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Binchester Roman Fort

 (Home Site of the North Guard)

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Discovery and excavation History Discription and Tour The Road
Via Principalis The Commandants House The Bath-house The Warm Room
The Dry Hot Room The Second Hot Room The Finds


Binchester fort known as "Vinovia" to the Romans, stands on a spur of high ground some 2 km north of Bishop Auckland. Overlooking a loop in the river Wear this is a superb defensive position and an obvious spot for settlement.

At the time of the Roman invasion the North East formed part of the territory of the Brigantes. one of the largest and most powerful tribes in Britain.  The classical Greek geographer Piolemy. writing in the 2nd century AD, described Binchester as having been in Brigantian "city".  This is a tantalizing suggestion but archaeologists have yet to find any evidence for pre-Roman or Iron Age occupation on the hill top.

Discovery and Excavation

The Roman fort has been known for centuries.  John Leyland. in 1552 referred to "Romaine coynes and other many tokens of Antiquite" found in ploughed fields nearby, while the historian William Camden. writing in 1586, described Binchester fort as "well knowne to them that dwell thereabout, both in reason of the heapes of rubbish, and the reliques of walls yet to be seene, as also for peeces of Romane Coine often digged up there, which they call Binchester penies".  Camden's reference to "reliques of walls yet to be seen" shows that parts of the fort were still standing in the 16th century.

In the 1870's the first excavations took place at the fort.  This work, instigated by John Proud of Bishop Auckland and the Rev. R E Hoopell of Byers Green, concentrated on the remains of a large well preserved bath house in the centre of the fort:  this had been found by chance in the early 19th Century when a farm cart fell into a hole above the Roman hypocaust!  Proud & Hooppell also examined part of the fort's defences & discovered a large previously unknown civilian settlement surrounding the fort.  Further excavation, on a relatively small scale was undertaken by Durham University and the local archaeological society in the 1930's and 1950's.  In 1976 a long term programme of excavation was begun by The Bowers Museum for Durham County Council.  The most recent excavations were undertaken in advance of the new car park being constructed.


The fort was built in AD79 during the Roman advance into northern England.  It was one of a number of forts on the line of Dere Street, the main Roman road which ran north from the military headquarters at York up to Cambridge and Southern Scotland.  From the early second century Binchester and the other Dere Street forts became important supply depots for Hadrian's Wall - built in AD122 - and developed as military centres controlling the region south of the wall.

The first fort at Binchester was built in timber, most probably by troops of the ninth legion.  It was rebuilt in stone by the sixth legion during the early second century at which time it covered an area of 3.6 ha (9 acres), making it one of the largest forts in the area south of the wall.  A huge civilian settlement or vicus covering an additional 12.4 ha (31 acres) was soon established and providing for the needs of the troops this small town acted as a market centre for the native farmers, craftsmen and merchants of central Durham.

Although the fort was built by legionary soldiers it would have been garrisoned by auxiliary troops.  These soldiers were recruited from the provinces of the Empire but unlike legionary troops were not Roman citizens.

From inscribed stones and alters found on site we know the names of some of the units and individual soldiers stationed at Binchester.  During the second century a cavalry unit the AlaVettorium from central Spain, was at the fort.  This unit was part of the original invasion force and at the end of the 1st century had been stationed at the fort at Brecon Gaer in South Wales, they also helped to restore the military bath-house at Bowes fort in Teesdale.  In the early 3rd century the garrison was the Cuneus Frisiorum Vinoviensium raised from the Frisii tribe in Holland; this cavalry unit added Vinovia, the Roman name for Binchester, to its official title.

The fort was in continuous military use until the early years of the 5th century.  After the final withdrawal of the garrison the fort and the surrounding civilian settlement continued to be occupied by the local, native population and it would seem that Binchester remained an important small town.  By the beginning of the 6th century, however, the fort buildings were being stripped and demolished and part of the site was in use as a small pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery.  Evidence for the deliberate demolition of parts of the the fort can been seen in the 7th century church at Escomb which was partly built out of Roman stone taken fron Binchester.  By the middle ages the site was occupied by a small village with its own manor house.  This little hamlet had disappeared by the 17th century but the present Binchester Hall marks the site of the medieval manor house.

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