A question for Andy, Justin and anyone else:
What do we know of the fourth century occupation and beyond? From what I've read on other locations, garrison strengths tended to attenuate markedly from the third century onward. The thrust of my very general query is this:
Do we have any evidence at Vindolanda as to the nature of the fourth century garrison? We know 'who' they were, but is there any evidence, pro or con, of diminished occupation (a smaller garrison) from the evidence? I know that sounds somewhat absurd, but I was just wondering if we see any sign of the garrison, eg, living outside the fort itself (perhaps as farmers), or fewer coin finds, etc, etc.
I'm curious because the record elsewhere appears to indicate a general degradation in both garrison strength and capability (ie, the 'limitanei') on other frontiers, and I'm wondering what, if anything, the evidence may be from this period.
Please feel free to tell me to just shut up; I know this is a very abstruse question which may not be susceptible to any sort of answer!
Heya Eric! I could try taking a starter whack at this for you. Some of it came into play when I was putting the period pieces together for the Digger's Guide. Something was definitely happening at Vindolanda in the 4th C. I think numberwise it's still fuzzy, but kinda striking.
There seem to be two known phases to it. First, in the early 4th C (Period VIII), almost all life ended outside the fort. A few cemeteries were used, maybe a storehouse here, furnace there. But there were no more civilians living outside the walls. Yet evidence inside the fort is strong for lots of civilian, domestic-type stuff continuing -- goods being traded, domestic stuff being made, new houses being built, etc. So in the 3rd C you had maybe 500 troops in the fort, and maybe that number again living outside. In the 4th C, the entire population of Vindolanda was inside the walls. It's not conclusive, but the hunch is that there were fewer soldiers, and more open space available for the civilians.
In addition, by early-to-mid 4th C both of the southern latrines had been demolished. So the original 4 public toilets were down to 2. Now again, maybe folks were doubling up in the remaining 2, maybe there were new cesspit-type toilets that haven't been found yet. But the impression is that there were just plain way fewer people living there, needing fewer facilities.
When you get later, after the big "Barbarian Conspiracy" of 367, there is a radical shift in construction within the fort, Period IX. It's become pretty clear that the 4th Gauls weren't there anymore. The new folks were hardy, and built/repaired a -lot- of stuff onsite, but their work is almost always slipshod. Really lousy. And it tends to break pretty much every rule known about how Roman forts were organized. This doesn't speak to #s of people as much as it does to quality. It's almost certain that this was a troop of "limitanei," without anywhere near as much training, discipline, money, etc. as the old cohort. And probably without much left in terms of "Romanitas" -- if that word still meant anything by then.
Anyway, that's what I've gleaned. I'd love to learn more about it myself. That whole end-of-the-story thing really does get me.