Toys and intact swords among discoveries made at the ancient Roman fort of Vindolanda


Last year it was stylish shoes, a few months ago it was ink-written wooden tablets, and now in the past few weeks, Vindolanda continues to baffle archaeologists with its veritable cache of ancient Roman objects, ranging from toy swords to actually intact cavalry swords. The Roman fort, present in modern-day Northumberland, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, unraveled its secrets after archaeologists managed to lift stone foundation slabs from a recently renovated section of the military complex.

The ‘hidden’ layer beneath the foundations revealed a stratum of black, sweet smelling, anaerobic soil that is nigh perfect for preserving historical objects. And preserve it did, with the researchers being able to uncover structures like abandoned stables, living quarters and even fireplaces, all dating from circa 120 AD. The discovery of these spatial elements was accompanied by the findings of various objects, like toys, arrowheads, ballista bolts, writing tablets, stylus pens, leather shoes, combs, hairpins and two remarkably well-preserved iron swords.


Copper alloy cavalry strap found at the Vindolanda site.

The toys pertain to two wooden sword specimens that were probably the items of military brats residing in the vicinity of the fort. These young kids must have liked to mimic the military exploits of their serving fathers and brothers. To that end, it is estimated that more than a thousand Roman soldiers lived at the site, along with several thousand of women, children, and slaves. Archaeologist Andrew Birley, the director of the excavations, said –

The range of artifacts, not just toy swords but also ladies’ and children’s shoes and bath clogs, show that the fort had a mixed community living inside the barracks. [The barracks were most certainly cramped and probably stunk of] leather, rusting armor, sweat, charcoal and smoke, and of course, horses and dogs, all combined.


As for the arguably more incredible discovery, the archaeologists were pleasantly surprised by the intact cavalry swords found in the lower soil stratum. The rarity of the find can be compared to the modern-day equivalence of soldiers leaving behind their guns inside barracks. One of the theories behind this mystery relates to how the Roman soldiers probably had to leave their posts in a hurry. This, in turn, alludes to the potential scenario where more such valuable items can be found inside the Vindolanda fort. Birley added –

To find two complete swords in separate rooms but only 2 meters [6.6 feet] from one another is incredibly rare. You normally only find complete examples of those in national museums, like the few in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland, and then they only have a few.

Lastly, the good news from the archaeological perspective is that the current excavation project will continue for another two weeks. In the meantime, we can keep our fingers crossed for the next big discovery from the enigmatic layers of the ancient Roman Vindolanda fort.


Source: LiveScience / Images Source: The Vindolanda Trust