The Edge of Civilization

The first fort built at the Vindolanda site was in about 85 C.E. and was made of wood.  Its purpose was to guard the Stanegate Road, a major Roman thoroughfare in northern Britain.  The first five forts were wooden. The last two occupations were with stone structures.  

The reason so much is known about the occupants is that each time the fort was unoccupied the garrison leaving demolished the buildings so as not to leave ready made fortifications for the enemy.  The incoming unit would level the area compacting the ground and prepared the building site with a clay layer.  

This process left intact all of the old structure sealed under a clay covering.  The earliest fort is buried about four meters deep with each successive occupation easily recognized by the clay layer between the  occupations.  

The town included all of the people and skills necessary to keep the fort in operating condition.  This would have included all the common trades of the day such blacksmiths, stone workers, butchers, bakers, tailors, leather workers, farmers and traders bringing goods from the coast.  While it was against the law for soldiers to marry it was commonly overlooked and in a long occupation such as Vindolanda there would be hundreds of soldier families living in the village housing.

Problems within the empire from internal strife, barbarians pushing across the Danube and questions about the need for the protection provided by Hadrian’s Wall, eventually led to calling the troops back to Rome and the abandonment of Vindolanda.   

With the troops and the village gone, the remaining inhabitants saw an instant resource in the already quarried and worked stone.  Block by block, the walls and timbers found their way into homes, barns and gates.  The site rested for nearly 1,300 years until excavations started in the 18th Century and we began to discover the lives of Roman Soldiers on the edge of the empire.

Photo Captions:   Vindolanda was occupied off and on for nearly 400 years.  In addition to the the Roman garrison a community to support the troops grew up around the fort.  Shown is what the latest occupation is believed to look like and current state of the site.

Vindolanda now
Vindolanda as it might have looked