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Hadrian's Wall: The Staffordshire Moorlands Patera

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Hadrian's Wall
History of the Edge of an Empire | A Journey Along the Edge of the Empire | The Staffordshire Moorlands Patera
The Western Defences | The Forts And Camps North Of Hadrian's Wall

Although the Roman name for Hadrian's Wall is not known for sure, it is possible they called it the Vallum Aelium, or the Aelian frontier. The evidence for this name was found in an inscription on a bowl found in the Staffordshire moorlands in 2003, and which is now known as the Staffordshire Moorlands Patera.

The Bowl

The bowl is a patera or a pan with a single handle and appears to have been made sometime around 220 AD. It was cast in an alloy of copper. It is 2mm thick with a diameter of 89mm and stands on a base ring of 54mm. The handle and a part of the base are missing. It is one of only three known examples of this type of bowl. The others are the Rudge cup from Wiltshire and the Amiens Patera, which was found in France.

It was customary to produce items like this as part of a batch - they would cast several from the original mould and discard the mould when the items became distorted. The inscription could be added when the bowl was purchased and the enamelwork applied as the buyer requested. These brightly coloured bowls had different designs - the Staffordshire moorlands patera has eight panels of enamelwork with a local swirling scroll design.

The bowl is enamelled in red, light blue, white and dark blue, but what makes it important is the inscription around the rim.


The translation of this inscription is thought to be:

Mais (Bowness), Coggabata (Drumburgh), Uxelodunum (Stanwix), Camboglanna (Birdoswald or Castlesteads) Rigor (the course of) Vali (the frontier of) Aeli (Hadrian's family name) Draconis (this could denote the cup was the property of Draco).
Mais, Coggabata, Uxelodunum, Camboglanna, from the line of the Aelian frontier and owned by Draco.

This has been taken by scholars as an indication that the Roman name of Hadrian's Wall was the Vallum Aelium, or the Aelian frontier.

It was thought to be a souvenir or gift from Hadrian's Wall, and also bears the name of the person it was probably made for - Draco.

It is also possible that the AELI relates to the name Draco rather than to the name of the wall, in which case the name of the owner of the bowl was Aelius Draco. The translation would thus end with 'from the line of the frontier and owned by Aelius Draco'.

The Hadrian's Wall Forts Named On The Bowl

Mais or Maia Bowness

This was the last fort on the western end of the wall and was one of the largest on the wall - it was even known as the large fort - and marked the beginning of the western coastal defences. It housed a garrison of around 1,500 men.

Coggabata or Concavata Drumburgh

A small fort that was garrisoned by a force of auxiliary foot, it housed a garrison of around 800 men.

Uxelodunum Stanwix

This fort was not on the wall but positioned on the north bank of the River Eden and was sited to guard the crossing from Carlisle. The fort was the home of the Ala Petriana, a force of 1,000 cavalry.

Camboglanna Castlesteads or Birdoswald

There is some confusion regarding the location of this fort. It could be either Castlesteads or Birdoswald, but the evidence is inconclusive. The Latin translations of the possible names indicates that the name Camboglanna, 'the winding valley', fits Castlesteads better than the name Banna, 'the spur'. The latter is better suited to Birdoswald, located on a ridge overlooking the River Irthing.

These forts covered a distance of 28 miles from Mais to Camboglanna; a practical distance for an area commander to look after. The headquarters were probably at Stanwix Fort. Whoever was in command of this area had a force of 4,000 foot and 2,500 cavalry under his command from units stationed on Hadrian's Wall, and there was a reserve force available in York (Eboracum). York was the home of Legion VI - The Victrix.

Who Was Draco?

It can not be said for certain if the patera was made for Draco or if it was a gift to him, or from him to another. Draco could even have been the maker's name. The name Draco indicates a Greek, and it was customary at the time for those becoming citizens to take the Emperor's family name. During Hadrian's rule this gives us the name Aelius, so if the AELI refers to the name Draco rather than to the wall, the name could suggest Draco was a freeman or a newly created citizen.

It is also possible that Draco was an auxiliary officer1 of some status, who was presented with the bowl on his retirement after 25 years service. If so, he appears to have retired prior to 138 AD, as he took the Hadrian family name. How or why the patera found its way to Staffordshire is a mystery, though Draco and his family may have moved to Wroxeter, one of the four largest cities in Roman Britain.

1Or even the section commander, or a member of his staff.

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