What to see at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

By Mark Wright

Housesteads Roman Fort offers a fascinating insight to the life of Roman soldiers stationed at this northern outpost from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD. As one of the best-preserved and most iconic forts on Hadrian’s Wall, Housesteads provides visitors with a rich historical experience, surrounded by stunning landscapes and a profound sense of a turbulent past.

Also known as Vercovicium, Housesteads Roman Fort, one of fifteen forts along the length of the wall, was established within a decade of AD 122, when work began on Hadrian’s Wall itself. The wall’s strategic location marked the most northern extreme of the Roman Empire and it served as a defensive structure against invasions from the north. The fort housed a garrison of Roman soldiers and played a crucial role in maintaining order along Hadrian’s Wall.

Upon entering Housesteads, visitors encounter the well-preserved remains of the fort’s layout. The typical Roman fort plan includes barracks, a headquarters building, granaries, a hospital, and other essential facilities. The commanding officer’s house, or praetorium, stands prominently, showcasing the hierarchy and organisation inherent in Roman military structures.

The barracks at Housesteads reveal the harsh conditions in which Roman soldiers lived. The standardisation of Roman military architecture is evident, with rooms arranged in a precise grid pattern. Visitors can explore the remains of the soldiers’ quarters, gaining insights into their daily lives, routines, and challenges.

The granaries at Housesteads are the most substantial remaining structures within the fort. Elevated on stone pillars to prevent dampness and protect against vermin, these granaries stored the huge quantities of grain crucial to sustain the fort’s garrison. The efficient supply of grain and other essential goods was vital for supporting the troops stationed in this remote northern outpost.

The residence for the fort’s commanding officer was known as the praetorium and this structure stands out from the other buildings due to its more elaborate design, reflecting the higher status of the officer. The layout includes private quarters, reception rooms, and administrative spaces. The commanding officer played a pivotal role in maintaining discipline and order within the fort.

Religious practices were a fundamental part of Roman military life, and Housesteads features a small temple dedicated to the god Mithras, originally a Persian deity, eternally at war with evil. Exploring this area of the fort provides an insight to the spiritual life of the Roman soldiers, and highlights the syncretism of Roman religious beliefs.

Beyond the historical structures, Housesteads offers exceptional views of the surrounding landscape. The fort was strategically positioned to command expansive vistas over the rugged terrain to the north with its ever present threat of attack. Take time to appreciate the hardship and ongoing threat faced by Roman soldiers stationed here, and consider the engineering and strategic acumen involved in the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

To further enrich your visitor experience, Housesteads features a wonderful museum that complements the outdoor ruins. Exhibits showcase artefacts unearthed from the site, providing context and detail about the lives of those who lived there. Interactive displays and educational materials will help enhance your understanding of Roman history in this region.

In summary, a visit to Housesteads Roman Fort is a journey back in time, providing a physical connection with Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman presence in the north of the country. The well-preserved ruins, combined with informative exhibits and stunning landscapes, create an immersive experience for history enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.

Of course while Housesteads is a focal point, exploring the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall is a hugely rewarding experience. We offer a range of walking holidays along Hadrian’s Wall, from a 3 day short break on this the most dramatic, central section of the wall, through to 6 to 10 day walks along the entire length of this superb National Trail. To learn more and book your 2024 adventure on Hadrian’s Wall email u[email protected] or call us on 017687 72335 to speak with one of our walking holiday experts.