Maryport: Roman Civil Settlement. Air Photographic Transcription, (1993)
RCHME, Maryport: Roman Civil Settlement. Air Photographic Transcription, (1993)


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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