Forts in Roman Britain

After the conquest of Britain control of areas was strengthened, where necessary, by garrisons of soldiers in forts. Archaeological remains reveal a variety of forts ranging in size from great fortresses to temporary camps. These are mostly seen in Wales, northern England and Scotland, with less evidence from south-eastern England.

Forts can often be closely dated by a combination of literary evidence, inscriptions, coins and pottery found at the site. Vindolanda in northern England, for example, has produced documents and letters, preserved by waterlogged conditions, which provide information about both the administrative and private lives of the fort's inhabitants in the decades around AD 100. Aerial photography has greatly assisted in the discovery of fort sites and since the First World War nearly half the forts in Scotland have been found through this method. There is some discussion about the extent to which the army had an effect on the local indigenous population. However, it is likely that fort sites influenced the location of nearby settlements; small settlements that grew up around the forts were known as vici.

A typical fort was rectangular in shape, surrounded by ditches and a wall or rampart and divided into blocks by a grid of streets. The headquarters building lay at the centre of the fort, and other buildings included officers houses, a bath-house and storage facilities. The barracks accommodated a 'century' of soldiers (eighty men) with eight men sharing a pair of rooms, one for storage of their equipment and the other for sleeping and eating. One of the most famous auxiliary forts in Britain can be seen at Housesteads. It was originally designed to hold a garrison of 1,000 auxiliary soldiers and dates from the second century AD.

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