The Severan occupation

Of the nine periods of occupation at Vindolanda the Severan period, dated between AD208-212, is one of the most interesting and little understood. What was built at Vindolanda during this period has no parallel on the Frontiers of the Roman Empire. The pattern of a traditional fort and extramural settlement, regularly replacing earlier versions of the very same, was broken. The traditional model of military fort was replaced by an irregularly shaped and heavily defended fortlet with a roundhouse complex extending to the east. The ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ of the fort virtually swapped places in this development, with the military base built above the remains of the earlier extramural settlement and the roundhouses erected over fort platform from the previous version of Vindolanda, which had been cleared of all buildings.

The 2018-2022 (extended due to covid19 into 2023) SMC focuses on two aspects of this fortlet. In area A1 we are going to explore the Severan Barracks and defences, which are situated between the modern line of the Stanegate Road and the excavated remains of the third-century extramural settlement (cAD213-280). In doing this we aim to answer, amongst others, the following questions:

  1. What does the discard pattern of artefacts into the north ditch of the Severan period tell us about the Severan occupation, when compared to the discard pattern observed in the southern defences of the same fort?
  2. How did the landscape of Vindolanda change over time? How was it preserved or modified?
  3. What more can we learn about the unusual military occupancy at the site in the Severan period and its relationship with the people who inhabited the roundhouses?
  4. What was the role of the northern extramural settlement of the mid third-century in relation to the Stanegate Road?
  5. Did the Severan fort have an associated non-roundhouse extramural settlement?
  6. What was the relationship between post-Roman Vindolanda and its Roman predecessors?

Area A2 is in the south-western quadrant of the last stone fort, where the Severan roundhouse complex is likely to continue directly below the remains of the 3rd and 4th century stone forts. The presence of more roundhouses is indicated by those which were identified and explored to the south of the excavation area in 1999 and 2000.

For this area we have some more questions waiting for an answer. These include:

  • What were the roundhouses? What can we learn about them from archaeobotanical evidence, organic residue analysis and other means of archaeological science?
  • Was the later 4th century fort, whose remains overlay the roundhouses, divided into different garrisons?
  • What happened in this area during the post-Roman period?
  • Are there in this quadrant, below the Severan roundhouses, any remains of the Antonine occupation and its timber predecessors, as has been observed for the South East quadrant in 2017?

This image shows areas A1 and A2 and the Severan fort and roundhouse settlement

This SMC targets a period defined by internal conflict, civil war, genocide and the rebellion against Roman rule. The study of Vindolanda history and archaeology in this period may unlock information reflecting on the wider historical narrative in Britain, and the public has a chance to take part in its discovery.

A reconstruction of how the roundhouses may have looked.

The excavation and research associated to this SMC will provide the next generation of Roman archaeologists and enthusiasts with over 2500 volunteering opportunities. Volunteers will be able to take part to a wide variety of activities ranging from excavation, post-excavation, survey, small finds analysis, curation, conservation and consolidation to education, outreach and public engagement.