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Roman fort

The West Gate at Arbeia Roman Fort, South ShieldsThe West Gate at Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields At the farthest reaches of the empire, where the Roman army had conquered new territory, it needed to keep it under control. The army built frontier forts housing up to 800 men. From these the army was able to supervise a large area. The fort, protected by a surrounding ditch and wall, included a hospital, bathhouse, granary (for storing grain), barracks (where the soldiers slept) and stables. An area outside the fort was levelled to make a parade ground.

Plan of a Roman fort surrounded by rampartsPlan of a Roman fort surrounded by ramparts
Plastering a fort buildingPlastering a fort building


First, ditches were dug and turf stripped from the site. The rubble and earth were used to build the ramparts (defensive walls). The walls of the buildings were built in sections. Each had a wooden “skeleton” filled in with wattle (interwoven sticks) and daub (rough plaster). The walls were fixed to posts and given a coating of smooth plaster. They were painted to weatherproof them and to make them look like stone blocks. Later, many wooden forts were replaced with stone.

Main buildings

The Latin word for a fort was castra. Many English towns began life as Roman forts, and keep the word "castra" in their name to this day: for example, Manchester, Lancaster, Colchester and Chester.

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