Vindolanda Tablets Online Tablets Exhibition Reference Help

Forts and military life

Vindolanda and its setting


Forts and military life

The fort plan

Soldier's lives - military routines

Soldiers and builders

Manufacture and repair

Transport and supplies

Diet and dining


Birthdays and gods



Reading the tablets

about this exhibition

Hadrian's Wall above Crag Lough. The 
                    Wall runs along the crags above the Lough from the right. 
                    It runs behind the farm (past milecastle 38), and rises up 
                    Hotbank Crags.

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Image details:

Hadrian’s Wall above Crag Lough. The Wall runs along the crags above the Lough from the right. It runs behind the farm (past milecastle 38), and rises up Hotbank Crags.

Image ownership:

© Vindolanda Trust

Only small areas of the pre-Hadrianic forts at Vindolanda have been excavated. However plans of forts of this period are similar enough to one another to use information from better known forts to interpret the buildings excavated at Vindolanda, with the reservation that no two forts are identical: hypothetical layouts must be tested by future excavation.

The fort was built by soldiers themselves and housed a military community that was in many respects self-contained. Its granaries stored sufficient supplies to feed the garrison for many months. From clay and stone for its fabric to grazing for pigs and cattle, the fort drew heavily on its immediate environs. The facilities and skills existed within the garrison to meet a large proportion of its own needs, including food production and making and repairing many types of item. A wide range of specialist skills is attested in the Vindolanda garrison, from plastering to brewing, a diversity previously thought more typical of the legions than the auxiliaries. The variety of buildings, for example a bath-house, hospital and temple, would otherwise be found only in larger urban communities. But the fort was by no means totally self-sufficient and depended on constant contact with the outside world. Supplies were regularly on the move to Vindolanda. Nor did the soldiers remain in camp waiting for the Britons to attack. Control of the frontier landscape was based on movement, patrol and communication. Conditions were sufficiently safe for the wife of the Vindolanda garrison commander to be invited to her friend's birthday celebration at another fort. A merchant moving a batch of hides was more concerned for the state of the roads than marauding Britons. The movements of people and supplies allowed a Roman lifestyle to be maintained, at least in the household of the fort commander. The tablets reveal something of the tastes and customs of the fort's inhabitants, in particular the 'Romanization' of the officer class.

This area of the exhibition describes the setting in which the soldiers recorded in the Vindolanda tablets lived their lives, outlining the plan and the range of structures in a typical fort, using the more extensively excavated, near contemporary fort at Wallsend in Newcastle and the reconstructed fort at the Lunt, Warwickshire, to illustrate these. The Latin terms for the different buildings are briefly presented with a guide to fort layout. The activities which filled soldiers' time are described. The Vindolanda tablets have little direct evidence for wars or battles, but they give an insight into the very flexible organisation and deployment of troops. Documents and archaeology are used to show how the soldier's time was also occupied with building, manufacture and repair, as well as ensuring supplies to the fort. The later pages explore aspects of daily life in the fort, including diet and dress and the evidence for the social events and religious festivals that offered a diversion from military routine.

Tablet database link: Browse all tablets related to military matters.


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