History of Hardknott Roman Fort

One of the most remote and dramatically sited Roman forts in Britain, the small, three-acre fort at Hardknott enjoyed command of the Eskdale Valley and the Roman road to Ravenglass. 

Remains of the fort commander's residence

Remains of the fort commander's residence

The fort at Hardknott was established early in the second century AD: a fragmentary inscription, dating from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (117–38), from the south gate records the garrison as the Fourth Cohort of Dalmatians, from the Balkans.

The fort was demilitarised in the late 130s, when the Romans reoccupied southern Scotland, but was regarrisoned under Marcus Aurelius in the 160s; it was finally abandoned very early in the third century.

Objects found around the fort suggest that thereafter its ruins offered temporary shelter to passing patrols and travellers.

Aerial view of Hardknott Roman Fort in its barren highland location at the edge opf a scarp

Aerial view of Hardknott Roman Fort

Description

 

Bath House

Off the track from the road to the fort lie the remains of a stone bath house, which provided facilities for the soldiers’ relaxation.

It consisted of four ‘rooms’ – one containing the furnace (at the far end), and the others with hot, warm and cold baths. To the left, a circular room with its own furnace was used much like a modern sauna.

 

Inside the Fort

The fort is entered through its main (south) gate, which, like those in the eastern and western walls, had two carriageways; the north gate had just one, presumably because of its precipitous location.

The walls of the fort are of stone, although an internal bank of earth may have given access to the wall-walk and to the internal guard towers at the four corners, which have no entrances at ground level and were later additions.

 

Stone Buildings

The lower courses of three stone buildings survive in the middle of the fort.

Directly opposite the south gate is the headquarters building, which comprised a courtyard flanked by narrow rooms, possibly used as armouries.

At the far end of this courtyard was the ‘cross-hall’, where the fort commander dispensed justice to defaulters, while beyond this was a small temple where the garrison’s standards and dedicated altars were housed. On either side of the temple were offices for administration and record-keeping.

To the left of the headquarters building was the commander’s residence; normally a large house with a courtyard – as befitted his status – at Hardknott this was left unfinished or possibly made into a smaller residence, reflecting the intermittent use of this fort.

To the right are the granaries, roofed as a single building. The floors were raised on piers to allow free circulation of air and to reduce the risk of infestation by vermin.

The outer walls were buttressed for support against the weight of the roof, while the entrances had raised platforms onto which the carts carrying grain were unloaded.

 

Soldiers' Accommodation

Barracks normally occupied the remainder of the fort; at Hardknott, however, no traces of these remain, although the front of the fort possibly contained barracks of stone and timber.

At the rear, building would have been extremely difficult owing to the uneven ground, and the soldiers may have been housed in leather tents, remnants of which have been recovered in excavations.

The parade-ground, where the garrison exercised and practised drill manoeuvres, lies on a plateau about 218 yards (200 metres) to the east.

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The central range of buildings, with the granaries in the foreground and a mountainous backdrop

The central range of buildings, with the granaries in the foreground

Further Reading

Charlesworth, D, ‘The Granaries at Hardknott Castle’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, 63 (1963), 148–52

Collingwood, RG, ‘Hardknott Castle’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, 28 (1928), 314–52

Dymond, CW, ‘The Roman Fort at Hardknott, known as Hardknott Castle’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, 12 (1892–3), 375–439

Shotter, DCA, ‘Three Roman Forts in the Lake District’, Archaeological Journal, 155 (1998), 338–51

Wright, RP, ‘A Hadrianic Building-Inscription from Hardknott’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society, 65 (1965), 169–75

Note

The text on this page is derived from the Heritage Unlocked series of guidebooks, published in 2002–6. We intend to update and enhance the content as soon as possible to provide more information on the property and its history.

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