Site of Vindobala at Rudchester Farm
Vindobala (Brytonnic Celtic : windo- fair, white, bala ?) was a Roman fort at the modern-day hamlet of Rudchester, Northumberland. It was the fourth fort on Hadrian's Wall, after Segedunum (Wallsend), Pons Aelius (Newcastle) and Condercum (Benwell). It was situated about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) to the west of Condercum. The name Vindobala means “White Strength”. The site of the fort is bisected by the B6318 Military Road, which runs along the route of the wall at that point.
The fort guards the valley of the March Burn to the west, an ancient route leading to the south towards the Tyne ford at Newburn. To the east the ground drops away to the Rudchester Burn. The fort is oblong, measuring 157 metres (515 ft) north to south by 117 metres (384 ft) east to west, and covers about 4.5 acres (1.8 ha). There were four main gates with double portals and two smaller, single-portal gates. There was one main gate on the north wall of the fort, and the east and west main gates opened on the north side of the Roman Wall. This left a single main gate on the south wall of the fort, and two smaller gates which probably gave access to a military way running along the south side of the Wall. There were towers at each corner of the fort, and also on either side of the main gates.
The Vallum passed about 220 metres (720 ft) south of the fort, and there was a vicus south and south west of the fort. South of the fort, on the brow of a hill, is a cistern, twelve feet long, four and a half feet broad and two feet deep. It was popularly known as the “Giant’s Grave”.
Now there is little to be seen on the surface, apart from mounds to the south of the Military Road marking the west and south ramparts. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stones were systematically removed from the site for local agricultural buildings, and also for the building of the Military Road.
The fort was garrisoned in the fourth century by the First Cohort of Frisiavones. These were troops recruited from a coastal tribe of Lower Germany. It is thought that the fort was built for a cohort, 500 strong and part-mounted.
In 1760 a life-size statue of Hercules was found at the site. Excavations of the site were carried out in 1924 and 1962. Two of the main gateways were excavated, as well as a large granary and part of the headquarters. In addition, a hypocaust belonging to the Commandant’s house was discovered.
In 1844, five altars, dedicated to Mithras, were discovered near the site, now known as the Rudchester Mithraeum. It is believed that these come from a temple to Mithras, situated to the south east of the fort. It appears that this was built in the third century and was deliberately destroyed in the fourth century. The building was 43 feet (13 m) long and 22 feet (6.7 m) wide with a narthex, or vestibule, attached to the front.
In 1924, an excavation took place on the wall line 1924 at a point 3 metres (9.8 ft) west of the fort. The north face was erected on a foundation course of coarse white stones. The first course was topped by an elaborately moulded plinth (unknown elsewhere). It has been speculated that this was the location of a special inscription stone marking work on the wall.
- J. Collingwood Bruce, Roman Wall (1863), Harold Hill & Son, ISBN 0-900463-32-5
- Frank Graham, The Roman Wall, Comprehensive History and Guide (1979), Frank Graham, ISBN 0-85983-140-X
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