Our Stop at Housesteads

Going through the first gate at the start of our second big hike.
Going through the first gate at the start of our second big hike.

Today, atop the Whin Sill escarpment, our second big hike of the field school came to an end at the Roman fort of Housesteads. The site, which would have been known as Vercovicium to the Romans, was built around the year 124 C.E. by the emperor Hadrian and remains at present one of the most complete forts constructed by the ancient Empire in all of Britain.

Housesteads was built using the standard plan exploited by almost all auxiliary forts at the time and the surrounding space included all of the elements we would expect to see at an ancient Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall (a vicus, the vallum, etc.). Although difficult to determine exactly when, it is evident that several major rebuilds and restorations occurred over the years at the site, both in and outside of the fort walls.

A small scale model of what the fort probably looked like at the height of its existence.
A small scale model of what the fort probably looked like at the height of its existence.

The Tungrians, a Germanic tribe originally recruited from an area around modern-day Belgium, appear to have made up the main fighting force at Housesteads between the second and early fifth century C.E.

Based on the archaeological evidence available it seems as though those stationed at Vercovicium did not meet an unexpected or ghastly end. During the first decade of the fifth century C.E. imperial support for the region was discontinued and the site looks as if it simply petered out.

As a group we spent about two hours at Housesteads. Much of the time was used either investigating the ancient remains themselves or looking at the artifacts and visual displays inside the small museum on site. While there, we were also treated to an excellent presentation by Prem about Roman granaries as well as watched a short film about Vercovicium in the museum.

Looking north east behind the southern section of the fort walls at Housesteads.
Looking north east behind the southern section of the fort walls at Housesteads.
Beth giving everyone a quick overview of the fort before entering.
Beth giving everyone a quick overview of the fort before entering.
Prem preparing to deliver his presentation on Roman granaries.
Prem preparing to deliver his presentation on Roman granaries. Granaries (horrea) were essentially warehouses used to store, amongst other things, threshed grain.
Morgan, Rob, and Alex standing inside the granary building. The floors would have been elevated and set atop the mini blocks you can see in the picture to keep away vermin.
Morgan, Rob, and Alex standing inside the granary building. The floors would have been elevated and set atop the mini blocks you can see in the picture to keep away vermin.
Another view of the Housesteads granary. A central line of columns ran in between the two halves of the building, making this particular granary somewhat unique.
Another view of the Housesteads granary.
The group standing inside what would have been a hospital of sorts. Its existence demonstrates an imperial concern for the health and wellness of the soldiery.
The group standing inside what would have been a hospital of sorts. Its existence demonstrates imperial concern for the health and wellness of the soldiery.
The residence of the commanding officer, the praetorium. The praetorium at Housesteads was the single largest building in the fort and would have had a central courtyard with inward-looking doors to protect from the strong winds of northern England.
The residence of the commanding officer, the praetorium. The praetorium at Housesteads was the single largest building in the fort and would have had a central courtyard with inward-looking doors to protect from the strong winds of northern England.
Steve, Prem, Sarah, and Mel exploring the bathhouse. The space was used for several different activities before reaching its final form in the fourth century.
Steve, Prem, Sarah, and Mel exploring the bathhouse. The space was used for several different purposes before reaching its final form in the fourth century.
The underfloor heating (hypocaust) system in the Housesteads bathhouse.
The underfloor heating (hypocaust) system in the Housesteads bathhouse.
Rob, Steve, and Rachel in the latrines (easily my favourite picture of the day).
Rob, Steve, and Rachel “trying out” the latrines (easily my favourite picture of the day).
Beth, Alex, and Rob at the end of the visit with Housesteads in the background (Beth is attempting to push back against the incredibly strong winds).
Beth, Alex, and Rob at the end of the visit, with the Housesteads fort in the background (Beth is hilariously attempting to push back against the incredibly strong winds).

3 thoughts on “Our Stop at Housesteads

  1. Hey Nick — good shots of the Housesteads site. Sub-floor heating is the signature of Roman engineering — wouldn’t have been too comfortable use the latrines or the bath house, otherwise. Also, beautiful landscapes and great hiking. You’ll all come back in better physical condition — expanded lung capacities and stronger calves. A field trip with many benefits. So wish I could be there too but am so grateful for opportunity to tag along through the blog. Take care. Aunt Mary

    1. Hey Professor Nousek! Thank you so much. Yes, Housesteads was awesome and the museum on site did a great job of bringing what the fort likely looked like to life.

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