The nature and significance of extramural settlement at Vindolanda and other selected sites on the Northern Frontier of Roman Britain
thesisposted on 28.07.2010, 11:07 by Andrew Robin Birley
The study of the nature and function of extramural settlement on the northern frontier of Roman Britain is often regarded as being binary; soldiers inside their forts and civilians confined to the adjacent “vicus” (Birley, Salway and Sommer), which is conceptualised here through the broader term ‘extramural settlement’. The research of Driel-Murray, Allason-Jones and Allison provided evidence for women inside Roman forts, making this interpretation of frontier occupation no longer tenable. The aim of this thesis is to examine and challenge the view that extramural settlements were largely ‘civil’ and to place the work of Driel-Murray et al. into context. The thesis studies the nature and significance of the extramural settlement at Vindolanda and selected sites through the deposition of three domains of material culture selected to indicate the presence, location and activities of soldiers (combatants), non-combatants as exemplified by adult women, and shared activities that were common bonds across the whole community. According to Cool and Baxter ‘finds have the greatest ability to illuminate the past when they are regarded as an integral part of the archaeological record’, an idea which underpins this thesis (Cool & Baxter 2002:365). This approach differs from previous investigations of extramural settlements. Scholars such as Eric Birley, Peter Salway and Sebastian Sommer have studied the role of extramural occupation through site morphology and the very fragmentary epigraphic record without close scrutiny of the associated material culture. Spatial analysis of artefacts in this thesis will be used to show that the walls of a fort were no ‘great divide’ and were no absolute demarcation line between combatants and non-combatants. The thesis demonstrates that the nature and significance of extramural occupation is that the overall dynamics of military sites like Vindolanda were more complex, integrated and subtle than is commonly thought.