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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 VI-B

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


Dates: c. AD208 to c. AD213
Garrison: Unknown
Garrison type/size: Unknown
Visible remains: Barracks/workshops, praetorium, extramural circular huts

Color Coding

Teal: Period VI-B fort and ramparts/ditch system
Gray: Period VI-B commander's residence (praetorium)
Yellow: Extramural circular huts
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.)

In AD208, the Emperor Septimius Severus came to northern Britain to campaign against rebellious tribes. He then pushed into modern Scotland, hoping to conquer the entire island. These events left a major mark on much of the Wall frontier, including Vindolanda. In fact, this period sees Vindolanda at its quirkiest. Its oddities long baffled archaeologists. Some sense has finally been made. But each answer spawns new questions.

Starting with what is known, in the Severan periodthe term commonly used on-site when discussing Period VI-B the fort that had stood for the previous half century was utterly levelledThe old Period VI-A fort platform now saw a vastly different use, see below.. The only certain remaining section was part of its western wall. That wall section, including the old gatehouse, now became the -eastern- wall and gate for the Severan fort. The rest of the new fort's walls were formed by the creation of a massive ditch and rampart earthwork, probably with a wooden palisade at the top. Other gates are known in its western & southern stretches, but none in the north (as yet).

Inside, there was one major street, running west to east, following the line of the old road leading out of the demolished Period VI-A fortThis road would again run out of the Period VII fort's west gate, just as it had the VI-A predecessor. You can walk along some of its original stones today on your way from the visitor's center down to the fort itself.. The fort's praetorium (the commander's residence) sat in the SW cornerOn the plan above you may notice a large open space between the praetorium and the southern rampart. This was excavated and showed no structures. It's likely that this was a large yard or garden for the commander and his family. Also, its bathhouse sat at an odd alignment, and was larger than usual. It appears to be earlier--maybe Period VI-A's public bathhouse, converted for private use.. Barrack blocks and workshops lined the street north and south, all built with the same distinctive, small, high-quality, almost brick-like stonework. Buildings were separated by well-laid access roads large enough for commercial carts to negotiate. Oddly, the fort's principia (headquarters) hasn't been foundLooking at the plan, the eastern-most building in the central row has what look very much like the administrative offices of a Roman fort's principia attached to its eastern side. But when excavated, furnaces and crucibles were found. Whatever its original purpose, within a very short time it was turned over to industry.. Granaries also remain elusive. Period VI-B was surely an active place, and likely required an administrative centre and a steady, secure food supply. Hopefully later digs can determine where they areThe large bathhouse in the NW section of the fort has long been thought to be of Period VII date. If so, its foundations have obliterated any remains from Period VI-A. That makes this quadrant a convenient dumping point for the HQ and granaries. However, it's possible that this bathhouse is much older than assumed, and was operational in Period VI-B. If this is the case, then nearly all of the known Severan fort has been excavated, and the HQ & granaries simply aren't there. It's a big question..

Click for a brief digger's & visitor's note about the visible remains

The period's most striking feature must be the enigmatic circular huts outside the Severan fort. As the plan above shows, they have been found all across the level landThe first of these huts were found by Eric Birley in the 1930s, under Period VII buildings in the NE corner of the Period VII fort. More were found a decade ago on top of the demolished remains of the Period VI-A fort. Their location, above the demolished Period VI-A fort walls and below Period VII buildings, proved their date. to the east and south-east. They're unique. Nothing like them appears before or after, anywhere across the site. (Or at any other fort across the span of the entire Roman Empire!) The huts show up in rows of 5, often doubling-up to make a cluster of 10. There are good roads and drains around them, suggesting military planning. But the workmanship of the individual buildings varies widely, as though the actual construction at each lot was given to a different person. The evidence suggests that they weren't industrial. But there's very little to suggest what they were. Rural native populations were still building traditional "roundhouses" in the early 3rd C. So perhaps these were new homes built for a local tribe. But were they builders of the fort? Refugees/hostages from the wars? An attempt at a brand-new settlement? This is all assuming they were houses in the first place. Their purpose remains a mysteryA bigger mystery is why they were built on the best, flattest land on-site, nudging the Roman fort to wet, sloping, marginal land to the NW.. Hopefully future excavations can give some answers. What is clear is that Period VI-B saw a community experimenting with some very unorthodox ways of thinking.

Evidence for extramural activity to the south and west of the fort is sporadic and confused. To the south, little can be said with certainty. Some stone foundations and postholes date to between Period VI and Period VII. But whether they're Period VI-A or VI-B isn't clear. There's more evidence to the west. But the strata there become more and more compacted, making interpretation hard. Period VI-B simply didn't last long enough to show up conclusively. That said, it appears that two religious zones and one large industrial zone were active through the late 2nd - early 3rd C. The religious zones appear to have contained temple-tombs, maybe roadside funerary monuments. At least two contained beautiful statuary, fragments of which have been recovered. The industrial area has revealed workshops, smithies, water tanks & channels, and storehouses. But it's all been heavily churned by plough & stonerobbers, so an exact date is elusive. The only clear extramural archaeology of certain Period VI-B date is the circular huts.

So what exactly was the purpose of the Period VI-B fort? Perhaps it was a staging post for soldiers and materials on their way north. (Rich sources of lead, coal, stone, and other building supplies lay nearby.) Perhaps it was an administrative center--the embryo of what might have become a colony if Severus had accomplished his grand plans. Or perhaps it was just a typical garrison fort with an atypical layout. In any event, Period VI-B ended as quickly as it began. In 211 the Emperor died. His sons had no stomach for the campaign and even less for each other. Scotland was soon abandoned, Hadrian's Wall became again the accepted frontier, and Period VI-B became Period VII.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period VI-B evidence varies in depth, from about 1.5-2 meters down on the platform of the later forts to very near the surface on the western fringe.
  * Period VI-B fort-proper structures have been heavily excavated. Any current or future new discoveries will likely be outside its ramparts.
  * Fort stonework is very high-quality, of small brick-like stone blocks well-faced and well-laid.
  * Circular hut stonework is very varied quality, suggesting much individual liberty in its construction.
  * Organic material like wood and leather can survive sporadically, especially in ditches. Cloth is unpreserved.
  * Coinage can be silver of fair to good quality (17-20mm), and larger bronze or brass pieces (25-30mm). Occasional small bronze denominations, and even worn Republican coinage.
  * Pottery is largely local greyware & calcite-gritted kitchen ware, with Black-Burnished (hand- and wheel-thrown), some Nene Valley colour-coated, and amphora shards.
  * Samian ware is abundant, both as residual and contemporary. Many times the bottoms of broken samian were recycled as gaming counters.

Vindolanda Excavations Reports: 2001-'02, 2003-'04, 2005-'06
Mattingly, David. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire. Penguin Group, 2007.

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