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From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

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Vindolanda Period II

Period I    *    Back to Forums    *    Period III
Currently visible Period VII-X fort & settlement structures


Dates: c. AD92 to c. AD97
Garrison: 9th Cohort of Batavians (possibly also 1st Cohort of Tungrians early)
Garrison type/size: Part-mounted infantry cohort of 500/1000
Visible remains: Early bath house (?), Romano-British temple (?), modern post marking S gate

Color Coding

Teal: Ramparts of fort-proper (solid section known, rest conjectural)
Grey: Positions of known or well-conjectured roads
Pink: Presumed Praetorium
Yellow: Presumed barrack blocks
Orange: Domestic area consistent with barracks
Green: Military bath house (?)
Brown: Romano-British temple
Purple: Stanegate road

Hover your mouse over the image to compare this fort to the archaeology currently visible on-site today. (What's currently visible is mostly Period VII-IX, but with bits of Period VI-B and X.)

In AD92, the city of Rome was in the grip of the "Reign of Terror" of the madman Domitian, a time of proscriptions, violence, and murder. Yet the turmoil doesn't seem to have reached the northwest edge of empire. Vindolanda in Period II actually sees a settling-in. By now, local Roman officials surely had ideas on how to consolidate the frontier. And Period II is perhaps best explained in this light.

The fort was reconstructed from the ground up, on a larger scale. It also sees the arrival of the 9th Cohort of Batavians, though they may have shared the space with the 1st Tungrians for a while. As with Period I, Period II's fort was turf-and-timber, consisting of a large earthen rampart with wooden palisade on top, and a defensive ditchCompared to the multiple defensive ditches seen in Period I, the new single ditch seems to suggest a sense of relative peace & security in the region. in front. A section of the south rampart, with its gate, has been excavated, as well as possibly two sectionsIn the 1930s Eric Birley excavated a curving ditch that seems to mark the NW corner of the Period II/III fort defenses. In 2002, excavations appeared to locate a small stretch of the western ditch, but foul weather hampered the work. of the western ditch. The south gate was a simple single portal with posts & boards holding back the ramparts to either side, and split logs for a flooring. It had no tower. The gateway was actually built in a horrid location, across a natural gullyWater management at Vindolanda has been a consistent headache from the 1st Century straight through to the 21st. The land is criss-crossed with countless ditches, aqueducts, conduits, and every other means of moving water off the high ground down into the ravine to the south. None has been entirely successful. And most aimed for this gully, being the most obvious place to channel runoff. It was a singularly bad idea to build a gatehouse over this plot of low land, confirmed by its repositioning only a few years later in Period III. that collected and drained much of the high ground into the Doe Sike just to the south. The land was filled with loose material, and heavy sleeper beams had been inserted above the gully to take the load. But they seem to have failed and sunken into the depression within a few short years.

The overall topography of Period II was much different than it is today. Some areas of the fort lie only 2 meters below modern levels, while other areas are as much as 5 meters down! (Later demolition and backfill slowly built up and evened out the land to today's level.) Several buildings inside the Period II fort have been investigated. In the central and western areas, post alignments and numerous small finds suggest barrack-blocks -- though effiicient demolition makes it hard to be certain. The best-excavated building lay just inside the southern gate. It was immense, 50+ meters long. Its remains are fragmentary, due again to efficient demolition. However, parts of it had been built over a backfilled ditch of Period I. Patches of flooring had subsided into the fill, and were preserved. Unfortunately, the site has produced conflicting theories. The building had an enormous wooden water tank, continually fed by a pipe in its northern wall. This tank was some 10X3 meters, comparable in area to a modern backyard in-ground pool. Such a huge water supply usually suggests a fabrica, or industrial-scale foundry, servicing the garrison. However, other finds suggested domestic use: brackenThis is a rough fern that grows abundantly in the area. Using it on a floor would provide warmth against cold Northumbrian winters, as well as a way to soak up and hold dampness. Such a carpet is a boon to a modern archaeologist, as the layers usually hold numerous small objects lost by their original owners. carpeting for living quarters, leather shoes for women & children, and writing tablets concerned with official business. Only the western part of the building was excavated; the rest lay under the walls of the visible fort. It may be that, like its successor, this was the fort's praetorium -- the commander's residence -- and the excavated wing represented a personal retinue of craftsmen responsible for maintaining his household.

One question is, if this -was- a praetorium, whom did it house? From inscriptions and tablets, we know the 9th Cohort of Batavians was on site at this time, a part-mounted infantry unit. Other tablets speak of a commander of the 3rd Batavians named Genialis. Then there's the famous strength report18 May, net number of the First Cohort of Tungrians
of which the commander is Iulius Verecundus the prefect, 752
including centurions 6
of whom there are absent:
guards of the governor 46
at the office of Ferox
at Coria 337
including centurions 2 (?)
at London centurion 1 (?)
6, including centurion 1
9, including centurion 1
at (?) 1 (?)
total absentees 456
including centurions 5
remainder, present 296
including centurion 1
from these:
sick 15
wounded 6
suffering from inflammation of the eyes 10
total of these 31
remainder, fit for active service 265
including centurion 1.

See vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk, search on Tablet 154. This one tablet has revolutionized the way historians have looked at the frontier of the late 1st Century. Clearly it is a fluid place. Cohorts are coming and going; nominal troops sizes are actually hugely variable in real-life.
of the 1st Cohort of Tungrians -- the only one of its kind known in Britain! -- addressed to its commander, Julius Verecundus, found in one of the roomsOriginally, it was thought this was a tablet from Period I, as it was found in the Period I ditch. However, looking back, excavators seem more convinced that it came from Period II and subsided with the flooring into the older ditch. It's still not a complete certainty.. If this was a commander's residence, it was the home of one (or more?) of these men.

Another question is, why were this and other known buildings built so badly? Vindolanda had been occupied for years. Yet the builders used green, unseasoned softwoods, most still with their bark on. Floors were just clay or beaten earth, walls were wattle-and-daub. It seems it was built in a hurry, with no time to source the vast supply of natural resources nearby. Why? Especially if the well-established 1st Tungrians were still there.

As always, every question answered by archaeology seems to produce two new ones. What is becoming evident, however, is that in Period II, Vindolanda is beginning to find its footing in the landscape. The first known bath houseThis is the same bath house whose construction was recorded in a Period II writing tablet, c. AD95. It's exceptionally rare to find physical remains directly associated with the written word! As usual, this complex was built outside the fort walls. Bath houses were severe fire risks, so keeping them away from flammable fort buildings was a must. at the fort was discovered outside the southern gate. A Romano-British style temple seems to have been constructed in this period along the approach road to the fort from the northwest. Cemeteries are known across the Stanegate road to the north (though none has yet been properly excavated). Period I seems to mark an initial holding of a tenuous line after a frustrating retreat. Period II seems to be a consolidation of a true frontier, backed by a large, if fluid, movement and garrisoning of soldiers. Paved roads, huge wooden buildings, water and sewer works, areas of industry, leisure, religion, and memorial -- all of these point to a garrison looking to the longer term. The sub-par building materials may speak to a desire to build quickly, knowing that they would have plenty of time to rebuild the fort how they wanted it. Which, in the end, seems to be exactly what happened.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period II evidence varies in depth depending on the land's original topography, anywhere from about 2.0 to 5.0+ meters down.
  * The only certain Period II extramural activity is the military bathhouse, and cemeteries N. of Stanegate.
  * Organic material generally survives in excellent, sometimes pristine condition.
  * Construction of this period uses much flimsy, unseasoned birch, and alder; bark often still present; wattle-and-daub walls; usually simple clay/earth floors.
  * Roman bracken "carpeting" on top of floors shows that a room was used as living space.
  * Well-preserved organic remains can show cleanliness/filthiness of areas.
  * Fragile organic small finds like bone hairpins and wooden combs/kitchen implements are common in deep, preserved levels. Dig carefully.
  * Fragile wooden writing tablets are abundant at this level. When excavated, they're the consistency of a wet paper towel. Dig VERY carefully.
  * Well-preserved textiles are known at this level. If found, note to supervisor right away. Must be taken quickly to conservation.
  * Almost any leather at this phase is pristine & sturdy.
  * Coinage usually pristine. Mostly silver of excellent quality (17-20mm) & large copper-alloy pieces (25-35mm). Occasional small copper-alloy coins.
  * Pottery includes local greywares, possibly North Gaulish mortaria, and large amounts of samian ware.
  * Samian ware mostly deep red with orange fabric, South Gaulish.

Vindolanda Excavations Reports: 1994, 2001-'02, 2003-'04, 2005-'06

Page created by Harold Johnson