cohors I Fida Vardullorum civium Romanorum equitata milliaria


The Vardulli


The Vardulli [or Varduli] were a small tribe from north-east Spain, whose neighbours were the Vascones. Their territory was a narrow strip which stretched from the coast (between San Sebastian on East and Motrico on West) in land just about to the river Ebro between Logrono and Miranda de Ebro. Strabo only specifically mentions the Vascones as occupying the region now populated by the Basques, however Pomponius Mela and Claudius Ptolemy mention in addition, the Vardulli and a third tribe the Allotriges [or Autrigones]. It is probable that the Vardulli and Allotriges were either tribal subdivisions of the Vascones or separate tribes linked by at least a common language.


The Early History of the Unit

The early history of the unit is unclear, however it is likely that the cohort had been raised by the time of Claudius. It is first recorded in AD98, as part of the garrison of Britain. By this time the unit had already earnt the titles fida [loyal] and Civium Romanorum [Roman citizens]. It was an equitata cohort which meant that of the approximately 500 troops about 120 were cavalry the remainder being infantry.


Milliary Cohorts

Sometime between AD105 and AD122 the cohort was enlarged and become a milliary unit. The introduction of milliary units in the second century AD was an important development. These were approximately double the size of the standard quingenary [500 strong] cohorts. In the second century AD there were at least 7 of these units in Britain, one of which was coh I Fida Vardullorum. These units were not only larger than the standard cohorts and alae, but were more highly regarded than them, being commanded by the pick of equestrian officers. Milliary units were commanded by tribunes, rather than prefects who commanded quingenary units. From time to time it was necessary to split the milliary units in two, with the rump quingenary cohort and a vexillation of nearly quingenary strength. It was normal for the unit to drop the title milliaria at these times, retaking the title when the vexillation was restored to the unit.



The equites Vardulli appear on a tablet found at Vindolanda from AD120-125. The tablet is a list of purchases and of debts owed by various people.7 denarii was owed by the equites Vardulli suggesting that the cohort was temporarily at Vindolanda and drawing supplies.



The coh I Fida Vardullorum provided the garrison of Castlecary during the period of occupation of the Antonine Wall. The unit is attested on seven diplomas, two of which date from its time on the Antonine Wall. The earlier of the two [AD146] is from Chester, and does not describe the unit as milliary, whereas the later [AD150-160] from Colchester does describe the cohort as milliary. The Colchester diploma was issued to Saturnius, originally from Gloucester [Glevum]. His commander at that time was an officer called Verus.

A prefect, Trebius Verus, is noted as the commander of cohors I Fida Vardullorum civium Romanorum equitata milliaria on a dedication to Neptune, at Castlecary. It is interesting that the unit is described as milliary, but the commander is a prefect not a tribune. However as Castlecary occupies only 3.9 acres it could not have contained all of the cohort.

At Cirta, in Numidia an inscription refers to a praetectus cohortis primae Fidae Vardullorum, by the name of Sittius. The family name Sittius is strongly recorded in the cirta region of North Africa. This was the only military post held by Sittius. The unit is not described as milliary, which is correct if commanded by a prefect. Cirta was also the home of the governor responsible for building the Antonine Wall, Lollius Urbicus. It is possible that Lollius appointed Sittius prefect in command of the cohort.A diploma of AD135 described the unit as milliary, soon after it was probably divided in two and the rump, commanded by Sittius was stationed at Castlecary by Lollius.

Some years later Verus took command of the unit, which incorrectly described itself as milliary on the altar. The dedication by Verus may indicate a sea voyage either south with the abandonment of the Antonine Wall, or by a vexillation of the cohort either abroad or on its return to Britain.

About AD157 the unit left Castlecary, being replaced by cohors I Tungrorum.


Hadrians Wall

A second century altar was found outside milecastle 19 on Hadrians Wall. It had been set up by vexillatio cohortis I Vardullorum, perhaps while the rump was based at Castlecary. The usual assumption is that the garrisons of nearest forts also occupied milecastles. The Vardulli are not attested at Rudchester or Haltchester [although the garrison of either fort is not known until the third century or later].



In the reign of Marcus Aurelius the unit may have been the garrison at Corbridge [AD161-163] although the inscription is unclear.



From AD175-6 the Vardulli were at Lanchester.


High Rochester

The Vardulli were at High Rochester [Bremenium] from AD197. Although the cohors I Fida Vardullorum milliaria equitata was brigaded with numerous exploratorum [a unit of scouts], High Rochester is too small to hold the whole of the cohort, never mind the scouts brigaded with them. The fort seems to built on second century quingenary cohort lines.

There is evidence that detachments of the cohort were garrisoned in the surrounding area. One of two altars discovered at Jedburgh was dedicated by the Vardulli and its commander Gaius Quintius Severus, tribune, whose permanent base was at High Rochester 18 miles away. The inscription recording a vexillatio of Raetian spearman and the first cohort of Vardulli, found in the ruins of the abbey at Jedburgh is usually taken to indicate the presence of small detachments guarding an installation at the crossing of the River Teviot. Both units were stationed in the early third century at outpost forts on Dere Street.

The Vardulli may also be responsible for an altar found at Gloster Hill (1/2 mile west of Amble on the River Coquet, Northumberland), 26 miles from High Rochester. The lettering of the dedication: "To the goddesses of the parade-ground the first cohort...." Campestres were originally Gallic goddesses and only worshipped by cavalrymen, not by infantry and were associated with the exercise ground or campus.

An inscription from High Rochester records the construction of ballista-platforms under the direction of P. Aelius Erasirius, tribune of Vardulli in the year AD220. Another tribune recorded at High Rochester was L. Caecilius Optatus who could be the son or descendant of the retired centurion of the same names who became a local dignitary at Barcelona.


The End?

We have been unable to find any more trace of the cohors I Fida Vardullorum civium Romanorum equitata milliaria after the mid-third century AD at High Rochester.


Temple of the Vardulli


Reference Sources for the Vardulli in Britain

Contact: Grahame Appleby
Copyright ©Colchester Roman Society 1998