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Roundhouses at Vindolanda, why?; Discussion of the circular huts Vindo
Topic Started: Sep 11 2006, 10:09 AM (685 Views)
Andy
Dr Andrew Robin Birley
[ *  * ]
The Vindolanda Roundhouses........

Ok my fellow excavators, here is a topic to get you going. The archaeology at Vindolanda is famously complex, and no period can enjoy that title more than the Severan occupation of the site.

Sometime cAD208 and 211, the fort was moved to the area that had been previously used for extramural occupation (to the west of the old site), and on the site of the old Antonine fort, up to 250 circular huts were constructed, in neat rows of ten, back to back, with roads and drains between them. Was this a construction camp for Hadrian's Wall's repairs, was it a temporary camp for the farmers north of the wall during the Severan expidition against the Caledons? Who were these people? All we can guess at is that they were probably not 'Romans' or at least 'Romanized, creolized, globalized......' in their construction techniques.

If you have an idea of who they might have been, and why they were at Vindolanda between cAD208-211, give it a go.

Andy :D
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Andy
Dr Andrew Robin Birley
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Harry asks……

Q. Is the size of the huts consistent with similar buildings of the same era whose use is known?

A. They are pretty regular in size with dwellings that range from the north of Scotland to the north coast of Africa in the Roman era.

Q. Is there any record of official Roman policy towards locals in this era? Apart from ‘suppressing’ the tribes in the north?

A. No, not really. But by this time, everyone on the inside of the empire has been enfranchised by citizenship….

Q. What kind, if any, of small finds are there in the huts?

A. Alas not much. We know that a few Severan coins have been found, and that in a few huts, hearths were centrally placed. Also that someone took a pee in the corner of one. By someone, we don’t know if it was a human or a dog.

Q. Does the quality of the huts, roads, & drains suggest talented military or haphazard locals?

A. Well, the layout (very tightly controlled) suggests military involvement, as does the fact that they are built on army land….however, the hap-hazard nature of the construction suggests that each house was perhaps individually constructed by different occupiers.

Q. Is it certain that the huts date from the same time as the Severan activity? Or could they date to a period after the Antonine fort was razed and before any more building activity took place?

A. Severan as Severan can be.

Q. Were there any vicus buildings standing at this time? i.e. - were these huts built because there was nothing else there? Or because what was there wasn't suitable?

A. The huts are where the ‘vicus’ should now be. The fort has moved and what was once the fort is now a field covered with round huts.  there lie the problem!

If you get any sleepless nights on this one and suddenly have a eureka moment, I expect to see it on the website before I have to write the report!

P.S. As soon as I can workout how to upload a pic, I’ll post a plan or two.

Andy


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Andy
Dr Andrew Robin Birley
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Eric,

Some sound thinking going on here, I like the ideas about why Vindolanda is a good location for the assault in to merry old Northern Britain ('north Britian' just to get up the nose of the national party Scotts (who still lived in Ireland)). But I reckon we are not looking at legionaries here. These guys are living in such houses because that is what they are used to and demand, and to be honest, I am not sure I would trust the local skilled builder to build my house, under the whip or not. I agree, we need that inscription, badly! Whoever they are, they had baby sitters. The Severan garrison next door were here at the same time, and just to be difficult, they also seem to be an odd bunch as well, at least they are more 'traditionally Roman Army odd' rather than round house oddies. I still like John Mann's thoery, which is that they could be people from North Africa, brought over to give the folks north of the wall a nasty fright. It is unlikely that they would have ever seen anything quite like a north African auxiliary warband in their lives before!

great post Eric
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Andy
Dr Andrew Robin Birley
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Hi, Andy,

These are some more questions. However the answers (if known) might give pointers?

Q. Are we sure that the roundhouses were extra-mural to the Severan Fort Where is the East ditch and rampart to the Severan fort?

A. the old antonine fort wall is re-used to make the eastern defences

Q.Where did the Severan south ditch go after it hit the line of stone fort one?

A. it did not continue, as it stopped at the fort wall, and immediately outside the wall, the roundhouses started.

Q. Fig 35 of volume 1 shows the Severan buildings as an annex to stone fort one. This is questioned but only speculatively I think in the 2001/2 reports which are on disc.

A. That represented our best guess at the time, we know know we have the edge of the severan fort, and it is the old west wall of the Antonine wall. However, we now know that the Antonine fort was demolished to make way for the Severan fort and the extramural roundhouses to the east.

Q. Could the ditch and wall of stone fort one, been the perimeter of the Severan fort? Had the round houses been laid out on the platform before the "annex was built?
A.They mutually respect each other, so they co-existed. However, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Q. Could the platform of stone fort one have been used to accommodate the round houses within the Severan fort perimeter? (rather than extra mural?)

A. The Severan fort is a compound that has no roundhouses within it.

Q. If so,does that point more to prison camp than peaceful neighbours or just that the divide of function between vici and forts is not what is traditionally put about?

A. It is extramural, but I doubt the roundhoses represent a vicus. However, I don't think it is a prison camp either. They are not penned in for a start. They are most likely north african cavalry. (in my own humble opinion).

Q. Hope these questions are not too naive! I just rely on the maxim that the only truely ignorant are those that dont know that they are!

A. Great questions, keep them coming. ;)
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Andy
Dr Andrew Robin Birley
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There is a theory that these represent some sort of slave houses in this sense. You also get roundhouses on Villa estates. Hence the idea you have Creol type of system in place, the posh Roman Brit in their 'Roman' estate house, the poor slaves / workers, in poor class housing next door. Two cultures collide, but they don't perhaps intergrate. Where this theory falls in a military context is that at Vindo, they put these things on the better ground, infact the level the old fort for these people, then put a new garrison next door to the west. What is now beyond much doubt is that these people had minders, in the garrison next door, but they were not deemed a threat because their settlement was not 'enclosed' in any way as far as we can tell. In many ways, it seems to have been treated as just another extramural settlement, except for the 'special status' of having the best plot of land on a military site. Of course, we have evidence that in te 3rd century tribes from the south of the province help with the Severan repairs to the wall. Our bods could be these people, perhaps from the modern Cornwall / Devon areas, or even Wales, places that did not really embrace Roman architectual/cultural traditions as much as in other areas of lowland Briton, rather they continued to plough their own path.

Needless to say, the roundhouse issue will be re-visited in this years report. But I want to thank everyone for their comments and ideas, there is a great deal of food for thought in this topic, and some excellent posts.

best,

Andy
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