Important fort in the Ribble valley 12.8 km E of Preston. The SE third of the
fort platform has been eroded by the river and the central area is covered by the present church, museum, and
vicarage. To the N the modern village lies over an extensive vicus, and the remains of a bath unit are partly
visible. Ribchester is one of the best known Roman forts
in the Pennines, thanks to a number of inscriptions as
well as excavation.
The first fort in the Flavian period had an area of
ca. 2.4 ha, which the site retained throughout its history.
The clay and turf rampart was set on a timber corduroy
and received a stone revetment at the end of the 1st c.
At one stage in its early history the garrison was formed
by the second ala Asturum; the famous parade helmet
found in the river bank in the late 18th c. probably belongs to an early phase. From the mid-2d c. on much
more is known from epigraphic sources. These attest the
presence of an ala equitum Sarmatarum, the only unit of
Sarmatian heavy cavalry epigraphically known at a British fort, although Marcus Aurelius transferred 5500 of
them to Britain in A.D. 175. It is probably to this phase
that the stone granaries (exposed on the N side of the
museum) belong, although recent excavation shows that
the barracks of this garrison were still of timber. The
fort has produced dedications to Severus, Caracalla, and
Iulia Domna; the latter joined in a dedication of A.D.
212, on which the name of the praetorian governor of
Britannia Inferior, perhaps the future Emperor Gordian
I, was erased.
At this time, early in the 3d c. the site must by implication have gained its full name. In the Ravenna Cosmography
it is termed Bremetennacum Veteranorum, namely a center for the Sarmatian veterans settling in
the area after completion of their military service. Two
inscriptions indicate that a centurion drawn from the
sixth legion at York filled the role of centurio regionarius, or district officer, in charge of the administrative area
concerned, either the Fylde region of the Lancashire
plain or the Ribble valley. The garrison cannot have
been maintained at full strength in the late 3d and 4th c.
Excavation has shown that the rear of the fort did not
contain barracks in the latest occupation period, when
the W gate was apparently blocked and the massive W
ditch cut to the size now visible.
Outside the fort to the N timber buildings of Flavian
and later date have recently been excavated. They were
part of the associated vicus in an area that towards the
end of the 2d c. was leveled to receive an extensive
dump of gravel. This is best interpreted as a parade
ground, perhaps associated with the arrival of the Sarmatian heavy cavalry garrison. Farther E cremation burials belonging to an early cemetery have been found.
Elsewhere remains certainly extend under most of the
present village; the vicus appears to have extended along
the main road to the N over Longridge Fell and the
Forest of Bowland. The remains of baths follow the
normal Roman pattern, with the addition of a circular
laconicum. There is evidence to suggest the existence of
an earlier bath house associated with the Flavian phase
sealed beneath the present visible remains. An inscription
also implies the existence of a substantial temple.
The length of military occupation at Ribchester attests
its strategic importance, at the point where the Flavian
military route from Manchester to Carlisle crossed another important road running E-W along the Ribble-Aire
corridor. Evidence suggests that a signaling system, comparable with the example known across Stainmore farther N in the Pennines, existed along one or both these
lines. The signal station serving Ribchester has been recognized on the crest of Mellor Hill 3.2 km S of the fort.
D. Atkinson, The Roman Fort at Ribchester
(1928); I. A. Richmond, “The Sarmatne, Bremetannacum Veteranorum and the Regio Bremetennacensis,”
35 (1945) 15ff; G.D.B. Jones, Northern History
(1968) 1ff; id., “Roman Lancashire,” ArchJ