Thursday, 18 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge P is for Praetorium and Principia

P is for Praetorium and Principia
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

Roman fortresses, forts and temporary camps sometimes had similar features, though none in 'Agricolan' Scotland were exactly alike. Some of the installations had a layout which included an area that was designated
1) as a praetorium
2) as a principia

 What were the functions of these two important areas?

In the case of the temporary camp the praetorium was the tent of the commanding officer. It would be situated somewhere close to the junction of the main roadways within the encampment, thus a ‘central’(ish) position. When General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola marched northwards in Caledonia with his legions, I imagine that some of the main meetings between Agricola and his officers would take place in the praetorium- the command tent. In Agricola's Bane, #4 of my Celtic Fervour Series I have Agricola meeting up with a number of his officers as they assess the local countryside they have recently invaded. 

The praetorium tent was likely to have been much larger than a normal tent, possibly not the typical ridge tent of the contubernia and maybe square or rectangular. There may have been a screened-off area for sleeping, with the bulk of the interior being the more ‘public’ area where the commander worked with his secretaries and met with those under his command. When Agricola was on his Caledonia campaigns he was also still in charge overall of the whole of Britannia and as such he must have conducted much of his Britannia business every single day from his tent area.

In permanent forts or fortresses in Britannia the praetorium was a substantial building. It tended to loosely follow the design of a typical Roman house with an atrium and peristyle – often interpreted as a series of rooms set around a rectangle with an interior courtyard. The praetorium held the quarters of the commanding officer, with adjacent rooms perhaps used as senior command visitor quarters, kitchen, storage etc.
Newstead/ Trimontium  - Nancy Jardine 
The Agricolan fort plan for Trimontium (Newstead) is hard to interpret. It’s unclear if the central square building was the principia with one of the longer nearby buildings being the praetorium. However, since Trimontium seems to have been an equestrian auxiliary fort thought to have been commanded by a tribune and the decurion in charge of the mounted force.

The principia was the main headquarters building (offices) where the business of the camp or fort was conducted. The most important administrators would work in the principia, and the central courtyard was used for addressing the assembled garrison. 

In addition to the general running of the fort, the principia also housed other important rooms. Of these the aedes was a well-used place. It housed the regimental standards, the sacred objects which were extremely important for the mental wellbeing of the legion. A statue of the emperor was also usual in the aedes along with altars to various gods and goddesses, whichever were popular with that particular legion or auxiliary unit. The strong room, where the money chest was kept, was also in the principia:  the soldiers’ pay distributed from that area.  The armoury was likely to have been in the principia and the tribunal was located at one end of the courtyard, the commanding officer standing upon it when he dispensed orders to the garrison.

Inchtuthil Agricolan fort- G. DeL Beydoyere 

 The huge supply fortress of Inchtuthil was never finished. There was sufficient space left near the centre for a large praetorium but the space remained empty when the fort was abandoned c. AD 86/87/

There was, however, a sizeable principia headquarters). The remains of a  number of rooms were uncovered but it's not clear which would have been which. The courtyard area was not big enough (I don't think) for a full garrison assembly but it was a good size for a large gathering.

For another P check out my older post on the mapmaker and adventurer Pytheas! His observations are most likely linked to the Agricolan campaigns of Caledonia.

Till tomorrow and another #A2ZChallenge post...



  1. Your posts are rich with history and information. Glad to have discovered your blog through A2Z challenge

  2. Thank you, Sonja. History is a passion and always has been! I'm discovering other blogs that have excellent content on this #A2Z.


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