Thread Rating:
  • 1 Vote(s) - 3 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Africans at Vindolanda?
#1
A recent UK TV program about the Severan campaign in Scotland (thread here), included a brief interview with Andrew Birley, Director of Excavations at Vindolanda and latest of the Birley archaeological dynasty. He was talking about the collection of unusual round hut foundations discovered at the site back in 1931, usually dated to the Severan period: he said that one interpretation of their purpose ('which we favour here at Vindolanda') is that the huts were intended as accomodation for an irregular North African cavalry unit - a numerus, presumably. He claimed that the design of the huts was unique in Britain, but resembled traditional Libyan structures.

Does anyone know more about this theory? Andrew's father, Robin Birley, when he was Director, proposed that these huts comprised a prisoner-of-war camp (or more sensationally a 'concentration camp') for Britons captured during the Severan invasion:

"Back-to-back rows of native-style circular stone huts have been found in the south-western corner of the fort, adding to earlier, similar discoveries in the centre and north. Excavators now assume that the huts covered the whole fort area, which was flattened to make way for the new buildings. If so, about 300 huts could have existed, housing up to 2,000 prisoners. According to Robin Birley, Director of the Vindolanda Trust, the huts probably date to the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, who brought an imperial force to quell a native uprising in northern Britain... The hut rows are unparalleled at any fort elsewhere in the Empire. Many contain hearths, but they are otherwise devoid of finds as they were regularly swept clean in antiquity." (British Archaeology, August 2000)

Patricia Birley, Andrew's mother and Deputy Director at the time, claimed back in 2000 when the 'PoW camp' theory was proposed that the huts 'were built in the style of local homes' (Daily Telegraph Aug 2000). So where did this 'African horsemen' idea come from? Is there any more evidence for them? Surely the reputable Mr Birley didn't just come up with the idea off the top of his head?

- Nathan
Reply
#2
Quote:So where did this 'African horsemen' idea come from? Is there any more evidence for them? Surely the reputable Mr Birley didn't just come up with the idea off the top of his head?

You'll find it aired in Robin Birley's recent book* on the site amongst three other theories about them:

Quote:The late Professor John Mann believed that the Severan forces might have included some North African Native levies, brought to Britain by the African emperor to assist regular forces in their assault on the revolting Maeatae and Caledonians (Birley 2009, 138)

The book is well worth a read. Many ideas about Vindolanda have changed over the years, but hell, I used to change my ideas about a site whilst I was digging it - I would suspect any archaeologist who didn't.

Mike Bishop

*Birley, R. 2009: Vindolanda a Roman Frontier Fort on Hadrian's Wall, Cirencester: Amberley [ISBN 9781848682108]
You know my method. It is founded upon the observance of trifles

Blogging, tweeting, and mapping Hadrian\'s Wall... because it\'s there
Reply
#3
Thanks Mike - the book does look good. I noticed it a while back, but I think I confused it with Anthony Birley's Garrison Life at Vindolanda, which I read some time ago. So many Birleys, so little time...

Does the book give any further grounding for Prof. Mann's theory? Andrew Birley said in the TV interview that the huts are identical to Libyan ones, but I've read in other reports (by other Birleys!) that they're also very similar to native British designs.

- Nathan
Reply
#4
I have that book, have not started it yet though. Thanks for reminding me.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
Reply
#5
There are actually a couple African connections to late 2nd-early 3rd C periods at Vindolanda. The first stone fort (Antonine period, c. AD 180 to 200, known on-site as Period VI-A) had a principia seemingly made in adobe tradition of Spain/Africa. In addition, it featured ornate carvings, a dedication to the Sun god, and was actually faced southward toward the sun rather than northward toward Hadrian's Wall and the theatre of war. Not that those last bits necessitate African heritage, just that something unique & interesting was happening at Vindolanda late in the 2nd C, which might have spilled over into Severus's time.

- Harry

www.wedigvindolanda.com
Everything old is new again.
Reply
#6
Quote:Does the book give any further grounding for Prof. Mann's theory? Andrew Birley said in the TV interview that the huts are identical to Libyan ones, but I've read in other reports (by other Birleys!) that they're also very similar to native British designs.
It's a brilliant book, IMHO. Starts with an excellent retelling of early history & digs at the site, then follows a chronology from the earliest levels to the latest, incorporating all that was known through late 2008. (More has come to light since, of course.)

They're still discovering more of the "roundhouses" today. My Vindolanda digger's site has a few recent pictures of a new one just found in June. I believe that still nobody knows. The big conundrum is that there doesn't appear to be any defensive ring around these buildings. The former fort platform was utterly leveled (except for a small section of its western wall, which became the -eastern- wall of an unorthodox Severan fort). The platform was then almost totally given over to these new roundhouses, generally grouped in 10 (5 back-to-back with roadways laid in front). Some people thought they were a jail. But without walls it's hard to picture.

My pet hypothesis is along the lines of a nascent colony. Perhaps of loyal northern Britons who were being run off their land in the war that Severus was prosecuting to the north. But, again, who knows.

- Harry
www.wedigvindolanda.com
Everything old is new again.
Reply
#7
Quote:...a principia seemingly made in adobe tradition of Spain/Africa... ornate carvings, a dedication to the Sun god, and was actually faced southward toward the sun rather than northward toward Hadrian's Wall and the theatre of war.

Thanks, Harry - that does sound unusual!

I don't really get how 'southwards' is in the direction of the sun though... rises in the east and sets in the west, no? :wink:

Sounds like a lot of interesting stuff still to discover though...

- Nathan
Reply
#8
But definately gets the most sun when in a norhtern latitude, especially in the winter months.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
Reply
#9
Quote:But definately gets the most sun when in a norhtern latitude, especially in the winter months.

Oh sure, but I think Harry was implying that the 'direction' of the principia had some religious significance, rather than just getting a nice bit of sun in the breakfast room, or maybe growing some indoor fruit Smile

I don't know about African solar religious cults, but the Syrian ones all seemed to direct their devotions eastwards, towards the sunrise - like the soldiers of III Gallica at Bedricum. That would make more sense, I'd think... but I could be wrong!

- Nathan
Reply
#10
Heh! Yeah, yet another example of limited remains spawning various interpretations.

For all I know, maybe they just wanted bright sunlight to show off the sculptor's talents! Whatever they were up to, they were rewriting the book of how to build a NW frontier HQ in a bunch of different ways. If I had a choice of when, over its 500-year history, I'd like to visit the site, right about AD 200 would be in my top 5.
Everything old is new again.
Reply
#11
I was just looking at the fort at Guentis Algeria, there certainly seem to be a LOT of circular features around this North African garrison.
Are there any readily available write ups on the Vindolanda circular huts I can do a cross reference with? Anyone been to Guentis or know of any decent literature?

   

PS nice right angle corners for anyone interested in that kind of thing.
PPS the TV show Nathan started with is probably "Mummy Mysteries Series 1 Episode 1" still available for free on UKTV Play 23 minutes in.  uktvplay.uktv.co.uk
Reply
#12
(03-15-2017, 10:20 AM)John1 Wrote: the fort at Guentis Algeria... nice right angle corners for anyone interested in that kind of thing.

Later forts often appear to be a lot more rectilinear - take a look at some of the Diocletianic ones on the Euphrates frontier if you really want to see some right angles!

I would guess that Guentis may have been part of the Limes Numidiae - so constructed by Severus. Perhaps around the same sort of time as the round huts at Vindolanda, in fact...


(03-15-2017, 10:20 AM)John1 Wrote: the TV show Nathan started with is probably "Mummy Mysteries Series 1 Episode 1"

This was the one:

Channel 4 - 'The Untold Invasion of Britain'
Reply
#13
Thanks Nathan, got any names of sites for the rectangles on the Euphrates frontier? 

I can't say what or how old those circles are at Guentis, they certainly look man made and contemporary with the Fort, otherwise they would stray into the fort I suspect. Although there is something odd about the NW corner, maybe later use by military, (French?) there seem to be vehicle tracks over the wall line and the ground scraped back non-archaeologically. Great site love to hear about it from anyone who has made it out there.
Reply
#14
(03-16-2017, 03:56 PM)John1 Wrote: got any names of sites for the rectangles on the Euphrates frontier?

There are the fortresses at Udruh, Azraq and Ain Sinu, of course, which all have prominent corner towers, but I was actually thinking of this one, Qreiyeh on the Euphrates, 25 miles above Circesium. Date unknown, but probably 3rd century or later:

[Image: limes-aerial.jpg]

Perhaps Sa'anah too. It does seem as if the later fortifications had sharper corners than the principiate ones we're familiar with from Britain and the Rhine. Then again, the Byzantine fortress at Gheriat al-Gharbia was built with a very traditional (if lengthened) 'playing card' shape...


(03-16-2017, 03:56 PM)John1 Wrote: Great site love to hear about it from anyone who has made it out there.

Don't imagine anyone's been there lately - by the looks of things it's deep in Bat Country...
Reply
#15
Thanks for that, amazingly the very same image appeared in the thread that cannot be named (post 1313)  in reference to the Windridge and Water Newton sites.
Reply


Possibly Related Threads...
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  Sub Saharan Africans in Roman army richsc 27 3,667 10-25-2017, 11:27 AM
Last Post: Robert Vermaat
  Borders folk may descend from Africans from Hadrian\'s Wall Robert Vermaat 29 5,107 03-15-2017, 11:50 PM
Last Post: John1
  africans in the military Anonymous 12 1,590 12-10-2002, 05:25 PM
Last Post: rekirts

Forum Jump: