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Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1930
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Outside the fort, the bath-house was known from the time of Hunter; some seventy-five years later, Wallis records the discovery by some masons of a temple, at the west end of the station, “adorned with Doric pilasters and capitals”; whilst Hodgson mentions two cemeteries, one “in a swampy part of a close to the south-west of the field in which the station stands,” the other “in the fields on the north side of the Causeway.”

Some years after Hedley's death Chesterholm passed into the possession of John Clayton, but no further excavation took place there. Housesteads, Chesters, and the Wall monopolized the attention of the spade, and although no site in the north of England, except perhaps Whitley Castle, presents such promising indications of unrobbed structural remains, the only subsequent discoveries made there up to 1930 were due to agricultural work. Yet Chesterholm has not been ignored, for all that it was not excavated, for its position commands attention.

The fort is a mile due south from Hotbank milecastle, and nearly two miles south-west from Housesteads; it occupies a spur of land, from the north, east, and south sides of which there is a steep fall to the Brackies burn, to the Chainley burn (formed by the junction just below Codley Gate farm of the Brackies and Bradley burns), and to the Doe sike; to the west, the ground rises gently, whilst across the streams on the other three sides there are hills higher than that on which the fort stands. Of these hills, Barcombe shut out all further outlook to the east; Cod Law on the north hides the nearest stretch of the Wall, though Winshields to the north-west, and the crags east of Hotbank to the north-east, are in sight of the fort. To the south there is a good view down the valley of the Chainley burn to the hills across the South Tyne, whilst a stretch of nearly two miles to the west, as far as Seatsides, is in plain view. Some thirty yards north of the fort passes the Stanegate, the ancient road that runs from Carlisle by Nether Denton, Carvoran, and Chesterholm to Chesters or Corbridge or (more probably) to both of these places. It has long been assumed that this road, and the forts on it, were built by Agricola; in recent years the study of Roman pottery has shown that at Carlisle, Nether Denton, Chesters, and Corbridge, there is figured samian, clearly made in South Gaul before the end of the first century, and it has been an easy step to conclude that Chesterholm, lying between undoubted first-century sites on this road, was itself of first-century date.

In his report on the excavations at Corstopitum in 1914, the late R. H. Forster suggested that the end of the first occupation of Newstead and the abandonment of Scotland were followed, somewhere about 90 A.D., by the construction of a chain of forts connected by the Stanegate. The samian found during the excavations at Corstopitum included material later than the time of Agricola himself, and later than any “Agricolan” pottery from Scotland with which Mr. Forster was familiar, yet definitely still of first-century date. Nether Denton presented somewhat similar evidence, and it was only at Carlisle that there was reason to assume an Agricolan, or even perhaps a pre-Agricolan occupation.9 Mr. Forster put forward his view of the date and nature of the Stanegate line “as a theory only, and to some extent as a suggestion of places where excavation might usefully be carried out”;10 the present writer takes this opportunity of acknowledging his indebtedness to that statement of the problem.

Soon after the war Sir George Macdonald put forward the suggestion11 that the Agricolan occupation of Scotland did not come to an end, as Tacitus implies, within a short time of Agricola's recall, but lasted well into the second century--perhaps to the very end of Trajan's principate; this suggestion has since won general acceptance. Yet there is one class of evidence that would seem to conflict so strongly with it as to render it untenable. Already in his 1914 report Mr. Forster could doubt whether the Newstead samian would allow of an occupation lasting much, if at all, beyond 90; and subsequent research, especially since the appearance of Dr. Davies Pryce's admirable report on the samian from Brecon Gaer,12 has tended to emphasize the complete absence from Scotland of the samian characteristic of the time of Trajan.13 This is not the place to say more on a subject that requires elaborate and exhaustive treatment; the writer hopes to collaborate with Dr. Davies Pryce in the near future in a critical examination of the whole of the evidence; for the present it will be enough to say that the Scottish samian provided a strong ground for suspecting that a reorganization of the northern frontier took place in the last years of the principate of Domitian. Now, in recent years, there has been an increasing tendency to put the erection of the Stanegate frontier (though not, of course, the Stanegate itself) into the early years of Hadrian; thus Mr. Collingwood, in his new book, 14 regards the Stanegate and Vallum as parts of one scheme of frontier organization, carried out after the British revolt at the beginning of Hadrian's principate. Such a view of the situation is reasonable, if the continued occupation of Scotland be assumed; but if the samian evidence is to be accepted, it would seem that between c. 90 and 120 there were no Roman garrisons north of Cheviot, and in that case it would be indeed remarkable if no attempt whatever had been made to define the limit of Roman occupation for thirty years, when both Domitian and Trajan devoted considerable attention to frontier organization in Germany and in Raetia. It is perhaps unfortunate that Hadrian's initiation of Roman frontier-works in their most elaborate form should have tended to obscure the real achievements of his immediate predecessors.

In the light of the Scottish evidence it seemed to the writer that excavation on a Stanegate site would show (as Mr. Forster had already conjectured) an occupation beginning at about the same time as the occupation of Scotland appears to stop, and perhaps ending with a disaster, such as is hinted at by Fronto,15 shortly before the reorganization of the frontier by Hadrian; it was in the hopes of establishing or disproving this view that the excavation of Chesterholm was chiefly undertaken.

There are other reasons, however, why this site in particular invites attention. The surface indications have long been known to show that there were considerable buildings to the west of the fort; in 1914 the search for a spring in the western part of the Camp Field revealed a dried-up Roman well (cf. the plan, plate xxxv), and near to it two altars, one of which (no. 6 below) had been set up by the vicani Vindolandesses. Not only does this altar lg give the correct form of the Roman name of the place--Vindolanda--but it testifies to the existence there of a settlement with a corporate existence of its own, such as is only recorded epigraphically elsewhere in Britain at Old an Carlisle. Hitherto, comparatively little attention has been be paid in this country to the settlements outside the Roman forts, yet it is certain that in them will be found the best evidence for the life and culture of the soldiers and their families. The thorough examination of a site such as this is essential for a proper view of the conditions prevailing in the northern military district, and nowhere is there a better prospect for such an examination than at Chesterholm.

Finally, the discovery of a post-Roman tombstone (no. 7 below) suggests the possibility of some continued occupation of the site at a period when most of the forts in the north had been abandoned or destroyed, and the prospect of throwing some light on this dark period in Northumbrian history provides an additional incentive for excavation.

9 So J. P. Bushe-Fox in Archaeologia, LXIV; Haverfield and Atkinson doubted whether the material was so early, but there is no reason to abandon Mr. Bushe-Fox's view.
10 A.A. 3, XII, p. 269.
11 J.R.S., IX, “The Agricolan Occupation of North Britain."
12 In R. E. M. Wheeler, THE ROMAN FORT NEAR BRECON; cf. also T. Davies Pryce, Cornucopia Bowls and Allied Vessels, in THE ANTIQUARIES JOURNAL, X, 4.
13 I see no reason to agree with Mr. Miller's view that the pottery from OLD KILPATRICK includes material of Trajanic date; the bulk of the pieces so dated by him appear to belong to a period subsequent to c. A.D. 130.
15 DE BELLO PARTHICO, Loeb edition, II, p. 22.
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Excavations of 1930 · Reports & Papers