Although the fort at Corbridge was demolished in the middle of 2nd century AD this was far from the end of a military presence. Detachments of two of the British legions (probably legiones VI Victrix and XX Valeria Victrix in the first instance) were installed in separate compounds to the south of the Stanegate and we are now going to turn our attention to the eastern legionary compound.
The first thing to note is the curious rippling effect caused by subsidence into the ditches of the earliest fort on the site. These ditches were actually examined by Ian Richmond and John Gillam in three separate locations and found to have a high organic content, which appears to have compacted with time (although the fact that drains were constructed across them suggests the subsidence did not occur until after construction, possibly even long after abandonment of the site). For many years it was said that the site had slumped either side of a buried road, but structures built over old roads on the natural sand and gravel subsoil elsewhere on the site do not normally behave in this way.
Starting at the eastern extremity, the compound wall foundation can be seen snaking its way around structures, carefully avoiding some strip buildings south of the Stanegate (Site 44 and the ‘temples’). The function of these structures is uncertain, whilst the circular feature within Site 44 is both striking and mysterious: it was neither an oven (no burning) nor a well (it had a base).
At one point, the compound wall incorporates part of an earlier wall, which it crosses, and this is all that can be seen of military structures that post-dated the fort but pre-dated the compound; we can say little more than that it was there, but it may indicate a brief intermediate phase in the 2nd century before the legionaries moved in. Within the complex known as Site 43, the easternmost building is apsidal and was identified as a schola (a sort of military club): it has to be understood that scholae were once trendy amongst Roman army scholars and anything that was not understood ran the risk of being identified as such.
Next to it was a small rectangular building identified as a latrine, and then south of that was a larger structure that, intriguingly, has a tale of exotic lands to tell. This building also incorporates an apse, but is identifiable as a headquarters building (the apse being the shrine of the standards). On either side of that apse are the rear range of rooms, and then west of that is the cross-hall. However, this HQ building has no courtyard and that is a feature known from Eastern buildings of this kind and may suggest familiarity with the East on the part of its builders. It also recalls the wars in that part of the Empire during the 2nd century, participation by British troops, and the inscriptions (like the famous Sol Invictus inscription) that indicate similar interests. Another apsidal structure is tucked into the south-east corner of the site, but the compound actually extended some way down the hill: we know this from both pre-WW1 excavations and evidence from aerial photography, since the compound wall is very distinctive.
In front of the HQ building is a street leading to the eastern compound gate which we can identify as its via praetoria. The next structure to the west of the HQ is a larger rectangular building that the excavators identified as a workshop (Site 42), and then an even larger one (Site 41) thought to be a store. Beyond that is a much larger and very complex structure (Site 39) that can just about be interpreted as originally having been two officers’ houses, similar to (but smaller than) the tribunes’ houses found in legionary bases. This building even included a pottery kiln in a later phase of its life, but originally there is no doubting its role as officers’ housing.
The foundations of the eastern compound wall are easy to trace, but it is interesting that much of it has been razed to the ground and this happened in the 4th century when the two legionary compounds were united as one with a new, shared wall, and this allowed the demolition of the walls and gates that separated them.
At the western end of the eastern compound, next to the main north–south street (in fact the old via praetoria of the forts), the demolished remains of the compound gate can be seen.
In Part III, we shall explore the western compound.