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Vindolanda Period VI-A
FACTS AND FIGURES
Dates: c. AD160 to c. AD208
Garrison type/size: Unknown
Visible remains: Bits of praetorium, sections of fort wall, temple/industrial zones, 1 (or 2) baths
Color CodingTeal: Location of fort-proper
Lt. Green: Possible late annex
Dk. Green: Bath house (?)
Yellow: Likely bath house
Pink: Industrial range to west of settlement
Orange: Temple districts to west of settlement
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.)
The late 2nd C saw great change in the Roman world, and in Britain: AD161, retreat of the frontier from the Antonine Wall back to Hadrian's Wall; AD180, a major barbarian assaultThis uprising had been brewing for several years. It took Emperor Commodus's ruthless general Ulpius Marcellus half a decade to finally restore order. and its aftermath; and finally AD192-194, a succession crisis and civil war that pitted British troops against Continental counterparts. When stability re-emerged, the army found itself in a new role: that of kingmakerThis flexing of the army's muscle would be one of the few consistent trends for the rest of the Empire's existence. Every new Emperor was now expected to lavish wealth on his soldiers. He neglected this at his peril.. A period that started with rule by philosophy (Marcus Aurelius) ended with rule by the sword (Septimius Severus). Vindolanda in Period VI-A was surely an interesting place to live.
To be clear, Period VI-A is still poorly understood. Much lies under later forts, so excavation has been slow. Its exact timeframe is uncertainIt likely began as part of the rework along the entire Hadrian's Wall frontier about AD160. The Empire's 20-year experimental push farther north ended, and Hadrian's Wall was refortified as the Empire's northmost boundary. Forts up and down the length of the Wall were restored and rejuvenated at this time. Interestingly, much of the magnificent building work inside Vindolanda's fort might be related to post-rebellion activity of the 180s. The quality of the stonework (see below) even suggests legionary activity. Future excavations might discover a need to define yet another period, between VI-A and VI-B. Fortunately there's not enough evidence yet to force that! For now, roughly AD160-208 is a fair, but tentative, start.. What is known is proving fascinating. For starters, it was now that Vindolanda received its first stone circuit walls, the so-called "Stone Fort I." Before, every fort at Vindolanda had walls made of earthen ramparts and a wooden palisade on top. Functional and effective, sure, but not inspiring. The novel sight of gleaming, well-cut pale yellow sandstone walls 5+ meters high surely made quite an impression. It was a statement of power and permanence. And a level of organization and craftsmanship -- and capital investment -- never before seen at the site. (The radical change in building style makes a garrison change in this period likely.)
Like its Period VI predecessor, it sat in roughly the same spot as the currently visible Period VII fort. (The E and W walls were even reused as the Period VII foundations.) However, Period VI-A's N and S walls lay a bit north of their later counterparts (the southern wall taking an odd angle for reasons yet unknown). The old, simple western gate of Period VI was backfilled. The new gate was sited to the north, in the position of the currently visible Period VII western gatehouseThis changed the extramural road configuration to what it is today. The Roman roadway that you walk on today as you approach the visible fort's western gate was originally laid out in Period VI-A, replacing an earlier version that ran several dozen meters to the south., and given towers. The SW corner also had a new guard tower, though this was a later addition. A high-volume rubble-filled drain in the SW section suggests a large stableRomans well-understood the need for cleanliness. Stables are inherently dirty places, needing large amounts of fresh water to clean them and large drainage to take fouled water away. in that area as well. A nearby toilet block reused & refitted Period VI sluices to carry off waste through the western wall and into the fort ditch.
The fort certainly contained the usual amenities & featuresbarracks, granaries, a praetorium (commander's residence), probably workshops, stables, and the like. As of yet, not enough walls have been recorded to make sense of most of them. However, in the 1930s Eric Birley & Ian Richmond excavated the fort's principiathe headquarters -- the administrative, judicial, and functional heart of a Roman fort, and turned up startling results. First, it was built to a standard seen nowhere else along the entire Hadrian's Wall frontier at any period. It incorporated well-crafted Ionic and composite columns, decorative statuary, and even a relief picturing Apollo in his chariot. In addition, the building faced south, rather than north toward the Wall as would have been expected. It was, no doubt, appropriate that the image of the Sun God face the southern sun. Still, an unusual decision. And more proof that this was no mere functional building, but rather a very public statement and work of art. Taken together with evidence that upper stories of the building were built of adobe, the evidence points to builders of Spanish or North African descent. And the quality suggests skill far beyond that of a typical auxiliary cohort, possibly even legionary. More than that cannot yet be said.
Period VI-A included significant extramural settlement to the west. Unfortunately, later periods and post-Roman ploughing churned up the area extensively, so only fragments remain. The best preserved section is the temple and industrial districts in the far west of the site (shown on the plan above). In fact, the southern temple area has revealed fragments of statuary of the same stonework & craftsmanship as the principia. Clearly there were artisans of rare talent on-site in this period, and an administration willing & able to pay them. The temples appear to be roadside mausolea built by local elites. They favored good, high, visible ground appropriate to their perceived statusThe fact that such mausolea existed, and that they were so far from the fort itself, suggests a vibrant, fairly wealthy civilian community living near the fort. Unfortunately, solid evidence for their homes is still elusive.. Close to the fort, the evidence is fragmentary and hard to understand. But something interesting was happening there. The Period VI western ditches had been backfilledOne of these ditches revealed a contemporary writing tablet giving the name of "Victor" on it. The same ditches also revealed large amounts of leather offcuts and wooden/iron implements. So at least parts of Period VI-A exist in anaerobic conditions, possibly capable of shedding a good deal of light on the era., levelling a large swathe of land. Rows of postholes, well-laid flagged floors, small lengths of "military-style" stonework, and a baths suiteThis baths suite is visible today, attached to the back of a later, Period VI-B building south of the road leading into the west gate of the visible fort. (yellow on the plan above) were built above them. All of this speaks to an official use for this area. An interesting twist is that none of the timber buildings seemed to use oak. It was all birch & alder -- lower-grade wood. If the workmanship within the fort is indeed legionary, perhaps this external "annex" area housed the local cohort while the legionaries settled in the fort itself. The last puzzle is the large visible bath house (dark green on the plan above), long assumed to be of Period VII date. Recent work suggests that it might be older, maybe decades older, as no known Period VI-B or Period VI-A buildings seem to encroach on it. More work will be needed to know for sure.
All told, Period VI-A witnessed a ground-up refurbishment of Vindolanda into a completely new class of frontier fort. Waking up from decades as a likely backwater, the site saw an influx of personnel, talent, and no doubt cash. While evidence outside the walls is still fragmentary, it is clear that well-built, heavily-used structures existed across several acres. Yet for all their skill, the builders of Stone Fort I made serious fundamental flaws, which plagued the site for the rest of its existence. They didn't build their huge new walls on a proper foundation. Their beautiful facing stones didn't have wedges in the back to "bite" into the core and hold it steady. And the core was a mass of rubble bonded by clay, not mortar. Over the years, it constantly settled and slumped. Visitors today can see evidence of the catastrophic results of this; outside the SW corner of the Period VII fort a large section of fallen VI-A wall still lies where it once crashed to the ground. In the end, a fort built for permanence was anything but. In less than 50 years the fort was largely obliterated. Sections that didn't collapse were instead systematically dismantled and destroyed to their foundations at the beginning of the very brief, and very odd, Period VI-B.
Things of Note for a Digger
* Period VI-A evidence varies in depth, from about 1.5-2.5 meters down on the platform of the later forts to very near the surface on the western fringe.
* Period VI-A extramural buildings are known, but are heavily damaged/muddled by later construction. Hard to identify & make sense of.
* Fort stonework is high-quality, of soft, pale yellow sandstone blocks, generally well-faced and well-laid.
* Organic material like wood, including occasional ink writing tablets, can survive in sealed contexts.
* Leather quite common, sometimes well-preserved. Cloth is rarely preserved, though corroded scraps and impressions are known.
* Coinage can be well-preserved. Mostly silver of fair to very good quality (17-20mm) & large copper-alloy pieces (25-35mm). Also some small copper-alloy coins.
* Pottery includes much Black-Burnished I & II, local coarse greywares, Dales ware, imported amphorae, and samian.
* Samian ware is abundant, both Central Gaulish & later East Gaulish. Maker's stamps are plentiful, watch for these.
Vindolanda Excavations Reports: 1994, 2001-'02, 2003-'04, 2005-'06
Page created by Harold Johnson
|8:04 PM Dec 21|
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