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


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014820

Date first listed: 12-Dec-1928

Date of most recent amendment: 14-Jul-1997


Ordnance survey map of Vindolanda (Chesterholm) Roman forts, civil settlement and cemeteries, adjacent length of the Stanegate Roman road and two milestones
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Bardon Mill

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Henshaw


National Grid Reference: NY 76344 66400


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Reasons for Designation

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 important.

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.


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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 constructed.

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.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 28471

Legacy System: RSM


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

End of official listing