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Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1932-1935
SacoHarry
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5. The third-century portae principales. (Pl. xix.)

The discovery that the third-century principia faced south, with its back towards the via principalis of the later fort, has as its corollary the conclusion that the third century via principalis lay somewhere near the via quintana of later days. The gates of this street might thus be expected to lie buried below the later rampart, if they were not embodied in it. Accordingly, search was made behind the existing west rampart at a point in line with the southernmost known wall of the early priitcipia. It was very soon evident that we had found an earlier gate. The Constantian rampart-backing was found to cover massive ashlar foundations, set as headers and stretchers upon a firm flagged footing. These projected 6 feet behind the rear face of the later wall. To north of them was a mass of broken rubble, of the soft stone used in the principia, here employed as road-material: to south there still remained a fragment of earlier rampart, composed of clean material, easily distinguishable from the mixed earth of the later mound, and retained by a curving line of upright flat stones, which ended against the masonry. It was evident that the masonry itself formed the south Jamb of a massive, portal, which terminated, as an examination of the front of the Constantian wall soon showed, flush with the later wall-face. Here the large ashlar had been removed, but the footings still existed, while one course and the footing of the fort-wall to south were found abutting upon them. There followed a ten-foot gap, beyond which the footings of the gateway-jamb appeared again, with the fort-wall to north, showing that this was not a spina, but the north jamb of a single portal. It is evident, therefore, that the gate was of simple type, with single entrance, like the portae quintanae of several Hadrianic forts on the Wall: and the massive character of the foundations shows that they were intended to carry a tower.

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Figure 4

Other discoveries made at this point concern the later wall. In the portal of the earlier gate, the later wall had been ill founded, and had sagged outwards. Further northwards, there was a larger bulge still, partly caused by erecting, on the small masonry of the late wall, a massive reconstruction in Theodosian style. Some attempt had been made to correct this by building against the wall a large buttress, of which part of the south wall remained, together with clay and cobble packing within it to north. The west and north faces had, however, been robbed, and it is uncertain how large this structure had been. It is reminiscent of the buttress set against the north face of the west tower at the north gateway.21

From the newly discovered west gate, it is natural to turn to the east gate, excavated by Hedley22 and examined afresh in 1930 and 1934. In its last days, this gateway had been a small postern, from which a flight of steps led down towards the Chainley Burn: and Hedley himself was only in time to prevent further damage after the steps had been removed. The stone-robbers had also removed the north jamb, but the approximate position of this is shown by the existing remains of the curved rampart-revetment which was abutted against it by later builders, as on the south side. It may be assumed that these were the reconstructors of A.D. 369; and that it was they also who, using a tombstone (C. 723) among their material, reduced the gateway to a six-foot postern, rather in the manner of the final reconstruction of the south-west gate23 at Caernarvon. The gateway in its wider form24 is evidently part of the Constantian fortifications. There are signs, however, that this was not the first gateway on the site. The south jamb has been erected upon flagged foundations associated with an earlier fort-wall, whose footings project far beyond the Constantian wall-face: and the striking resemblance between these remains and those now discovered on the west side of the fort, allows us to conclude that they belong to a similar arrangement. The exact dimensions of the east gate at this period must, however, remain doubtful, since the robbers of the Constantian jamb removed also the earlier foundation upon which it was standing: only two stones appear to remain in position, which would fit a pier corresponding to the remains at the west.

There can thus be little doubt that the newly discovered west gate was matched by an east gate of similar plan, and that both represent the portae principales of the third-century fort, which faced southwards. When the fort was turned northwards, in the next period, the Constantian builders, preferring utility to standard planning, built a new western porta principalis in the appropriate position; but on the steep bank of the Chainley Burn, they kept the gate in the old position, where access was easier. An even more drastic disregard for the traditional convention appears at Risinghazn, where the contemporary builders supplied a new west gate in similar position, but turned the principia so as to face it; while on the east side they appear to have supplied no gate at all, because the fort25 there overlooked a marsh.

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Figure 5

The type of gateway thus rediscovered is an old one, occurring in many forts, and portrayed on Trajan's Column.26 On Hadrian's Wall it was not used for the main gates of the forts; but it is interesting to observe that it is employed for the portae quintanae, which in those forts whose praetentura juts beyond the Wall, became in effect the portae principales, for the Military Way. It is also used for every one of the milecastle gates, though many of these in the third century were reduced to pedestrian size. There can be little doubt that experience had shown this type of gate to be sufficient for traffic needs, and that in the third-century rebuilding of Vindolanda it was introduced as a matter of course, in preference to the larger twin portals less easy to defend. It is unknown what the south gate of this period was like, but, as the porta praetoria, it was the more likely to have been fitted with towers, perhaps ornate ones like those of Risingham. The north gate appears to have been totally removed when the fourth-century north gate was built, though traces of an early fort-wall have been noted27 a little to the west, and somewhat further north than the Constantian wall. Particular interest will therefore centre in the examination of the south gate, when the opportunity comes.

6. Circular buildings below the north rampart. (Pl. xviii, xx.)

The remarkable group of buildings shown on the accompanying plan was found by chance in 1934, when the section taken through the north rampart of the Constantian fort was dug across the centre of the second from the west; the western portion of that building, and the surviving remains of its western neighbour, were uncovered in that year, while three more were excavated wholly or in part in 1935, making four in a single row, and one to the south, all opening on an alley, 14 feet wide, that separates the isolated example from the row of four. All are circular, with all internal diameter of about 14 feet, two-foot walls and a tlirce-foot doorway with stone threshold, pivot-hole and door-stop; their floors were of flags, and their roofs tiled.

Stratigraphically, they come immediately below the latter's stone wall and earth rampart-mound; the wall embodies their foundations in its footing, and the mound covers as much of them as projects south of the wall; the outlier to the south is cut through by a drain of the penultimate period of the occupation. Immediately below them, and unseparated by a destruction-layer,28 occurs a patch of flagging, extending over a drain running north and south; parallel to the drain, 7 feet to the east, is a fragment of walling and a large threshold stone, with a pivot-hole at its north end and considerable wear on the northern 3 feet of its surface. Lower still, separated from the flagging by a sterile layer of clean clay, comes a deposit containing pottery of the period Domitian-Trajan,29 associated with the sleeper-trenches of a wooden building, running north and south on a different alinement. In seeking to connect these levels with the known periods of the site's occupation, there is only one main difficulty. It is evident that the circular buildings belong to the third century; they immediately antedate the Constantian rampart, and are of the same soft sandstone as that used in the earlier principia. It is uncertain, however, whether they (like the principia) should be assigned to the time of Severus Alexander or that of Severus; and, in consequence, it is also uncertain whether the flagging on which they rest, and the associated structures, are to be connected with Severus or with the second-century occupation, initiated by Calpurnius Agricola,30 to which plentiful pottery testifies, though structural remains have not yet been identified. In passing, it must be noted that no traces of that period were found underlying the early principia; one or two pockets of pre-Hadrianic material were found, from which came two pieces of figured samian ware noticed below, but nothing more. Only further spade-work can elucidate this chronological puzzle, which leaves the upper date of the circular buildings in doubt, though they were certainly in use in the last three-quarters of the third century.

What that use was is also something of a puzzle. The buildings are recorded now in the hope that analogies, so far lacking,30a may appear. Meanwhile, some hypotheses as to the purpose of them have been discarded, and a suggestion may be made. They are not defensive towers, for their walls are too slight, and are not connected with a rampart; nor are they cook-houses, for they contained neither oven nor furnace. Their circular form must, however, have to do with their purpose; and we suggest, provisionally, that they were mill-houses. In the Roman army, corn was commonly ground by small units -- no doubt by each contubernium, as the frequent occurrence of small querns in the men's quarters suggests. But such piecemeal work was not always the practice; occasionally larger querns are found, inscribed with the name of a centuria;31 and at times corn was ground and bread prepared in larger quantities. In such a case, larger mills were required, of the type yielded by German forts and studied in detail by Jacobi.32 Near Greatchesters, too, a few miles to the west, corn was ground in a large watermill33 worked by the Haltwhistle Burn at Burnhead. These larger installations would require special accommodation, and we suggest that the circular buildings at Chesterholm would admirably suit the purpose, housing large mills, perhaps worked by slave-labour. Such an explanation has additional attraction, when it is recalled that cooking was regularly associated, in forts and fortresses, with the intervallum road, and that, at Chesterholm, we should expect to find the ovens on the adjacent east side of the fort, whence the prevailing west winds would carry the smoke away; thus, the mill-houses would not lie far away from the cooking place. Acceptance of this explanation must obviously await confirmation by the spade on this or other sites.

It should he noted that, in any case, these buildings are an intrusion in the fort to which they belong, for they lie across the line of the via decumana; it is remarkable that direct access, by the decuman gate, to the Stanegate -- here the only known line of communication -- should be blocked in this way.

7. The early deposit.

The deposit already referred to, with wooden buildings running north and south, was opened up to the limits of the excavation on both sides of the Constantian wall, except where its examination would have involved removing the walls of the circular buildings or the north and south fragment of masonry. The northern end of the section cut in 1934 showed that this early level had been cut away, together with the north wall of the third-century fort, when the berm of the Constantian fort was formed. The berm itself is exceptionally wide, for a fort, about 20 feet along the ground. The ditch remained open until the close of the occupation, several examples of late fourth-century types of pottery coming from its upper levels. Reference has been made to the fine series of pottery that the early deposit yielded, and some of the figured samian ware is described below; besides the pottery, there were several interesting metal objects, the drawings of which are likewise reserved for publication in the next report, and a number of coins, which Mr. Percy Hedley has identified as follows:

1. Denarius of L. Cassius Longinus, circa 52 B.C.
2-3. Asses of Vespasian.
4-5. Asses, probably Flavian.
6. Dupondius of Trajan, ante A.D. 102.
7. As of Trajan, A.D. 103-11.

All seven coins were sealed by the thick layer of sterile clay to which reference has been made; in addition, nos. 2, 4 and 5 were sealed by the overlying flags; the series provides welcome confirmation of the date suggested by the pottery, for the early occupation with which the wooden buildings were associated. It is interesting to find early structures so far to the east of the ditch-system that was found and traced in part34 in 1930-1; it seems that the earliest fort on the site was larger, perhaps considerably larger, than its successors, unless (as at Mumrills35 and perhaps other Scottish sites) an annexe was placed on the better protected side of the site selected for fort and annexe.

21 AA4 viii, fig. 2, and p. 197.
22 AA1 i 209-11.
23 Wheeler, op. cit., 59, and fig. 19.
24 AA4 viii 199.
25 See above, p. 191.
26 Cichorius, Die Trajanssaule, Taf. xxxv, sc. xlvii.
27 Cf. AA4 viii 200, fig. 2, and p. 197.
28 The only piece of evidence for destruction is a large fragment of a roof-tile, that rested on the flags and partly underlay the foundation of the east wall of the second building from the west.
29 Cf. p. 220 above; the figured samian ware is discussed below, pp. 242 ff.
30 Cf. AA4 viii 190, 210.
30a It is possible that the south camp at Birrenswark may contain parallels (cf. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. xxxiii, 228); further excavation will be necessary to decide the point.
31 E.g. Ephemeris Epigraphica ix 11197; cf. our Proceedings, 2nd ser., vii, 96-8, from Greatchesters.
32 Cf. Blumlein, Bilder aus dem R-G. Kulturleben, 1918, p. 82.
33 AA3 v, pl. 1, also p. 222.
34 AA4 viii 202-4, ix 217-19.
35 Cf. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., lxiii, 500.
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Excavations of 1932-1935 · Reports & Papers