Vindolanda

Miss me? I seem to have completely forgotten about this blog for a while, and we’re now reaching the point where I’m still discussing stuff I did last summer, while my next summer trips are approaching! Next week I’ll be doing a dance summer school at the Royal Academy of Dance in London (I also did one there when I was 16, how nostalgic!). The week after that, I will be returning to Bush Nook Guest House, which I talked about in my last post from 5 months ago, with my father. So I started ranting about the Roman fort Vindolanda in my last post, which I’ll be visiting again in two weeks. Be warned: the ranting is not over! This was definitely the coolest site we visited on our Hadrian’s Wall hike, so I will discuss it in (pain-staking) detail!

The reason this place is so cool, is that many findings are in very good state. The wooden writing tablets, which I talked about in my last post, for example, were preserved in the anaerobic earth. The same holds for part of a wooden underground aqueduct which was found with water still running through! The ruins of Vindolanda were first recorded in the 16th century. We can learn much from records by past visitors to the fort, because a lot of stone was looted from the site throughout history, as is the case with the Wall. According to a record by Christopher Hunter from 1702, the military bathhouse was still partly roofed when he went to visit it! Excavations of the site began in the 19th century, and in 1914 an altar was found that confirmed the fort’s name as being ‘Vindolanda’. In 1930, the land was bought by Eric Birley, and his descendants continue to excavate it. There is actually still a lot left to excavate, but the museum simply doesn’t have the money to excavate it all. Some amazing treasures may still be waiting to be discovered!

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Vindolanda actually consists of multiple forts, as the Romans often covered old forts in earth to build a new one on top. The oldest ones were made of wood and turf, which are now buried about 4 metres deep. Subsequently, 5 timber forts were built and taken down. A stone fort was built around the time Hadrian’s Wall was built. During a rebellion against the Romans in Northern England, Emperor Septimius Severus had the fort demolished and instead placed some military buildings to the west. Another stone fort was built for the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, who inhabited the fort from the early third century onwards. It is thought that, regardless of the garrison’s name, most of the troops were recruited locally. However, an interesting inscription was discovered at the fort suggesting there were still some ‘original’ Gauls left among the troops:

CIVES GALLI
DE GALLIAE
CONCORDES

QUE BRITANNI

, which translates as “The troops from Gaul dedicate this statue to the goddess Gallia with the full support of the British-born troops.” Pretty cool, huh? The fort was rebuilt one last time in 300AD.

The Vindolanda museum is quite interesting, because it features some replica buildings from Roman times. The replica shrine below, for example, is dedicated to the water nymphs, and is based on examples found on wall paintings. Such a shrine would have stood in the civilian settlement next to the fort. Water nymphs were popular among the Celts. Plus, water supply was of the essence to such a civilian settlement, so it made sense to try and please the water gods.

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In the Vindolanda museum, more fascinating examples of the blending of religions common in the Roman Empire can be found. I particularly liked the below relief of a celtic god called Maponus, who was the god of eternal youth. By his head, the Roman gods Apollo and Diana can be seen.

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Furthermore, I was very interested in the carving below, which dates from early Christianity at Vindolanda. Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion in 325 AD. The carving shows the interlocked Greek letter chi and rho, which are the first two letters of the word ‘christos’, or: Christ.

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As I mentioned before, the Vindolanda museum also holds some remarkably intact findings because of the anaerobic soil in this region. It holds the largest collection of Roman leather anywhere! A very impressive example of this can be seen below: this is a horse chamfron, or: horse mask. The reconstruction at the top shows what the mask would have looked like in Roman times.

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And as I predicted back in this post: I came across some interesting ancient objects once again, most notably these beautiful dice and combs below. Again, I find it remarkable how little some common objects have changed throughout the centuries!

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I also want to draw your attention to the beautiful remains of painted glass below. Honestly, this looks like it could have been painted today!

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We took a guided tour to see the highlights of the excavations at Vindolanda. Below you can see the leftovers of the bathhouse at the fort, recognizable by the hypocaust that would have heated the floors of the several rooms. As you may know, bathhouses in Roman times did not just have a hygienic purpose. They were also places to meet up with friends or to work out. This bathhouse was a particularly elaborate one, with a cold room (frigidarium), a hot room (tepidarium), a hot steam room (caldarium), and a hot dry room (laconicum).

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In my next post I will talk about the rest of our hike along Hadrian’s Wall, as well as our visit of Birdoswald Fort along the way.

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