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Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1932-1935
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After the brief 1931 excavation season, Professor Birley and associates began larger scale excavation in earnest within the fort-proper. Most of this work is still visible today, the biggest bit being the multi-period principia (HQ) in the center of the fort. He summarized the work in his third report to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, published in Archaeologia Aeliana, Series IV, Volume XIII (1936), pp. 218-258. It is presented below (minus the long discussion on samian pottery, which will appear separately). As with the reports from 1931 and 1932, please note that these documents are still held under copyright, are owned by the Society of Antiquaries, used here by permission, and not intended to be reproduced or republished. Enjoy the read!

Also, a brief word on dating of the periods. Since Prof. Birley's dig, much has been learned about the chronology of the fort. To make better sense of his findings, keep the following in mind:

* His "3rd C" fort is now known to be the Antonine fort (Periods VI & VI-A, mid-to-late 2nd C).
* His "4th C" or "Constantian" fort is the visible fort, begun ~AD 213, modified around AD 300 (Pds VII - VIII).
* His "Theodosian" or post-AD 369 fort is basically still believed to be the same today (Period IX).


By Eric Birley, I. A. Richmond, and J. A. Stanfield.

[Read on 30th October, 1935.]

The following abbreviations are employed:

AA1-4 = Archaeologia Aeliana, 1st-4th series.
C. = Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, vol. VII.
CW2 = Cumberland and Westmorland Transactions, new series.
JRS = Journal of Roman Studies.


The excavations at Chesterholm which began in 1930 have been continued, with brief interruptions during the winter months, for six seasons, but no report has yet been made to this society on the work done there since the summer of 1931.1 In May 1932 I began the examination of the headquarters building (principia) of the Constantian fort -- an examination which was perhaps all the more instructive because it could be made at leisure; for the most part only two men were employed, and it took more than two years to enucleate the structural history of the building and of the earlier principia that was found to underlie it. During the latter part of that period I had the good fortune to secure Mr. Richmond's co-operation; the tracing of the earlier building was almost entirely done by him, and the extent to which I have benefited by his advice in the interpretation of the later material as well is very considerable. The second section of this report, which deals with the structural remains here and on other parts of the site, is mainly due to him, though we are jointly responsible for it; and it is only an alphabetical accident that causes his name to follow mine at its head. It is not yet possible to present a final account of the successive principia; the by-products of their excavation -- pottery, wood, bones, and above all rich architectural remains of the earlier building -- still require further study before the full tale can be told; but it seems desirable to place on record, without further delay, a summary description of the two buildings, together with an account of some ancillary researches on other parts of the site: a section taken through the north rampart of the Constantian fort, with the complex of earlier structures to whose discovery it led, and the successful search for the lateral gateways of the earlier fort. It must be premised that the earlier principia, and therefore the earlier fort as well, faced southward, on an alinement slightly more westerly than that of its Constantian successor; and, as the excavations of 1930 showed, while the side walls of the two forts mainly coincided, the north and south walls of the Constantian fort were some feet inside those of its predecessor. The object, then, of the section through the north rampart was to discover the position of the earlier north wall, east of the north gate, as well as to examine the structure of the Constantian rampart-mound and such stratification as might be found in association with it; the search for the lateral gateways of the earlier fort was guided by the position and alinement of the (south) front of the contemporary Principia, and in this case too there was an opportunity to examine the Constantian rampart-mound. These two pieces of work were done in 1934 and 1935, mainly at the expense of the Durham University Excavation Committee, and afforded useful instruction in archeology for students from both divisions of the University of Durham.

It is a pleasant task to place on record my obligations to others, mainly members of this society, besides Mr. Richmond, who have helped to obtain the results here recorded. A great deal of the spade-work has been done by Mr. Thomas Hepple, whose experience and skill have been invaluable. In the early stages of the work on the principia I had the benefit of Mr. Quintin Waddington's help, and the surveying of the two buildings was carried out by Messrs. M. Hayton and I. Hamilton, on whose work figs. 1-3 are based. The work elsewhere on the site was supervised in part by Messrs. P. H. Blair and R. P. Wright, whose assistance was of very great value, and the complicated survey of the structures below the north rampart was undertaken by Mr. V. R. Abbott, whose admirable plan speaks for itself. The identification of the coins has been undertaken by Mr. Percy Hedley, whose account of them is reserved for the next report; in the present paper we have been able to incorporate his notes on a few coins of particular value for purposes of dating. Exigencies of space as well as time prevent full publication of the incidental finds of pottery and small objects, but it has seemed essential to include in this report a series of figured samian ware, mainly from the early deposit that underlies the structures below the north rampart; in the description of that material, I have been fortunate to secure the co-operation of Mr. J. A. Stanfield, whose intimate knowledge of the material in the most important British collections is reinforced by the artistic skill to which his beautiful drawings testify. The description of pottery other than figured samian ware, which was to have formed the fourth section of this report, comprises selected pieces from the same early deposit and from the early ditches to the west of the present fort, that were examined in 1930 and 1931; the material is of considerable value for the study of the period between Agricola's governorship and the latter part of Trajan's principate, but it will have to be held over until the next report; it is not the least of my privileges to record the help I have, in preparing that material for publication, as well as in the excavation and elucidation of the fort, from my wife.


By Eric Birley and I. A. Richmond.

1. The Constantian principia. (Fig. 1.)

The headquarters building, or principia,2 which is now so interesting a feature of Chesterholm fort, is the shell of an early fourth-century building, reconstructed and modified after the disaster of A. D. 367. Its original plan did not differ, in its main lines, from the normal arrangements of such buildings in British forts, but there are minor variations. Thus, the front, on the via principalis, has an open-ended verandah stretching from each side of the main entrance, as at Ribchester, Caersws and Mumrills;3 the courtyard has neither ambulatory nor colonnade: but is surrounded by rooms, presumably armamentaria; a large sacellum, centrally placed in the usual series of five rooms opening off the cross-hall, projects some ten feet behind them, while the western room of the five possesses a heated annexe, projecting a like distance. These features occur at other sites, though at no single site in conjunction, and they cause Chesterholm to differ in this as in many other respects from the stereotyped pattern of fort in use upon the adjacent Wall of Hadrian.

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Figure 1

Details may now be added. The rooms bounding the courtyard were approached either from the main entrance passage or from the cross-hall; the courtyard was thus merely a light-well and a passage to the cross-hall, and was not, perhaps, intended to be much used. The nature of its original flooring is uncertain; if flags were used, they were later removed. A drain led rain-water away from its south-west corner, below the floor of' the flanking room and the side entrance to the hall; one of the side-stones used in this drain was the inscription dated to A.D. 213,4 which had split while being cut up for use as a postsocket, and so came to be used where it was out of sight. The cross-hall was entered from the courtyard by a large central doorway, designed for a high wall, as at South Shields;5 there were side-doors at the north ends of its end walls. The west end of the hall was mainly occupied by a long, low platform, approached by a flight of steps, the lowest two of which remain in place, at its south end, and therefore to be recognized as a tribunal. This gives the clue to the interpretation of a number of less well-preserved ruins found in similar positions, often in the past taken for the walls of small rooms, but evidently now to be interpreted as the supporting walls of timber or earthfilled platforms. The feature is borrowed from the tribunalia in legionary headquarters, such as those at Vetera or Lambaesis, which in turn were inspired by the basilicae of Roman towns.

The end rooms of the range of five were approached from the hall by doorways 3 feet wide, but the three central rooms were treated more elaborately, with wide entrances that were originally arched over, built of exceptionally massive and well-dressed masonry; stone-robbers have removed, apparently in the eightecnth century, most of this fine masonry, working in from the west side of the building, where they even removed some of the foundations; but the most easterly block is left in position, to a height of 4 feet, and serves to show the character of what has been removed. The entrance, in these cases, was reduced to a reasonable width by the insertion of a pair of elaborate stone screens, two of which were ultimately used as paving-stones in the courtyard. Slots were cut for the screens in the thresholds and in the piers of the arches. The space left between the slots, about 3 feet, shows considerable wear, except in the entrance to the sacellum, where a strip 9 inches wide shows no sign of wear; there, between the screens, a doorway and threshold of wood or metal, traces of whose insertion remain at the ends of the slots, must have been inserted. The tops of the two screens that were subsequently used as flags also held metal or wooden grilles, for which dowel-holes remain; between the dowel-holes, the issue of pay or the depositing of savings with the signifer, whose concern was with such things,6 has worn deep hollows in the stone. The front of each screen is ornamented by a rectangular panel, containing a lozenge pattern in cable-mould, as at the Corstopitum fountain;7 it may be noted that similar screens have been found at Risingham,8 while grooves to receive them have been observed at Housesteads, as well as in the earlier principia at Chesterholm, and elsewhere. The two end rooms had a more private function, as is shown by their unpretentious doorways; that at the west end had a little, heated inner room at its back, projecting behind the building as far as the sacellum, that offered extra accommodation for the regimental clerks, as at Segontium9 and other sites: it is interesting to find an instance where it forms part of the original design, and not the addition that such a room usually seems to be.

The sacellum has an ante-chapel, with a raised ledge, perhaps for altars, on either side of the flagged passage that led to a flight of steps, the first of which remains, while from its position and size at least two more may be inferred, giving access to the raised floor of the main chapel. This has no sunken strong-room of the elaborate type represented at Chesters or South Shields, but a narrow pit, in shape like an E without the central bar, leaving a solid platform in the centre of the room for altars or an imperial statue, such as that of an emperor in the guise of Hercules which seems to have stood in the headquarters at Bainbridge;10 the pit, which was presumably covered by a wooden frame, was no doubt used to hold valuables, such as the soldiers' savings whose custody was one of the duties of the standard-bearers; it is structurally independent of the sacellum, and was in use after the Theodosian reconstruction, for a complete Crambeck wallsided mortarium was found in it, but it may well be part of the original design.

1 For the excavations of 1930 and 1931, cf. AA4 viii 182-212, ix 216-221; the inscription of A.D. 213 found in the headquarters building in 1933 is given in AA4 xi 127-37, and a fuller reading of the text, by professor Collingwood, in JRS xxiv 218.
2 Cf. AA4 viii 193; CW2 xxx 201.
3 Haverfield, Roman Britain in 1914, p. 12; Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., lxiii, 423.
4 Cf. AA4 xi 127-37
5 Cf. AA4 xi 87-8.
6 Vegetius, iii 20, and cf. ii 19.
7 AA3 iv 278 and fig. 13.
8 Cf. p. 193 above.
9 Wheeler, Segontium, Cymmrodorion Society 1924, pp. 48-53.
10 That this was Maximianus Herculius seems the simplest explanation of the statue recorded by Camden (Gough's second edition, 1806, iii, 256); it stood on a Severan inscription, on which the name of Alfenus Senecio may be recognized, presumably re-used as a flagstone in the Constantian reconstruction of that fort.

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Excavations of 1932-1935 · Reports & Papers