4.2 Extramural Activity

There can be no doubt that there were settlements inhabited by non-military personnel (vici) outside at least some of the forts on the Wall, given the discovery of an inscription dedicated by the inhabitants (vicani) of one some 140m east of the fort at Carriden (Roman Inscriptions of Britain III 3503). However, despite more than 20 years of research, particularly through geophysical survey, very little structural evidence of such settlements has been revealed.

Black and white image of a carved stone on a wooden pedestal. The stone is light-coloured and resembles a gravestone.
Roman altar to Jupiter dedicated by the inhabitants of the vicus found at Carriden
© HES (National Museums of Scotland

Only at Croy Hill is there clear evidence of buildings, though very little open area excavation has taken place elsewhere. A single rectangular, open-ended building of a rather unusual construction was uncovered to the south-west of the fort at Croy Hill, set within a ditched compound adjacent to a trackway curving down the slope towards the bypass road to the south. However, the wide range and large quantity of finds from the drainage ditches associated with that trackway, including structural debris, clearly indicated a strong focus of settlement activity on the flat plateau immediately north of the excavated area (Hanson 2022 a, 65–82). Only very fragmentary structural remains have been recorded elsewhere, for example at Bearsden, Bar Hill, Westerwood and Mumrills (Hanson 2020a). Those found beyond and overlying the ditches on the east side of the fort at Falkirk have usually been interpreted as lying within an undefined second annexe to the fort (see Annexes).

A colour photograph of an excavation with brown soil, linear stone stuctures and people excavating towards the back of the image.
Excavating the trackway ditches at Croy Hill © WS Hanson

Relatively little attention has been paid until recently to the presence of women living on the Wall. They are attested very occasionally on inscriptions or funerary sculpture, though these tend to be biased towards the wealthier members of society such as officers’ wives, or graffiti on pots (eg Roman Inscriptions of Britain III 3504; CSIR 113; Allason-Jones et al 2020, 347–9). More frequently, it is the material culture that indicates the presence of both women and children. Though identifying the gender of the owners of artefacts can be problematic, discarded shoes can confidently be assigned to women and children because of their direct correlation with foot size. Examples are known from five forts along the Wall (Balmuildy, Castlecary, Rough Castle, Bar Hill and Camelon), the latter two involving relatively large assemblages with a high percentage of women, youths or children represented (Allason-Jones et al 2020, 351–8). There remains some slight uncertainty whether the wearers were resident within the civil settlement or the fort, though increasingly it looks like they were present in the fort itself.

Museum image of three leather shoes in lessening size place in a row inside a glass case. The shoes are all placed on foot shaped stands and are black, detailed leather with loops for laces.
Men’s, women’s and children’s leather shoes found in the well at Bar Hill Fort, now in The Antonine Wall, Rome’s Final Frontier gallery at the Hunterian Museum © Rediscovering the Antonine Wall

A range of activities is known to have taken place in the immediate vicinity of forts. Different types of enclosed field systems have been recorded adjacent to the forts at Carriden, Rough Castle, Westerwood, Croy Hill and Auchendavy. In most cases a Roman date has been confirmed by excavation (eg Keppie 1995; Dunwell et al 2002, 274–9; Hanson 2022 a, 43–64). Extensive excavation to the east of the fort at Croy Hill revealed a system of fence lines and short stretches of ditch. Located on both sides of a road that bypassed the fort, they divided up the area into small rectangular plots. Similar features have been excavated at Auchendavy, where they lie north of the Wall, while traces have also been found at Westerwood. At Carriden, an extensive system of ditch-defined rectilinear fields or plots, recorded from the air, are clearly aligned with the Roman road leading east from the annexe of the fort.

There are scattered indications of industrial activity having taken place outside forts. There is increasing evidence of local pottery production in association with individual forts, but few actual kilns have been located (see Production and Procurement). In two cases, Croy Hill (Hanson 2022 a, 54–64) and Duntocher (Newall 1998, 25–8), these are located outside the fort/annexe. The presence of broken or incomplete architectural stonework in the backfill of Roman features at Croy Hill may indicate the activities of a stonemason nearby.

Aerial excavation image of a trench with brown soil and an angular feature being excavated in the centre.
Excavation of rectangular structure at Croy Hill © WS Hanson

The presence of external bathhouses not within annexes at Auchendavy, Croy Hill, Duntocher and Falkirk has already been alluded to (see Forts). In the latter two cases, assuming the hypocausted building at Kemper Avenue is the bathhouse for the fort at Falkirk, they were located some distance away from the fort (Keppie 2004; Keppie and Murray 1981).

The only cemeteries associated with any of the Wall forts are at Camelon. Scattered finds there, recovered over many years, indicate that there were burials to the north-west and to the south-east of the fort. The finds includes an exotic funerary urn from the adjacent railway cutting, though some of the other evidence is disputed (Breeze et al 1976; Breeze and Rich-Gray 1980; Hunter 2020). Elsewhere occasional burials have been found, including a single cremation burial in a cooking pot to the south-east of the fort at Croy Hill (Hanson 2022 a, 61–62) and burials outside the fort at Mumrills. However, tombstones or funerary reliefs are known from several forts (Bar Hill, Croy Hill, Mumrills and Auchendavy), including four that are clearly civilian in character from Auchendavy (Keppie 1998, 113–18).

Excavation image of a pot or jar almost totally excavated from the side of a small trench. It appears full of a grey substance and is placed on stones.
A cooking pot or storage jar containing cremated human remains found at Croy Hill. The object is now on display in the Hunterian Museum © WS Hanson

Altars and religious statues provide evidence of other religious activity. Most of these are antiquarian discoveries and tend to lack precise contextual information. Nonetheless, occasionally such artefacts have been found in what appear to be their original location a short distance from the fort, such as at Westerwood, Mumrills, Castlecary, Croy Hill, Bar Hill and Duntocher (Roman Inscriptions of Britain III 3504; Roman Inscriptions of Britain 2140; 2149; 2159–60; 2167; and 2201). These suggest that it was not unusual for small shrines to be located in the immediate vicinity of forts on the Wall (Hanson 2020a). However, the only structural evidence of a possible temple (or perhaps victory monument) comes from slightly further afield at Arthur’s O’on on the north bank of the River Carron, where a large circular domed structure was still well preserved in the mid-eighteenth century (Steer 1958), though it has since been destroyed. Statues of Mars, Fortuna and a water nymph, the latter two from bathhouses, were found at Balmuildy, Castlecary and Duntocher respectively, while three possible busts of Silenus are recorded from a single location within the fort at Bar Hill (Keppie 1998, 118–24). The recovery of altars to the goddesses of the parade ground outside the forts at Castlehill and Auchendavy, the latter in a pit with four other altars dedicated to a range of deities, may hint at the location of associated parade grounds (Keppie 1998, 102–08).

An old illustration of the outside and inside of a dome-shaped structure built with rectangular bricks. A plan view is drawn to the right of the image, showing the perfect circular plan of the building.
A drawing of the temple considered to have been a monument to the Roman victory erected a little to the north of the Antonine Wall: it was demolished in 1743 © HES

Some argue that the annexes attached to forts on the Wall (and, indeed, to forts elsewhere) represent enclosed civil settlements (eg Sommer 2006, 118–23; see Annexes). This interpretation is much disputed but is unlikely to be resolved without extensive excavation.

Research issues

  • Seek to understand better the relationship between the military and others living both within and outside forts, including the presence of women and children.
  • Take any opportunities to excavate waterlogged deposits with a view to recovering leather artefacts, particularly shoes.
  • Take any opportunities to undertake more extensive excavation and geophysical survey outside forts, extending across a zone of at least 300m, particularly along the Military Way, to allow for the potential identification of cemeteries and other types of activity.
  • Bring to full publication the various geophysical surveys undertaken at several sites along the Wall.
  • Undertake follow-up fieldwork around any discoveries of altars, religious sculptures or potentially votive hoards.
  • Further examine the epigraphic evidence for the life of civilians within the wall corridor.
  • Look for cemeteries and encourage research on these and other religious aspects of life on the Wall, including through epigraphic and artefactual records.



Leave a Reply