Pons Aelius was a fort
and Roman settlement on the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall situated west
of the forts of Segedunum (Wallsend) and Arbeia (South Shields), north
of Concangis (Chester-le-Street), and east of Condercum (Benwell) and
Corstopitum (Corbridge). The population of the town was estimated at
around 2,000. The fort is estimated to be 1.53 acres (6,200 m2) in size,
quite small by usual Roman standards. As Pons Aelius was a wall fort
there is a high probability that a military road led from it and followed
the Wall, linking all of its forts and milecastles together.
The name Pons Aelius means
The Aelian Bridge in Latin, and can be traced back to when emperor Hadrian
visited Britain in AD122 and first saw the need for a frontier wall
to be built. This required a road to be built from Concangis to the
Tyne, where the fort was built. Aelian was Hadrian's family name and
eventually the fort become known as Pons Aelius. Although the fort was
to be the eastern end of the wall, it was not long until it was extended
to Segedunum (Wallsend). There is evidence to suggest the fort was rebuilt
in stone probably during the reign of the emperor Severus (193-211AD).
It is also suggested Pons Aelius may have been built to replace an earlier
fort at the south of the Tyne at Gateshead. The fort is mentioned once
in the Notitia Dignitatum in the fourth/fifth century and is the only
literary reference we have. The bridge there was unique among other
bridges outside Rome for being the only one with an imperial epithet,
suggesting it may have been of enough importance to give it such status.
Strategically, the fort was sited here to guard the important river-crossing,
the first major encampment being nearby at Condercum (Benwell, Tyne
& Wear). It would have given the Roman Army an excellent view of the
surrounding areas and more importantly it commanded an excellent position
at the northern bridgehead. It is also unusual among other forts in
being placed at the promontory at Newcastle. This would only allow it
to use the west gate for dispersion of troops, while normally all four
gates would be used.