History of Vindolanda

The site of Vindolanda was first inhabited by the Roman army in around AD 85, after the Roman general Agricola consolidated the northern frontier of the province Britannia along what is now called the ‘Stanegate’ road. This border region consisted of small forts manned by auxiliary cohorts (non-citizen units) of the Roman army and a system of signal towers to monitor activity in the newly conquered area. Vindolanda was continually inhabited by the Roman army for over three-hundred years, with only brief periods of abandonment when military units shifted locations. This occupation resulted in a series of at least nine forts and military settlements built on the same site, creating a rich stratigraphic record of Roman settlement on the site. The first five occupation periods, dating from ca. AD 85-130, are all preserved in anaerobic soil conditions (lack of oxygen) and have preserved the timber remains of structures, as well as extraordinary artefacts not typically visible in the archaeological record such as wooden writing tablets and thousands of leather shoes. The remains of the stone forts built and refurbished on the site between ca. AD 150 and 300 show the varying construction techniques used by the military in fort walls, houses, workshops and bathhouses. Occupation continued at Vindolanda even after the Roman army abandoned Britain in ca. AD 410. The last few field seasons have concentrated on the nature of settlement in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, showing that the site was re-organized and occupied by a small group of individuals, who utilized the existing structures and fort spaces in new ways. Part of the current research program of The Vindolanda Trust focuses on investigations in a field to the north of the site, where Roman settlement seems to have concentrated in the earliest periods of occupation. The Vindolanda Field School works in this northern area alongside volunteer excavators and professional archaeologists from the Vindolanda team.