VINDOLANDA ROMAN FORT, NE47 7JN
Postcode: NE47 7JN
Lat/Long: 54.9912N 2.3603W
Notes: Located near Once Brewed and Westwood, the fort is a major tourist attraction and is very well sign-posted. Dedicated car park in vicinity of entrance.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Extensive excavated remains of a Roman Fort and civilian settlement. In addition a museum displaying numerous finds from the site and several re-constructions including a timber milecastle and stone turret from Hadrian’s Wall and a number of religious and civilian Roman buildings.
1. Vindolanda was positioned around 17 miles from the supply depot at Corbridge; effectively a days march for Roman forces along the Stanegate.
2. The discovery of numerous writing tablets, all well preserved due to the boggy ground, have made Vindolanda one of the most important Roman archaeological sites in the world and has given modern historians a unique insight into military and civilian life in Northern England.
3. Vindolanda means “white fort” - probably indicative of the white plaster/painting of the walls.
Over a period of three hundred years multiple forts were constructed on the site of Vindolanda. Located on the Stanegate, a key road connecting Newcastle with Carlisle, it housed a combined infantry and cavalry force and was later used for supporting operations on Hadrian’s Wall.
HISTORY OF VINDOLANDA
By AD 84 the Romans had, under the command of the provincial Governor Agricola, defeated the Caledonian tribes of north east Scotland at the Battle of Mons Graupius and were allegedly on the cusp of achieving military dominance over the whole of Britannia. It was as part of his campaigns that the first fort at Vindolanda was established probably circa-AD 85. Constructed to the standard Roman playing card shape, it was initially an earth and timber construction and was garrisoned by Roman Auxiliaries. The first unit assigned to the fort was the First Cohort of Tungrians (cohors I Tungrorum milliaria peditata); a unit traditionally recruited in Belgium.
Despite the significant efforts in the north, which had included construction of a Legionary fortress at Inchtuthil, along with an associated military network to isolate the insurgency from the Highland massif, a re-allocation of forces prompted a major revision to the military deployment in the north. Specifically, in AD 86, Rome redeployed one of the four legions assigned to the province; the Second Adiutrix Legion (Legio II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis) was moved to Dacia (modern day Moldova). With the removal of this 5,000+ man battle group plus a large number of supporting Auxiliary regiments, sustaining the occupation of Scotland was no longer viable and the Romans began a staged withdrawal ultimately to the Tyne-Solway isthmus. A number of forts were constructed along the frontier and a military road, the Stanegate, connected them. Vindolanda was re-established at this time as one of the key fortifications on this road.
The fort was rebuilt and significantly expanded around AD 92 to house a combined infantry/cavalry unit - the Ninth Cohort of Batavians (cohors IX Batavorum) from modern Holland. Further modifications were made around AD 97 but the fort was dismantled around AD 104 when the Batavians were relocated to modern day Romania to fight the Dacians. The site was briefly abandoned but around AD 105 the First Cohort of Tungrians was re-assigned and re-built the fort. Around AD 120 Vindolanda was rebuilt again but, after the construction of Hadrian's Wall and the subsequent decision to move the garrisons of the Stanegate forts onto the line of the Wall, the bulk of the garrison at Vindolanda seemingly moved to Housesteads.
In AD 140, in order to secure a political victory, the emperor Antonine Pius ordered his Legions back into Scotland. The frontier was advanced to a line between Glasgow and Edinburgh; a new border was constructed, the Antonine Wall, and the garrisons manning the forts on Hadrian's Wall moved north. Nevertheless Vindolanda remained in use and was rebuilt in stone around this time and was garrisoned by the Second Cohort of Nervians (Cohors Secundae Nerviorum). Hadrian's Wall was re-occupied around AD 162 although the return of troops to the adjacent forts on that frontier did not seemingly effect the use of Vindolanda which remained garrisoned.
Between AD 208 to 210 Emperor Septimus Severus was in Britain quelling a rebellion and again pushing Roman authority into Scotland. He demolished much of Vindolanda and, whilst he clearly used the site, it was not in a conventional role; a number of round stone structures, perhaps round houses, were built at this time for an unknown purpose.
The fort was rebuilt around AD 300 although, unlike previous eras, there was no civilian settlement. Perhaps the garrison had been so depleted it was no longer viable or perhaps it had moved within the walls of the fort. Some evidence exists of repairs made around AD 370 but thereafter the fort was abandoned as the Romans withdrew from Britain.