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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!

Thanks for 7 great years!

Vindolanda Period IV

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


Dates: c. AD105 to c. AD122
Garrison: 1st Cohort of Tungrians (w/some Vardullian cavalry)
Garrison type/size: Infantry cohort of 1000, plus ? cavalry
Visible remains: Bath house

Color Coding

Teal: Ramparts of fort-proper (solid section known, rest conjectural)
Grey: Positions of known or well-conjectured roads
Brown: Presumed praetorium
Red: Presumed schola
Lt. Green: Courtyard bldg, possible hospital
Yellow: Higher-level accommodation
Orange: Barracks (fairly certain on right, likely on left)
Pink: Massive timber hall
Blue: Barrack-type accommodations, possibly w/families
Dk. Green: Military bath house
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 Period IV, Vindolanda flexes its muscles as a major player in the landscape. It's still timber-built like its predecessors, with a large rampart of earth topped by a sturdy wooden palisade. But the earlier 4- to 6-acre forts now balloon to a 9-acre compound, housing 1000 infantrymen plus a cavalry detachment, and possibly occasional legionaries! The big question is: Why? Late Period IV no doubt saw the run-up to building Hadrian's WallGood evidence puts the beginning of the Wall in AD122. It's likely that surveyors and logistical planners were visiting for a year or two before that. With excellent resources of clay, iron, lead, stone, and water close by, Vindolanda was a natural focal point for building work. with all its attendant commotion & need for space. But why build so big in AD105? The surviving records don't explain it. It's up to archaeology.

Fortunately, the archaeology is phenomenal. Well-preserved structures and organic remains are known across much of the site. Many buildings, artifacts, and important writing tablets have been found. Then there's the remarkable story of the transition from Period III to Period IV, all gleaned from the organic material that usually just rots away. Period III ended hastily; leather scraps, tools, and junk littered floor surfaces. The site then sat vacant over an autumn. Leaves had blown into buildings, there were piles of bird droppings, squirrels had deposited stashes of hazelnuts in the 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. floor carpeting. Before the squirrels returned in mid-winter, the buildings were finally razed to the ground and a bed of turf & clay was laid across the platform. Another fresh layer of leaves then covered the new platform. And finally the Period IV fort was built. Writing tablets and tree-ring dating put abandonment in late summer 105. Clearing of the site happened several months later, and construction of Period IV likely in late 105 or early 106.

This kind of detail speaks to the value of Vindolanda as a window into an earlier world. As do the remains of Period IV buildings themselves. The southern area has revealed two barrack blocksIn theory, each barrack block housed a full century, or company, of men, though reality was often different. (And a century of men was actually about 80, not the expected 100, further confusing the numbers.) At the head of the block was an apartment for the company's commander -- the centurion -- and probably his family. The rest of the barrack block was divided into anywhere from 7 to 10 double-rooms called contuberniae. Each double-room housed 8 to 10 soldiers, who lived in the front and slept in bunks in the rear. The well-preserved eastern example of Period IV shows 7 contuberniae and the centurion's apartment block. The western block on the plan above wasn't as well-preserved, so its rooms are more speculative.. They're fairly typical in layout, similar to those found on many other sites. But one room of the centurion's apartment in the eastern block revealed some of Vindolanda's most famous writing tabletsOne of these, T944, is an account of debts received & owed, including one from a detachment of Vardullian cavalry, proving that they were on site. Another, T946, is an almost-complete letter from one trader, Octavius, to another, Candidus, discussing transactions, need for cash, and the lousy roads!. Later, the barracks had been refitted to add space & increase security, probably to house soldiers of higher rank -- possibly those building Hadrian's WallOld porches had been walled up, rooms had been slightly reconfigured. It's tempting to see this as the original auxiliary garrison being pushed out in favor of a higher-class group of soldiers, perhaps legionaries, as the building of Hadrian's Wall drew near. Writing tablets found in the building, as well as clothing belonging to women & children, certainly suggest a more senior grade of inhabitant -- with far greater privileges -- by the building's end.. More impressive discoveries were made north of the barracks. Near the visible fort's west gate lay remains of the most lavishly built wooden structure ever found at Vindolanda. Only its western half has been excavated (the rest lies under the later fort wall). But it was clearly a very large courtyard building, with huge oak beam foundations, finely boarded walls, and many concrete floors. Bits of painted wall plaster were found, and a preserved stair tread proved it once had a second story. It was at least the fort's praetorium (commander's residence) and quite possibly meant for an Imperial visit (probably during Wall construction). Just to its west lay a schola. This was an officer's lounge, where a fort's junior officers could have office space and a place to spend their days apart from the rank-and-fileJust as in today's military, concepts of hierarchy & rank were strictly observed in the Roman army. In addition, Roman society was very much a class-based society, reinforcing the separation of the "betters" from the common people. Interestingly, we know the name of one of the officers at the schola: Tagomas, the Vardullian cavalry standard-bearer, who inscribed his name on an amphora of olives stewed in wine, and whose name also appeared in a writing tablet in a nearby room.. It ended its life in a major fire, which (happily for modern archaeologists) left much of its contents in place -- including a mixing bowl with residue of its last foodstuffs still inside.

In 2006 & 2007, an enormous hall was discovered on the far western edge of the fort. It seems to be 65+ meters long, with timbers half a meter square in size and set more than 2 meters into the ground! Its scale speaks to legionary presence rather than a simple auxiliary garrison. Sadly, its entire floor surface had been removed by later work, leaving its exact purpose in doubt. But other evidence in the area for legionary activity strongly suggests their presence hereIt's very unusual to find legionaries mingling amongst auxiliaries. The two were on vastly different social scales, and social hierarchy was a key part of Roman life -- both civil and military.. Perhaps this was built late in Period IV as the run-up to the Wall. Perhaps it was built earlier -- legionaries may have occupied Stanegate forts while putting down a rebellion in the late 110s. Future digs may tell.

Period IV's artefacts and writing tablets have been a boon to British archaeology. Yet curiously, with all we do know about the period, there are some serious gaps. Only fragments of the actual ramparts -- a length of the southern section and the northern gate -- are known for certain. The rest are conjectured based on topography & site finds. Also, the administrative heart of the fort, the principia, has not been found yet. In the central section where it would be expected, excavations have found a probable hospital, and another bit of higher-end accommodation which may have been the centurion's wing of a barrack block. (Underneath both of these ran a magnificent bored wooden waterpipe, carrying fresh water from a wellhead at the far northwest to some unknown final destination in the southeast.) Lastly, Vindolanda's role in this period is still unclear. Why the large garrison? Under what circumstances did the legionaries arrive? What was the frontier really like in these years? There remains much to be learnedA broader look at the evidence points to a period of rising tension, over a span of years. A fort & its garrison doubled in size, the addition of a detachment of cavalry "shock troops" for extra security, vague mentions in histories and inscriptions of a significant war. But none of these really satisfies as a full answer..

Period IV becomes Period V in the whirlwind of initial construction at Hadrian's Wall. On a somewhat poignant note, this moment also sees the end of Vindolanda as a true frontier garrison, and start of life as part of Rome's new "frontier in depth." For nearly 40 years it had sat at the extreme edge of empire, with no physical barrier blocking it from the un-Romanized peoples to the north. Sometime late in Period IV, its acting commander Titus Annius is known to have been "killed in the war."This comes from part of a tombstone inscription found in 1997, reused in a much later Period VII/VIII building. It's not known exactly what war this was, but it's likely the one that precipitated the building of Hadrian's Wall itself. Every supply cart or traveling party that reached its gates had reached safety from a truly unprotected outside world. But from now to the very end of Vindolanda's existence several hundred years later, it would always sit behind a real, physical boundary. There is no evidence that early Vindolanda was ever directly attacked while defending the frontier. But this change no doubt still caused quite a psychological shift. What had been life on the edge would now, forever, be life in the hinterlandThough the fact that Vindolanda existed with a military role for 300 more years is proof that, in the words of the Director of Excavations, "Rome failed to provide a political solution in Roman Britain." So, whatever its new role from here on out, Vindolanda is a testament equally to both Rome's monumental successes and colossal shortcomings..

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period IV evidence varies in depth, from about 2.0-3.0 meters down near the visible forts to about 1.0 or less meters down on the western fringe.
  * Only certain Period IV extramural activity is military bath house, and unexcavated cemeteries N. of Stanegate.
  * Near visible fort, organic material generally survives in excellent, even pristine condition.
  * This is the latest fort to show terracing to smooth out dips in landscape. Well-preserved, deep levels are often next to poorly-preserved shallow levels of the same period.
  * Construction of this period uses many birch & alder posts, often still with their bark; wattle & daub partition walls.
  * 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. Hospital identified partially by its meticulously clean floors.
  * Fragile organic small finds like bone hairpins and wooden combs/tent pegs are common in deep, preserved levels. Dig carefully.
  * Fragile wooden writing tablets are well-known 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 in deeper contexts. Will even survive on western fringe in places.
  * Coinage often pristine. Mostly silver of excellent quality (17-20mm) & large copper-alloy pieces (25-35mm). Occasional small copper-alloy coins.
  * Pottery includes local greywares, Black-Burnished I wares (hand-thrown), Corbridge/Colchester mortaria, and large amounts of samian ware.
  * Contemporary samian tends to be deep red with orange fabric, South Gaulish. Some "newer" light orange Central Gaulish samian as well.

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

Page created by Harold Johnson