THE ROMAN FORT OF VINDOLANDA

The archaeological site of Vindolanda is located near Bardon Mills, northeast of England, in the county of Northumberland. In addition to the excellent state of preservation of the ruins of the military camp and the civilian vicus developed next to it, Vindolanda is well known for the objects found in the archaeological excavations, such as the famous tablets, legionary footwear, leather clothing, or a wooden toilet. They were surprisingly well preserved thanks to the peculiar conditions of its soil. In 1987 Vindolada became part of the UNESCO World Heritage within the designation of Hadrian’s Wall.

The Vindolanda fort was built around 85 AD, after the victory of the Roman legions, commanded by Agricola, over the Caledonian tribes at the Battle of Mons Grapius. The fort guarded the vital east-west route known as the Stanegate. It is believed that during the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, the emperor himself was lodged in Vindolanda, since in the archaeological excavations of 1992 fragments of wall paintings typical of a palatial residence were found, unusual in the harsh lands of northern Britain. After the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, the fort was briefly abandoned, being again occupied, and rebuilt in stone, in the second half of the 2nd century AD, after the abandonment of the northern border of the Antonine Wall. Throughout its history, the auxiliary Roman fort of Vindolanda was protected by different military units, among which we can mention the Cohors I Tungrorum (Belgian Gaul), the Cohors II Nerviorum (also from Belgian Gaul) or the Cohors IV Gallorum, mixed infantry and cavalry unit. Each time one of these units arrived at the fort, it was refurbished or rebuilt.

Vindolanda. Roman fort and civil vicus (photo: Mike Bishop)

VINDOLANDA TABLETS

The Vindolanda site is one of Hadrian’s Wall’s greatest attractions. The oldest written documents in the history of the British Isles have been found in it: the Vindolanda tablets. They are small pieces of wood, the size of a postal letter, used by the Romans for both private and official correspondence. Among the nearly 1,300 tablets found, there is information on the soldiers who stood guard or those on leave; the logistics of the camp, with material orders or weapons repair orders; or testimonies of the daily life of the soldiers and their families, such as the one who says that they have sent 50 oysters and that he sends half as a gift to the recipient of the letter or the one written by Claudia Severa to her sister Lepidina in which asks him to come visit the camp. Thanks to an agreement between the British Museum and the Vindolanda Charitable Trust, some of the tablets can be viewed at the Vindolanda Museum.

Vindolanda. Roman Army Museum (photo: Lindy Buckley)
Vindolanda. Roman Army Museum (photo: Son of Groucho)

Last summer, during archaeological excavations in one of the fort’s moats, more than four hundred Roman shoes were discovered, which brings the number of examples of Roman footwear discovered in this place to more than seven thousand, many of which are on display in the museum. From now on, all these exceptional wooden objects from Vindolanda can be visited in the new Wooden Underworld Gallery, a building purpose-built to properly house and preserve these unique pieces.

The mainly vestiges of the Roman fort preserved correspond to the period in which it was built in stone, after the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, and of the civil vicus that was created around the military garrison. Of the fort the rest of the principle or headquarters are visible; of the praetorium or residence of the commander of the garrison; from some of the soldiers’ barracks; and latrines.

Other places of interest are, in the civil vicus, the vestiges of houses and artisan workshops or the thermal baths, belonging to the pre-Adrian period.

Vindolanda. Roman baths (photo: Carole Raddato)

To facilitate the understanding of the fort, a series of recreations of the defensive structures of the fort and of Hadrian’s Wall have been made, in stone and wood, as well as a temple and a Roman house.

Vindolanda. Reconstruction of the timber north gate (photo: Mike Bishop)

More information.
VINDOLANDA ROMAN FORT (Chesterholm. Bardon Mill, Hexham)
SCHEDULES: Every day. April - September from 10:00 to 18:00. October, from 10:00 to 17:00. November - December, from 10:00 to 16:00. Last admission 45 minutes before closing.
RATES 2019: Adults… 8.25 pounds. Joint visit with the Roman Army Museum for 12.20 pounds.
How to get there: A69 exit Vindolanda. Alternative route on the B6318.
WEB: www.vindolanda.com

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