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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.

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Vindolanda Period VII

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


Dates: c. AD213 to c. AD280/300
Garrison: 4th Cohort of Gauls
Garrison type/size: Mixed auxiliary infantry/mounted, about 500 strong
Visible remains: Fort walls, principia, praetorium, granaries, baths, vicus

Color Coding

Teal: Stone Fort II
Green: Extramural settlement, or vicus
Orange: Military bath suite
Pink: Industrial range to west of settlement
Grey: Temple district 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 AD211, Emperor Septimius Severus died in York. He had brought his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, to Britain to campaign up into modern Scotland. (Both for glory and to get them to stop bickering.) But his plans came to naught. On his death, Caracalla quickly had Geta murdered and pulled the plug on the British campaign. With thoughts of northern conquest gone, Hadrian's Wall again became the permanent northern boundary of Roman power in Britain. This is likely the genesis of Period VII at Vindolanda.

Period VII marks the construction of what is now known as "Stone Fort II," the fort & settlement whose remains are the most visible today. It also represents a bit of "settling down" of activity at Vindolanda. Previously, units came and went, forts came and went, layouts varied widely. But hereafter, the basic plan of the fort remained the same until the end of Roman Britain some 200 years later. (Though there does seem to be a break in continuity at the end of the 3rd C.)

The fort's garrison was now the Fourth Cohort of Gauls. They're first recorded in Britain in Templeborough, South Yorkshire in the 2nd Century. They show up next at Risingham, north of Hadrian's Wall in the mid-2nd C. It's not known precisely when they moved to Vindolanda. But a dedicationIMP CAES M AVRELIO ANTONINO PIO FELICI AVG PARTHI MAXI BRITANI MAXI PONTI MAXI TRIB POTEST XVI IMP II COS IIII PATRI PATRIAE PROCOS PRO PIETATE AC DEVOTIONE COMMVNI ... COH IIII GALLORVM CVI PRAEEST "For Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus [Caracalla's official name], greatest in Parthia, greatest in Britain, High Priest, holding tribunician power for the sixteenth time, hailed Imperator in the field twice, consul four times, Father of his Country, holder of proconsular power, out of the loyalty and devotion of the inhabitants [...] commander of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls." (RIB 1705; dated: AD213) by them to Caracalla

A good likeness of him is on this denarius of about 215AD. Don't let the name confuse you. A couple 3rd C Emperors tried reusing the name of the beloved Antoninus Pius (who had ruled in the mid-2nd Century, just after Hadrian). None ever lived up to it. The face here, with its close-set, stern features, is unmistakably Caracalla.
built into Stone Fort II is datable to 213. So that gives both a construction date for the fort and proof that the Gauls were there by 213. Interestingly, they seem to have maintained their identity as Gauls even over several generations. An inscriptionCIVES GALLI DE GALLIAE CONCO[R]DES QUE BRITANNI "The Gallic citizens to the goddess Gallia and, in agreement, the Britons" found in 2006 records a dedication in which they call themselves "Gallic citizens" and distinguish themselves from Britons.

The fort and settlement of Period VII present an excellent view of a "typical"In reality, Roman forts varied extremely widely. The playing-card fort with the HQ in the middle and 4 gates is common, but forts of all shapes, sizes, configurations, and layouts are known. Roman layout. The fort itself is shaped like a playing card. It was built of roughly squared sandstone blocks

This photo shows an interior section of the western fort wall undergoing consolidation (simple repointing of mortar in this case) in the summer of 2006.
. Where possible, the foundations of Period VI-A's stone wall were used, especially the western wall. (On-site, knowledgeable folks can show you where VII's wall was built on top of VI-A's.) It has four gates, the most prominent being the northern and western, with the eastern and southern smaller & simpler. Its HQ (principia) is in the center, with an enclosed courtyard in its northern half and administrative offices lining the rear. A Roman HQ typically faces the direction of the enemy. Period VII's faces north, toward Hadrian's Wall and the wilderness beyond, which is what one would expect. The commander's house (praetorium) sits to the east of the HQ. Copying Mediterranean villa style, it had various wings of rooms set around a central open-air courtyard, and included a private bath suite. To the west of the HQ lay two granaries/storehouses. The eastern of the two likely held grain, the western was probably intended for oil and other supplies (but may have held grain too). Excavation has shown bits of barracks in the northern part of the fort, and various workshops and bakeries built abutting or near the fort walls, as well as latrines in the NE, SE, and SW corners. Just outside the western gate lay the military bath house. These were always built outside a fort's walls. First, bath houses are a terrible fire riskInterestingly, a parallel seems to exist for ovens. Ovens are practically nonexistent in buildings within the fort. Instead, they're found built into the clay rampart abutting the fort walls, where the risk of fire spreading was much lower.. Second, bath houses were an essential part of Roman living and culture, and surely a welcome respite from frigid northern winters. Making them accessible to the community at large was just smart policy.

To the west of the fort lay a sprawling extramural settlement (or "vicus"). Its main road was the old roadYou can still walk along some of this roadway today. Originally it ran northwest from the western gate and met the Stanegate at about the site of the modern visitors' center. leading out from the fort's western gate. It's now a confusing mix of buildings and alleyways. But it was originally designed with care. The major road surfaces, drainage ways, and aqueducts show military prowess. Some of the building foundations use stones of immense proportions, designed to support substantial structures. Site planners laid out industrial, religious, and residential zones. However, nearly a century of use turned much of the settlement into a higgledy-piggledy mash of additions, lean-to's, and dead-end maze-like alleys, sometimes rife with shoddy workmanship. This makes sense. Period VII's vicus was a crowded, diverse, busy, ever-changing place. This was the home of soldiers (retired and active), craftsmen, smiths, herders, traders, publicans, prostitutes -- anyone who enjoyed the commerce, camaraderie, & security of life near a Roman fort.

In its heyday, the vicus reached a remarkable extent. A large iron production & refining centre lay nearly 200 meters to the west of the fort. Just south of that lay an impressive temple district, bordered by a ceremonial boundary wall ("temenos"). Major roads criss-crossed about, some leading off to still-unexcavated regions. The settlement became so busy, indeed, that much of the fort's western ditch was backfilled to make space for more housing & shops -- a nod to both popularity and a sense of sustained security & peace. Recent fieldwork has even revealed buildings & activity north of the Stanegate. Vindolanda in Period VII was quite likely a vibrant, raucous place, thick with the sounds & smells of both industry and farm. Intermingling between soldiers and civilians was deep. After all, the fortunes and lifestyles of the one were tied inextricably to those of the other.

On the Continent, the 3rd Century was a chaotic time, often marked by almost endless barbarian raids and civil wars. However, evidence indicates that Britain, especially northern Britain, was less affected by the turmoil. Period VII shows a long era of stability & prosperity, with little or no evidence for attack, destruction, or massive cultural change. Still, Britain effectively seceded from the Empire twice during the later 3rd Century (first in the 260s under Postumus, then in the late 280s under Carausius). On-site, signs are emerging that these events did indeed bring the "good times" to a close, possibly for a generation.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period VII evidence lies anywhere from just below the turf to 1.5 meters down. Its contexts can be found virtually across the entire site.
  * Military stonework in Period VII is generally good quality and bonded by lime mortar. It often involved reused stones, so stonework can look uneven.
  * Settlement stonework in Period VII shows a wide range of skill, materials, and construction techniques.
  * Vicus structures tend not to contain many finds within their walls. Perhaps they were just kept tidy, perhaps there are other reasons.
  * Organic material like wood & cloth is exceptionally rare, though leather is sometimes found from this period.
  * Coinage mostly copper alloy (17-20mm) with some silver alloy/silvered bronze (17-20mm), and rarely larger bronze pieces (25-30mm). Residual high-quality 2nd C coinage still circulating.
  * Pottery is largely local greywares and imported amphorae. A bit of Black-Burnished II, Colchester, Dales, Nene Valley, & Oxfordshire/Trier Black-Slipped.
  * Samian ware can be found, either as churned-up residue, or representing the loss of an heirloom.

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

Page created by Harold Johnson