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The fort, as is frequently the case, has served as one vast quarry for the construction of the castle, the church, and the vicarage, which are included in its area.
The position has been admirably chosen from a strategic point of view. To the south the ground falls sharply to the Greta. The ditches are very distinguishable, especially on the west. The stone core of the walls is clearly visible at the southwest corner, and there are traces of two of the gates, the north and south. The north gate no doubt entered the station at the vicarage lane. The surface of the ground has undergone many and great changes. Besides this camp there was one at Greta Bridge, six miles to the east; and another six miles to the west, which is known as Reycross. That this camp was of great importance is obvious when we consider the extent of its communications. There was direct communication with the western portion of the Roman Wall at Luguvallium (Carlisle) by way of the famous pass over Stainmore, with Londinium (London) by way of Cataractonium (Catterick), Isurium (Aldborough), and Eboracum (York). This road was of course the great military road known as the second itinerary of Antonine.
There was in all probability also direct communication with Olicana (Ilkley) by way of the Stang and Arkengarthdale, and so with Mancunium (Manchester) and Deva (Chester) by way of Blackstone Edge. There also communication with the eastern end of the Roman Wall to Pons Aelii (Newcastle-on-Tyne) by way of Barnard Castle, Vinovium (Binchester), and Chesterle-Street.
That a Roman road ran through Barnard Castle cannot be questioned for a portion of the Roman road, which came from Bowes to Piercebridge (Magis) and Binchester, and crossed the Tees at Barnard Castle a little above the site of the present town bridge, was uncovered on the north side of the river in the course of digging out the foundations of a new gasometer to the west of the old castle, and on the banks of the River Tees (43, Archæological Journal, p. 132 (1887) ).
The strategic position of the camp at Bowes was greatly strengthened from the fact that it holds exactly the same position on the eastern side of Stainmore that Brough (Verteræ) does on the western side, thirteen miles distant.
As the home of a comparatively large number of troops, the camp was evidently not devoid of those comforts so dear to the Roman soldiers.
That these would be required on the confines of this inhospitable region will be generally allowed. That they were actually existent the spade of the antiquary has abundantly proved. First and foremost a bath was unearthed, the usual accompaniment of a Roman station, floored with large tiles, grooved to prevent the bathers from slipping. Considerable traces of this structure have been laid bare, and can be examined. It lies to the south of the church, and in close proximity to the south-east boundary of the cemetery. It is outside the limits of the camp itself, and is indeed a short distance down the steep descent towards the Greta. It is 27 ft. X 18 ft.
The Romans had baths so splendid that they put our boastfulness about modern sanitation to silence. The most famous of these are the baths of Caracalla and Diocletian. In connection with these great baths, 4,000 yards of vast galleries were used by the slaves for marvellous heating and ventilating systems. While excavating near these baths, Profs. Valle and Gaetano Ferri have come upon excellent drains for carrying off the water. In spite of the many hundred years that have elapsed since they were built, these drains are almost as good as they ever were. In these galleries, besides the ordinary baths, there were halls with niches where baths were taken for sacrificial rites. This is proved by the inscriptions found on the walls. Many of these inscriptions are in Greek, and are prayers to the gods. The workmen have just finished carrying away about 200,000 cubic metres of earth. While excavating these drains they have found two treasures. One is Venus, with arms upraised. Only the head and some small fragments remain, but they are enough to show that it was a great masterpiece, and the bath probably was dedicated to Venus. Near by a library has been found, with thousands of rare volumes, showing that the bathers had access to good books.
On the enclosure of some common land at Bowes, several years ago, an aqueduct of Roman construction was discovered. It brought the water required for the station from Laverpool, two miles distant, in a north-western direction. A portion of lead piping was also dug up in the churchyard.
The appearance of the bath would lead us to suppose that it had at some time or other been burnt, and afterwards rebuilt. That this was actually the case seems to be abundantly proved by the discovery of a Roman altar, which I shall presently describe.
Numerous relics of Roman antiquity have been found here, amongst them being a stone slab bearing the votive inscription : “To the Emperor Hadrian," which was used as a Communion table in the parish church in Camden's time. Samian and other pottery, Roman sandals, altars, coins of Nero, Vespasian, Faustina, and Severus, together with others of the Lower Empire, and gold and brass medals of Nero and Antoninus Pius have also been discovered on the site of the camp.
Other relics include a Roman altar, on the rim of which are the letters “ D.M.I." On either side of the north door of the church are two fonts of great interest. That to the east consists of a circular basin, ornamented with a pattern similar to that which is found at Romaldkirk, and supported by a Roman altar with an illegible inscription.
As to the nature and constitution of the garrison we have conclusive evidence so far as concerns the later Roman period. In the Notitia Imperii, written early in the fifth century, and in which the various stations and their respective garrisons are given, is to be found the following : “ Præfectus Numeri exploratorium Lavatris," i.e. the garrison of Lavatræ consisted of a detachment of scouts under the command of a Prefect.
Two altars record the presence of Thracians and Frisians at the Bowes camp, viz. the last cohort of the Thracians and the fourth cohort of the Frisians. Further, one of these altars alludes to a cavalry cohort of Vettones.
Now, who were the Vettonians ? They were a people of the Iberian peninsula, dwelling in what is now the Province of Salamanca between the rivers Douro and Tagus. They were renowned as horsemen. The Roman poet Lucian calls them, in the fourth book of his Pharsalia, “the swift Vettonians”; and Silius Italicus, in the third book of his Punica Bella, speaks of them and of the rare qualities of their horses, and of the marvellous manner in which, it was believed, the breed of their horses was maintained. They must have come into Britain at an early period, for they were in the possession of the privileges of Roman citizenship as early as A.D. 104. This is proved by what is known as the Malpas Diploma, in which they are mentioned. It will be observed that this fact entirely accords with the inscription of (Chyrs)ocomas. He is careful to note the distinction they enjoyed by the letters “C.R.” The Vettonians are mentioned also in inscriptions discovered at Bath, here at Bowes, and near Brecon in Wales. The first and last are sepulchral memorials of dead members of the force. The one here (Bowes) is an altar erected to the goddess Fortune, by whom is not revealed; but it commemorates the fact that the baths at this station having been burned down were re-erected by the first cohort of the Thracians under the superintendence of the præfect of the cavalry of the ala of the Vettonians, Valerius Fronto by name. Bowes is not far from Vinovia, and Valerius Fronto had probably a talent for military architecture and engineering; or possibly he had a wider district under his military superintendence than that which would be furnished by Vinovia alone.
As to the presence of the Thracian and Frisian cohorts we have incontestable proof, as the latter were in camp here about A.D. 120. With regard to the actual presence of the Vettones we have no certain proof. Indeed there seemed to be cogent reasons for assuming that they were not in residence but were probably in another camp. At the same time it seems possible that they may have been at Bowes. Into this interesting question we shall enter more fully when we come to speak of the altar which describes the restoration of the bath after its destruction by fire.
Who the ancient Thracians were has been much disputed. Their language has perished utterly, but there seems no doubt that they were a branch of the Indo-European stock, and kinsmen more or less remote of the Greeks, though they were regarded by the Greeks as barbarians. They inhabited a moun · tainous region which includes the district between the Hæmus and the Propontis, and from the Nestus River (mod. Karasu) to the Euxine. Thrace never constituted one powerful monarchy, though at times the kings of one or other of the Thracian clans extended his power over a great part of the country so as to be formidable to the Athenian colonists or to Macedonian monarchs. During the early period of the Roman empire the Thracian kings were allowed to remain an independent sovereignty, while acknowledging the suzerainty of Rome. In order to prevent the incursion of the Thracians a wall was built across its isthmus, which was less than five miles in breadth. It was not until the reign of Vespasian (70-9) that the country was reduced to the form of a province.
The Thracians were a fierce and warlike people. Their horses and riders rivalled those of Thessaly. The Thracians
every evening before they slept threw into an urn a white pebble if the day passed agreeably, but if not a black one ; and at their death by counting the pebbles their life was judged to have been happy or unhappy. As the Manes were supposed to be delighted with blood, various animals, especially such as the deceased had been fond of, were slaughtered at the pyre and thrown on it. Among the Thracians, widows were cast on to the pyres of their husbands.
The Thracians were great gladiators, and the Roman gladiators were divided into classes, and like the factions in the circus each of them had their partisans. The Emperor Domitian patronised the class called Mirmilions, and one day a poor citizen who was watching the gladiators fighting attempted to be witty. He was speaking in favour of the Thracian gladiators. He said 'A Thracian may cope with the Mirmilions, but he will never be able to resist the power of him that protects his adversary." Domitian hearing this ordered the poor fellow to be seized and a label fastened to him on which was written,
Impious abettor of Thracia," and then to be devoured by a set of furious mastiffs.
If we inquire into the previous military history of the Frisians we find that early in the history of the Roman occupation of Britain they were present in this country in considerable numbers. “ Cohors Prima Frisiavonum (the first Cohort of the Frisiavonians) is commemorated both in the Sydenham and the Riveling Diplomas and in inscriptions found in Manchester and in Derbyshire. We meet also with “Equites Frisiavonum at Exeter and with “ Frisiavones ” at Silchester.
Camden mentions that an altar of which the inscription is given below was found at Bowes. Unfortunately its present whereabouts is unknown, and also the date of its first removal ; but Camden (1599) refers to it as an ancient large stone in the church, and sometimes used by them as an altar not long ago.” Hübner gives the inscription as follows :
Im[p(eratori)] Cæsari divi Traiani (Parthici f(ilio)], divi Nervæ nepoti, Traia[no Hadria]no Augusto), pontifici maxismo tr(ibunicia) pot(estate) ....), co(n)s(uli) I(II) p(atri) p(atriæ), cohors) IIII F...
(sub Tullio Sevsero ? leg(ato) Aug(usti) p(ro) prætore)], curante
Without going into details it will be necessary here only to say that this shows that the fourth cohort of the Frisians was stationed at Bowes during the reign of Hadrian (117-38).