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Vindolanda

Home > Newcastle Upon Tyne > Day Trips | Escape the City | Museums
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published February 27th 2014
It's cold here - Send more socks...

Will you come to my birthday party?

Just two of the messages found on wafer thin bits of wood voted Britain's top treasure in a 2011 British Museum poll.

Vindolanda is best known for its tablets, dating from as early as 100AD, before Hadrian's Wall was built. We all know that organic materials rot over time, which gives us limited insights into Roman life and the daily materials they used. It turns out that the ancient equivalent of cheap writing paper was thin wooden tablets. Buried under the floorboards in rubbish piles, the lack of oxygen prevented their decay; in the twentieth century they began to be discovered and are still being sorted out and investigated. One soldier wrote home to ask for more socks, complaining about the bitter weather. In what's thought to be the first example of a woman's handwriting, Claudia Severa invites friends over for a birthday party. They give us an unparalleled insight into more normal people's daily life in Roman Britain. More tablets are still being discovered. Reading the handwriting has proved a challenge, as has preserving these fragile finds, but as one of the most exciting links to daily life in the Roman world, scholars are keen to work on them and let the public engage with them.

The tablets have been put online by the University of Oxford's Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, so now people worldwide can browse them and find out more.

Vindolanda lies on the Stanegate, just off the wall. Roman soldiers couldn't have families in the forts with them. Vindolanda is an auxiliary fort, with some evidence of a 'vicus', a settlement of hangers-on around the edge.

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Vindolanda from the B6318


Owned by a private enterprise, Vindolanda has a very different character to other ancient sites. They have reconstructed some buildings, which means you can climb a tower and experience the true 3D nature of the site rather than the ruined floor plan style of many other places. The views are wonderful over the Northumberland countryside.

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Reconstructed tower


They are still excavating the site, which makes this an active archaeological experience - you can watch them at work and witness our growing understanding of the past.

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Bath house at Vindolanda


There's also the sad case of a child murder - a young girl's body was discovered, hands bound, in one of the barracks. Killed around 1,800 years ago, who knows what her story is? This is the thing about a rich fort like Vindolanda though - the triggers for your historical imagination to create stories and fill in the gaps are everywhere. The site was the inspiration for the now famous Minimus Latin course, for example, introducing Latin and the Roman world to people worldwide.

A museum at the site gives visitors a further insight into the Roman world, and offers an inside space to hide from the elements on a bad day. There are models of buildings, and the largest collection of Roman leather, another material we wouldn't expect to have survived for 2000 years.

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The site overall


It's such a popular site that you never know when you might come across someone filming or researching. One day when I was visiting we stumbled across the Ermine Street Guard, a Roman re-enactment group.

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Ermine Street Guard


There's also a Roman Army Museum nearby, owned by the same group. If you want to find out more about the history of the area, this is a great place to go on to next. A small shop sells usual souvenirs as well as a good range of books, and some new wooden tablets for you to write messages on yourself.

There is plenty of parking space. If you follow the road from the B6318 / Twice Brewed, you reach the site, hidden in the fields. Alternatively it is walkable from Twice Brewed, or from Housesteads, another Roman fort. It's only about 45 minutes' drive from Newcastle. There are cafe and toilet facilities and the site can even be used to host conferences. It is more expensive than the English Heritage forts, but it is well worth the cost if you're interested in the area. Combined tickets with the Roman Army Museum are also available.
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Why? Home of the Vindolanda tablets & a great Roman site in general
When: Daily 10am to 5pm 8th February to 31st March 2014 Daily 10am to 6pm 1st April to 30th September 2014 Daily 10am to 5pm 1st October to 31st October 2014
Phone: 01434344277
Where: Vindolanda
Cost: £6.50 for adults £5.50 for OAPs and students £4.00 for a child £19.00 for a family ticket (for 2 adults and 2 children)
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