Housesteads Roman Fort
Military Hexham Northumberland

Housesteads Roman Fort

Military In Hexham, Northumberland

A Roman Fort that forms part of Hadrian's Wall at the frontier of the Roman Empire.

For over 1900 years the fort of Housesteads has stood on the Whin Sill plateau in Northumberland and actually pre-dates Hadrian's Wall itself. While it lies in ruins today, it still offers a valuable insight into the life and times of its inhabitants on the northern edge of the Roman frontier.

Housesteads' story begins around 73 AD, shortly after the Roman conquest of northern England. Recognising the strategic importance of the Whin Sill, a natural escarpment offering panoramic views across the valleys below, the Romans established a series of forts along its length. Housesteads, known as Vercovicium to the Romans, was one of these early outposts.

The initial fortifications at Housesteads were relatively modest, consisting of timber buildings and earthwork defences. These early years saw frequent skirmishes with the native Caledonian tribes, highlighting the fort's crucial role in securing the frontier. Archaeological evidence suggests that the inhabitants of Housesteads during this period were primarily auxiliary units, soldiers recruited from various corners of the vast Roman Empire.

The construction of Hadrian's Wall in the 120s AD significantly impacted Housesteads. While positioned just south of the Wall itself, Housesteads remained a vital link in the defensive network. Its strategic position offered a commanding view of the surrounding terrain, allowing for early warning of potential incursions and facilitating communication between other forts along the Wall.

With the construction of the Wall, Housesteads saw a shift in its role. While still maintaining a military presence, the fort also developed a civilian community catering to the needs of the soldiers and their families. Shops, workshops, and even a bathhouse sprang up outside the fort walls, creating a vibrant and bustling community.

The daily lives of those inhabiting Housesteads were likely characterised by a blend of military routine and civilian activity. Soldiers stationed at the fort would have participated in regular drills, patrolled the surrounding territory, and stood guard duty. Meanwhile, the civilian population engaged in various trades, providing essential goods and services to the fort's occupants.

Beyond its military significance, Housesteads housed a dedicated temple complex, suggesting the presence of religious activities and fostering a sense of community among the inhabitants. The presence of a Mithraeum, a temple dedicated to the Persian mystery cult of Mithras, further underscores the diverse cultural and religious landscape within the Roman Empire and its influence on the frontier communities.

The well-preserved remains of a granary at Housesteads offer fascinating insights into the logistical challenges of maintaining a fort on the frontier. The sheer size of the granary suggests the need to stockpile food supplies to ensure the fort's self-sufficiency in the face of potential threats or disruptions in supply lines.

Housesteads was eventually abandoned around 410 AD as the Roman Empire withdrew from Britain. However, its legacy has endured for centuries. The remains of the fort, looked after by English Heritage, offer a captivating glimpse into the Roman world and its remarkable engineering prowess. Indeed, the site boasts the best preserved latrines, cisterns and water channels of any Roman Fort in Britain!

During our most recent visit we noticed something sitting on top of a mole hill just outside the fort complex and after giving it a bit of a wash in a nearby stream we realised we had found an old horse tooth! Whether it dated from the Roman period it is hard to say but that's what we tell everyone.

There is a visitor centre, toilets and café on site for the all important teas and wees and you can also get access to Hadrian's Wall to the east and west.

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Contributed by Andrew Gardner

I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.

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Andrew Gardner

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Housesteads Roman Fort was listed in Military // Northumberland // Hexham