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Excavations of 1967-1969; by Robin Birley
Topic Started: Nov 10 2010, 02:39 PM (905 Views)
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The Vindolanda Trust was born in 1970. Robin Birley heralded its arrival with a major 60-page report on the excavations of 1967-1969: Archaeologia Aeliana, Series IV, Volume XLVIII (1970). This was the report that opened eyes to how massive the site is, how complex, well-preserved, and valuable. (Even though the discovery of the first writing tablets was still a few years away.) It touches on the south gate, the wells to the west of the vicus, and various other bits. But its main focus is the Severan (Period VI-B) praetorium. (Poignantly, its true purpose wasn't immediately known. Instead, it was called a mansio -- an inn for travelers. It was also thought to have survived for over a century. In truth, it lasted barely 5 years before being swept away in Period VII. However, the "mansio" kept this title & backstory for nearly the next 20 years, before the truth was learned.)

Now, thanks to Robin, the Trust, and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the report is made available to members of WeDig. This is the first part of the report; the specialist papers at the end will be put in a separate post. As with all other AA reports presented here, please keep in mind that these works are still held under copyright, used here by permission, and not intended to be reproduced or republished. Hope you enjoy!

A note on terminology:
Much has been learned since 1969. Robin's report speaks of various periods at Vindolanda, many of which are now known to be different. When he refers to the 3rd Century fort, that is now known to be Stone Fort I, built & used in the mid-late 2nd Century. His references to the Diocletianic fort are to the visible fort, Stone Fort II, originally built in AD 213. However, most of what he says about the Theodosian period still rings true -- the latest Roman bits, built after the barbarian crisis of AD 369.


Robin Birley

This report embodies the results of two short excavations in the summers of 1967 and 1968, both conducted under the auspices of Durham University Excavation Committee, and of more substantial work undertaken throughout 1969. The excavations between May and July 1969 were largely confined to weekends, with volunteers drawn from Alnwick College of Education, whilst those of August and September were supported by DUEC. The report includes three items from the excavations of 1933 to 1935, which were completed too late for publication at the time: they were of considerable interest for the light they shed upon both animal and vegetable conditions of the late fourth and fifth centuries, and I make no apology for publishing them now. There are also drawings and comments upon items of bronze and iron from the 1930's excavations, previously unpublished. I am most grateful to my father for making them available. The opportunity is also taken to publish a plan of Anthony Hedley's excavation of the commander's house in the Diocletianic fort, re-drawn from the original sketches in the Hodgson MSS in the Black Gate Library. Some items of iron, and a fine enamelled bronze belt plate, were discovered late in the season and are still being treated by Dr. C. W. Gibby, F.S.A., at the Department of Archaeology in Durham. They will be published with the next Vindolanda report, together with a report on wood and soil samples from the Flavian levels in the Mansio.

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Plate VI

My debt to others, both during the excavations and in the preparation of this report, is considerable. I am most grateful to Mr. Thomas Harding, then the owner of Codley Gate farm, for his permission to excavate, particularly on the scale of the 1969 season; to Mr. Charles Anderson and his colleagues of the Ministry of Public Building and Works for their customary valuable assistance in such matters as fencing and the provision of huts; to Durham University Excavation Committee for their sponsorship and for the loan of equipment; to Miss L. K. Hollamby, Principal of Alnwick College, for her co-operation which allowed her students to spend rather more time on the site than was anticipated; to Dr. J. K. St. Joseph, F.S.A., for permission to publish his fine aerial photograph of Vindolanda; to Mr. George Hodgson for his reports on the bones found in 1968 and 1969; to Mr. Martin Henig, of Worcester College, Oxford, for his report on the intagli; to Dr. J. P. C. Kent, F.S.A., for his preliminary identification of the coins, and to Dr. A. R. Birley, F.S.A., for his report upon them; to Mr. Maurice Southern and Miss Patricia Burnham for their work on the plans and the small finds figures respectively; to Mr. William Southern for some photographs; to Dr. G. D. B. Jones, F.S.A., for his work under the floor of room III in the mansio and for photographs; to Mr. R. G. Hall, who acted as site supervisor in all three seasons; to the small group of Alnwick students and volunteers who worked exceptionally hard; and to my father for his constant help and encouragement. Above all, I am grateful to Mrs. D. Archibald, whose deep interest in Northumbrian history and whose generosity have resulted in the acquisition of the fort field for a board of Trustees, whose task it will be to see that excavation and conservation of the remains may go ahead at a reasonable pace. But for Mrs. Archibald's action, Vindolanda might have been lost to archaeologists, and the general public will one day be very conscious of the debt which they owe her.

It should be noted that the pottery report is but a token one. The volume of pottery found, especially in 1969, was considerable, and full publication at this time would have been too expensive. But it is hoped to rectify this omission in due course, and in the meantime all the Vindolanda material will be stored on the site, where it may be studied by those who are interested in it. It is hoped that it may be possible to display the better items in a Museum at Vindolanda before very long.

General introduction

The excavations of 1967 to 1969 have answered some of the unresolved questions about Vindolanda posed by the earlier work in the 1930's, but inevitably fresh questions have now appeared. Further evidence for the pre-Hadrianic occupation has been found in four places, and the line of the south rampart and ditches of a fort of that period has been located. But at the same time there has been a suggestion that there may be more than one pre-Hadrianic fort. The occupational debris from these early levels included a high proportion of food bones.

More is now known of the second century fort, although there is insufficient evidence to attempt a meaningful plan. The line of the south and west ramparts has been proved by excavation, and both east and north ramparts are suggested by aerial photographs. It appears to have been of irregular shape. Some at least of the fort's internal buildings were of stone. There has been no certain evidence of Hadrianic occupation, and it is best to assume that this fort was late Antonine, dating perhaps to the period A.D. 160-180/197.

The third century fort, laid out on a new site to the east of its predecessor, appears to have possessed a sunken strong room in its Headquarters Building, but there was no trace of the expected monumental porta praetoria. The discovery of the Antonine fort to the west ought to enable us to reassess, in due course, the report on the excavation near the north gate (AA4 xiii 238f), since any pre-third century structures on the site should belong to a second century vicus or annexe, and not to a fort.

Information about the fourth century forts is increased by the analysis of the wood, bones and small finds from the well in the Headquarters Building, constructed after A.D. 367 (AA4 xiii 218f), and Hodgson's plan of Hedley's excavations in the Commander's House shows that its appearance, like that of the Headquarters Building, may likewise be similar to third-century examples. The south gate of the fourth-century forts, severely damaged by stone-robbers, was a simple passage, without guard-chambers, perhaps partially blocked at some stage. The large quantity of food bones scattered outside the gate to the south, in the final period of occupation, implied a low order of hygiene and military discipline, but it is not necessarily associated with the occupation by Theodosian forces, and could date to the fifth century.

The plan of the large vicus, overlying the earlier military sites, is beginning to take shape. A well-built flagged road led from the Diocletianic fort's west gate, through the vicus, to join the Stanegate some two hundred yards to the north west, and three side streets, less wide and with shallow foundations, have also been located. Knowledge of the water-supply (cf. AA4 viii 182-212 for that leading to the bath-house) has been reinforced by the discovery of cut-stone channels leading into the mansio (Site IX) and leading away from the water-tanks in the west of the vicus (site XIII). The Well (site XIII), first examined in 1914, cannot have provided the only source of supply for this large vicus, and there are traces on the ground of an aqueduct, which first appears nearly half a mile to the west of the vicus.

The only vicus building to be examined in detail has been that on site IX, interpreted as a mansio. A fifteen roomed courtyard house in its third-century form, fronting the main road, it was altogether too well made and large for a normal vicus structure, and it ought to represent a lodging place for travelling officials at a convenient place on the Stanegate. But the modifications to its plan in the fourth century, which included the removal of its substantial latrine, perhaps suggest alternative use by that time, and the fact that this vicus was self-governing may indicate the building's conversion into same kind of administrative or social centre.

The most interesting feature of the excavations in the vicus has perhaps been the discovery that there was occupation, in part at least, in Wall period IV. The extent of this occupation will not be revealed for some time, but it may add considerably to our knowledge of the post 369 period. It has long been recognised that in Wall period IV additional accommodation was provided in the forts, perhaps for former vicus inhabitants, who now found it too dangerous to live in the exposed villages. Theodosian Vindolanda certainly possessed these additional buildings within the fort, yet apparently there was also occupation in a part at least of the vicus. The masonry of this Theodosian period on the mansio site is extraordinarily crude, yet effective, and quite distinct from anything that had been attempted previously. One can only assume that these fresh troops, brought up by Count Theodosius, had no experience of building by conventional methods, and they cannot be related in any way to their predecessors, the Fourth Cohort of Gauls.

Excavation is now able to proceed at Vindolanda on a larger scale, and it should be possible to resolve a number of outstanding problems in the next few years. The full outlines of both the Flavian and the Antonine forts must be traced, and there should be a real chance now of obtaining the complete vicus plan. The evidence from the fourth century Headquarters Building, the South Gate and the mansio suggests a prolonged post-A.D. 369 occupation of the site—perhaps as much as 100 years—and the examination of the upper levels within the later stone forts should be instructive. After years of small-scale excavations in limited areas, the prospect of excavating the entire site is exciting, but a strict order of priorities has to be enforced. The work of the next few seasons will be concentrated in the third- and fourth century vicus, with only small-scale excavation in the later stone forts.

The Diocletianic/Theodosian South Gate

Excavation of the south gate was undertaken at weekends throughout April and May 1969.

Birley and Richmond noted (AA4 xiii, 1936, 238) that "particular interest will therefore centre in the examination of the south gate, when the opportunity comes", since the discovery of the southward facing third-century principia implied the presence of the porta praetoria in the south, and RIB 1706 implied that this was the gate with towers which was "restored from its foundations" by the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, styled Severus Alexander's, under Claudius Xenephon, presumably in A.D. 223. The axis of the third century principia, however, lay seven feet east of that of its successor, and its north and south gates are likely to have been demolished to make way for the new gates on a different alignment.

The position of the fourth-century gate was easily recognisable on the ground, marked by the depressions left by the stone-robbers' trenches. Damage to the gate structure was extensive: only four courses of masonry remained in its eastern passage wall (Plate VII, 1), and the five-foot fort wall had been robbed down to Roman ground level. The western passage wall had almost entirely disappeared and was traced by the remaining stones in its foundation course, but there the fort-wall stood up to seven courses high on the northern side, perhaps ignored by the stone-robbers because of the poor quality of the Theodosian masonry, or because they could not break down the durable Theodosian mortar. The robbers' trench had continued across the gate-passage, suggesting that a blocking wall had also been removed. The examination of the fort's east gate (AA4 xiii, 1936, 236 and plan at 237) showed that it had been reduced to a single foot-passage by a blocking wall at some stage in the fourth century.

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Plate VII, 1

The Diocletianic gate was a simple eleven-foot passage, without guard-chambers, and with the rampart-walk carried across the passage in a straight line with the fort wall, and with a step outside the sill which denied access to wheeled vehicles. (See Plan A.) The southern responds were separated from their northern counterparts by retaining walls, 15 feet 6 inches long and 3 feet wide. The remaining stones in the eastern wall contained re-used material, smaller and better finished than the Diocletianic stone-work, although the latter was of a high enough standard. The Diocletianic stones in the fort wall on the eastern side were rectangular blocks, some 8 inches x 12 inches and up to 10 inches deep, undressed but of a harder sandstone than the third-century material. The Theodosian masonry, in the rebuilt section of the fort wall on the western side, was exceptionally crude, but it made up for its deficiencies with a fine light brown mortar which is still durable.

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Plan A

Only the eastern stone remained of the door sill, but it contained a five inch diameter hole and shallow groove for the door hinge. There was a twelve-inch drop from the sill to a step to the south, and a fourteen-inch drop from the step to a cobbled and gravelled road beyond.

Since the Diocletianic east gate apparently had a flight of steps outside it leading down to the burn, it would appear that the fourth-century fort had provision for wheeled traffic only at its northern and western gates, where there are guard chambers. This was an irregular but sensible scheme, since the north gate had direct access to the Stanegate only a few yards away, and the west gate carried a heavy paved roadway (1967 excavation) through the vicus to join the Stanegate some 200 yards to the north-west of the fort. Neither east nor south gates have practical access for roads, and it is difficult to understand why the third-century fort ever faced south, since any road from the south gate must have swung directly round the fort ditches to join the Stanegate. Perhaps the architectural advantage of a southern prospect outweighed military considerations for once.

Immediately to the west of the south gate-passage, the fort rampart, of clay and turf, had been maintained throughout, but to the east the rampart was of earth and rubble overlying flagstones level with the foot of the fort wall. Here, perhaps, were traces of the third-century occupation.

A wide berm of approximately 25 feet, and a 12 foot paved roadway across the south ditch, demonstrated that access to the gate was never obstructed altogether. This unusually wide berm is paralleled by that at the north gate, and is presumably due to the decision of the Diocletianic builders, when constructin' their new north and south fort walls on a different line to the third-century walls, to retain the Severan ditches. The Diocletianic causeway crossing could not be on the same line as the original causeway, but it was impossible to test this by excavation in the weather conditions prevailing.

Comparatively little pottery was found in the area examined, and of that which was found, there were few pieces from the same bowl. A wide range of wares was represented by fragments, ranging from stray Flavian mortaria to distinctive wall periods III and IV pieces. A significant discovery was the very large quantity of bone scattered outside the sill of the gate. Mr. George Hodgson's report on them (link pending) shows the range of animals and their quantity, and they are unlikely to have been deposited in such a position when the fort was in regular military occupation. They most probably represent material post-A.D. 369, and perhaps extend well into the fifth century. Ten coins were found amongst the debris of the gate passage or above the roadway, ranging from Julia Mammaea (no. 10) to Valens, C. A.D. 370 (no. 28), together with a double-headed snake penannular brooch (fig. 1, no. 2), two small "portable" altars (from one of which Mr. R. P. Wright, F.S.A., was able to extract a partial text, cf. p. 127, no. 3), fragments of three querns, and the carved stone, p. 128, no. 7. There was no suggestion that either the Diocletianic or the Theodosian gate had been destroyed by fire, although there was a level of burning below the fourth-century roadway, which should represent destruction of the third-century fort.

No traces of the third-century gateway or guard-chambers were found in the area examined. There may be some hope of locating traces of the eastern guard-chamber of such a structure, if there was one, to the east of the fourth-century gate, but the western chamber would have lain directly on the line of the fourth-century roadway, and there was no trace of it.
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The Third-Century Fort: Headquarters Building

When the Headquarters Building was excavated (AA4 xiii 218f), no attempt was made to determine whether the third-century structure, which underlies the Diocletianic Headquarters, possessed a sunken strongroom. The western half of the third century Sacellum was available for excavation, without disturbance of the later remains conserved by the Ministry, and an attempt was made, in June 1969, to answer the question. In the event, no structural evidence was found. The water-table within the fort is several feet higher than in the vicus, and that level did not decline, in spite of subsequent spells of fine weather. It was established, however, that there had been a substantial hole in the position where a sunken strongroom could be anticipated, which had later been filled in with fragments of whin-stone, clay and broken tile. At a depth of three feet below the original third century floor-level, the excavation had to be abandoned, because of the water-table. It may be possible to return to this area when the drainage of the field has been improved, but in the meanwhile one can only presume that a sunken strongroom existed.

The first- and second-century forts

In both 1967 and 1968 sections were cut, fifteen yards apart, through a feature to the south of the mansio (site IX below), which both on the ground and on an aerial photograph had the appearance of rampart and ditches. For a variety of reasons, but chiefly because of the depth of the remains and the high water-table, neither section was entirely satisfactory (see Plan B). Some positive evidence did emerge, however, and it will be described in the reverse order to which it was found, that is, starting with the earliest material. In the account which follows, reference is made to the relevant parts of the sections on Plan B by the use of the date (1967 or 1968), and an arabic numeral.

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Plan B

On neither occasion was subsoil reached, although both sections were taken down to a depth of 8 feet. At that depth, however, there were remains of timber-work. 1967, 2, was a series of oak posts, some 4 inches square and two feet apart, with a horizontal plank nailed to their southern side. The high water-table and torrential rain prevented a proper examination of this feature, but a deposit of Flavian pottery, glass, leather and scraps of wood around the oak posts gave a firm date. It was hoped that the same feature might be found in the 1968 section, but there the structural evidence proved to be very different, although the rubbish deposit indicated a similar Flavian date. 1968, 10, was a float of interwoven branches (mostly hazel and birch), with upright wattle-hurdles, two feet high and two feet apart, running in the same east-west direction as the timber posts in the 1967 section. The space between the hurdles had been filled with boulders and rubbish. The presence of rampart material above this timber-work in both sections suggests that it had been connected with the construction of a fort rampart. The technique of laying a wooden float in a swampy area to support a structure above it is well-known, being used by George Stephenson in the early days of railway construction (so Mr. Harold Bowes kindly informed me), and by the builders of large houses in the seventeenth century (the Gordon home at Gordonstoun was built in this manner).

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Plate XIV, 2

The 1967 section showed that a clay rampart-base had been laid upon the wooden structure, and the 1968 section, in a wet area where the timber float had been necessary, had a heavier stone rampart-base, with clay rampart above it. There were traces of at least two fort ditches to the south of the rampart, and the inner (northern) ditch had been blocked at some stage with rampart material, when a new rampart was constructed, slightly further south than its predecessor. The upper part of this new rampart was of turf, and 1968, 7 showed the post-holes of a timber palisade of more than one period. In neither section, however, were there clear indications of the rampart edges, nor could one be certain of the date of the later rampart, although it must be associated with late second- and early third-century pottery in the outer ditch.

The ditches had been sealed efficiently at some stage. The inner ditch had gone out of use when the second rampart was laid, whilst the outer ditch remained open into the first two decades, or so, of the third century. Above the solid whin-stone boulder filling, a small and irregular building wall was found on the edge of the section (1967, 1), but the building was not investigated, whilst to the south of the 1968 section another crude building had been laid above the boulder fill, but this time huge undressed blocks of sandstone had been used, similar to those found on the period IV structure on site IX (see below). Its position is not shown on the section, and the prevailing swamp allowed only a cursory investigation.

To the north of the ramparts there were several features, not all of which could be satisfactorily explained in the limited area examined. Both sections revealed a rough track at a high level on the northern shoulder of the rampart, presumably dating to the third and fourth centuries, and both produced the southern walls of vicus buildings. In the 1967 section, a trial hole to the north of this wall showed that it overlay a north-south wall of an earlier period, and the improved stonework of this earlier wall and its depth suggested that it was associated with the second period of the rampart, that is with a late-second-century fort. A trial hole in the equivalent position in the 1968 section showed five occupation layers, but no trace of walling. Three of the layers are probably attributable to vicus periods, and the presence of the upper layer (1968, 1), consisting of three worn flag stones in situ, with an unbroken small grey vase at their side, only twelve inches below the turf, reminded us of the difficulties of finding adequate traces of the last period of occupation.

Two further features in the 1968 section call for comment. The stone-lined drain (1968, 6) on the southern edge of the later rampart was certainly Roman, since a Wall period III cooking-pot lay in pieces upon its floor, and the remains of a small clay oven (1968, 9) immediately to the south of the vicus building's southern wall, probably belonged to a vicus period.

The excavators were conscious at the time that the sections were unsatisfactory, but they have been illustrated and described here as a guide to future sections. The high water table and the presence of the huge blocking stones in the ditches demanded much wider trenches than the five feet that were cut, and the necessity of carrying such trenches down to c. ten feet made excavation physically too demanding for many volunteers.

It is clear from the work of Eric Birley in 1930, on the Flavian ditches in the north of the field, and from the 1969 work near the Well (site XII, below), which revealed the western Antonine fort rampart, that it will be comparatively simple to plan the northern and western defences of the earlier forts. At this stage it is only possible to demonstrate that the southern line of ramparts and ditches has been located. Evidence from the section in room VI of the mansio (see below) has warned us that we must be prepared to find two pre-Hadrianic forts on the site, but there is nothing to suggest that more than one second-century fort overlies the first-century remains.

VICUS--outside the Diocletianic west gate

In 1967, vicus buildings outside the Diocletianic west gate, clearly visible in air photographs, were located on the ground by excavation. A trench dug at right-angles to the west fort wall, from the south of the southern guard-chamber, produced evidence for a series of fort ditches, belonging, presumably, to the Antonine, third-century and fourth century forts, of which only the inner (eastern) ditch had remained open. The outer ditches at least two had been carefully filled at some stage, probably at the beginning of the third century, to take vicus buildings above them. The wetness of the season, and the large nature of the filling (often sandstone flags five feet square and five inches thick), prevented a full examination of these features. But the sequence of structures from the fort-wall was as follows: the berm was 12 feet 6 inches wide, and the inner fort ditch 18 feet 6 inches wide. Three feet to the west of this there was a narrow (10 feet) roadway, lying above heavy stone packing which sealed a second ditch. Immediately to the west of this lay the eastern wall of the first vicus building (site IV), whose floor was made up of exceptionally heavy flagstones, which sealed a third ditch. No attempt was made to examine this vicus building, and the position of the neighbouring sites V, VI, and VII was merely noted for future reference. A trench across the roadway which runs from the fort's west gate through the vicus in the WNW direction revealed that it was paved with heavy flagstones, possessed side conduits, and was 18 feet wide.

The vicus buildings in this area outside the fort west gate appear to be similar in design to those outside the south gate at Housesteads, and they are well preserved. The aerial photograph indicated that there was a line of structures front ing a side road which runs the length of the west fort wall perhaps some twelve houses in all and rows of similar structures on either side of the main road through the vicus to its junction with the Stanegate, some 200 yards to the WNW. There are further rows of houses to the south and west of the fort field. It is hoped to publish a provisional plan of all these features in the next report.

VICUS--west end

There had been serious flooding at the west end of the camp field for the past five years, and the principal source appeared to be the Roman well, examined in 1914, and marked with an upright plaque. At Mr. Thomas Harding's request, the Well was reopened, and its spring channelled into a modern 6 inch pipe drain. In the course of laying this drain, six features were examined.

The Well, Site XII (Note: Plan C). Examined but not recorded in 1914 (although the plaque bears the inscription "nothing found"), the Well was stone-built, circular, and with the top three surviving courses on the western side overlapping each other, to narrow the mouth. (Plate VII, 2.) The Well was three feet in diameter below these overlapping stones, and it presumably narrowed to 2 feet 6 inches. No attempt was made to clear it out again. Three flags, set upright in clay and rubble, stood 6 inches to 12 inches from the Well on the Western side, and beyond them, undisturbed by the 1914 excavation, lay, inverted, the broken Well top—a circular carved stone basin 3 feet 9 inches wide. This once capped the Well, and water would be drawn from the basin. The advantage of such a basin top would be to prevent larger items of rubbish being dropped into the water supply (see the note on wood samples from the Well in the HQB, p. 145).

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Plan C

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Plate VII, 2

The Water-tanks, Site XIII. 12 feet 6 inches WSW of the Well, there lay the northern end of double water-tanks, into which the Well overflow had once been diverted. The northern tank had been largely destroyed, but it had once been 10 feet 6 inches long and 3 feet 3 inches wide, with a flagged floor 2 feet 9 inches below the top of the sides. The southern tank was smaller—9 feet 6 inches by 3 feet 3 inches—but it had been deeper, 3 feet 6 inches. A fragment of a Roman milestone had been reused to support one of the side slabs. (Plate VIII, 2.) There were outlet holes at top and bottom of the southern slab, and a grooved stone channel ran from the bottom outlet in the direction of SSE. The tanks produced a few scraps of pottery and a cornelian intaglio of Jupiter Serapis (?) (see Plate XVI, 1 and discussion, p. 146f.). In a depression below the flagged floor of the northern tank there was a deposit of second-century pottery and the sole of a right-footed Roman boot, size 9 1/2.

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Plate VIII, 1

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Plate VIII, 2

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Plate XVI

Antonine Rampart base. The trench for the pipe drain to the south of the outlet hole cut through a rampart base, 3 feet below turf level. Approximately 15 feet wide, with well laid stone kerbs and an interior of cobbles and gravel, the rampart ran parallel to the water-tanks, 12 feet 6 inches away. This presumably represents the western rampart of the Antonine fort, and indicates that the fort was of irregular shape.

Roman drain. The laying of the modern pipe was greatly helped by the discovery of a stone-lined Roman drain, with flagged covers, running beneath the rampart base to a point 10 feet from the western field wall (where a modern 6 inch pipe takes the water into a cattle-trough in the next field). The drain runs in a straight line for 18 yards, and was probably constructed at the same time as the rampart.

Post-Roman causeway. 16 feet east of the Well (site XII), just below the level of the turf, there is a stone built causeway, three feet wide, running approximately N-S across the swampy area produced by the well spring. It is modern, constructed before 1900.

Flagged area. Due west of the water-tanks, and immediately west of the rampart base, there is a broad area, at least thirty feet wide, E-W, covered with flags. This was located during drainage work, but was not investigated further. But such evidence takes the extent of the vicus up to within 10 feet of the field wall at the west end of the station. An aerial photograph suggests that there are perhaps vicus buildings beyond the field wall and, indeed, to the north of the Stanegate as well.

VICUS--Sites XV and XVI

Two small buildings were located immediately to the north-west of site IX (the mansio), but they were not examined in detail. One significant piece of evidence did emerge, however, for below the highest floor level of site XV, sealed by 12 inches of rubble and clay packing lay a coin (no. 23), a little worn URBS ROMA issue of A.D. 330-335. Until Wall period IV pottery is also found on the site, it would be unwise to claim that this represents further evidence of Theodosian activity in the vicus, but it does at least represent vicus reconstruction post-A.D. 330. It will be some time before this site is fully excavated.


The site occupies a prominent position in the centre of the vicus, almost directly opposite the fort bath-house, with the main road through the settlement running between them. An aerial photograph gave the first indication of the structure, and rooms I, II, and III were examined in 1968, before being back-filled. In August and September 1969 the remainder of the structure, excepting parts of the courtyard and a few baulks, was examined and left open.

Summary: In its final form, dating from the early third century, the building was a fifteen-roomed courtyard house, fronting upon the main vicus road (see plans D and E). There were four periods of occupation in parts of the building, together with some minor adjustments to the plan. The history of the structure appears to have been as follows:

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Plan D

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Plan E

Period 1a, c. A.D. 160. A three-roomed bath-suite in stone (rooms I, II and III), perhaps attached to a timber house. The structure was aligned with the south rampart of the second century (? Antonine) fort, some twenty-five yards to the south, and perhaps should be associated with the praetorium of that fort.

Period 1b, A.D. 160/197. Two stone-built rooms (IV and V) were added to the structure at the northern ends of the building, and the bath-suite was thus enlarged. At this stage, rooms III and IV had hypocausts, and room III also possessed wall-flues.

Period II, c. A.D. 212. A further ten rooms were added to the building, whose northern front was now aligned with the main road through the vicus, opposite the new fort bath house. These rooms were grouped around a courtyard whose greatest measurements were 75 feet x 24 feet. Two of these rooms had hypocausts (VI and VII), and the large room VI was perhaps a dining-room. Room XIV was certainly a latrine. The ground plan of the building, and the regular masonry, suggest that the structure did not belong primarily to the vicus, but was rather a military building, designed to house travelling officials at a convenient point on the Stane gate, almost mid-way between the major Roman sites at Carlisle and Corbridge. It should thus be termed a mansio.

Period III, C. A.D. 300. Complete reconstruction of the whole building, after a fire had certainly consumed the western wing. The remains had been levelled with building debris and clean grey clay before the reconstruction, and the new ground plan contained important modifications. Room VI, the former dining-room, now lost its hypocaust and was converted into a kitchen, with a large stone-built oven in its north-western corner. The adjoining room VII, now deprived of its heat, received a new clay floor above the old concrete one. Rooms XII and XIII were run together by the elimination of their cross-wall, and room XIII's partition wall with the courtyard was abolished, to create a broad doorway. The latrine in room XIV similarly was altered, with the deep channel around its walls filled in with clay and rubble, to create a flat floor throughout the room. It may have been at this stage that the doorway from the courtyard to room II was blocked. Whether or not the building can still be identified as amansio in the early fourth century is uncertain, but no doubt the by now self governing vicus could use the structure for administrative or social purposes if it was not so required. The only evidence which might suggest the presence of women was found in the floor level of this period one small blue bead in Room VII, and part of a jet hairpin in Room XI.

Period IV, Post A.D. 369. The eastern wing of the building (rooms XI to XV) was completely rebuilt once more in the Theodosian period. The old outer east wall was levelled, and huge undressed blocks of sandstone were placed upon the regular masonry, whilst a similar wall of large stones was laid alongside the old courtyard partition wall, just within the courtyard. This created a slightly broader wing than before, and an additional room seems to have been attached to this structure at the southern end of the courtyard, although stone-robbing made its identification difficult. This last period had suffered from stone-robbing, particularly at the northern end, but a patch of flagging (Plate XII, 1) in room XII could be associated with this building's floor, and a similar patch of high flagging at the southern end of the courtyard, badly worn by wheeled traffic, suggested both that carts had been accustomed to backing up to the building and that such activity had gone on for a very long time. It was thus perhaps a store-house of some kind. There was no evidence to suggest that the rest of the former mansio had been reconstructed at this time, although a small clay oven was found in the centre of room VI at a level associated with this period.
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The MANSIO--a description of the rooms

The first structure: rooms I, II and III. These rooms made up a small bath-suite, probably attached to a timber building. The structure aligns with the Antonine fort's south rampart near by, and from the little that is known about the lay-out of that fort it is not yet possible to identify the building, although it could possibly have been the praetorium. Antonine pottery, including the bulk of the decorated samian found in the entire complex, lay both above and below the drain to the south of room II and in the make up of the floor in room I. In this first phase, there were two doors into the building from the north (those shown on the plan leading into rooms IV and V were made in the second phase). Room III had a much patched concrete floor, although it may have been renewed in the third century, and wall flues. The photograph (Plate IX, 1) shows the construction of the floor in the apse, and the nature of the pilae. When the concrete floor was opened at a point immediately to the south of the door into room IV, the hypocaust channels were found to be open, and it was possible to crawl beneath the floor and measure the positions of the pilae (Plate IX, 2). (Note: I am grateful to Dr. Barri Jones, F.S.A., for his assistance in this dirty and dangerous operation.)

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Plate IX, 1

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Plate IX, 2

The concrete floor was also removed from the apse of room III, in order to examine its nature and to see what lay below. In the course of this, a denarius of Geta, little worn, was found on the clay floor that supported the pilae, but its position near the foot of a wall flue excluded its use for dating purposes. The pilae were constructed of 3 inch stone slabs, held together by an inch of pinkish-brown mortar (Plate IX, 2). Large flagstones, some of which were nearly five feet square, rested upon these, which in turn supported the concrete floor, made of mortar, chips of stone and tile fragments.

The pilae rested upon a floor of clay and cobbles some 14 inches thick, which in turn rested upon a heavier foundation of whin boulders. At this point the water level interfered with the examination, but it was established (Plate X, 1) that beneath there was a substantial Flavian deposit, made up of wood, bones and pottery, of which the latter included two distinctive early carinated bowls.

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Plate X, 1

To the east of the apse, a covered drain curved around the structure, presumably to link up with that found south of room II.

In rooms II and III, small patches of wall plaster remained in position just above floor level, and quantities of broken plaster lay above the floor of room III. It had been fixed to thin stone slabs, which were held against the walls by iron clamps (traces of these clamps remained in several places). The surviving designs on the plaster suggested nothing more elaborate than rectangular patterns in red and blue.

Rooms IV and V. These small rooms had been added to the bath-suite not long after the original structure was built. Doorways had been pierced through the existing north wall of rooms I and III: that in room III was particularly well preserved. It contained recesses for the upright timbers of the door supports and similar recesses for the horizontal timbers. Room IV was small (Plate XI, 1), only 8 feet 9 inches x 11 feet 3 inches, but possessed a concrete floor of similar construction to that in room III, although the concrete had less tile in it, and had a whiter finish. The hypocaust was connected with that in room III, and the pilae were of similar construction. Its walls also had been plastered. The furnace of this hypocaust system has not been located yet, but it is likely to lie outside the rectangular projection of room III. [NOTE: the furnace has been located in room XV (1970)] Room V has still to be examined in detail, but the preliminary excavation shows that it had no hypocaust.

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Plate XI, 1

With the abandonment of the Antonine fort on this site and the construction of a new fort further to the east, perhaps under Caracalla, the area was thrown open to civilian occupation, and the evidence so far suggests the rapid development of a large stone-built vicus. It may be that the old Antonine ramparts offered an attractive sense of security to the new civilian occupiers, and these ramparts may for a while have been maintained, although eventually buildings spread outside them, and the old fort ditches had to be filled.

At this stage, early in the third century, the old military building was refurbished and ten further rooms were added to it, with the northern wall of the enlarged structure fronting the main vicus road, almost opposite the new fort bath house.

Room VI was 20 feet 2 inches x 14 feet 3 inches, with a door into the courtyard and another into room VII. In its first form, it had a hypocaust system that was connected with that in room VII, and presumably had a similar concrete floor. Its size compared with the remaining rooms (excluding those in the bath-suite) ought to demonstrate its use as a dining-room. In the period III reconstruction, the concrete floor and pilae were removed, and the area filled with building rubble and clean grey clay. In the northwestern corner (Plate XV) a substantial stone-built semi-circular oven had been constructed, which was eventually patched with the addition of a further wall of stone on its southern side. A deep (14 inch) deposit of wood ash and soot spread from this structure throughout the room. At a later period, perhaps post-A.D. 369, a small clay oven had been constructed in the middle of the room, on top of the earlier wood ash and soot deposit.

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Plate XV

The opportunities presented by the dry summer allowed an investigation of the earlier levels in this room, and for the first time in this series of excavations (Plate X, 2), subsoil was reached at a depth of 9 feet 3 inches from turf level. The resulting section is illustrated below (plan F). The most interesting feature was perhaps the suggestion of two periods to the Flavian level : there were timber posts in position immediately above subsoil, together with a large deposit of wood of various kinds, and a little leather and pottery. But above these posts there was a heavy flagged floor, and there was a further 14 inches of Flavian material above them. This small section may be misleading, but it has reminded us that we must be prepared for more than one pre-Hadrianic fort at Vindolanda. At that depth, however, it will be some years before any coherent plan of these Flavian activities will begin to emerge. There was no decisive indication of an Antonine floor level in the section, although the floor of that period may be indicated by the layer of stones set in puddled clay, with dirty grey clay above them. There was no pottery in the layer.

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Plate X, 2

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Plan F

Room VII was 10 feet 4 inches x 10 feet 2 inches, with a narrow (30 inch) door into room VI (Plates XI, 2 and XII, 2), and thus an annexe to that room. The connecting hypocaust flue ran beneath the southern wall at its western end. When room VI was turned into a kitchen, room VII was cut off from its source of heat, but its concrete floor was not removed : a fresh floor of clay and rubble was laid above. The walls had been plastered (as with rooms II, III, and IV), and one of the angle brackets for retaining the upright slabs against the walls remained in position. These slabs were identical with those in the other rooms, being 18 inches high and between 16 and 25 inches wide. They are smaller than the similar slabs used for the roof of the building, which were retained by nails hammered through them onto the timber roof-frame. The construction of the floor of this room was examined in a section, and it differed in some respects from those in rooms III and IV. Upon a floor of clean clay and rubble, standing above c. 20 inches of dirty clay and rubble, 19 inch high pilae had been constructed out of walling stones set in mortar, which carried the 3 inch thick square slabs, some 26 inches x 26 inches, upon which the concrete floor had been laid. Part of the room at any rate had been refloored at some stage, by laying a fresh series of thinner slabs (only 1 inch thick) above the old concrete, and laying a new 2 1/2 inch thick layer of concrete above them. This last layer of concrete contained no tile fragments and it was still very durable. Five courses of stone remained above floor level on all the walls of this room. Its door into room VI was identical with that between rooms III and IV. The plan shows the room as it was sectioned during excavation.

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Plate XI, 2

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Plate XII, 2

Rooms VIII, IX and X. All three rooms were of virtually identical measurements and features. They varied between 10 feet 1 inch x 10 feet 2 inches to 10 feet 5 inches x 10 feet 4 inches, and all three had 3 feet 6 inch doors in their northeastern corners, leading into the courtyard. None had hypocausts or concrete floors, nor was there any trace of wall plaster. Only room VIII was fully sectioned, and this showed three successive floor levels, the first two of which contained burnt wood. The earliest floor also had a film of coal dust throughout the area examined. These three rooms, like XI, XII and XIII to be described below, presumably acted as accommodation for the travellers.

Rooms XI, XII and XIII were of similar size to VIII, IX and X, although the desire of the planners to run the north front of the building parallel with the main road had led to a one foot reduction in the width of room XI. There had been greater disturbance of the period II and III workmanship in this area, due both to the activities of the period IV builders, and to modern stone robbers. There was no trace of any doors leading into the courtyard in this range, but the slope on which the building had been constructed probably resulted in lower floor levels here than in the courtyard, with the necessity for wooden steps down into the rooms from the door sills which have now been robbed out. In period III rooms XII and XIII had been run together by the elimination of the cross-wall between them, and the cross-wall between the courtyard and room XIII had similarly been removed, to create a broad entrance.

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Plate XII, 1
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Room XIV. In period II this room housed the building's latrine. A stone rectangular structure had been erected in the middle of the room, creating a two foot six inch channel around the walls (Plate XIII, 1). Above this channel timber seating had presumably been erected. There was no provision for flushing out this latrine, and one must assume that it was instead provided with latrine buckets, emptied daily. In period III, the channel was filled in with clay and rubble, and the top had been flagged, to create a flat floor over all the room. The room thus ceased to be a latrine, but its new purpose was not apparent.

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Plate XIII, 1

Room XV. Overlying baulks and the cross-wall of the period IV structure have so far prevented the examination of this room.

The Courtyard. The small area so far examined (Note: somewhat more has been excavated since the plan was drawn) exhibits at least three successive floors, of which the earliest two were cobbles and the last a heavy flagged floor, associated with period IV. 2 feet 10 inches from the NE corner of the courtyard lay the eastern edge of a cut-stone water channel (Plate XIII, 2) 1 foot wide, with the centrally cut groove 6 inches wide and 3 1/2 inches deep. Five of these channel stones remained in position in the courtyard, and a further stone lay outside the building to the north. All were approximately 2 feet 3 1/2 inches long. The water channel had been destroyed, probably at the end of period II, when the courtyard floor was raised 9 inches. There should be a water-tank nearer the southern end of the courtyard, to take the flow from the channel.

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Plate XIII, 2

The Theodosian (period IV) building. The nature of the period IV structure has already been described. It had suffered heavily from stone-robbing at its northern end, but the individual character of its masonry can be seen in the photograph (Plate XIV, 1). In both room XII and in the courtyard nearby were found examples of Huntcliffe type pottery, associated with the post-A.D. 369 period IV in Wall forts, together with the strangely patterned piece (no. 11 on the pottery figure 1) which may be a Romano-Saxon type. Beneath the late flagging in room XII was a deposit of Wall period III pottery, and between the flagstones at the southern end of the building was a small lead sling bullet, the sole military object found in the structure. Such bullets had been found in the north at only Burnswark, Birdoswald and Ambleside previously.

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Plate XIV, 1

The examination of the building will be completed in the 1970 season. It will remain open, and it is hoped that the Ministry of Public Building and Works may be able to conserve it for permanent display.

Commander’s House, Diocletianic/Theodosian Forts

In June 1832, John Hodgson spent a few days with Anthony Hedley at Chesterholm. He made sketches of the altars and sculptured stones that Hedley had recently discovered in the Commander's House, which he later published in his History of Northumberland (part ii, vol. iii, 1840). But he also made a rough sketch of the excavation, which was never published, and it can be found, together with notes made on the spot, in the Hodgson MSS in the Black Gate Library (M15 A 39 p. 355 for the sketch, and p. 354 and p. 356 for the notes). In a later notebook, in which he gathered together his scattered Roman material, he re-drew the sketch-plan and amended the original notes. This second plan differs in some respects from the first (see M15 A51 Vindolanda section).

The scale drawing offered here (Plan G) is based upon the two Hodgson sketches, but it cannot claim to be an accurate version of Hedley's excavation, since the measurements given were only approximate, and some important features were not measured at all. The notes, made in June 1832, are appended below, with important additional information from the second version added in brackets. The numbers in the text refer to the rooms, etc., marked in Roman numerals on Plan G.

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Plan G

“1. This part is floored in the ordinary way of baths and stands on pillars of the usual height but of various shapes and diameters, many of them stones used in former buildings. (Note : on his sketch-plans this room's measurements are given as 19 feet N/S by 21 feet E/W.)

2. The mouth of the furnace or (kilneye) much reddened with fire. It is four feet or more length-wise, has been arched over at the height of the pillars of the hypocaust but under and higher at the entrance than at the end, thus (drawing) about 14 inches at the far end.

3. Another floored room on lower pillars than no. 1, about 12 feet each way.

4. 3 foot 10 inches by 2 foot 3 inches lined on the sides and floor with bath cement (`a sort of chaldron or cistern’).

5. 5 foot 5 inches by 4 foot, also lined with bath cement (but without a hypocaust. Hist. Nor.).

6. 7 foot broad by 9 foot 6 inches from north to south. Has traces of bath cement on its flagged floor or walls (there was no hypocaust beneath this floor).

7. and 8. Buttresses which have been added to strengthen the walls. They stand against and no. 7 supports a wall fallen from its perpendicular.

The masonry is all squared and pecked ashlar work built with lime. The stones of various thickness and the coins frequently thicker than the courses. The bottoms of the rooms have had the angles between the floor and side walls rounded off with pieces of broken brick, tile or small stones before the bath plaster was put on, thus (drawing).

This mass of ruins is about 35 feet from E to W by 26 feet from N to S (a misprint—the N/S measurement is 56 feet), and has had other buildings branching off it to the S (corrected to W in the later version, but his Hist. Northumberland gives E, W and S), and East as appears by foundations. Perhaps the wall jutting from it on the east is only a buttress, it is about 45 feet from the East wall (of the fort) and to the north of the East gate—about 60 feet from the east gate in the direction of NW. 9, 11, 12 (but on his plan 9, l0, 11) the three altars (a description of them follows)."

Rooms XII, XIII, XIV and XV were not numbered on Hodgson's sketches.

This excavation was clearly in the bath-suite of the Diocletianic-Theodosian Commander's House, and when the opportunity for re-excavation occurs, it will he interesting to see how accurate Hodgson's description was, and to discover how much of the structure survives. After Hedley's work on the fort-walls, stone-robbers removed many of the facing stones, and it must be feared that the Commander's House suffered the same fate.

In a letter to Hodgson, dated Feb. 28th 1932, Anthony Hedley wrote: “I shall get drawings of my altars, and plans, etc. and send the whole to John Swinburne, as promised, that he may do what he likes with them”. Hedley was a scrupulous correspondent, and no doubt he did send them. Where are they now?
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