Roundhouses at Vindolanda, why?

Andy
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Andy
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Joined: September 11th, 2006, 2:15 pm

September 11th, 2006, 3:09 pm #1

The Vindolanda Roundhouses........

Ok my fellow excavators, here is a topic to get you going. The archaeology at Vindolanda is famously complex, and no period can enjoy that title more than the Severan occupation of the site.

Sometime cAD208 and 211, the fort was moved to the area that had been previously used for extramural occupation (to the west of the old site), and on the site of the old Antonine fort, up to 250 circular huts were constructed, in neat rows of ten, back to back, with roads and drains between them. Was this a construction camp for Hadrian's Wall's repairs, was it a temporary camp for the farmers north of the wall during the Severan expidition against the Caledons? Who were these people? All we can guess at is that they were probably not 'Romans' or at least 'Romanized, creolized, globalized......' in their construction techniques.

If you have an idea of who they might have been, and why they were at Vindolanda between cAD208-211, give it a go.

Andy :D
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SacoHarry
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Joined: August 22nd, 2006, 9:29 pm

September 12th, 2006, 1:31 am #2

Hello Andy! Nice way to kick off the site!

So as a rank amateur, lemme shoot some questions back to the field:

- Is the size of the huts consistent with similar buildings of the same era whose use is known?
- Is there any record of official Roman policy towards locals in this era?
- What kind, if any, of small finds are there in the huts?
- Does the quality of the huts, roads, & drains suggest talented military or haphazard locals?
- Is it certain that the huts date from the same time as the Severan activity? Or could they date to a period after the Antonine fort was razed and before any more building activity took place?
- Were there any vicus buildings standing at this time? i.e. - were these huts built because there was nothing else there? Or because what was there wasn't suitable?

Oh, the quandary!
- Harry
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Andy
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Andy
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September 12th, 2006, 5:10 pm #3

Harry asks……

Q. Is the size of the huts consistent with similar buildings of the same era whose use is known?

A. They are pretty regular in size with dwellings that range from the north of Scotland to the north coast of Africa in the Roman era.

Q. Is there any record of official Roman policy towards locals in this era? Apart from ‘suppressing’ the tribes in the north?

A. No, not really. But by this time, everyone on the inside of the empire has been enfranchised by citizenship….

Q. What kind, if any, of small finds are there in the huts?

A. Alas not much. We know that a few Severan coins have been found, and that in a few huts, hearths were centrally placed. Also that someone took a pee in the corner of one. By someone, we don’t know if it was a human or a dog.

Q. Does the quality of the huts, roads, & drains suggest talented military or haphazard locals?

A. Well, the layout (very tightly controlled) suggests military involvement, as does the fact that they are built on army land….however, the hap-hazard nature of the construction suggests that each house was perhaps individually constructed by different occupiers.

Q. Is it certain that the huts date from the same time as the Severan activity? Or could they date to a period after the Antonine fort was razed and before any more building activity took place?

A. Severan as Severan can be.

Q. Were there any vicus buildings standing at this time? i.e. - were these huts built because there was nothing else there? Or because what was there wasn't suitable?

A. The huts are where the ‘vicus’ should now be. The fort has moved and what was once the fort is now a field covered with round huts.  there lie the problem!

If you get any sleepless nights on this one and suddenly have a eureka moment, I expect to see it on the website before I have to write the report!

P.S. As soon as I can workout how to upload a pic, I’ll post a plan or two.

Andy


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ericjacobson
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Joined: November 1st, 2006, 10:41 am

November 1st, 2006, 12:16 pm #4

Okay, some purely blue-sky thinking on my part, meaning my ideas may be idiotic. Feel free to say 'Jacobson, your ideas are idiotic'. I’ll take it as understood that my statements are ‘opinions’, and in no way proven fact.

Suggestion:

The hut dwellers were additional troops moved to the area, while the huts themselves were constructed by local labor under military supervision; by this thesis, Vindolanda was a staging base at which were concentrated forces beyond the accommodation capacity of the existing military buildings in preparation for Severus’ expedition up Dere Street.

Why Vindolanda, and not Housesteads or Chesters? Well, Vindolanda (like the other two) is conveniently near Dere Street, which would’ve been the main axis of advance into Lowland Scotland. So troops from other Wall garrisons, or even legionary forces from York and Chester could have concentrated at any of the three. I wonder if perhaps Vindolanda was a ‘better site’ because it’s located right on the Stanegate (ie, easy resupply for a large number of troops, has ample supplies of fresh water to handle an additional 1000-3000 men (depending on how many were stashed into each hut), and provides (I suspect) easier access for temporary building than Housesteads, which is farther from the military road and possesses inferior water supplies, or Chesters, which was a cavalry fort, though had the benefit of the Tyne nearby.

The regular layout, roads, and drains suggests that these dwelling layouts were planned (though the dwellings were not built) by regular troops rather than the usual helter-skelter layout typical of some vici or of ‘barbarian’ dwellings north of the frontier. I don’t expect that the Roman garrison would’ve been unduly concerned to provide nice roads, etc for ‘locals’ who’d been dragooned in for building works of some sort, much less for ‘refugees from ‘those lands to the north’—but they would have for troops planning to live in those huts. Also, as is usual with military settlements, a regular layout meant ‘ease of concentration and deployment’ for the hut-dwellers.

Here’s a thought: the curious admixture of Roman-style roada and drainage with ‘native-style’ huts may indicate that the Imperials did in fact dragoon in some local labor to build the huts, supervised by trained engineers, and perhaps Roman troops laid out the roads and ditches. I’m just a bit leery of thinking that the occupants were necessarily ‘natives’ working on wall repairs, since 1) I wonder if the Romans would’ve bothered with roads and drains on their behalf, and 2) would have entrusted fortification repair to unskilled local labor.

So, if my wild-eyed ideas are correct, these dwellings may have been built by locals pending the arrival of regular military forces (legionaries?), possibly from southern garrisons, preparatory to the campaign of 208-211. I can imagine some Roman engineer laying out the basic plan, then telling the local labor force, ‘you build the huts HERE, you dig drains THERE, and do it right, you hear?’ Thus a nice symmetric system of ‘native huts’. If the huts show signs of mere short-term occupation, then that would fit with the notion that they were only occupied pending departure to teach those blue-tattooed Caledonians a lesson (not unlike a Saturday night in Melrose, actually).

What would be really nice would to find a graffito on a hearthstone: ‘Gnaeus of the second century of the Twentieth Legion wrote this in the reign of the Emperor Severus, and wishes he were back in his old post’.

I’d also wonder if the Severan coins are indicative of military dwellers, since (so far as I know) the military would’ve been the chief possessors of coined money in remote districts such as the Wall zone, though of course local purveyors would’ve come into possession of coins as well….
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Andy
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November 1st, 2006, 1:09 pm #5

Eric,

Some sound thinking going on here, I like the ideas about why Vindolanda is a good location for the assault in to merry old Northern Britain ('north Britian' just to get up the nose of the national party Scotts (who still lived in Ireland)). But I reckon we are not looking at legionaries here. These guys are living in such houses because that is what they are used to and demand, and to be honest, I am not sure I would trust the local skilled builder to build my house, under the whip or not. I agree, we need that inscription, badly! Whoever they are, they had baby sitters. The Severan garrison next door were here at the same time, and just to be difficult, they also seem to be an odd bunch as well, at least they are more 'traditionally Roman Army odd' rather than round house oddies. I still like John Mann's thoery, which is that they could be people from North Africa, brought over to give the folks north of the wall a nasty fright. It is unlikely that they would have ever seen anything quite like a north African auxiliary warband in their lives before!

great post Eric
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Chris
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Chris
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December 4th, 2006, 4:10 pm #6

Hi, Andy,

These are some more questions. However the answers (if known) might give pointers?

Are we sure that the roundhouses were extra-mural to the Severan Fort?

Where is the East ditch and rampart to the Severan fort?

Where did the Severan south ditch go after it hit the line of stone fort one?

Fig 35 of volume 1 shows the Severan buildings as an annex to stone fort one. This is questioned but only speculatively I think in the 2001/2 reports which are on disc.

Could the ditch and wall of stone fort one, been the perimeter of the Severan fort? Had the round houses been laid out on the platform before the "annex was built?

Could the platform of stone fort one have been used to accommodate the round houses within the Severan fort perimeter? (rather than extra mural?)

If so,does that point more to prison camp than peaceful neighbours or just that the divide of function between vici and forts is not what is traditionally put about?

Hope these questions are not too naive! I just rely on the maxim that the only truely ignorant are those that dont know that they are!
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Andy
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December 6th, 2006, 8:05 pm #7

Hi, Andy,

These are some more questions. However the answers (if known) might give pointers?

Q. Are we sure that the roundhouses were extra-mural to the Severan Fort Where is the East ditch and rampart to the Severan fort?

A. the old antonine fort wall is re-used to make the eastern defences

Q.Where did the Severan south ditch go after it hit the line of stone fort one?

A. it did not continue, as it stopped at the fort wall, and immediately outside the wall, the roundhouses started.

Q. Fig 35 of volume 1 shows the Severan buildings as an annex to stone fort one. This is questioned but only speculatively I think in the 2001/2 reports which are on disc.

A. That represented our best guess at the time, we know know we have the edge of the severan fort, and it is the old west wall of the Antonine wall. However, we now know that the Antonine fort was demolished to make way for the Severan fort and the extramural roundhouses to the east.

Q. Could the ditch and wall of stone fort one, been the perimeter of the Severan fort? Had the round houses been laid out on the platform before the "annex was built?
A.They mutually respect each other, so they co-existed. However, what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Q. Could the platform of stone fort one have been used to accommodate the round houses within the Severan fort perimeter? (rather than extra mural?)

A. The Severan fort is a compound that has no roundhouses within it.

Q. If so,does that point more to prison camp than peaceful neighbours or just that the divide of function between vici and forts is not what is traditionally put about?

A. It is extramural, but I doubt the roundhoses represent a vicus. However, I don't think it is a prison camp either. They are not penned in for a start. They are most likely north african cavalry. (in my own humble opinion).

Q. Hope these questions are not too naive! I just rely on the maxim that the only truely ignorant are those that dont know that they are!

A. Great questions, keep them coming. ;)
Last edited by Andy on December 6th, 2006, 8:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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MBetz
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Joined: November 2nd, 2006, 11:10 am

December 7th, 2006, 11:08 am #8

Has soil sampling of the area around the roundhouses been tried? It seems that samples with high phosphate contents could lend credence to the theory of cavalry being stationed in the roundhouses. I don't know enough about sampling procedures to have an idea how long activities must be occuring to reliably show in the soil, though. If the roundhouses were used just a few years then sampling might not help much. Why north African cavalry, Andy? Are there inscriptions or some sort of information that you are using to get that gut feeling of yours?
Matt
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Mr Twicey
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Joined: December 8th, 2006, 10:56 am

December 12th, 2006, 11:04 am #9

Hello I will state from the start i know nothing about digging. However......

Has anyone looked at environemtal microbial isolates within the ground at the site. In my industry enough is known about species and sub species genetics to be able to plot divergence. This may or may not be the case for diggers but.....

one could look for spore forming equine commensals or pathogens (not that i know of any) or perhaps look at strata linked microbes to see if they give any clue as to lifestyle associated with the level of ocupation at that time?

again environmental microbiology is not my thing, but it may be possible, if good samples can be taken, to track species of microbes to activities/animals/human race. suspect you would be on very shaky ground as am not sure the science can yet fully support the theory, however it would be evidence??

i will now end my microbial ramblings
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SacoHarry
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Joined: August 22nd, 2006, 9:29 pm

December 12th, 2006, 3:54 pm #10

Gad, always knew you were more than just a pretty face. I'm suddenly thinking of a good many two-point Pub Quiz questions.

- H
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