Aldborough Roman Site - History and Facts | History Hit

Aldborough Roman Site

Harrogate, England, United Kingdom

Aldborough was originally the capital and stronghold of the Brigantes, who controlled vast swathes of Northern England, before becoming Romanised in the first century AD.

Lily Johnson

08 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Wikimedia / CC

About Aldborough Roman Site

Aldborough Roman Site in North Yorkshire contains the remains of the Roman town of Isurium Brigantium, one of the northernmost urban centres of the Roman Empire. The accompanying museum explores the fascinating settlement’s past, while its ruins provide an intriguing walk through some of Britain’s oldest history.

Aldborough Roman Site history

Before the Roman occupation, the region in which modern Aldborough stands was ruled by the Celtic Brigantes. The Brigantes were one of the dominant tribes of the Iron Age in Britain, controlling the area which is now Yorkshire and Lancashire. At the time the Aldborough area was a Brigantian settlement called Iseur, however the Romans built their own settlement here and named the town Isurium Brigantium.

After the Roman invasion of Britain the Brigantes were initially compliant with Roman rule, and ‘Brigantia’ became a client state. Indeed it was the Brigantes Queen Cartimunda who handed over a major adversary of Rome, the Catuvellauni chieftain Caratacus.

After Cartimunda divorced her husband Venutius in favour of his armour bearer, Venutius rebelled, and the Brigantian territories descended into civil war. Cartimunda was rescued by Roman aid. Soon after, however, the Romans took advantage of the unrest to take control of the region. In 71 AD, Petilius Cerialis, the Roman governor of Britain, subjugated the local population and established Isurium Brigantium as the headquarters for controlling the regional population.

In the beginning Isurium Brigantium would simply have been a fort, with a civilian population inhabiting the perimeter of the town. During the second century, the military capacity of the town was much reduced, and it established itself as a civilian centre. Approximately 55 acres, Isurium Brigantium was surrounded by a significant stone wall reaching 12 feet in height, and in some parts having a depth of 9 feet.

However, the town seems to have diminished during the later Empire period, and with the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain much of the original Roman town suffered.

Aldborough Roman Site today

Today, very little of the original Roman town remains, except for an area which is managed by English Heritage.

The entrance to Aldborough Roman Site is through an area close to the original Roman south gate. Visitors immediately arrive at the Aldborough Roman Museum, which has on display fascinating architectural finds from the town.

Some parts of the southern wall remain intact, as well as the foundations of two defensive towers. Visitors can also follow the path through the gardens to view the site’s highlight – two magnificent mosaics.

The mosaics date from the 2nd or 3rd century, and were discovered in the 19th century, the first by accident when a calf was being buried by an innkeeper. This mosaic depicts a lion resting under a tree yet has sustained some damage. The second however remains well preserved, and shows a magnificent pattern with an eight sided star in the centre.

In 2011, scientists using geomagnetic sensors located the remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Aldborough, under Studforth Hill, just outside the village.

Getting to Aldborough Roman Site

Aldborough Roman Site is located in Aldborough, North Yorkshire on a minor road off B6265. There is no parking onsite, however in Boroughbridge village there is a free tourist carpark 1 mile away. The nearest train station is Cattal, 7.5 miles away, while bus services from York and Harrogate stop in the nearby area, with the closest the Square Stop a 1-minute walk away.

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