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Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1932-1935
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2. The Theodosian reconstruction. (Fig. 2.)

The alterations attributable to A.D. 369 were drastic, and reflect a considerable change in the character of the building, though its function as the administrative centre of the fort is not obscured. The verandah was closed and converted into two store-rooms, with ventilated floors, but without buttresses. In the courtyard, space was gained by obliterating all but the eastern extremity of the room to the east of the entrance passage, and throwing its western portion into the yard; the latter was now paved, in part with roughly dressed flags, in part with re-used stones such as the two screens described above, and a well was dug, 20 feet deep, to the underlying rock; the material found in it was of considerable interest, including an exceptionally fine series of wood. All but one of the rooms flanking the courtyard were now converted into storerooms, with flagged floors resting on low sleeper-walls; the absence of buttresses suggests that they were not intended to hold corn so much as some kind of article that needed to be kept dry, such as spare clothing or equipment: that is to say, they are to be classed as armamentaria still, rather than horrea.

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Figure 2

The level of the cross-hall was raised slightly, receiving a floor of rammed earth in place of cement; and the insertion of two massive bases on its centre line shows that its roof was now supported by less massive main timbers than had been used previously. The tribunal at its west end was now extended 2 feet further north, and received a new front, once faced with orthostats set in moulded slots (one of which is a re-used window-head) that still remain. The five administrative rooms were more drastically changed. In the ante-chapel, there grew up during this period a habit of lighting a fire, which eventually calcined its floor. The side rooms were converted into living-quarters which, like the rooms round the court yard, yielded abundant pottery of the types characteristic of the last period of the occupation of Hadrian's Wall, in particular Huntcliff ware and a large group of painted Crambeck bowls and mortaria; the doorways, wide or narrow, that had led into the hall were walled up, and access to the rooms was now provided only from the sacellum. The eastern pair of rooms was now closely connected, a doorway being broken through the north end of the dividing wall, and a flue inserted in that wall a few feet further south, so that the fumes from an open hearth on the new flagged floor in the western room could heat a hypocaust, with pillars formed of cast-off roofing slates, inserted in its eastern neighbour; a long, narrow compartment was added behind them, with a flagged floor sloping down to the east end of it, where was a sump or lavatory with a drain leading away from it. As has been noted elsewhere,11 this suite resembles the quarters provided, apparently for N.C.O.'s, in barrack-buildings at Birdoswald and South Shields; and it may be added that the corresponding pair of rooms at Housesteads were somewhat similarly arranged in the last period: it looks as if an important minor official, perhaps the signifer, lived permanently at headquarters during the closing years of the occupation. The heated annexe to the western room was now obliterated, but a hypocaust was inserted in that room, the southern part of which was walled off to form a stokehole and wood-store, with access from the via quintana; at this side, however, there was no lavatory attached, and it seems possible that the two western rooms continued to serve as a record-office or tabularium.

3. Evidence for date.

The evidence for the date of this principiu's construction and the subsequent major alterations is clear. The pottery from the latest occupation is uniformly of types attributable to the period after the "Picts' War," and though the coins from the same level were almost all survivals from the third century or the first half of the fourth, they included a fourth brass of Valentinian II,12 datable to A.D. 388-92; a terminus post quem for the storage arrangement in the room on the west side of the courtyard is provided by a third brass of Constantine II. The former coin is of exceptional interest, as one of the few which directly attest occupation of the Wall district after the usurpation of Magnus Maximus in 383. It seems that the final disaster must have come some years later, though it is not clear whether it was a nucleus garrison, left behind by Maxinius, which was overwhelmed after his fall (as Kipling suggested), or whether the end belongs to a later and obscurer period.

The direct evidence for the construction of the building is slighter, but sufficient. The mortar of its walls, where it has been preserved, shows the same shale-content as had been noticed in the fort wall at the east and north gates, and at the north-west angle;13 there was little pottery, and no such distinctive types as were found among mason's chippings contemporary with the east gate of the fort,14 but the earlier of the two periods here, as at the north gate, must logically be assigned to the Wall period that preceded the Theodosian reconstruction, namely that inaugurated by Constantius Chlorus,15 as is suggested indeed by the re-use in it of a previously re-used inscription of A.D. 213.

4. The earlier principia. (Fig. 3.)

The fact that the fourth-century building was not the earliest on the site was revealed at an early stage by the occurrence of various subsidences in its walls, suggesting that they were breaking their backs over earlier foundations on different lines. In places, too, fragments of earlier walls protruded, notably in the entrance passage and in the room on its east side, where a moulded threshold underlay the floor over which the flags of the extension of the courtyard had been laid. Starting from this point, exploration further to the east disclosed, still in position, two sills with slots for screens of the type noted above. To the west, the corresponding sills were missing, but, further west still, the terminal room of a southward-fronting range of five was found, with walling intact; and with this as a guide, fragmentary remains of the corresponding end room on the east side were quickly found. The earlier principia, therefore, to which these distinctive five rooms had belonged, faced south instead of north, on a slightly different alinement to that of the later buildings; and it only remained to discover its limits and anatomy.

The west wall of its cross-hall was speedily traced, being marked by an easily recognizable subsidence in the flagged floor inserted in the room on the west side of the courtyard in the later building; it had a side door at the south end, to which corresponded a row of bases for square piers. One base remained in position, while foundations for two others were found; further east, a search for more would have involved too much interference with the later structure to be worth undertaking. There had also been a second row of bases, 6 feet further forward, a little like the double row of piers at Chesters, except that these were of much smaller dimensions, and there was no sign that they had ever held moulded bases. It is more likely that they formed the stone framing of a cement wall, as described below, in the style peculiar to this building. No trace of a colonnaded courtyard was to be found; a cross wall occurs just within that of the later building, and if this was the south front of the building, the courtyard must have been exceptionally wide in comparison with its depth from front to hack; but it may be the north wall of a front ambulatory. Considerable further search did not succeed in establishing the correctness of either alternative.

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Figure 3

Two points about the building are of great interest. It had been unusually elaborate in style. In the sacellum, the sill for the screens was enriched with a deeply cut moulding, while the top was pierced with three dowel holes for an elaborate upper screen; from behind it there had run a bench, of which one course of stones remained, evidently flanking one side of the chapel. The pier to the east had also been a heavy one in stone, of which part of the foundations remained, while the rest can be inferred from the position of the sills in the adjoining room. These sills were a pair, so arranged that each made up half of a well-worn central threshold; and in the room behind them was found the bronze lid of a document-box (capsa), such as the regimental archives were no doubt contained in. On the floor of its cross-hall, below the later courtyard, and among the material that was used to make up the level for the later cross-hall, occurred fragments of rich Ionic column-bases, with fragments of composite capitals, and a relief embodying the Sun God in his chariot, together with small statues once attached to a background, as if from panels or pediments. These fragments will be published later, when the study of them has progressed further. Meanwhile, their enumeration is sufficient to show that the building was one of unusual splendour; allured by the soft sandstone in which they worked, its builders had given free rein to their decorative instincts.

The second notable point is the unusual construction of the building. The soft sandstone, employed for the decoration and the smaller stonework, is not fitted to bear great weight. So, in the higher portions of the building, namely the cross-hall and the range of five rooms opening off it, the builders employed an old Roman device, described by Vitruvius and Tacitus,16 of which examples are familiar to students of Roman Spain or Africa, the homes of the adobe tradition. The softer material, by this device, is cut up into panels and divided by piers of hard stone. Further, not trusting the softer material even then to carry the required weight, the builders laid only a few courses of ashlar, and set upon the sill, so formed, panels of the soft sandstone ground to powder and mixed with tile and lime, so as to form a hard lime concrete. Masses of this material bestrewed the area of the cross-hall of this building; and though the original demolition and subsequent damp had reduced most of it to formless lumps, it was possible to extract some shaped fragments, which showed that it had been moulded in rectangular blocks. The treatment is unique in the Wall area, and without parallel in Britain. As the very different and normal construction of the later buildings at Chesterholm shows, the method is not to be regarded as imposed by peculiar local conditions: it is rather the deliberate choice of an architect determined to exploit the local stone to the full, to achieve decorative effects. In the military area, this phenomenon is as interesting as it is unexpected.

The general date of this building is not in doubt. It was destroyed in the disaster which preceded the Constantian remodelling of the site, and had obviously existed for a considerable time before that, as the worn state of its hard stone thresholds shows. No evidence was found for structural alterations to it, and it may logically be assigned to the period preceding the Constantian, initiated by Severus's governor Alfenus Senecio;17 but it is less certain that the building was erected as early as the time of Severus. An inscription of the time of Severus Alexander, set up in the governorship of Claudius Xenophon, circa A.D. 222, records the restoration of a gate and its towers from the foundation18 -- by a process of elimination, this must have been the porta praetoria, in the south front, which might be expected to invite particularly elaborate treatment and it is possible that the construction of this ambitious headquarters-building may have been part of the same scheme. But the site was certainly re-occupied sooner, as the dedication to Caracalla in 21319 demonstrates. It remains to be seen whether Alfenus Senecio or Claudius Xenephon, both men with African connections, deserves20 credit for the work.

11 AA4 xi 96.
12 The coin will be described in full by Mr. Percy Hedley in the next report; his identification and dating of it are confirmed by Mr. Pearce, to whom he submitted it.
13 Cf. AA4 viii 198-9, ix 217.
14 AA4 viii 199, fig. 3, 1 and 2.
15 AA4 vii 168-9.
16 See Vitr. ii, 8, 17; Tac. Ann. xv, 43. The method is a substitute for timber-framing, as at Urspring principia, O.R.L. xxiv, Taf. ii, iii, v, 2 and p. 13.
17 Cf. AA4 vii 167-9.
18 C. 715; cf. AA4 viii 191.
19 AA4 xi 127-37.
20 L. Alfenus M.f.Qui. Senecio, presumably the father of the Severan governor, who was at one time procurator of Mauretania Caesariensis, was a native of Cuicul in Numidia (Dessau, ILS 9489; Prosopographia Imperii Romani, second edition, i, p. 88, A 520); T. Claudius T.f.Pa.p. Xenophon, under Severus procurator ad bona cogenda in Africa, was probably the father of the governor under Severus Alexander, whose name is patently misspelt on the Chesterholm inscription (Dessau, TLS 1421).

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Excavations of 1932-1935 · Reports & Papers