Vindolanda

Bath House, Fort, Minor Settlement, Stanegate Fort and Temple Or Shrine

The history of Roman Chesterholm appears to have begun c.90AD when the first timber fort was built here during the administration of governor Sallustius Lucullus, who was tasked to organise a piecemeal withdrawal of units from Scotland for use in emperor Domitian’s wars in Dacia. The original fort was considerably extended within a few years of being built and became part of the so-called Stanegate Frontier organised by governor Neratius Marcellus who is thought to have been resident at the fort himself (see Vindolanda Tablets below).

Chesterholm was abandoned shortly after the completion of Housesteads fort on Hadrian’s Wall c.125AD, but was reoccupied and rebuilt in stone during the late-second century following the withdrawal from the Antonine Wall in Scotland.

The first reference to the fort at Chesterholm is contained within the Notitia Dignitatum of the late-4th/early-5th centuries, where the station Uindolana is listed between the entries for Borcouicio (Housesteads, Northumberland) and Aesica (Great Chesters, Northumberland). The only other classical mention of the fort occurs in the Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century, wherein the entry Vindolande (R&C#132) is listed this time between the entries Camboglanna (Birdoswald, Cumbria) and Longovicium (Lanchester, Durham).

The Roman fort at Chesterholm is thus named Vindolana or Vindolande in the geographies, while an inscription from an altar recovered in the neighbourhood refers to the civilian inhabitants as the Vindolandesses (RIB 1700). The name now accepted is Vindolanda which has been variously interpreted as ‘The White Cross’ or ‘The White Enclosure’. Compare modern Welsh: gwyn-dafadfa ‘white sheep-fold’.

The Epigraphy of Vindolanda

RIB1720 - Voussoir stones

a
10
b
11
c
13
d
14
No commentary.

The Dateable Inscriptions

RIB # (clickable) : 1702
Date: 122-126AD
Description: B.I. of governor Aulus Platorius Nepos by Leg II Augusta
RIB # (clickable) : 1703
Date: 163-6AD
Description: B.I. of governor Sextus Calpurnius Agricola
RIB # (clickable) : 1705
Date: 213AD
Description: B.I. of emperor Caracalla by Coh IV Gallorum
RIB # (clickable) : 1706
Date: 223AD
Description: B.I. of governor Claudius Xenephon by Coh IV Gallorum Severiana
RIB # (clickable) : 1710
Date: 276-82AD
Description: B.I. by Coh IV Gallorum Probiana

RIB1703 - Fragmentary dedication-slab

[...]
SV[  ...]
AG[...]
... under Sextus Calpurnius Agricola, emperor's propraetorian legate.
Calpurnius Agricola governed Britain from about 163 to about 166 (Birley in Askew Coinage 81).

The Vindolanda Writing Tablets

Excavations carried out at Chesterholm in the late 1980’s in a ditch used for dumping waste material from the fort, uncovered hundreds of fragments from writing tablets, mere slivers of wood in most cases. Waterlogged conditions at the site had kept the tablets in such a remarkable state of preservation that many of the fragments, though nearly two-thousand years old, were still legible. Most of the writings discovered at Vindolanda have proved difficult to read and interpret, but have so far yielded a very treasure-trove of epigraphic information; most importantly there are copies of military rosters (vide infra) and other official documents regarding the fort’s garrison units, there are examples of correspondences between the wives of the fort’s commanders, letters written to the soldiers at the fort and drafts of their replies home, even a schoolboy’s notes quoting from Virgil’s Aeneid.

Roman Roads near Vindolanda

Stanegate: E (0.75) to Barcombe Stanegate: E (10) to Cilvrnvm (Chesters, Northumberland) Stanegate: E (1) to Crindledykes Stanegate: W (4.5) to Great Chesters (Great Chesters, Northumberland) Stanegate: ENE (3) to Grindon Hill Stanegate: W (3.5) to Haltwhistle Bvrn (Northumberland) Stanegate: W (7) to Magnis Carvetiorvm (Carvoran, Northumberland) Stanegate: ENE (7) to Newbrovgh (Northumberland) Stanegate: W (2) to Seatsides Probable road: NE (4.25) to Vercovicivm (Housesteads, Northumberland)