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Vercovicium, now known as the Roman fort of Housesteads, was a castrum of Roman auxiliary troops on Hadrian’s Wall in the Roman province of Roman Britain.
The military structure was erected around 124 CE.
This particular military settlement differed from the previous milecastle visited in that it was probably an early fortified settlement along the border before the wall was built.
The fortress expanded into a civil settlement (vicus) to the south, outside the fort, with some of the stone foundations still visible.
The military camp could accommodate a garrison of up to 800 men.
Curiously, we have to imagine that Roman strength not only lay in its organisation but was also rooted in its expansion and availability of resources and men.
Generally, legionaries had to be Roman citizens to join a legion. However, as the imperial borders expanded, citizenship was granted to more and more people in the population living in the empire, estimated to be around 50 million. From this pool of acquired or conquered populations, legionaries were recruited.
Many men were enlisted in defence of their communities, and later, during the imperial period, they received the status of professional soldiers (dedicated to the ‘profession of arms’), paid by the state and supplied with all the equipment necessary to perform their duties. However, in times of necessity, enrolment was forced through massive recall operations of provincials, then increasingly frequent until the fall of the empire.
In comparison to the beginning of the 1st century CE, when legionaries were mostly from Italy, in the following 30 years (until 70 CE), the percentage of legionaries enrolled from all territories outside Italy occupied the majority.
It is thought that the ‘Tungrorum’ cohort was stationed here, made up of men recruited from the Germanic tribes in the area of Tongres in present-day Belgium.
In the 2nd century A.D., the garrison consisted of an auxiliary infantry cohort and a detachment of legionaries from Legio II Augusta.
Looking eastwards, the northern granary of Vercovicium bears the marks of pillars supporting a raised floor to keep food dry and protected from vermin.
Restrooms are also located in the lowest corner of the fort for hygienic reasons.
Curiously, the water tank still has its original lead sealing. The collection of rainwater was essential, and there is a series of large stone-lined cisterns around the periphery of the defences for this purpose.
Finds from Vercovicium are displayed in the site’s museum, Chesters Museum and the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle upon Tyne.