accounts refer to Caerleon as the Roman "city" of "Isca
Silurum". The Roman road passing through "Isca
Silurum" to Caerwent and then to a crossing of the Severn
is referred to as the "Via. Julia" or "Julia
This is incorrect
in the sense that they were not names known in Roman Britain.
Caerleon was called "Isca" and was the fortress
of the Second Augustan Legion. The tribal capital of the Silures
(the native tribe of South East Wales) was at Caerwent and was
called "Venta Silurum".
is understandable since many reputable authors and historians
have used these names. Sir Joseph Bradney in his major work "A
History of Monmouthshire" states:
Romans adopted Isca Silurum as the name of the town they
made here, Isca being the Latin equivalent for Wysg
(the river Usk)."
refers to "the Via Julia, going by Cat's Ash to the
main road, which it followed as far as Caerwent, when it crossed
the Severn at Caldicot Pill." (1)
In 1862 John
Edward Lee, Honorary Secretary of the Monmouthshire and Caerleon
Antiquarian Association, published his illustrated catalogue of
the Museum of Antiquities at Caerleon under the title of Isca
Silurum. He was influenced by other antiquarians of that time,
including Thomas Wakeman who had read a paper at the first meeting
of the Caerleon Antiquarian Association in 1848 using the name
They in turn
were influenced by William Coxe who wrote "An Historical
Tour in Monmouthshire", first published in 1801. Coxe
Silurum, the residence of the second Augustan legion, and
the chief station of the Romans in the country of the Silures,
now occupied by the small town of Caerleon".
He also makes
reference to "the Julia Strata that led from Bath,
through the counties of Monmouth and Glamorgan, to Caermathen
and St.David's." (3)
have consulted references by William Camden, the author of "Britannia:
or a Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland".
This historical topography was first published in 1586 in Latin,
but was translated into English and republished in 1610. Later
editions were also published, including fresh additions and revisions.
Camden makes reference to:
called by Antoninus Isca and Legio secunda
and by the Britains Kaer Lheion and Kaer Lheion on wysk
(which signifies the City of the Legion on the river Usk)
from the Legio Secunda Augusta, which was called also Britannia
have been using other earlier sources. In 1695 Robert Morden published
his "Britannia Romana" which refers to Isca
Siluru. , and about 1701 Sutton Nicholls engraved a map for
Edward Wells entitled "A New Map of the British Isles,
Shewing their Antient People, Cities and Towns of Note in the
time of the Romans. Dedicated to His Highness William Duke of
Gloucester". This also mentions Isca Silurum.
Camden does not refer to Isca Silurum in a section on Newport
where was formerly some Military way, mentioned by
Necham in these verses:
et auget aquas Sabrini Fluminis Osca Praeceps ; testis erit Julia
Strata mihi.' (translated as) 'Increased with Usk does Severn
rise, as Julia Strata testifies.'
Julia Strata was a way (road), we have no reason to question
: and if we may be free to conjecture, it seems not absurd to
suppose it took its name from Julius Frontinus who conquered
referred to by Camden was the Itinerarium Antonini Augusti,
now usually called the Antonine Itinerary. This was a road map
of the Roman Empire dating from the second or third century, probably
from the time of the Emperor Caracalla (M. Aurelius Antoninus).
It was first printed in 1512 and Camden makes many references
to it. The section referring to Britain contains fifteen itinera,
giving routes between different places with the names and distances
of intermediate places. There are three routes passing through
Caerleon. Route XII, from Moridunum (Carmarthen) to Viroconium
(Wroxeter), includes the name Iscae leg.ii Augusta (Isca
of the Second Augustan Legion). There is no mention of Isca
is the celebrated medieval scholar Alexander Neckham. Neckham
was born in Hertforshire in 1157 and died at Kempsey, Worcestershire
in 1217. He joined the Augustinian order and became Abbot of Cirencester
in 1213. He was a prolific writer although many of his works have
not survived. (7)
a mystery when these terms were first used, but hopefully more
evidence will come to light. However there is one strange fact.
The Second Augustan Legion at Caerleon were previously based in
a fortress under modern day Exeter. This fortress too was called
Isca, and this name was perpetuated in the Roman town established
on the site, Isca Dumnoniorum (Isca of the Dumnonii tribe).
It could be argued that the Legion brought the name Isca
with them to Caerleon. However experts in early place-names disagree.
According to P.H. Reaney river names such as Axe, Exe, Esk and
Usk are all derived from the British word isca meaning
Bob Trett 2004
1. Sir Joseph
Bradney. A History o f Monmouthshire. Volume III - Part
II. The Hundred of Usk page 185. 1923
2. Coxe Volume
I page 80.
3. Ibid page
from the edition revised by Edmund Gibson 1695
at top of page.
Survey Map of Roman Britain Various editions since 1928.
7. A brief
biography of Neckham can be found in the Catholic Encyclopaedia
.Volume X. 1911.
The Origins of English Place Names. 1960 page 77.