I wanted to do the Poland post next for consistency, but I haven’t posted in a while and the Irish tour guide has dumb 80s music on way to loud for me to get my Celtic on via Charlotte my iPod without popping my eardrums, so I figured I’ll entertain you lot instead.
Three weeks ago (I’m very good at this updating the blog thing, aren’t I?) my Roman Britain class boarded a train at King’s Cross and sat on it for approximately four hours before we arrived in Northumberland in the north of England. There we looked around, realized we were in the middle if nowhere sans a bus and wondered why in the name of God we were on this trip on a perfectly good Friday. Well because it was free that’s why. We like free things.
When the bus finally did arrive, we trekked westward to the boarder of Hadrian’s wall. This wall was built by the Romans in the second century AD (yes, I say AD, meaning Anno Domini, none of this Common Era nonsense, this is the way it’s been done for 2000 years, I’m not messing with a perfectly functional system). The Emperor Hadrian, NOT Adrian, wanted to secure the borders of his empire and told his legions stationed in Britain to construct a wall 70 miles long across the neck of Britain five feet thick and thirty feet high, please and thank you. Which is exactly what they did. Now, it is not as impressive. But you can climb on it. Which was fun. It’s main purpose was to keep the crazy Scots out. It definitively marked the barrier between Rome and not Rome. Civilization vs barbarians.
Of course we hopped the fence and ventured into barbarian-land. When we were there two Scots were walking the wall and asked our English professor for directions. She told them and they went merrily on their way into Rome. An English girl in the lass exclaimed, “How could you? You’ve let the Scots in!”
Our first stop was the Roman Army museum at Vindolanda, one of the Roman forts along the wall. We met a very nice wannabe Roman soldier/archaeologist called Gambax who told us about the fort and the wall and life in the surrounding areas. The fort itself was strictly military. Only officers were allowed to have wives and families, so the rest of the soldiers (who were in for 25 years) clearly took up with the local girls and had illegitimate families in the outskirts of the fort. The native Britons of the area set up a village which was not nearly as organized as the fort. They built Roman style houses (meaning square as opposed to round) but the roads were sporadic, narrow and bent rather than straight and wide.
Inside the fort itself, most of the ancient artifacts are found either under the floorboards or in rubbish dumps. Because Britain’s climate is so damp, a great deal of organic material has survived including leather boots, wigs and wooden writing tablets. Most of the tablets are military missives but one of them is an invitation to a birthday party from one officer’s wife to another. The message is written by a scribe but the woman added a postscript in her own hand. It is the earliest surviving evidence of a woman writing in the entire world.
Also found are things like samian bowls (the dishes made of red clay with black paintings on them. They look Greek but I promise they’re Roman) and glass vases, which would have been highly prized by both the soldiers and their women. Both were distinctly made on the Continent in the Roman style and kept them in touch with the rest of the Empire. Also making the people feel very Roman were their intricate bath houses. They each had about five rooms, one for getting changed, a hot bath room, a cold bath room, a steam room and a getting re-dressed room. The commanding officer and his wife had their own bath houses. A bath house is easily recognized by it’s rounded roof to keep the condensing water from dripping on your head while you’re bathing; instead it glides down the walls away from you. The Romans were smart. With these rooms and items, the people living on the remote border of Rome were able to feel like they were still part of it.
Time out. Now the music is opera. Which is fine with me but I don’t get this guy.
The folks at Vindolanda were so pumped about their most recent discovery under the floorboards a few months back and could not stop talking about it. They found the human remains of a child they believe to have been murdered by the soldiers. How charming. They were loving it because they will now hopefully be able to harvest a great deal of new information. I just thought it was quite sad. What was kind of amusing is the fact that if you are an archaeologist and you find human remains, you are under legal obligations to report it to the police.
“Yes, officer, we did find evidence of a murder on our site.”
“Great scot! When do you think it happened?”
“About 1800 years ago.”
“Um … Er … What the hell are we supposed to do with that?”
Poor bobby. Probably hadn’t had a good case in months up in the middle of nowhere.
We stayed in a disgusting hostel I don’t want to talk about and they next day we drove/walked along the wall and visited two other sites which looked exactly the same as the other one. God bless the Romans and their consistency. Which I clearly don’t have.
My favorite European city next!