Hadrian’s wall: the northmost edge of the Roman Empire
  • Europe /
  • England

An adventurous path through a lush green landscape rich in history and mystical atmospheres.

Vindolanda Limes (fort)
Heritage place of interest.
(by Chris Gunns, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)
(by Fæ, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Vindolanda was an auxiliary troop fort built by the Romans in Britain by order of Gnaeus Julius Agricola in 79 CE after the conquest of northern Britain and located about two kilometres from Hadrian’s Wall.

The chosen route followed the Stanegate from Carlisle to Corbridge, already defended by limes and several auxiliary forts such as this one of Vindolanda.

It protected the Stanegate, a road from the Tyne to the Solway Firth. 

Five legions were stationed in Britannia during the centuries of Roman hegemony. They were Legio II Augusta, Legio VI Victrix, Legio IX Hispana, Legio XIV Gemina and Legio XX Valeria Victrix. 

Legions were the basic military unit of the Roman army. The size of a typical legion varied throughout the history of ancient Rome, with complements numbering around 4,000/5,000 legionaries and 300/500 “equites” (horsemen). For example, in the Hadrian’s Wall period, a legion was divided into ten cohorts, nine of which had 480 men each and the first cohort of 800 men.

From this fort come tablets written in ancient Roman cursive from which many exciting details about the life of the frontier garrisons emerge.

There was also a large mass of civilians who usually followed the legions. These were merchants (of enslaved people, food or various objects), soothsayers, whoremongers and tavernkeepers. Often the soldier, even though he could not contract marriage, would bind himself during military service to a woman or a ‘slave’ and may have conceived children with her, giving rise to situations of concubinage that were only legalised upon discharge.

All documents found at Vindolanda were written by Roman officers, supporting the idea that many in the lower ranks were still illiterate. The language typically used was Latin, but most of the authors of these tablets were of Gaulish, Brythonic or Germanic origin, writing in an ungrammatical Latin heavily influenced by their language of origin. The tablets show how the commander was greeted as ‘domine’ (‘lord’, for his equestrian rank), while the soldiers were called ‘fratres’ (brothers) or ‘collegae’ (comrade). The letters also show that an auxiliary soldier maintained friendships within his unit and with other legionary corps. 

This of Vindolandia and the former military settlements is undoubtedly a fascinating place to see up close and imagine life on the empire’s borders. A unique experience that takes us back in time, and thanks to a remarkable panorama and archaeological finds, everything here seems unchanged.


1. Ancient outpost

2. Milecastle 39

3. Housesteads

4. Vindolanda Limes (fort)