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Roundhouses at Vindolanda, why?; Discussion of the circular huts Vindo
Topic Started: Sep 11 2006, 10:09 AM (688 Views)
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Okay, some purely blue-sky thinking on my part, meaning my ideas may be idiotic. Feel free to say 'Jacobson, your ideas are idiotic'. I’ll take it as understood that my statements are ‘opinions’, and in no way proven fact.


The hut dwellers were additional troops moved to the area, while the huts themselves were constructed by local labor under military supervision; by this thesis, Vindolanda was a staging base at which were concentrated forces beyond the accommodation capacity of the existing military buildings in preparation for Severus’ expedition up Dere Street.

Why Vindolanda, and not Housesteads or Chesters? Well, Vindolanda (like the other two) is conveniently near Dere Street, which would’ve been the main axis of advance into Lowland Scotland. So troops from other Wall garrisons, or even legionary forces from York and Chester could have concentrated at any of the three. I wonder if perhaps Vindolanda was a ‘better site’ because it’s located right on the Stanegate (ie, easy resupply for a large number of troops, has ample supplies of fresh water to handle an additional 1000-3000 men (depending on how many were stashed into each hut), and provides (I suspect) easier access for temporary building than Housesteads, which is farther from the military road and possesses inferior water supplies, or Chesters, which was a cavalry fort, though had the benefit of the Tyne nearby.

The regular layout, roads, and drains suggests that these dwelling layouts were planned (though the dwellings were not built) by regular troops rather than the usual helter-skelter layout typical of some vici or of ‘barbarian’ dwellings north of the frontier. I don’t expect that the Roman garrison would’ve been unduly concerned to provide nice roads, etc for ‘locals’ who’d been dragooned in for building works of some sort, much less for ‘refugees from ‘those lands to the north’—but they would have for troops planning to live in those huts. Also, as is usual with military settlements, a regular layout meant ‘ease of concentration and deployment’ for the hut-dwellers.

Here’s a thought: the curious admixture of Roman-style roada and drainage with ‘native-style’ huts may indicate that the Imperials did in fact dragoon in some local labor to build the huts, supervised by trained engineers, and perhaps Roman troops laid out the roads and ditches. I’m just a bit leery of thinking that the occupants were necessarily ‘natives’ working on wall repairs, since 1) I wonder if the Romans would’ve bothered with roads and drains on their behalf, and 2) would have entrusted fortification repair to unskilled local labor.

So, if my wild-eyed ideas are correct, these dwellings may have been built by locals pending the arrival of regular military forces (legionaries?), possibly from southern garrisons, preparatory to the campaign of 208-211. I can imagine some Roman engineer laying out the basic plan, then telling the local labor force, ‘you build the huts HERE, you dig drains THERE, and do it right, you hear?’ Thus a nice symmetric system of ‘native huts’. If the huts show signs of mere short-term occupation, then that would fit with the notion that they were only occupied pending departure to teach those blue-tattooed Caledonians a lesson (not unlike a Saturday night in Melrose, actually).

What would be really nice would to find a graffito on a hearthstone: ‘Gnaeus of the second century of the Twentieth Legion wrote this in the reign of the Emperor Severus, and wishes he were back in his old post’.

I’d also wonder if the Severan coins are indicative of military dwellers, since (so far as I know) the military would’ve been the chief possessors of coined money in remote districts such as the Wall zone, though of course local purveyors would’ve come into possession of coins as well….
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