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Vindolanda (Chesterholm) Roman forts, civil settlement and cemeteries, adjacent length of the Stanegate Roman road and two milestones

A Scheduled Monument in Henshaw, Northumberland

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Latitude: 54.9915 / 54°59'29"N

Longitude: -2.3657 / 2°21'56"W

OS Eastings: 376699.410636

OS Northings: 566381.332095

OS Grid: NY766663

Mapcode National: GBR CBXQ.MH

Mapcode Global: WH90X.MSPV

Entry Name: Vindolanda (Chesterholm) Roman forts, civil settlement and cemeteries, adjacent length of the Stanegate Roman road and two milestones

Scheduled Date: 12 December 1928

Last Amended: 14 July 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014820

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28471

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Henshaw

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Beltingham with Henshaw

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument comprises the successive Roman forts of Vindolanda, together with
the associated civil settlement and cemeteries, an adjacent length of the
Stanegate Roman road and two Roman milestones, just over a Roman mile apart.
The Roman name of the fort of Vindolanda has been identified from epigraphic
and documentary sources. The fort survives as consolidated standing stone
structures, earthworks and buried features. The visible remains of the fort
(Stone Fort 2) represent its final stage, its construction dating to the first
quarter of the third century AD and overlie a sequence of six earlier forts
including a stone predecessor (Stone Fort 1). The fort, which is in the care
of the Secretary of State, stands on the edge of the scarp descending to the
east to the Chainley Burn and to the south to the Doe Sike, and occupies a
prominent platform, 154m by 93m, giving an area of 1.43ha. The fort wall has
been excavated and consolidated on the north and east sides, and on the west
side between the north west corner and the west gate. Elsewhere its line is
conspicuous as an earthwork at the edge of the fort platform. The north, east
and west gates have also been uncovered and consolidated. The position of the
south gate is visible as an upstanding earthwork although its masonry remains
are not exposed.
Of the interior buildings, the remains of the north facing headquarters
building (principia) are consolidated and exposed, and overlie the remains of
an earlier headquarters building, also constructed in stone, which faced
south. In the north east corner of the fort the latrine is exposed and
consolidated as are walls belonging to a building north of the east gate.
Excavations between 1930 and 1980 demonstrated that there were two successive
stone forts on the site. The first stone fort is now considered to have been
constructed in the Antonine period, and this fort was larger, 1.61ha, than
its successor, extending an estimated 16m beyond the north wall of Stone
Fort 2. The north wall of Stone Fort 2 was built over the demolished
remains of four circular structures belonging to Stone Fort 1; these are
consolidated and displayed as upstanding masonry remains, and a further three
such structures are known from excavations in 1934-6 and 1979-80 and survive
as buried remains. Further stone buildings belonging to Stone Fort 1,
including the southward-facing headquarters building, have been recorded in
excavations but only two walls running north-south on the north side of the
Stone Fort 2 north wall are displayed.
Excavations in 1980 revealed the remains of back-to-back barrack buildings in
the north east quarter of the fort, orientated east-west, but these are not
currently displayed and survive only as buried remains.

A paved road, following the line of a road within one of the large earlier
timber forts, leading from the west gateway of the stone fort, is lined by the
upstanding and consolidated remains of masonry buildings belonging to a
military annexe attached to the first stone fort. These remains were
originally interpreted as part of the civil settlement but further excavation
has identified their military function. The masonry buildings overlie the
surviving remains of a timber annexe dated to approximately AD 180. Most of
the buildings are long rectangular buildings with their narrow ends fronting
the street, constructed using small well-dressed masonry, but on the south
side of the street furthermost from the fort is the most elaborate building,
with rooms including a bath suite arranged around three sides of a flagged
courtyard. This building was formerly interpreted as an inn for official
travellers known as a mansio, but its function within the military annexe is
now thought possibly to have been the residence of the commanding officer
during the late second and early third centuries. The military annexe was
surrounded by a clay rampart which was found during excavations and survives
as buried remains. Excavations in 1991 suggested that a length of the west
wall of the first stone fort was removed to link the annexe with the fort. In
the third century, probably at the same time as the building of Stone Fort 2,
this annexe was replaced by buildings of the civil settlement, characterised
by the use of large blocks of stone as a foundation for timber
superstructures. The civil settlement also included the military bath house.
Evidence from a coin hoard discovered in the destruction level of one of these
civil settlement buildings together with the absence of coins of the Emperor
Tetricus I, who reigned from AD 270 to AD 273, indicates that the civil
settlement was destroyed and abandoned before AD 270, in contrast to the fort
where pottery and coins, found in excavations show that occupation continued
until at least the early fifth century.

Excavations since 1973 have demonstrated a sequence of five successive timber
forts which underlie the stone forts and the Severan annexe and later civil
settlement west of the stone forts. The primary fort lay at a depth of 6m
beneath the later stone forts and was probably of similar size although at a
slightly different alignment. Its garrison is known to have been the first
cohort of Tungrians, from a document recording the numbers of the unit present
in the fort. This document was recovered when a section of the west ditch was
examined in excavations between 1986 and 1992 to the west of the stone fort
wall. The dating evidence from samian pottery, discarded intact and apparently
unused, recovered from the fill of this ditch suggested that the fort was
built after the campaigns of the governor Agricola in the mid 80s AD, and that
it had been demolished at the latest by AD 92, by which date the second fort
was commissioned.

The second fort was constructed between AD 90 and 92, and was much larger than
its predecessor, extending 100m to the west, giving an area of approximately
2.8ha. It housed the ninth cohort of Batavians. Excavations have examined the
south gate and the western wing of a building 45.75m long and at least 11.75m
wide constructed above the Period I west ditch, which the evidence suggests
was the commanding officer's residence known as the praetorium. A significant
quantity of writing tablets, wooden objects and leather items were recovered
from the building, preserved by the anaerobic conditions. The south gateway
was a single portal timber structure and suffered structural problems caused
by the flow of water through a natural gully over which the gate was

The third fort was similar in size and position to the Period II fort, and
appears to have been a refurbishment following the efficient demolition of
Period II structures. Period III buildings were largely constructed using oak
rather than the non-seasoned ash and alder of Period II. The south gate was
moved 2m to the west: its position is marked on the surface by eight modern
posts. The praetorium of this period was similar in plan though more
substantial, and from the floors of bracken were recovered a large collection
of writing tablets including correspondence to the commanding officer Flavius
Cerialis and his wife Sulpicia Lepidina, as well as a ladies wig and leather
footwear including ladies' and children's shoes. The evidence suggests the
garrison left the fort hurriedly, the unit probably leaving for service on
the Danube in AD 102 or 103. The remains of this fort and its predecessors
will survive as buried remains, particularly where they have subsided into
earlier features. The remains have been relatively unaffected by later
activity on the site as the ground was levelled up by a dump of turf and clay
after demolition before construction of the succeeding structure and also
because the efficiency of the Roman demolition gangs varied, leaving
structural elements in place.

After a short period when the site lay vacant, a new fort was constructed of
similar size but with a different layout. The garrison in this period was the
first cohort of Tungrians. The site of the west wing of the Period III
praetorium was occupied by a barrack block of which the verandah was later
enclosed by a solid wall. The period III south gate was blocked and a new
south gate was provided although its site has not been determined. This fort
was in use until after AD 112. The remains of this period were severely
disturbed by subsequent construction of the Period V fort and the stone forts
but significant buried remains will survive below the turf cover.

The final timber fort was approximately 2.8ha in size but the plan of the
buildings examined in excavations showed that its orientation was the same as
the stone forts which succeeded it. It was constructed some time after AD 112
but the length of its occupation has not been closely defined and its period
of use falls within the period AD 112 to AD 150 and certainly coincides with
at least part of the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. The building excavated on
the site of the Period IV barrack was constructed with substantial timbers,
suggesting an upper storey, and it was equipped with flagged floors and its
function was probably a workshop known as a fabrica. To the north of this
building was a very substantial courtyard building constructed with oak beams,
floors of concrete known as opus signinum and plastered walls. The excavator
considered it to be superior in style and construction to the praetoria of the
Period II and III commanders and it may have been constructed to house the
Emperor Hadrian's retinue on his visit to the frontier in AD 122.

The Stanegate Roman road crosses the Bradley Burn north east of the fort; its
course westwards is reflected by the modern track to the north of the fort and
by the straight access road to Vindolanda past Causeway House to the road from
Once Brewed. There are no remains visible on the surface and the Stanegate
survives as buried remains below the modern track surface.

An uninscribed Roman milestone stands in its original position at Codley Gate,
120m north east of the fort on the north side of the Stanegate. It is
cylindrical and stands 1.7m high. On the evidence of an inscribed milestone
found at Crindledykes in 1885 and now in Chesters Museum, those alongside this
section of the Stanegate were measured from Corbridge and this milestone,
although it was uninscribed, marked 15 Roman miles west of Corbridge.
The stump of a second Roman milestone is situated on the north side of the
Stanegate in the grass verge of the modern access road to Vindolanda,
approximately 130m from the road from Once Brewed at the west end of the
monument and 1500m west of the fort. It is recorded as being intact when seen
by Horsley in 1725, some time after which the upper section of the milestone
was broken off and split into two to provide gateposts. Horsley recorded that
it was inscribed BONO REIPUBLICAE NATO, `To him who was born for the good of
the State', a compliment to the reigning emperor. On the spacing evidence from
the inscribed milestone found in 1885 at Crindledykes, this milestone marked
the 16th Roman mile west of Corbridge.

The fields on the north side of the Stanegate from north east of the fort to
west of Causeway House have been identified as containing one of the
cemeteries belonging to the fort, in which pots containing cremated remains
were found, as well as the tombstone of Ingenuus, who lived 24 years, 4 months
and 7 days. A further cemetery is known on the south side of the Stanegate
west of the civil settlement. Burials were observed during the creation of
Vindolanda west car park and at the site of Archy's Flat, approximately 400m
west of the fort, where Hugh Ridley dug up burial urns in his garden in the
18th century. There are no surface remains visible of either cemetery and they
survive as buried remains.

On the north side of the Stanegate, north of the fort, the drain from the
military bath house has been observed from aerial photography to run
northwards into Brackies Burn. To the west of this drain the field on the
north side of the Stanegate has been observed from aerial photography to
contain features which have been interpreted as the parade ground of the fort
and also a temporary camp which may have been a construction camp for the
building of the forts. None of these features are visible on the ground and
they survive as buried remains.

All modern buildings, boundary walls, gates and gateposts and road surfaces
are excluded, but the ground beneath them is included. Causeway House and its
associated grounds are totally excluded from the scheduling as remains of
national importance are not expected to survive there.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army.
In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded
corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one
or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary
enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the
accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used
throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between
the mid first and mid second centuries AD. Some were only used for short
periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or
less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways,
towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was
a gradual replacement of timber with stone.
Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn
Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are
important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts
are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman
forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally

The Roman fort at Vindolanda, with its associated civil settlement and
cemeteries, lies immediately south of the Roman road known as the Stanegate,
and was one of the series of forts constructed along that road. The Stanegate
linked Corbridge and Carlisle and extended westwards to the Cumbrian Coast on
a line to the south of that later followed by Hadrian's Wall. The road on the
Tyne-Solway isthmus was used as a launch for the Roman army's advance into
Scotland in the 80s AD under the Flavian emperors, probably during the
governorship of Iulius Agricola, and the forts along its line were initially
constructed at this date. Agricola's advance into Scotland cumulated in a
great victory in north eastern Scotland at Mons Graupius, the site of which is
probably near Aberdeen, in AD 83, but his advance could not be consolidated
and the Roman army returned to the Tyne-Solway isthmus in a staged withdrawal.
For a period of 20 years during the reign of the Emperor Trajan the Stanegate
with its forts, enhanced by added signal towers, formed the northern frontier
of the Roman Empire in Britain until the building of Hadrian's Wall was
commenced in AD 122.
The Stanegate and its forts continued to fulfil an important function even
after the decision to build Hadrian's Wall: the garrisons of the frontier were
housed in the forts along the Stanegate until the decision was made to
construct new forts attached to the Wall itself, and the Stanegate still
formed the principal east-west communication along the frontier until the
second half of the second century, when the Romans constructed a new road, the
Military Way, linking the forts on the Wall with the milecastles and sometimes
also the turrets.
The later history of the road and its forts is less well understood, although
the pottery and coin evidence from within the fort at Vindolanda show that
occupation continued at least until the later fourth century. Moreover the
Notitia Dignitatum, which is a list of military installations compiled in the
Roman period, a copy of which includes information belonging to the late
fourth century, lists the forts along the line of the Wall and Vindolanda
alone of the Stanegate forts is included in this list.
Roman roads were artificially made-up routes introduced into Britain by the
Roman army from c.AD 43. They facilitated both the conquest of the province
and its subsequent administration. One of their main purposes was to serve the
Cursus Publicus, or Imperial mail service. Express messengers could travel up
to 240km per day on the network of Roman roads throughout Britain and Europe,
changing horses at wayside `mutationes' (posting stations set every 12km on
major roads) and stopping overnight at `mansiones' (rest houses located every
32-40km). Although the form of the Stanegate within this monument has
not been examined archaeologically, the straight line on which it runs,
particularly westwards from Vindolanda, is wholly characteristic of Roman
roads. Milestones were erected beside Roman roads, and frequently were
inscribed both with a distance measured from a major town and the emperor in
whose reign they were erected. The two milestones near Vindolanda, which mark
the 15th and 16th Roman miles as measured from Corbridge are unusual in
surviving in situ along the Stanegate between Corbridge and Carlisle.
The fort and the civil settlement at Vindolanda survive well as both
upstanding remains and buried remains, as has been demonstrated by excavations
on the site. Particularly important is the survival of organic materials such
as cloth, leather and wood due to the unusual damp anaerobic conditions which
preserve such materials, which normally disintegrate totally on `dry' sites
which are not hermetically sealed from the air. These finds provide much
information on Roman clothing and other articles in daily use, and a
collection of fragments of wooden writing tablets, with the contents written
in ink still decipherable, provide an exceptionally rare insight into the
operation and administration of the Roman army as well as the social life
of the commanding officer and his family. The structural remains of the
pre-Hadrianic forts, which elsewhere on a non-waterlogged site would be
limited to the negative impressions in the ground of upright posts, survive as
complete timbers, and provide a very rare opportunity for the study of Roman
carpentry, and the surviving timbers provide the opportunity for the very
precise dating by dendrochronology, the system of dating by examination of
the tree rings in the section of timbers. The silted fort ditches and the
anaerobic levels will also preserve environmental evidence that will allow
the character of the surrounding landscape in the Roman period to be better
understood. The cemeteries will survive as buried archaeological deposits and
will provide information on Roman funerary practices. Where burials are
inhumations, information relating to the sex, age and causes of death of the
individuals will preserved, and provide further insight into the lives and
life style of the inhabitants of Vindolanda in the Roman period. The fort has
also yielded a significant quantity of inscriptions relating to the Roman
period, one of which is a tombstone of Brigomaglos which may be sub-Roman
(the period immediately after the Roman army left Britain) in date and further
evidence will be buried which relates to the subsequent history of the Roman
remains in the sub-Roman and post-Roman periods.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bidwell, P, 'The Roman Fort of Vindolanda' in The Roman Fort of Vindolanda, (1985)

Source: Historic England

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