Saturday, 5 April 2014

C is for Corstopitum

(Wikimedia Commons PD) Stone found at Corstopitum

Corstopitum is a name I’ve used in After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks though there are variants to be found in different reference material. It eventually became the most northerly town in the Roman Empire and one of only two on Hadrian’s Wall, the other being at Luguvallium (Carlisle). Corstopitum is presently referred to as Corbridge Roman Site for tourist purposes, though the site is also named as Corie Lopocarium and other suggested forms which are thought to better express the function and the topography of the area. Vindolanda tablets of post Agricolan times (perhaps AD 100) refer to it by the simpler name of Coria, thought to be the local name for a tribal centre.

The site was chosen as a good crossing spot for fording the River Tyne, the Roman Road named Dere Street coming to it from Eboracum to the south and leading to the north into what was Votadini territory during Agricolan times. It also became the junction with the road which ran from west to east, the road named The Old Stanegate in later times.

In my imaginary vision of AD 78, I see the roads and sites having already been laid down by either Agricola, or more likely earmarked in their most rudimentary forms by his predecessors - Governors Cerialis and Frontinus.

The tourist will find considerable stone foundations at Corstopitum for what was a garrison supply station in later Roman Britain, a settlement which had a substantial vicus (town) built around it. The visitor today can see the remains of a fountain house, temples, markets, workshops and granaries.

I refer to none of those things in Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series since they appeared at the Corstopitum site many decades later than I was writing about. What I have written about is that I imagine, and I am writing fiction, that the site was used by the forces of Agricola as a supplies depot.

As far as the historic records tell us (Tacitus) Agricola sent troops more or less simultaneously up the west and east sides of Brigantia during his Northern Campaigns to claim the most northerly territories of Britannia for the Emperor Vespasian and Rome.

I envisaged, as I wrote Book 3, that Agricola gave orders for the site to be used (or perhaps even reused if first ramparts were constructed by Cerialis or Frontinus) as a marching camp, which was then swiftly succeeded by the building of a wooden supplies depot of a different layout and construction to a regular fort. In After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks my Roman tribune - Gaius Livanus Valerius - becomes responsible, for a time, for the maintenance of supplies for the forward troops of Agricola during his Northern Campaigns. Gaius’ particular forte is ensuring metal stocks are flowing properly to the necessary places for troop use; metals being needed for nail making, armour, general utensils and tools.

During my researching for Books 2 & 3, I became quite enamoured about the many types of nails and rivets which would have been produced for army needs. There were differing sizes for building purposes- for fort wall construction and for exterior and interiors of buildings within the walls. Where did all of these supplies come from was a constant question in my head? There were no D.I.Y stores just down the road to collect what was needed for new fort walls, although there was Rome itself which was a provider throughout the Empire, even if the goods were actually manufactured elsewhere.

Supplying the whole of Britannia, the westernmost territory of the Roman Empire, with manufactured metal items must have been a major headache- even for the super efficient Roman war machine. The need for the vessels of the Classis to ply the Oceanus Germanicus, what we know of as the North Sea, would have accounted for many of the initial needs after the Claudian invasions around AD 43, but in Agricolan times?

One of the great reasons for subduing the natives and claiming Britannia for Rome was to plunder the island’s natural resources which included iron, lead, coal- all of which were available for exploitation near Corstopitum.

I really liked the idea of my tribune being in charge of ensuring the supplies were moved smoothly from the south and west to the troops who were infiltrating the north, present day Scotland. Gaius also has some input in ensuring lead mining in northern Brigantia becomes controlled by Rome and not the Local tribes of Brigantia. 

Here's a little scene from  After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks where Gaius describes his role at Corstopitum. 

“Ineda, my commander Agricola is an ambitious man. He intends to put the Roman mark on the whole of Britannia, and I will be assisting in his domination of the tribes not yet under Roman rule.”
            Ineda clutched at his arm, her concern for Gaius impinging on her horror about the further expansion of the Roman Empire. “Will you march with Agricola, then?”
            Soft dark eyes caressed her. “I may, but I think it unlikely. My task is to ensure that areas Agricola has subdued remain subdued. As before, his advance forces will infiltrate and control the natives. A new fort, or fortlet, will be built at regular intervals to monitor that control. And of course he will organise new guard towers along the routes. My task will be to ensure that supplies for the new wooden structures arrive efficiently and that the forts are constructed quickly to over-winter the troops that will be needed to police the areas. Prompt and continued deliveries will be needed from Corstopitum for that to happen. Agricola demands many structures in a very short time.”
            Ineda now saw the import of the store fort at Corstopitum. “Do you mean that Corstopitum will have many goods stored there, but will have minimal personnel guarding it?”
            Gaius’ hearty laugh rang out, startling the people close by. “Some of the goods temporarily stored there will be auxiliary soldiers, so I believe that answer is no.”
            Ineda was puzzled and also knew Gaius teased her. It was endearing but she hated being teased when she was probing for answers.
            “Many troops will be needed to fulfil Agricola’s plans, Ineda. Vexillations of troops will have to be moved from the garrison forts of all four legions that are in Britannia, to build new forts but also to advance northwards. Agricola plans well to ensure his campaign into the lands of the Caledons will be a successful one. Many of those troops will arrive to the north by sea, but they will be temporarily housed at the supplies base at Corstopitum before being dispatched to the forward line.”

STILL 99p on Amazon UK today. Hurry to get this launch price!

After Whorl: Donning Double cloaks is available from:
Barnes and Noble P/B   Crooked Cat Books



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