Roman Ribchester Words and pictures by geoffrey Whittaker


The Romans invaded Britain for the second time in 55 AD with Julius Caesar at their head. The main force of about eighty ships set off from Boulogne and Landed near Deal. The lead force consisted off two legions of over five thousand men each. A Roman Century consisted of two hundred to a thousand men. Lead by a Centurion.

The roman museum in Ribchester

Four days after landing the Roman fleet bringing the cavalry to Britain was decimated by a violent storm. The storm also damaged the fleet used for the initial landing. Most ships were damaged leaving the Roman army in a vulnerable position with low troop numbers and no stores for winter. Caesar salvaged equipment from damaged ships and sent to Gaul for naval supplies. To get food he sent out gathering parties to farms in the area for corn. During one of these missions he lost most of a legion to an ambush by the local Britons.


By 56 AD Caesar had reached the Thames near what is now London. In the Iron age London was at the confluence of maritime trade routes. It is entirely a Roman city with no earlier settlements found. Cotton remarks that the Invasion commander, Julius Caesar made no mention of an existing site in London, although there were other abandoned sites nearby:

“Caesar makes no mention of any major settlements (‘oppida’) in the area in the mid-50s BC, yet archaeology has demonstrated the existence of large enclosed sites along the lower Thames valley at Uphall Camp, Ilford, and Woolwich Arsenal. John Kent’s suggestion – again based on coin distributions – that there may have been a major centre somewhere on the Thames west of London (Kent 1978) also looks prescient in the context of finds coming to light in the Barn Elms/Putney reaches. But the evidence, such as it is, suggests that these sites had fallen from use by the 80s BC and therefore prior to Caesar’s expeditions in mid-century.” (Cotton. 2016)

Contrary to popular belief there were roads in Britain prior to the Romans. This is evidenced by Iron age carvings of four wheeled wagons. After consolidating in the South the Romans headed North on both sides of the Pennines.

Going North

In 78 AD Agricola began the invasion of the North. At this time a small fort was established at Walton Le Dale. This was on the road from Wigan to Lancaster. It was also close to a river crossing, the lowest point where this was possible.

Trackway going up Whernside, Yorkshire Dales

Heading East from Kirkham to Ribchester, an important route into Yorkshire was built. Possible signal stations have been found at Mellor and Whalley. At Ribchester the main North South route from Manchester crossed the Ribble. It also crossed the East West route that travelled up the Ribble valley.

Fort location

The location of Roman forts had three main considerations. The junction of a north South road to the west of the Pennines and a cross Pennine route heading towards Preston, was a key factor in locating at Ribchester. The second issue was vulnerability to attack. The forts location at the end of a broad open valley next to a river is a testament to Roman confidence and arrogance, perhaps not misplaced.

Ribchester bridge

The Brigantes, the local inhabitants of the area, always used defensible hill forts. Roman military tactics were based on attack so the fact that the fort was on the level and seemingly vulnerable was not the case. Roman equipment was superior to the “barbarians” and there was little chance of unseen attack.

Food supply was the next task; forts did not have to source food locally as the road network could keep remote forts operational by replenishing the granaries that are still visible today, at Ribchester. Local supply was however preferable and was probably exacted as tribute from nearby farms.

Ribchester (Bremetennacum) in the first and second centuries.

Due to an inscription on the base of an Apollo statue, found locally, we know the Roman name for Ribchester was Bremetennacum. There is evidence that the early fort at Ribchester had a bath house and Vicus or civilian settlement. It was probably of timber construction and built in the 70’s AD. By the end of the second century a cavalry brigade of five hundred men from Sarmatia (Turkey) were stationed at the fort.

Roman Bath house, Ribchester

Ribchester fort in the third and fourth centuries

In the early third century Julius Antonious had to deal with the retiring veterans, at this time veteranorum was added to the name for Ribchester indicating that the fort was now part of a veteran’s settlement.

Millenium project sculpture, Ribchester

Ribchester Roman remains

The museum at Ribchester contains a replica of the Ribchester helmet, this was found as part of the Ribchester hoard, in 1796. It dates from the late first century AD and was used ceremonially. The hoard was found buried about three meters deep in a hollow next to one of the roads into Ribchester.

The life of a centurion

Roman soldier model in the museum

Unusually the name and homeland of the second century commanding centurion at Ribchester is known, due to an inscription. Julius Antonious was commander of the sixth legion, a Sarmatian cavalry unit and later regional commander of the retired veterans who settled in the area. Sarmatia is an area in Turkey that was once part of the Roman empire but not by the late third century. This meant that the cavalry unit could not return home.

What to see in Ribchester

Roman pillars outside the museum, these are though to be from the Principia, the headquarters building.

The grave stone of a Roman centurion found at Ribchester, now in the museum

The granary at Ribchester, this is near the Church

Corinthian column top from the headquarters building

The river has eroded a large part of the fort, Pendle can be seen in the background.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.