6. Discussion

6.1 Presence, habitation and roles of women in these forts

Thus, within these four military bases, artefacts left behind on activity surfaces, in wells and pits, and on rubbish dumps, after a fort has been abandoned, indicate the presence and movements of women and children inside these male domains. Many of the female-and child-related artefacts - from the gateways, streets and more public areas - conceivably belonged to itinerant traders and service people coming into the fort from a settlement outside. While some of the distribution pattern at the legionary fortresses of Vetera I and Rottweil might fit into this category, some of it is conceivably associated with officers' households. Such a restricted distribution pattern is less apparent for the other two, later, auxiliary forts, however. At both Oberstimm and Ellingen there seems a prominent pattern for female presences, and very probably residency, within the barracks of ordinary soldiers and craftsmen. Such women were possibly significant players in the activities within these forts, which, at Oberstimm, involved the supply of necessities to other military bases on the frontier. At Ellingen, their movements seem concentrated in the residential areas of ordinary soldiers. Whatever their other activities, these women appear to have been children and so producing soldiers' families, within the fort precinct.

6.2 Implications of the presence of women within these forts

Arguments that have frequently been put forward for why women could not have been accommodated within these communities and particularly within soldiers' barracks, include: the supposition that each barrack unit could only accommodate eight soldiers (Petrikovits 1975, 36; Phang 2001, 127); the systematic layout of military forts which does not allow adequate and suitably furbished residences for women and families (see van Driel Murray 1995, 16); and the supposition, by both ancient writers like Herodian and also modern scholars (e.g. Watson 1969, 133); that women were a hindrance to the necessary efficiency of a military unit.

However, calculations of the amount of space required to accommodate a single soldier, or to accommodate a family, are based on very proscriptive approaches to military life, and to human behaviour. Also, in many excavated forts and fortresses the systematic layout of many published fort plans are only hypothetical (e.g. Inchtuthil in Scotland: Webster 1985, fig. 34), as few forts have been comprehensively excavated (see Vetera I, and Chesters near Hadrian's Wall: see de la Bédoyère 2000, fig. 27). And an assumed disruptive, as opposed to a supportive, role for women in military life stems rather from age-old, biased, perspectives on female behaviour (see Van Driel Murray 1995, 19). Roxan has demonstrated that such support could even be financial (Roxan 1991, 465). While Watson argued that soldiers needed to remain celibate, he also acknowledged, contradictorily, the necessity of 'unofficial unions' (Watson 1969, 134-5). In general, our perspectives on the community lives of Roman soldiers in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD need to be rethought. For example, legionary fortresses probably functioned more like towns than as segregated communities.


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