OSMap: Hadrian's Wall, OL43, LR87.
Type: Stanegate Fort, Minor Settlement, Bath House, Temples.
Stanegate: W (7) to Magnis (Carvoran, Northumberland)|
via Haltwhistle Burn
Stanegate: ENE (7) to Newbrough (Northumberland)
via Barcombe and Crindledykes
The history of Roman Chesterholm appears to have begun c.AD90 when the first timber fort was built here during the administration of governor Sallustius Lucullus, who was tasked to organise a piecemeal withdrawal of units from Scotland for use in emperor Domitian's wars in Dacia. The original fort was considerably extended within a few years of being built and became part of the so-called Stanegate Frontier organised by governor Neratius Marcellus who is thought to have been resident at the fort himself (see Vindolanda Tablets below).
Chesterholm was abandoned shortly after the completion of Housesteads fort on Hadrian's Wall c.AD125, but was reoccupied and rebuilt in stone during the late-second century following the withdrawal from the Antonine Wall in Scotland.
The first reference to the fort at Chesterholm is contained within the Notitia Dignitatum of the late-4th/early-5th centuries, where the station Uindolana is listed between the entries for Borcouicio (Housesteads, Northumberland) and Aesica (Great Chesters, Northumberland). The only other classical mention of the fort occurs in the Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century, wherein the entry Vindolande (R&C#132) is listed this time between the entries Camboglanna (Birdoswald, Cumbria) and Longovicium (Lanchester, Durham).
The Roman fort at Chesterholm is thus named Vindolana or Vindolande in the geographies, while an inscription from an altar recovered in the neighbourhood refers to the civilian inhabitants as the Vindolandesses (RIB 1700). The name now accepted is Vindolanda which has been variously interpreted as 'The White Cross' or 'The White Enclosure'. Compare modern Welsh: gwyn-dafadfa 'white sheep-fold'.
There are 47 Latin inscriptions for Vindolanda recorded in Volume I of the R.I.B.; comprising 24 altars and votive stones, 6 building inscriptions (1 undateable), 4 legionary and centurial stones, 6 tombstones, and 7 other undefined stones and inscribed artifacts including four 'voussoir stones' each inscribed with a different engineer's number: X, XI, XIII and XIIII (RIB 1720a-d).
|1702||AD122-126||B.I. of governor Aulus Platorius Nepos by Leg II Augusta|
|1703||AD163-6||B.I. of governor Sextus Calpurnius Agricola|
|1705||AD213||B.I. of emperor Caracalla by Coh IV Gallorum|
|1706||AD223||B.I. of governor Claudius Xenephon by Coh IV Gallorum Severiana|
|1710||AD276-82||B.I. by Coh IV Gallorum Probiana|
|... SVB SEXTO CALPVRNIO AGRICOLA LEG AVG PR PR|
|"[...] under Sextus Calpurnius Agricola,¹ pro-praetorian legate of the emperor."|
|(RIB 1703; dated: AD163-166)|
Excavations carried out at Chesterholm in the late 1980's in a ditch used for dumping waste material from the fort, uncovered hundreds of fragments from writing tablets, mere slivers of wood in most cases. Waterlogged conditions at the site had kept the tablets in such a remarkable state of preservation that many of the fragments, though nearly two-thousand years old, were still legible. Most of the writings discovered at Vindolanda have proved difficult to read and interpret, but have so far yielded a very treasure-trove of epigraphic information; most importantly there are copies of military rosters (vide infra) and other official documents regarding the fort's garrison units, there are examples of correspondences between the wives of the fort's commanders, letters written to the soldiers at the fort and drafts of their replies home, even a schoolboy's notes quoting from Virgil's Aeneid.
What else awaits discovery?
During the 1992 digging season at Chesterholm, remains were uncovered of a fifty yard square timber building of some fifty rooms which has been dated to the 120's AD. It is evident from both the floor plan and the recovered fragments of wall paintings that the building was a somewhat palatial residence, of an opulence not often seen in the north of the province. It has been suggested that this veritable palace in the wild lands of North Britain, located at the mid-way point of the Wall and only one mile south of its intended line, was built to accomodate the emperor and his imperial party during the visit to Britain in AD122. It was perhaps here that the fertile and active mind of the highly-intellectual emperor began first to visualise what was to become his lasting monument.
|IMP CAES TRAIANO HADRIANO AVG LEG II AVG A PLATORIO NEPOTE LEG PR PR|
|"For Imperator Caesar Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus,¹ the Second Augustan Legion [made this under] Aulus Platorius Nepos² the pro-praetorian legate."|
|(RIB 1702; dated: AD122-126)|
Prolonged and almost incessant excavation of the Vindolanda environs over the years has revealed a sequence of at least five turf-and-timber forts underlying two later forts built of stone. This military site had it's genesis during the Domitianic withdrawal from Scotland c.AD85 and continued to be occupied, almost without a break, until the end of Roman rule in Britain.
Occupation during the early-Trajanic period is attested by archaeology here and at other sites such as Corbridge in the east and Carlisle in the west, where the two military roads northwards into Scotland were situated. These sites and others stretching across northern England from the Tyne to the Solway were linked by a lateral military highway, later named the Stanegate, which formed one of the first true frontiers of Roman Britain and predated the Hadrianic barrier by a generation.
In its final construction phase during the Severan period the Vindolanda fort measured 508 feet N-S by 306 feet E-W (c.155 x 93 m), covering an area of about 3½ acres (c.1.4 ha). It is the consolidated remains of this fort that visitors to the site witness today.
|LEG II VEXIL||CELER < P P||< VLERIANI|
|"A detachment of the Second Legion."||"The century of Celerius the Primipilus.¹"||"The century of Valerianus."|
|(RIB 1707)||(RIB 1709)||(RIB 1711)|
Building inscriptions and legionary stones from all three main British legions have been unearthed at Chesterholm; there is an undated building plaque of Legio XX Valeria Victrix (RIB 1708), probably the builders of the original fort on the site during the Agricolan campaigns, and an altarstone dedicated to the goddess Fortuna by Legio VI Victrix (RIB 1684), but the legion best represented is Legio II Augusta from Isca Silurum (Caerleon in Gwent, South Wales), which has an altar to Silvanus by a Beneficiarius Consularis (RIB 1696), a B.I. of governor Aulus Platorius Nepos (RIB 1702; dated: AD122-126), which must record refurbishment prior to the arrival of the emperor Hadrian in AD122, and an undated building plaque of a vexillatio or legionary detachment (RIB 1707).
|LEG XX V V|
|"The Twentieth Legion Valiant and Victorious [made this]."|
|FORTVNAE PR G IVL RAETICVS > LEG VI VICT|
|"To Fortuna on behalf of Gaius Julius the Raetian, centurion in the Sixth Victorious Legion."|
|(RIB 1684; altarstone)|
|... SILVAN M AVRELIVS MODESTVS B F COS PROVINCIAE SVPERIORIS LEG II AVG|
|"[For the god] Silvanus, Marcus Aurelius Modestus, Beneficiarius Consularis¹ of the province of [Britannia] Superior and the Second Augustan Legion"|
|(RIB 1696; altarstone)|
Bronze Military Standard
recovered from Vindolanda
The original garrison of Vindolanda is not known, and the earliest identified unit at the site has only recently been revealed on one of the Vindolanda writing tablets. The garrison of the mid-second century was Cohors I Tungrorum, an infantry unit from the Tungri tribe who inhabited the north-western fringes of the Arduenna Silva in Gallia Belgica (the Ardennes Forest on the border between Belgium and Germany). This unit had been active in the campaigns of Agricola in Central Scotland, and saw action in the final battle at Mons Graupius which resulted in the near-total destruction of the Caledonian tribes. During this time the First Cohort of Tungrians was known to be a cohors quingenaria peditata, a five-hundred strong infantry unit, but by the mid-second century the complement had been increased by half again to a total strength of over 750 men (vide supra).
|DEO COCIDIO DECIMVS CAERELLIVS VICTOR PR COH II NER VSLM|
|"To the god Cocidius, Decimus Caerellius Victor, prefect of the Second Cohort of Nervians, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow."|
|(RIB 1683; altarstone)|
The late-second century garrison was possibly Cohors II Nerviorum, another quingenary cohort, whose soldiers were raised from among the Nervii tribe of Belgic Gaul. These warlike neighbours of the Tungri had in the past rebelled against Julius Caesar and were severely put-down in response, though they were later to provide the Roman Auxilia with foot soldiers of excellent repute. There are two stones attesting the presence of Cohors II Nerviorum, an altar to the god Cocidius (RIB 1683) and an altar to Mars and Victory (RIB 1691). The latter stone is dedicated by Coh III Nerviorum, however, but the numeral III is assumed to be an error.
|MARTI VICTORI COH III NERVIORVM CVI PRAEEST T CANINIVS ... ... MIIVS|
|"To Victorious Mars, the Second Cohort of Nervians under the command of Titus Caninius [...] a vow fulfilled."|
|GENIO PRAETORI SACRVM PITVANIVS SECVNDVS PRAEFECTVS COH IIII GALL|
|"To the sacred Genius of the Praetorium, Pituanius Secundus, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls."|
|(RIB 1685; altarstone)|
The third century garrison was Cohors IV Gallorum, a mixed unit of infantry and cavalry with a nominal strength of five hundred men, the fourth to be recruited from among the tribesmen of central Gaul, now modern France. The unit is mentioned on seven inscribed stones from Vindolanda three of them dateable to the third century; an altar to the Genius of the Praetorium (1685), three altars to Iupitter Optimus Maximus (1686 - 1688), a B.I. of the emperor Caracalla (1705; dated: AD213), a B.I. of governor Claudius Xenephon (1706; dated: AD223) and another B.I. of emperor Probus (1710; dated: AD276-282). The regiment is also attested at Vindolana at the end of the fourth century in the Notitia Dignitatum.
|IMP CAES M AVRELIO ANTONINO PIO FELICI AVG PARTHI MAXI BRITANI MAXI PONTI MAXI TRIB POTEST XVI IMP II COS IIII PATRI PATRIAE PROCOS PRO PIETATE AC DEVOTIONE COMMVNI ... COH IIII GALLORVM CVI PRAEEST|
|"For Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus,¹ greatest in Parthia, greatest in Britain, High Priest, holding tribunician power for the sixteenth time, hailed Imperator in the field twice, consul four times, Father of his Country,² holder of proconsular power, out of the loyalty and devotion of the inhabitants [...] commander of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls."|
|(RIB 1705; dated: AD213)|
|... COH IIII GALLOR SEVERIANAE ALEXANDRIANAE DEVOTAE NVMINI EIVS PORTAM CVM TVRRIBVS A FVNDAMENTIS RESTITVERVNT SVB CL XENOPHONTE LEG AVG N PR PR BR INF CVRANTE ...|
|"[...] the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, Severus Alexander's own,¹ devoted to his divinity, restored this gateway together with its towers from ground-level, under Claudius Xenophon,² pro-praetorian legate of our emperor in Britannia Inferior, under the direction of [...]"|
|(RIB 1706; dated: AD223)|
|... COH IIII GALL PROBIANA EQ Q C A MVC ...|
|"[...] the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, Probus' Own, part-mounted, the undertaking of which has been managed by Muc[ianus? ...]"|
|(RIB 1710; dated: AD276-282)|
|I O M
ET GEN PRAETOR
Q F FAB VRBICVS
PRAEF COH IIII
|Jovi Optimo Maximo
et genio praetorii
Quinti filius Fabia Urbicus
Praefectus Cohortis Quartae
|"To Jupiter Best and Greatest, most immortal among gods|
and to the Genius of the Praetorium,
Quintus Petronius Urbicus,
son of Quintus, of the Fabian voting tribe,
Prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls
[...] a native of Brixia from Italy,
fulfilled his vow for himself and his (family)."
|(RIB 1686; altarstone)|
|I O M ET GENIO DIISQ CVS DIB COH IIII GALL ET VINDO CAECIL...E...I... OP CELER...||I O M COH IIII GALL CVI PRAEST II ...GIVS PVDENS PRAEFECT ARAM POSVIT V S M L|
|"For Iupitter Optimus Maximus and the Genius, the guardian spirit of the gods, the Fourth Cohort of Gauls and Vindex Caecil[ianus ...] this work quickly [...]"||"For Jupiter Best and Greatest, the Fourth Cohort of Gauls under the command of the prefect Ju[lius Ser]gius Pudens,¹ made this altarstone willingly and deservedly in fulfillment of a vow."|
|(RIB 1687; altarstone)||(RIB 1688; altarstone)|
|Tribunus cohortis quartae Gallorum, Uindolana|
|"The tribune of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls at Vindolana"|
|(Notitia Dignitatum xl.41; 4th/5th C.)|
During excavations carried out at the Chesterholm/Vindolanda fort there have been twenty-four altars or votive objects uncovered, dedicated to a large variety of gods, both classical (Graeco-Roman) and pagan (Germano-Celtic). There are five stones dedicated to Iupitter Optimus Maximus including three of Cohors IV Gallorum (RIB 1686-1688 supra) and two others bearing little detail (RIB 1689 & 1690; not shown), another five to the Germanic warrior-god Vheterus (RIB 1697-1699 & 1722e/f), two stones to the 'Mother Goddesses' (RIB 1692, 1722a), one of which may be tentatively dated to the late-third/early-fourth centuries, and single altarstones to Cocidius (RIB 1683), to Fortuna (RIB 1684), to Viturus (RIB 1722g), to Neptune (RIB 1694), to the Genius of the Praetorium (RIB 1685), to the goddess Sattade by the council of the Textoverdi, the local British tribe (RIB 1695), to Silvanus by a Beneficiarius Consularis of Leg II Augusta (RIB 1696), to the 'Divine House' and the god Vulcan (RIB 1700) and another to Mogons and the 'Local Guardian Spirit' (RIB 1722d).
|MATRIBVS ET NVMINI D N MAXIMINI...||DEABVS SVIS MATRIBVS ... VSLM|
|"For the Mother [Goddesses] and the Divine Spirits of our lords Maximinus¹ [...]"||"For our Mother Goddesses [...] willingly and deservedly fulfilling a vow."|
|(RIB 1692; altarstone)||(RIB 1722a; altarstone; Britannia i (1970), p.309, no.16)|
|DEO NEPTVNO ARAM PO SVIT... NO|
|"To the god Neptunus, this altar was placed [...] of us."|
|(RIB 1694; altarstone|
|DEO VETERI||VETERIBVS POSSENACVLVS||VETERI ...TIN... ...S|
|"To the god Veterus."||"For the Veteran [Gods], placed by Senaculus."||"to Veterus [...] fulfilled."|
|(RIB 1697; altarstone)||(RIB 1699; altarstone)||(RIB 1698; altarstone)|
|DIBVS VETERIBVS POS LONGINVS||VETERIBVS POSVIT SENILIS|
|"For the Veteran Gods, placed by Longinus."||"For the Veterans, placed by Senilis."|
|(RIB 1722e; altarstone; Britannia iv (1973), p.329, no.11)||(RIB 1722f; altarstone; Britannia iv (1973), p.329, no.12)|
|DEO MOGVNTI ET GENIO LOCI LVPVL V S M|
|"For the god Moguns and the Guardian Spirit of This Place, Lupulus deservedly fulfils his vow."|
|(RIB 1722d; altarstone; Britannia iv (1973), p.329, no.10)|
|"The temple of Viturus."|
|(RIB 1722g; altarstone; Britannia x (1979), p.346, no.8)|
In addition to altarstones there are a number of other votive objects; a dedicatory slab bearing an inscription to Mars and Victory (RIB 1691 supra), a relief of Mercury bearing the text DEO MERCVRIO (RIB 1693; relief), a silver lunula of the god Maponus inscribed DEO MAPONO (RIB 1722b/2431.2; silver lunula; Britannia ii (1971), p.291, no.12), and another altar inscribed simply DEAE "For the Goddesses." (RIB 1701; altarstone).
The civilian settlement at Chesterholm has been positively identified as a vicus - the lowest form of self-governing settlement recognised by Roman law - on an altar to the god Vulcan found 120 yards to the west of the fort (RIB 1700, infra). The settlement grew mainly along the north bank of the Doe Sike to either side of the roads issuing from the porta principia sinistra (west gate) of the fort. The shops and dwellings have narrow frontages ranged along the street and stretch back at right-angles from it for quite some distance; it is thought that the buildings within a Roman vicus were taxed according to the length of street they occupied, which is why they were built to such a long and narrow ground-plan.
DIVINA ET NV
AGENTE ... OI ...
V S L M
divina et nu-
agente ... io
Votum Solvit Libens Merito
|"For the Divine House and the Spirits of the Emperors.|
This sacred offering to Vulcan
[was set up] by the vicani¹ of Vindolanda²
under the direction of the acting-[...]
willingly and deservedly fulfilling their vow."
|(RIB 1700; altarstone)|
V S L M
Votum Solvit Libens Merito
|"To the goddess Satiada,¹|
the Council of the Textoverdi²
willingly and deservedly fulfilled their vow."
|(RIB 1695; altarstone)|
Another altar to a local goddess found at nearby Beltingham Chapel is presumed to have come from the Chesterholm site, and suggests that the Vindolanda settlement may have served as the civitas capital of the Textoverdi, seemingly a minor British tribe who were probably subject in past times to the powerful Brigantes of Northern Britain.
Six Roman tombstones have been unearthed from the environs of the Chesterholm fort, many of them damaged. There is also a heavily damaged stone which is thought to bear a funerary inscription (RIB 1718; not shown).
|D M CORN VICTOR S C MIL ANN XXVI CIV PANN FIL SATVRNINI P P VIX AN LV D XI CONIVX PROCVRAVI|
|"To the shades of the departed Cornelius Victor, Singularis Consularis with twenty-six years service, a citizen of the Pannonians, son of Saturninus the Primus Pilus, he lived fifty-five years and eleven days. His wife saw to this [memorial]."|
|(RIB 1713; tombstone)|
|D M INGENVI VIXIT ANNIS XXIIII MEMSES IIII ET DIES VII|
|"To the shades of the departed Ingenuus, who lived for twenty-four years, four months and seven days."|
|(RIB 1714; tombstone)|
|D M AVRELIS... IS VIXIT ANNOS XX FILIA AVR LVC...|
|"To the shades of the departed Aurelia [...] twenty years old, the daughter of Aurelius Luc[...]"|
|(RIB 1715; tombstone)|
|D M FLA EMERITA FL IN... N...|
|"To the shades of the departed Flavia Emerita, Flavius In[...]."|
|(RIB 1716; tombstone)|
|¹ BON REI PVBLICAE NOTO|
|"Born for the benefit of the republic."|
The military bath-house outside the north-western corner-angle of the 3rd/4th century stone fort (NY 769663) was completely excavated in 1970. Four building phases were identified but none could be positively dated; a changing-room and latrine were added in the 2nd phase and a verandah and service rooms were included in the 3rd. Pottery indicates that the bath-house was no longer functioning by c.AD367, and by the Theodosian period part of the site had been re-used for some sort of industrial purpose. A child's sandal recovered from the site indicated that the baths were opened to the public sometime during the early-4th century.
|Chesterholm Roman Fort and Vicus|
|Almost everything one could expect from a Roman site is preserved at Chesterholm. Approached along the line of the Stanegate from the east, beyond the Museum and Gift Shoppe there lie the square foundations of a Romano-Celtic temple with the drainage-channels and water tanks of an industrial area to the south, currently (2004) under excavation by the Vindolanda Trust, while, beyond the buildings of the civil settlement and two independent bath-houses lies the superbly-preserved remains of the fort itself. The consolidated remains, together with reconstructions of a section of a turret on Hadrianís Wall, a 'Turf Wall' timber mile castle, a picturesquely sited nymphaeum and several Roman tombstones, justifiably make this site amongst the most visited in Britain.
Man, you gotta go here!