The Best Bits of Hadrian’s Wall: the Forts (Benwell)

Benwell fort (CONDERCVM)

plan of BenwellBenwell was built after the Wall and its ditch and before the Vallum, which made a detour to the south to avoid it, and it is another of those that straddles the line of the curtain wall. The fort is 10.9km (6.75 miles) from Rudchester and covers 2.2ha (5.6 acres). The portion projecting north of the wall has been destroyed by a modern reservoir, whilst that to the south is wholly built over. It was garrisoned in the 2nd century by the cohors I Vangionum, then in the 3rd and 4th centuries by the ala I Asturum. The fact that the fort was not big enough to have contained the Vangiones, a double-strength mixed infantry and cavalry force, together with an inscription recording their presence at Chesters, has led to the suggestion that they may have been split across the two sites.

There is nothing to see of the fort itself but there are two rather intriguing sites associated with the civil settlement: the Vallum Crossing and the Temple of Antenociticus.

Benwell Temple of Antenociticus

temple of AntenociticusA small apsidal building, the Temple of Antenociticus contains concrete replicas of the original altars, which are now in the Great North Museum. Antenociticus was a local god (inscriptions recording him only occur at Benwell) and a stone head found here has been identified as representing the deity. The temple is comparable in size to the mithraeum at Carrawburgh and the fact that the inscriptions were set up by unit commanders may indicate he was an acquired taste amongst the social elite, rather than a popular figure. Enjoy the incongruity of the setting for a while (it can be surprisingly peaceful).