Mamucium, also known as Mancunium, is a former Roman fort in the
Castlefield area of
Manchester in North West England. The castra,
which was founded c. AD 79 within the
Roman province of
Britannia, was garrisoned by a cohort of Roman Auxiliaries near two
major Roman roads running through the area. Several sizeable civilian
settlements (or vicus) containing soldiers' families, merchants and
industry developed outside the fort. The area is a protected Scheduled
The ruins were left undisturbed until
Manchester expanded rapidly
Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. Most of the
fort was levelled to make way for new developments such as the
construction of the
Rochdale Canal and the Great Northern Railway. The
site is now part of the
Castlefield Urban Heritage Park that includes
renovated warehouses. A section of the fort's wall along with its
gatehouse, granaries, and other ancillary buildings from the vicus
have been reconstructed and are open to the public.
5 See also
Mamucium is generally thought to represent a Latinisation of an
original Brittonic name, either from mamm- ("breast", in reference to
a "breast-like hill") or from mamma ("mother", in reference to a
local river goddess). Both meanings are preserved in languages derived
from Common Brittonic, mam meaning "breast" in Irish and "mother" in
Welsh. The neuter suffix -ium is used in
particularly those representing
Common Brittonic -ion (a genitive
suffix denoting "place or city of ~"). The Welsh name for Manchester
is Manceinion and presumably derives from the original Brittonic form.
The Romans built the fort on a naturally defensible sandstone bluff
that overlooked a nearby crossing over the River Medlock. The area
became an important junction for at least two major military roads
through this part of the country. One highway ran east to west between
the legionary fortresses of
Deva Victrix (Chester) and
the other ran north to
Bremetennacum (Ribchester). In addition,
Mamucium may also have overlooked a lesser road running north west to
Coccium (Wigan). The fort was one of a chain of fortifications
Deva Victrix road, with
Castleshaw Roman fort
lying 16 miles (26 km) to the east, and Condate (Northwich)
18 miles (29 km) to the west. Stamps on tegulae indicate that
Mamucium had administrative links not only with Castleshaw, but also
with Ardotalia, the nearest fort (12 miles), Slack and Ebchester; all
the forts probably got the tegulae from the same place in Grimescar
Wood near Huddersfield.
Reconstructed gateway to Roman fort (Mamucium), Castlefield
There is no evidence that a prehistoric settlement occupied the site
before the arrival of the Romans. However,
Stone Age activity has been
recorded in the area. Two
Mesolithic flints and a flint flake as well
Neolithic scraper have been discovered. A shard of late Bronze
Age pottery has also been found in situ. Although the area was in
the territory of the Celtic tribe Brigantes, it may have been under
the control of the Setantii, a sub-tribe of the Brigantes, when the
Romans took control from the ancient Britons.
Mamucium started around AD 79 during the
campaigns of General Julius Agricola against the
Brigantes after a
treaty failed. Excavations show the fort had three main phases of
construction: first AD 79, second around AD 160, and third
in AD 200.
The first phase of the fort was built from turf and timber.
Mamucium's dimensions indicate it was to be garrisoned by a cohort,
about 500 infantry. These troops were not Roman citizens but foreign
auxiliaries who had joined the Roman army. By the late 1st and
early 2nd centuries, a civilian settlement (called a vicus) had grown
up around the fort. Around AD 90, the fort's ramparts were
strengthened. This might be because
Mamucium and the Roman fort at
Slack – which neighboured
Castleshaw – superseded the fort at
Castleshaw in the 120s.
Mamucium was demolished some time around
AD 140. Although the first vicus grew rapidly in the early
2nd century, it was abandoned some time between 120 and 160 –
broadly coinciding with the demolition of the fort – before it was
re-inhabited when the fort was rebuilt.
Aerial view of the Roman fort, Castlefield
The second phase was built around the year 160. Although it was again
of turf and timber construction, it was larger than the previous fort,
measuring 2 hectares (4.9 acres) to accommodate extra granaries
(horrea). Around 200, the gatehouses of the fort were rebuilt in
stone and the walls surrounding the fort were given a stone
facing. The concentration of furnaces in sheds in part of the
vicus associated with the fort has been described as an "industrial
estate", which would have been the first in Manchester. Mamucium
was included in the Antonine Itinerary, a 3rd-century register of
roads throughout the Roman Empire. This and inscriptions on and
repairs to buildings indicate that
Mamucium was still in use in the
first half of the 3rd century. The vicus may have been abandoned
by the mid-3rd century; this is supported by the excavated remains of
some buildings that were demolished and the materials robbed for use
elsewhere. Evidence from coins indicates that although the
civilian settlement associated with the fort had declined by the
mid-3rd century, a small garrison may have remained at
the late 3rd century and early 4th century.
A temple to Mithras is possibly associated with the civilian
settlement in modern Hulme. An altar dedicated to "Fortune the
Preserver" was found, probably dating to the early 3rd century. In
2008 an altar dating from the late 1st century was discovered near the
Roman settlement. It was dedicated to two minor Germanic gods and
described as being in "fantastic" condition. The County
"It's the first Roman stone inscription to be found in
150 years and records only the second known Roman from
Manchester ... The preservation of the stone is remarkable. On
top of the stone is a shallow bowl which was used for offerings of
wine or blood or perhaps to burn incense."
— Norman Redhead
As well as Pagan worship, there is also evidence of early Christian
worship. In the 1970s, a fragment of 2nd-century "word square" was
discovered with an anagram of PATER NOSTER. There has been
discussion by academics whether the "word square", which is carved on
a piece of amphora, is actually a Christian artefact, if so, it is one
of the earliest examples of Christianity in Britain.
The reconstruction of the ancient fort with the modern Beetham Tower
Roman withdrawal from Britain
Roman withdrawal from Britain around 410, the area of
Mamucium was used for agricultural purposes. It has sometimes been
identified with the Cair Maunguid listed among the 28 cities of
Britain by the History of the Britons traditionally attributed to
Nennius. After lying derelict for centuries, the ruins were
commented on by antiquarians John Leland in the 16th century, William
Camden in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and William
Stukeley and the
Manchester historian John Whitaker in the 18th
century. In the early 18th century, John Horsley said:
It [i.e., the fort] is about a quarter of a mile out of the town,
being south or south-west from it. The station now goes by the name of
Giant's Castle or Tarquin's Castle, and the field in which it
stands is called Castle Field ... the ramparts are still very
— John Horsley,
Foundation ruins of the vicus in Castlefield
Whitaker described what remained of the fort in 1773:
The eastern side, like the Western, is hundred and forty [yards] in
length, and for eighty yards from the northern termination, the nearly
perpendicular rampart carries a crest of more than two [yards] in
height. It is then lowered to form the great entrance, the Porta
Pretoria of the camp: the earth there running in a ridge, and mounting
up to the top of the bank, about ten in breadth. Then, rising
gradually as the wall falls away, it carries an height of more than
three for as many as the south-eastern angle. And the whole of this
wall, bears a broken line of thorns above, shews the mortar peeping
here and there under the coat of turf, and near the south-eastern
corner has a large buttress of earth continued several yards along it.
The southern side, like the Northern, is hundred and seventy five
[yards] in length; and the rampart sinking immediately from its
elevation at the eastern end, successively declines, till, about fifty
yards off, it is reduced to the inconsiderable height of less than one
[yard]. And about seventeen yards further, there appears to have been
a second gateway, the ground rising up to the crest of the bank of a
four or five at the point ...
On the south side was particularly requisite ... in order to
afford a passage to the river; but about fifty three yards beyond the
gates, the ground betwixt both falling away briskly to the west, the
rampart, which continues in a right line along the ridge, necessarily
rises till it has a sharp slope of twenty yards in length at the
southwestern angle. And all this side of the wall, which was from the
beginning probably not much higher than it is at present, as it was
sufficiently secured by the river and its banks, before it appears
crested at first with a hedge of thorns, a young oak rising from the
ridge and rearing its head considerably over the rest, and runs
afterwards in a smooth line near the level for several yards with the
ground about it, and just perceptible to the eye, in a rounded
eminence of turf
As to the south-western point of the camp, the ground slopes away on
the west towards the south, as well as on the south towards the West.
On the third side still runs from it nearly as at first , having an
even crest about seven feet in height, an even slope of turf for its
whole extent, and the wall in all its original condition below. About
a hundred yards beyond the angle was the Porta Decumana of the
station, the ground visibly rising up the ascent of the bank in a
large shelve of gravel, and running in a slight but perceivable ridge
from it. And beyond a level of forty five yards, that still stretches
on for the whole length of the side, it was bounded by the western
boundary of the British city, the sharp slope of fifty to the morass
below it. On the northern and remaining side are several chasms in the
original course of the ramparts. And in one of them about a hundred
and seventy five yards from its commencement, was another gateway,
opening into the station directly from the road to Ribchester. The
rest of the wall still rises above five and four feet in height,
planted all the way with thorns above, and exhibiting a curious view
of the rampart below. Various parts of it have been fleeced of their
facing a turf and stone, and now show the inner structure of the
whole, presenting to the eye the undressed stone of the quarry, the
angular pieces of rock, and the round boulders of the river, all
bedded in the mortar, and compacted into one. And the white and brown
patches of mortar and stone on a general view of the wall stands
strikingly contrasted with the green turf that entirely conceals the
level line, and with the green moss that half reveals the projecting
points of the rampart. The great foss of the British city, the Romans
preserved along their northern side for more than thirty yards along
the eastern end of it, and for the whole beyond the Western. And as
the present appearances of the ground intimate, they closed the
eastern point of it with a high bank, which was raised upon one part
of the ditch and sloped away into the other.
— John Whitaker, History of
Manchester vol I (1773 edition)
Mamucium was levelled as
Manchester expanded in the Industrial
Revolution. The construction of the
Rochdale Canal through the south
western corner of the fort in the late 18th and early 19th centuries,
and the building of viaducts for the Great Northern Railway over the
site in the late 19th century, damaged the remains and even destroyed
some of the southern half of the fort. When the railway viaducts
were built, Charles Roeder documented the remains that were uncovered
in the process, including parts of the vicus. Mills were all around
Castlefield became the south west corner of
centre. Deansgate, which developed into the main thoroughfare,
follows the general line of Roman road to Ribchester.
The first archaeological investigation of
Mamucium was in 1906.
Francis Bruton, who would later work on the Roman fort at Castleshaw,
excavated the fort's western defences. A series of small-scale
excavations were undertaken intermittently between 1912 and 1967,
generally exploring the northern defences of the fort. In the
mid-20th century, historian
A. J. P. Taylor
A. J. P. Taylor called the surviving
stretch of Roman wall "the least interesting Roman remains in
Britain". The first excavation of the vicus was carried out in the
1970s under Professor Barri Jones. In 1982 the fort, along with
the rest of the
Castlefield area, became the United Kingdom's first
Urban Heritage Park, and partial reconstructions of the forts
walls, including the ramparts and gateways, were opened in 1984.
In 2001–05 the University of
Manchester Archaeological Unit carried
out excavations in the vicus to further investigate the site before
the area underwent any more regeneration or reconstruction. The
archaeological investigation of
Mamucium Roman fort and its associated
civilian settlement has, so far, provided approximately 10,000
The fort measured 160 metres (175 yd) by 130 metres (140 yd)
and was surrounded by a double ditch and wooden rampart. Around AD 200
the wooden rampart was replaced by stone ramparts, measuring
between 2.1 metres (7 ft) and 2.7 metres (9 ft) thick.
The vicus associated with
Mamucium surrounded the site on the west,
north, and east sides, with the majority lying to the north. The vicus
covered about 26 hectares (64 acres) and the fort about 2 hectares
(4.9 acres). Buildings within the vicus would have generally been
one storey, timber framed, and of wattle and daub construction.
There may have been a cemetery to the south east of the fort.
Templeborough Roman Fort in Yorkshire was rebuilt in stone in the 2nd
century and covered an area of 2.2 hectares (5.5 acres), similar
Mamucium which covered 2.0 hectares (4.9 acres).
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mamucium.
History of Manchester
Scheduled Monuments in Greater Manchester
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London: B T Batsford.
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^ Hylton (2003), p. 6.
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^ The name "Tarquin's Castle" refers to the legend that the fort had
been occupied by a giant named Tarquin.
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Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Gregory, Richard (ed) (2007). Roman Manchester: The University of
Manchester's Excavations within the
Vicus 2001–5. Oxford: Oxbow
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Manchester Archaeological Unit, Greater
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