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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 VIII

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


Dates: c. AD300 to c. AD367
Garrison: 4th Cohort of Gauls (not certain but likely)
Garrison type/size: Mixed auxiliary infantry/mounted, about 250-300 strong
Visible remains: Fort walls, principia, praetorium, granaries, barracks, workshops, baths

Color Coding

Teal: Stone Fort II
Orange: Military bath suite
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.)

At the turn of the 4th Century, the Roman world was undergoing profound change. Provinces were broken into smaller bodiesThe original province of Britain had become "Britannia Inferior" and "Britannia Superior" in the early 3rd Century. In the early 4th it was split into four: "Maxima Caesariensis," "Britannia Prima," "Flavia Caesariensis," and "Britannia Secunda." It's believed that the frontier area was part of Britannia Secunda., military & civil powers were separated, the armies were reorganized, the currency was radically overhauled, bureaucracy was exploding. It was a fresh start after the Imperial breakdown of the previous several decades. This was also a period of major changes & renewal at Vindolanda. While it's always dangerous to say that X caused Y, it's worth noting the correlation.

In many ways, the Period VIII fort strongly resembles that of Period VII. Its dimensions seem unchanged. Its garrison seems unchanged. It still has its principal partsPrincipia (HQ) in the center, facing north.
Praetorium (commander's house) east of the HQ.
Two granaries/storehouses west of the HQ.
Barrack blocks in the northern sector.
4 gates: north & west major, south & east minor.
, all in their same places. For years, archaeologists thought the two periods tied fairly smoothly into each other. But now, it's becoming clear that Period VIII marks a stunning break from what had come before.

Archaeology is revealing that the fort & settlement were completely abandoned at the end of the 3rd C. Probably for years, possibly for a full generation. The reason isn't known for certainThough British secession from the Empire in the 260s and again in the 280s/90s seem a reasonable driving force!. At any rate, when life resumed in the early 4th C, it was on a much different scale. For starters, during Period VII the extramural settlement ("vicus") that lay outside the fort walls to the west had been sprawling & vibrant. It had stretched for hundreds of meters. Commerce, religion, and industry had thrived. Now it was a ghost town. 4th Century pottery and coinage in the vicus is virtually nonexistent. Indeed, its buildings seem to have become just a quarry for the Period VIII fort. For example, part of the western fort wall had slumped outward and collapsed. (It may have subsided into a filled ditch from Period VI beneath; or it may have been pulled down when the Period VII crew left.) The garrison patched and refaced it using stone recycled from the settlement. This included massive foundation blocks, architectural fragments, and moulded stonework possibly from a sarcophagus.

Does this mean that civilians played no role in Period VIII? Not likely. They probably now lived within the fort itself. As mentioned, there were massive changes to military makeup, layout, and disposition about the turn of the 4th Century. Frontier garrisons shrank in favor of more mobile "field armies" deeper back within provinces. Vindolanda's fort walls remained the same size, but the garrison had been halved, from about 500 to about 250-300. All that extra space inside the security of the walls probably seemed quite a smart place to set up shop.

In any event, Period VIII marks a major renovation of the entire fort-proper. And within its walls Vindolanda certainly remained lively & bustling. Old buildings, such as the century-old granaries, were rebuilt. And new buildings were being raised. Just south of the western gate, a building was built directly into the clay rampart moundthe mound of clay piled up against the inside of the fort wall as extra buttressing & protection.. In it were found a bangle, a small portable altar, and various bits of pottery that all suggested a domestic use. It survived for decades, and showed many stages of repairs & renovations. Buildings with similar histories have been found in the southern section of the fort as well.

Another major change at Vindolanda (and at other forts on Hadrian's Wall) was a redesign of barrack blocks. Rather than the original long building divided into rooms, Period VIII barracks seem now to be lines of free-standing "chalets" separated by very narrow alleys or dripways. Theories abound for the meaning of this change, most revolving around the smaller garrison size. Perhaps what had been dormitories of up to 10 soldiers each were now quarters for individual soldiers and their familiesFamilies did live within the earlier dormitory barracks as well, though probably in much more cramped conditions!.

So Period VIII marks both a renewal and a significant cultural shift at Vindolanda. A society that had once boldly spilled out of the fort gates had now contracted inside them. The army was half its 3rd-Century size, meaning much less money flowed into Vindolanda from Imperial coffers. So what was life like? Unfortunately, much of Period VIII's archaeology has been robbed or ploughed out of existence, so telling the story is hard. Still, little by little it's being revealed that buildings were built & kept up, order was maintained, commerce & industry still thrived, and life went on.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period VIII evidence is near the surface, less than a meter (to less than a foot!) below the turf. Much has been robbed/ploughed away.
  * Outside the fort walls, it is unlikely to discover any archaeology of clear Period VIII date.
  * Most stonework in Period VIII seems bonded by clay, not mortar.
  * Much/most Period VIII archaeology is a reworking of Period VII foundations directly below.
  * Organic material like leather, wood, & cloth is almost never preserved, virtually nonexistent.
  * Coinage will be almost all small (less than 20 mm), thin, of copper alloy or silver. Occasional residual good-quality 2nd C pieces too.
  * Pottery will be dominated by Crambeck & Huntcliff wares, plus other calcite gritted wares, with some locally produced types & residuals from earlier periods.

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