by John Moss
(unless otherwise attributed)
Roman History of Manchester
Roman Fort in Manchester
Fort (Rigodunum) near Oldham. Aerial Photograph Courtesy of www.webbaviation.co.uk
General Julius Agricola, (40 - 93 AD), the commander of the invading
Roman legions, arrived at a sandstone bluff overlooking the confluence
of the Rivers Irwell and Medlock on a major roadway from the Roman
settlement at Deva (Chester) to Eboracum (York), he saw instantly
that it was, potentially, an excellently defensible position against
the native Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, (perhaps where the word "brigand"
comes from), who were (to put it mildly) less than pleased by the
uninvited occupying force's arrival in their ancestral territories.
immediately set about building a wooden fortress. He called the place
"Mamucium" (sometimes spelt 'Mamuciam' - meaning
"a breast shaped hill") because of the then distinctive
shape of the outcrop. The site of this encampment is marked today
by Camp Street (actually located in the City of Salford).
original fort covered some 5 acres and was then surrounded by woods
where deer and wild boar were still to be found. Eventually, the Brigantes
were won over and even Cartimandua, their queen, was to become a firm
friend of Agricola.
original garrison was probably populated by legionaries from Spain
and Romania, and it must have seemed a very dark, cold and damp outpost
at the very edge of the Roman Empire in comparison to the sunny climes
of their native lands. An inscription on the reconstructed North Gate
of the present Fort, (as it would have appeared around 200 AD), commemorates
troops from the provinces of Rhaetia and Noricum (roughly approximating
to modern Austria), and their centurion is identified as Lucius Senecianius
the next 3 centuries, a stone fort was built further downstream at
what was to become Castlefield (simply known by medieval times as
the "castle in the field"), and the inevitable small encampment
(or vicus - a place to live) grew around it - at its height
it is estimated that some 2000 people lived within its walls, including
soldier's wives and families together with craftsmen and traders.
Many of these would have been Britons who eventually intermarried
with Roman legionaries. This was the origin of Manchester, and the
people became the Romano-British.
later stone fort was built at the present day site, where the 1970
excavations and reconstruction is visible, and well worth a visit.
In summer, two tour guides dressed as Roman legionaries, conduct guided
tours around the fortress.
Roman exhibition can also be seen in the nearby Castlefield Visitors'
Centre. Many valuable archaeological finds exist, including fragments
of Spanish pottery and a word square bearing the words "Pater
Noster" (Latin = "Our Father" - the beginning of the
Lord's Prayer) - these two are dated at between 170-175 AD, the oldest
known Christian relics in Great Britain.
reconstructed North Gate has been built on the excavated foundations
of the original fort, using evidence from other Manchester excavations
as a guide. It shows how the gate would have appeared around 200 AD
This position is flanked by the two original defensive ditches which
were built during the 3rd century AD. Above the arch in the gate is
a guardroom, furnished with reproduction furniture in the style of
inscription on the gate commemorates a detachment of troops from the
provinces of Rhaetia and Noricum (modern Austria) and their centurion,
Lucius Senecianus Martius.
its height, the fort and the spreading civilian settlement around
it probably amounted to about 2000 people.
fort was abandoned in 411 AD, marking the complete withdrawal of Roman
troops from Britain, and the township (the vicus) probably fell gradually
into disuse. Over time the purpose of the ruined fortress was lost
in obscurity, and "the castle in the field" suffered as
did most other ruins, as a useful place for locals to acquire (steal)
ready dressed stones to repair their houses and barns.
and Danes in Manchester
Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century AD left the town
open to the ravages of further European and Scandinavian invasions,
notably the Saxons, who renamed the township "Manigceastre".
These fierce Northmen attacked and plundered the town in 429 AD. Later,
Edwin, King of Northumbria, conquered and occupied the town in 620
870 AD the Danes invaded and virtually razed the town to the ground
in a prolonged and bloody conflict. So bloody was the conflict that,
the southern district of Reddish (now part of Stockport) is thought
to have derived from the blood red field of battle. The rebuilt "Danish"
town's early streets were named by them. The Danish word "gat"
(meaning "road") is still evidenced in Deansgate and Millgate.
Danish invaders had arrived by longboat by sailing up the River Mersey,
unopposed, as far as Warrington.
923 AD, the town, now commonly known first as "Mamecaestre"
and then as "Manceastre", came under the rule of West Saxon
kings, and became a garrison for the troops of Prince Edward the Elder.
An effigy of their patron saint, the Archangel Michael, is thought
to have been brought with them, and the so-called "Angel Stone"
can still be viewed in Manchester
Cathedral. At that time, the Cathedral would have been known as
the Church of St Mary, and is briefly mentioned in the Domesday Book
of 1086 AD. The Angel Stone was unearthed by workmen repairing the
South Porch in 1871, and is almost the only surviving relic of Saxon
times in Manchester
is a brief historic reference in the town records of Edward, son of
King Alfred the Great, taking over the town in that year and making
repairs to the "fortifications", (probably based around the present
cathedral), which would still have been little more than a wooden
the 10th century, the church of St Mary was established at the north
end of Deansgate - that church is now Manchester Cathedral.
1028, King Canute regarded the town as important enough to found one
of his 10 royal mints here.
was during the Anglo Saxon period that Manchester, which had hitherto
been established around the Roman Fort at Castlefield was re-established
around the Cathedral, about a mile north of the old town.
The Normans in
the Norman Invasion of 1066, William of Normandy carved his newly
won lands into sizeable portions to give out as rewards to the barons
who had loyally supported him in the Conquest of England. They in
turn, further divided the lands as gifts in payment to their knights
William gave the lands around Manchester to Roger of Poitou, who in
turn bestowed the Manor of Manchester on Nigellus, a Norman knight.
Nigellus subsequently gave the manor as a present to his son-in-law,
Albert de Gresley, whose son Thomas was granted The Great Charter
of Manchester in 1301, under which it became a free borough. His successors
were to create and found the collegiate church which became Manchester
Trail around Roman Manchester
trail begins outside the White Lion pub on Liverpool Road, and is
organised by the Castlefield Management Company. The Trail includes:
A selection of plants, herbs and trees thought to have been introduced
by the Romans;
The civilian settlement outside the fort, mainly inhabited by the
wives and families of soldiers as well as neighbouring tribes (the
The reconstruction of the final fort built around 200 AD with Commander's
House, stables, hospital, barracks and granary;
In front of the North Gate the 3rd century earthworks which formed
the primary defence;
A largely reconstructed wall overlooking the surrounding countryside.
more information on Castlefield and the Roman Fort, contact:
Castlefield Management Company
Castlefield Centre, 101 Liverpool Road, Castlefield, Manchester
Tel: 0161-834 4026. Fax: 0161-839 8747.
Registered Charity Number 1054182.
End of Topic].