The commanding officers house, the praetorium.

Every building at Vindolanda has a story to tell, locked deeply within its stones about the people who once called Vindolanda their home. One of the grandest of the buildings to be constructed was the 3rd and 4th century praetorium, the home of the prefects and their families, the commanders of the garrisons.   

Constructed on the eastern edge of the middle range of the fort, this large, spacious, and well-appointed building would have dominated the nearby barracks.  A physical domination that reinforced the prestige, rank, and power of the occupants of the building. The praetorium offered the comforts that a wealthy and high-ranking Romans needed. This included private function rooms, heated dining rooms, baths, private toilets, servants’ quarters, a courtyard or garden, kitchens, stables, heated living rooms and above all else, privacy and space. A place to live and the entertain invited guests and a home to impress. It was an expensive building to construct and would have been an expensive building to heat and maintain.

It can be difficult to appreciate just how much space the praetorium offered to a prefect and his family in comparison to other people who lived inside the fort. In the Roman army, and Roman society, social status and wealth was often visibly reinforced by the size of the spaces a person occupied. The social inequalities present at Vindolanda some 1800 years ago still eco in its now deserted rooms.

If a common soldier shared a cramped and small barrack room with 7 of his messmates, and added slaves and family members, a centurion, in charge of 80 soldiers, had an apartment which could have sheltered over 20 of his men. The prefect had more space in his praetorium than 150 common soldiers and their families would have had.

In a modern town in the 21st century you might expect many as 8 terraced houses could be constructed into the space that the praetorium takes. In those 8 houses you could expect a population of between 25 to 40 people. So even today the Vindolanda praetorium represents a lavish and expensive home.  

In the 200 years or so, between c AD213 and AD 410 that the praetorium was in use, it may have had as many as 50 different families living there. Those families left their marks on the building, changing room functions, redecorating, renovating, and discarding and hiding mementoes and objects from their stay. Some commanding officers erected formal memorials and dedications and a few of those have survived the ages to be recovered during the excavations of the building. They show us that this grand home developed a spirit of its own, a sense of place that was marked by prefects dedicating offerings to the ‘spirits’ of the building to keep both them and their families safe and well.