Welcome Guest [Log In] [Register]

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 V

Period IV    *    Back to Forums    *    Period VI
Currently visible Period VII-X fort & settlement structures


Dates: c. AD122 to c. AD140
Garrison: 1st Cohort of Tungrians
Garrison type/size: Infantry cohort of 500 (perhaps orig. 1000)
Visible remains: None

Color Coding

Teal: Ramparts of fort-proper (solid section known, rest conjectural)
Grey: Positions of known or well-conjectured roads
Pink: Legionary industrial area
Green: Courtyard bldg, possible hospital
Yellow: Higher-level accommodation
Orange: Presumed praetorium
Brown: Area of ovens and storehouses
Red: Cobbler's workshop
Blue: Large oven area, possible mess hall
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.)

Understanding Vindolanda in Period V is no easy task. It's an atypical fort experiencing atypical and wildly fluctuating activity. But what is known is that it began with a commotion, excitement, and intensity unseen in the region before, or likely since. The construction of Hadrian's Wall, beginning AD122, only a mile to the north was a monumental engineering & logistical project. And Vindolanda was sited at the very heart of it, surrounded by vital natural resources, in a central location to collect & distribute personnel and supplies. Legionary detachments, auxiliary garrisons, smiths, artisans, surveyors, logistical planners, commercial suppliers, traffic jams of heavily-laden carts winding up and down the rutted Stanegate, large pig- and cattle farms, slaughterhouses & bakeries working day and night -- this would have been life at Vindolanda in the 120s. Excavations have shown snippets of this rush of activity. But as always, every answer seems to raise new questions.

Even something as basic as the shape of the fort isn't yet known for sure. It seems to have maintained the same huge dimensionsThe Period IV-V fort seems to have spanned more than 8 acres, over twice the size of the currently visible fort. Though bits of the southern & northern fort walls have been found, most of the evidence for its size is conjectural, based on topography and the distribution of site finds. as Period IV's. It was certainly a turf-and-timber structure, ringed by a large earth rampart with a sturdy wooden palisade on top. Parts of the southern and northern ramparts, as well as the north gate, have been well-excavated, so something of its appearance and size is known. A defensive ditch lay in front of the southern section, and likely encircled the entire fort. None of the fort's other gates has yet been located. Based on other forts of the era it is likely to have had four, or perhaps six. It's also likely, but not certainThere are some changes in building techniques from those of Period IV, but they seem relatively minor. Inscriptions seem to place members of the 1st Cohort of Tungrians in Vindolanda in Period V. Without any other piece of evidence that sharply suggests something else, it's the safest bet that the garrison is the same., that the 1st Cohort of Tungrians was still the official garrison of the site.

Period V's big puzzle is that very little of the known archaeology fits in with "typical""Typical" is a very loose term, as forts of all shapes, sizes, and layouts are known. Still, a Roman fort of the 2nd Century could be expected to contain a principia (HQ), a praetorium (commander's residence), and granaries in its central section, with barracks and storehouses/smithies/stables spread out among the remaining space. As of yet, no structure yet found within Period V's fort can be said with certainty to be any of these. forts of the era. A very well-built wooden structure lay in the southern range. It may have been the praetorium (commander's residence), and writing tablets related to fort administration were found in it. However, sections of it show heavy industrial use. Two buildings near the center of the fort defy full explanation. Just north of a road junction lay a relatively compact building with many small rooms built around a central courtyard. Based on its shape, it may have been a hospital. But no artifacts have yet been able to prove this. To its west, another building used for accommodation remains unidentifiedIt's safe to call this accommodation as some bracken carpeting has been found on floors. Carpet like this is almost always limited to domestic living spaces. It's possible that this is the end of a barrack block where the company's commander, the centurion, lived. But this can't be said for sure without much more excavation.. To the south of these lay an open space with a well-preserved oven, a few ephemeral posthole-lines of former buildings, and a few storage/refuse pits. Nothing suggests the presence of either a headquarters or granariesIn fact, quite the opposite, it appears that this area reflects a point late in Period V when Wall construction was done and the size of the garrison had been greatly reduced.. Northeast of this area, a cobbler's workshop & a small road have been found. Both were built on top of two high-status Period IV buildings -- a major change of use of this area from former officer lounges & administration to basic industry. The archaeology of the workshop was incredible, with footwear, offcuts, tools -- even a coil of rope -- discovered. But again, its very presence adds new questions.

In reality, the confusion is hardly surprising. As mentioned, this was no typical fort or period. It's even possible that this was actually two forts in one. On its western edge, evidence has arisen for legionary activityIt was legionaries who built the actual Wall and its milecastles, turrets, and forts. Many of their cohorts, and names of centurions, are known from inscribed stones the whole length of the Wall. While Wall construction was going on, Stanegate forts like Vindolanda offered a convenient place to call "home." After the Wall was finished, the legionaries returned to their massive fortresses at York, Chester, and Caerleon, leaving garrison duty to auxiliaries. at some point straddling the 110s-120s, with monumental timber buildings followed by a legionary workshop, or fabricaThis was a place of heavy industry, where highly skilled artisans and craftsmen worked diligently, excused from the normal duties of fort life. Fabricae are known by their large furnaces, water cisterns, and other high-grade industrial infrastructure. They're quite rare in an auxiliary fort, more proof that something extraordinary was happening at Vindolanda in this period.. In 2006 a beautiful silver brooch
owned by a legionary centurion named Quintus Sollonius was found in the workshop's flooring. Just to the north and east of this area lay a shallow ditch that seems to be setting off this section from the rest of the fort. This could be legionaries trying to separate themselvesLegionaries were the elite warriors of the Roman world. All citizens, all highly trained, highly skilled, well-armed, and in general literate & educated. The differences between a legionary and a rough auxiliary soldier from an outlying province who actually garrisoned a fort like Vindolanda (or one of the Wall forts) could hardly be starker. In a hierarchical society like the Roman Empire's, it's very easy to picture a legionary detachment jealously guarding its own private space. in some physical way from the lower-grade auxiliaries actually garrisoning Vindolanda.

More evidence for Vindolanda's importance in Period V lay in the fort's northern section. Excavations in 2002 revealed an area of enormous bread ovens--one almost 10 square meters! Ovens this size would have been a severe fire hazard. They were thus almost unheard-of in a garrison fort. Even regular ovens tended to be built into a fort's clay rampart walls to keep them away from flammable buildings. Yet here they held a central place of prominence. The most reasonable explanation? That they were built there because they were needed, likely as part of a mess hall to feed masses of hungry bellies. It's yet another indication of a fort operating on an industrial scale.

So in the end, the current evidence is exceptional, yet frustrating. It all reinforces the idea of Period V being an exciting time. Yet the exact nature of the fort, its garrison(s), and its role remain elusive. Still, it's easy to imagine range after range of foundries, joiners, stonecutters, storehouses, workshops, administrative offices, stables, supply carts coming and going in all directions to quarry sandstone, burn lime, dig clay, mine lead. Not to mention the noise and chaos and life and vibrance of a fort supporting a world-class undertaking. Much surely remains to be discovered that will hopefully shed some light on this period.

Interestingly, archaeology has revealed another side of Period V. The sparse area shown in brown on the plan speaks to a different, much more subdued Vindolanda. It's still firmly Period V, but it shows little of the hustle & bustle from other trenches -- an oven, a few small short-lived sheds, a few pits, little else. This actually fits well with the facts. This was a period of contradictions. By about AD130, the Wall and all its modificationsWall plans were modified multiple times after construction began. About AD128 it was decided to add full-fledged forts to the Wall, and to dig enormous ditches to its rear to cordon off a "military zone." This new activity no doubt extended Vindolanda's hectic glory years through about AD130. were finished. The legions moved on; new garrisons were settled along the Wall and no longer needed the acreage and infrastructure Vindolanda could offer. In addition, the actual Vindolanda garrison may have been cut in half at this time, from its original 1000 down to 500. The ovens and smithies went cold. Barracks went empty and were demolished. Activity slowed to a lull. Moreover, this former frontier fort now sat a mile behind the front. There was undoubtedly a period of adjustment, finding its new role in the hinterland. At any rate, Period V's later years are clouded in uncertainty & relative obscurity. The fort was never abandoned. It lingered on, an oddly overbuilt & underused place, until eventually, the world changed yet again. The Emperor Hadrian died, a new Emperor with grand plans of his own arrived, and Period V became Period VI.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period V evidence varies in depth, from about 1.5-3.0 meters down near the visible forts to 0.5-1.0 meters down on the western fringe.
  * Period V extramural activity is uncertain. Possible temple/tombs, possible old bathhouse.
  * Near visible fort, organic material often 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 is generally sturdy, using alder & squared oak beams, with wattle & daub partition walls.
  * Roman bracken "carpeting" can survive on top of floors. Such carpet shows that a room was used as living space.
  * Organic remains can be preserved enough to show cleanliness/filthiness of areas. Some carpets/floors are littered with pupae and muck, others meticulously clean.
  * 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 well-preserved. Mostly silver of good to 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 orange, Central Gaulish. Older/residual pieces deeper red with orange fabric, South Gaulish.

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

Page created by Harold Johnson