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On site:

Water at Vindolanda

Water has always played a key role at Vindolanda, flowing in the tranquil stream in our gardens and filling the drains, bath houses and water tanks that dot the Roman fort and village.

But have you ever stopped to consider the journey that water would have undertaken in Roman times, from springs to toilet flushing? What was it used for? Was there running water in any of the Roman buildings? How much water was used and how much of it was wasted? In this video we will take you for a virtual walk around the site, showing you how numerous springs fed the precious liquid to a system of tanks in the West of the site. From there, we’ll follow the incline of the hill, discussing how water would have been transported in stone lined aqueducts or through buried wooden pipes to reach key buildings, such as the praetorium or the bath house.

Bath-houses, however, were not the only places were masses of water would have been used every day. Many purpose-built water collection and water management structures existed throughout the occupation of Vindolanda. They served various functions, such as providing drinking facilities to men and animals, washing oneself and one’s belonging, and even purifying the soul in baptism, once Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.

Even nowadays, water retains its importance: trapped under the clay foundations of the stone forts of Vindolanda, it still flows up and down with the seasons, aiding the preservation of our organic finds in the deeper, darker, more ancient Vindolandas of the past.

The Praetorium

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.

In the Museum:

Roman Shoe Webinar

Guest lecture by Professor Elizabeth Greene who’s research is based around Vindolanda’s leather collection.
Everything you have ever wanted to know… and were NOT afraid to ask! Professor Greene takes us through the top 10 questions ever asked about the Vindolanda Roman shoes and their fascinating answers.

2019 Recent Finds

Since the Vindolanda refurbished museum was opened in 2011, I have taken the best of the previous seasons excavated finds and displayed them in our recent finds case. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown many visitors have not been able to see the objects from 2019. Join us here to find out what made the cut for this year’s case.

From everyday objects to social media sensations, this case helps us to highlight new, unique and unusual objects which have been recently excavated. This year’s highlights include a sandstone gaming board, carved intaglios and a beautiful dolphin scabbard runner.

Vindolanda's Wooden Combs

It is always fascinating to compare ancient artefacts with their modern counterparts. The boxwood hair combs from Vindolanda are an excellent example of this. Expertly and delicately carved from wood grown in the Mediterranean these imported goods show that there was a demand from the Roman population on site to keep their hair clean and styled.

These combs, which modern nit combs resemble would have also served an important function in personal hygiene here on the site. We know that parasite infestation was common in the Roman world. This was a particular problem in military life, due to the close living quarters of the soldiers, the management of lice would have been important. Because of this, everyone at Vindolanda would have probably had their own comb and would have had individual designs to help to identify their own comb. If the individual could not afford a intricately carved comb they might personalize it themselves with graffiti such as their name, hash marks or squiggles.  

Zoomorphic Brooches

Brooches were used for more than just clothes fasteners in the Roman world and the zoomorphic are an excellent example of this. Similar to other types of personal adornment, these animal themed artefacts were often brightly coloured with enamels which would have been striking in contrast to the main metals which were used to construct the brooches.

The zoomorphic brooches are also examples of the mixing of cultures. In the collection at Vindolanda we can see not only the realistic, classical Roman approach to zoomorphic brooches as well as the more abstract native trumpet scroll patterns such as the duck brooch. The best example of these coming together would be the fantastic dragonesque brooches.

But do we know what they mean? We can take what we know of religion and symbolism in Roman art and begin to understand the importance of these once bright and beautiful objects.

An ancient leather mouse

This series of blogs takes a closer look at not only our collection that is on display but also our reserve collection where recently a new discovery has been made. Barbara Birley the Vindolanda Trust’s Curator presents this short film about the new discovery that came from Vindolanda’s leather collection which is the largest in the Roman Empire. This includes artefacts like tent panels horse gear and now this leather mouse.