Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[merged small][ocr errors]

The Roman CiTY OF CorstoPITUM, NEAR CORBRIDGE-ON-TYNE. The site of the Roman town of Corstopitum, the first mansio south of the limes in the second Iter of the Antonine Itinerary, has been known for centuries. The existing tower-arch of Corbridge Church was probably removed from some Roman building here in preConquest times. According to Camden, King John here conducted an unsuccessful search for hidden treasure, and the ruins formed a convenient quarry for many generations. Fragments of Roman mouldings, probably from Corstopitum, are to be seen in the still existing crypt of the church which Wilfrid built at Hexham, about three miles to the west, in the seventh century; and a stone used as a roofing-slab bears an inscription to Septimus Severus and his sons, with the name of Geta erased. Corstopitum, or its immediate neighbourhood, has in past times yielded a number of inscribed or sculptured stones, including two altars with Greek dedications, one to Astarte and the other to the Tyrian Hercules ; but the most remarkable relic of the Roman city is the famous Corbridge lanr, a silver dish measuring 197 ins. by 15 ins., and bearing in relief the figures of several deities. It was found on the bank of the Tyne in 1734, and is now in the possession of the Duke of Northumberland. The outline of the site was surveyed by MacLauchlan about fifty years ago, but no systematic researches have been made here till the present year, when, during August and September, excavations were carried out by the Northumberland County History Committee, with the permission and assistance of Captain Cuthbert, of Beaufront Castle, the owner of the land. The work has been done under the general superintendence of Dr. Haverfield, and the immediate direction of Mr. C. L. Woolley, of the Ashmolean Museum, who has been assisted by Mr. R. H. Forster, our Honorary Treasurer.

The site of the Roman cityl is on the north bank of the Tyne, about i Camden calls the site Colecester, and at the present time it is commonly termed Corchester. It is quite distinct from Corbridge, the whole of the Roman site being now agricultural land.

half a mile to the west of the present village of Corbridge, and two and a half miles south of the line of the Roman Wall. The south side slopes sharply to the river, about 100 ft. below; and probably the escarpment was still steeper in Roman times, when the Tyne, as seems likely, ran in a somewhat different channel, and may have been slightly nearer the site. The city itself has been a rough oval, covering about 26 acres. On the south-east and south-west the fosse has been clearly proved, and at those points it has been backed by a berm and rampart, the latter apparently of earth with a core of rough stone ; but at some time previous to the abandonment of the place by the Romans, the fosse has been filled in, and buildings have been erected up to, or even over, its north edge. On the south side, where the river is nearest, no trace of the fosse has been discovered, but there are indications that for a certain distance on this side there was a steep declivity, with a stone curb or retaining wall on its brow, and at its foot a marsh or quicksand, which became the common midden or refuse-heap of the place. This is now represented by a thick bed of black, malodorous clay, containing numerous fragments of Samian and other ware, bones, shoe-soles, nails, pieces of wood, and other objects. It is unfortunate that the tapping of a strong feeder of water stopped the work in one of the trenches in this neighbourhood, just when it was becoming particularly interesting. In the middle of this black clay, more than 10 ft. below the present surface, a low piece of wall was found, resting apparently on planks supported by short piles. It may have been part of a well-head or cistern, disused even in Roman times, but the presence of water rendered it impossible to continue the investigation in the short time that remained available.

Of the interior of the city it is impossible to speak definitely till further excavations have been made. A considerable space was explored above the brow of the southern slope, several houses and other buildings being exposed and planned; but, unfortunately, as these buildings approach the brink of the slope, the walls come close to the surface, and have been entirely destroyed, while elsewhere much stone has been removed for building purposes. In the northern half of the space mentioned, a street, 18 ft. wide and running roughly east and west, was found. Adjoining this were the remains of a building with a bold plinth of large stones, grooved on top, apparently to

Specimens of the wood have been submitted to Professor Potter, of the Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who has determined that the wood is that of the birch (Betula). Judging from the appearance under the microscope, he considers that the specimens had been covered up, and the air excluded, soon after they had been cast on one side.

receive a plaster moulding, and also a wall, 6 ft. in thickness, of good masonry, with a shallow plinth on the outer side, extending for a considerable distance towards the south. This portion of the site yielded a quantity of pottery, from red Samian down to rude handmade ware,' a number of coins, some of the Antonine age, but mostly of the early part of the fourth century, a few spear-heads, two engraved gems, some bronze fibulae, and other ornaments.

Another site was explored in the south-west quarter of the city, close to the filled-in fosse ; and here were found the remains of a house of large size and good quality, the different floor-levels showing that it had been rebuilt more than once. The walls of at least two of the rooms had been faced with painted plaster, some of which has been recovered, and seems to show a low dado of dark marbled red, surmounted by a geometrical pattern in two or three colours on a light ground. The heating arrangements of one of these rooms are of great interest. There was- at least in later Roman times—no hypocaust proper, but against the north wall was a range of flue-tiles, communicating with a horizontal flue below the floor level. The tile-flues, twenty-three in number, were set side by side without interval,? every tile having an opening at either side, corresponding with openings in the adjoining tiles. The horizontal flue was traced to the north-east part of the house, where there were indications of an ordinary hypocaust. A remarkable feature of this house was a large block of concrete, 5 ft. in thickness and about 12 square yards in area, enclosed within the building. It is slightly trapezoidal in shape, and its purpose has not been satisfactorily determined. This site yielded less pottery than the other, but against the south wall was found a fine pipe-tile, bearing the stamp of the Sixth Legion---LEG VI v.

Built into the western part of the south wall of this house were two arch-stones, originally belonging to a massive archway of 12 ft. 6 ins. span. Each stone has a moulding on the outer face, and the larger of the two is 2 'ft. square and 17 ins. thick at the broader end of the arch face. These stones are of great importance, as proving the origin of similar stones which have been used in the construction of post-Roman buildings in the neighbourhood, and they show that Corstopitum possessed structures of remarkable size and workmanship : a point of some moment in view of the controversy as to whether the Roman

1 This was found with other pottery of undoubtedly Roman origin, and not so as to suggest pre-Roman occupation, of which no traces have yet beeu discovered.

2 This arrangement is not common in the North of England, but examples have been found at Vinovia (Binchester, near Bishop Auckland), the second mansio sonth of Curstopitum.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsett »