Alexander Gordon, writing in 1726, noted that ‘at Cramond, about four miles west of Edinburgh … are still to be seen vestiges of another great Roman station. Here several Roman inscriptions have been dug up, and an incredible Quantity of Roman Coins …’. The site stands on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the River Almond where it flows into the Forth. Now the estuary is heavily silted, and accessible only to pleasure craft, but in Roman times the water was deeper and quite large vessels could have berthed here. The fort probably guarded a major Roman harbour.

Aerial photograph of Cramond.

Aerial view of Cramond. The Roman fort stood on high ground overlooking the river, centred on the present churchyard.

Houses now cover much of the site, and Cramond Kirk stands where the fort’s headquarters building once stood. Excavations have been conducted piecemeal in many parts of the site, and fragments of the remains can still be seen today. No direct evidence has been found for a late first century fort, although coins suggest that one may have existed in the vicinity. The first known structures date to the Antonine period, and are probably to be associated with Lollius Urbicus's invasion of Scotland and the building of the Antonine Wall. In the early third century the fort was reoccupied and refurbished, no doubt to support the campaigns of Septimius Severus in 208-10.

A bath-house, of which no remains are now visible, lay outside the fort, and on the other side of the river is a large rock locally known as ‘Eagle Rock’. On it a figure, now much eroded, has been carved in a niche. It may represent Mercury, the protector of travellers.

B/w photograph of inscribed stone from Cramond.

© SCRAN/National Museums of Scotland

Several inscriptions have been found at Cramond. They include a stone recording unspecified building work by a century of the Second Augusta Legion’s Fourth Cohort (above), and a dedication to the godesses of the parade-ground by the First Cohort of Tungrians under a centurion of the Twentieth Valeria Victrix Legion. Another altar (right) was set up to Jupiter by the Fifth Cohort of Gauls under their prefect, Lucius Minthonius Tertullus. This unit is also attested at South Shields, another probable Roman harbour at the mouth of the Tyne. South Shields appears to have been a major stores base, and it is likely that during Severus’s invasions of Scotland the river-ports at South Shields, Cramond, and Carpow on the Tay formed links in a maritime supply chain which supported the armies campaigning in the north.

B/w photograph of a Roman altar from Cramond.

© SCRAN/National Museums of Scotland

In 1996 a remarkable Roman sculpture was found in the river bed at Cramond. It represents a lioness devouring a naked bearded man. Two snakes emerge from beneath the lioness’s body. These symbols represent death, and the triumph of the deceased’s spirit. The sculpture was probably part of an elaborate funerary monument.

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