This has been one of my all-time favorite locations to visit. Built by the Romans as part of a series of fortifications to supplement Hadrian’s Wall along the Scottish Borders, Vindolanda was finally abandoned after 410 A.D., when the sacking of Rome led to troops being gradually called back from the frontiers. By that point, the days of Roman expansion were over, and the empire started to (fairly rapidly) implode. According to our guidebook, this retreat from Vindolanda happened over several years, despite the fairly popular idea that all frontier posts were immediately abandoned after the city of Rome was sacked.

In fact, there are several historical sources that state that some of the Romans may have chosen to stay in what is now England (then Britannia) even after the majority of the troops pulled out. My personal favorite of these old stories involves a man named Ambrosius Aurelianus, who, according to fragments of legend and ancient histories, was a Roman who stayed behind and rallied the native Britons for a last stand against the invading Saxons. While the Saxons eventually took over Britain (until the Normans did the same thing to them in 1066), according to the stories Ambrosius was able to fend them off (from at least his part of Britain) for a number of years. Many of these stories were later folded into the legends of King Arthur (who may or may not have existed himself), with Ambrosius often appearing as Arthur’s uncle, a good king who died before he was born.

A note for fellow travelers: the guidebook available for purchase at Vindolanda isn’t incredibly helpful at letting you know what things are when you’re on the actual grounds, but it does provide a very good and comprehensive history of the site. I’ve read it several times since then. So definitely buy it, but expect to use it as sort of a short encyclopedia later on.

Like most Roman settlements, this fort came complete with toilets (which must have seemed quite foreign and unnecessary to the local Britons) and a heavily guarded treasury building. There seems to have been a fair amount of normal life going on in and around the fort, with some of the writing recovered including complaints about beer shortages and invitations to birthday parties. Yes, the Romans had those too.