Barca Below


Under the City Museum, the Museu d’Història de Barcelona in the Plaça del Rei, are the in-situ archaeological remains of the Roman and post-Roman city of Barcino. 

These are amazing and more extensive than I had expected. As I was only making the most fleeting visit, I arrived in town late in the afternoon thinking that the available couple of hours would be sufficient to visit these remains (and then have a look at a couple of other things later on) but I actually ended up seriously pushed for time and having to hurry through the last little bits. Nevertheless I really enjoyed getting a look, even just this little look, at these remains.

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The visit starts on the ground floor with an introductory gallery about the development of the Roman city of Barcino.

and this was then was followed by a quick trip in the lift, down into the basement and back the best part of two-thousand years.


I very quickly spotted some smashing #wallporn made, very obviously, from bits and bobs of reused material.


There are bits of columns and arches, various sizes of stone blocks and even inscribed stones.



This actually forms one of the 78 towers built against the outside of the city wall in 4th century CE.

The area of town that is preserved under the modern streets includes streets and houses, and elements of the city’s manufacturing infrastructure.


There is a fabric dying establishment, a winery and a garum production factory. You remember garum, right? fish sauce. Have a look here.

Streets and houses


This image (above) shows some lovely #wallporn and #roadporn. You can see the drain running under the paved road.


These were arranged as terraces of small, probably 2 storey houses with a road between the terraces. All very recognisable.

One house, a step up the social scale, has a well-made paved floor with a central panel of of opus sectile (made from pieces of marble arranged in a geometric pattern).


Industry and manufacturing

So, here they are:

Laundry and fabric dying

These large laundry vats are lined with opus spicatum, a type of flooring made from terracotta tiles laid edge on in a herringbone pattern.


The image below shows the construction method used to make these large vats capable of holding water. First a layer of opus signinum, made from mortar with crushed brick and tile mixed in, then beaten flat to form a hardwearing flooring. Then the opus spicatum. It looks like the surface has been re-covered later using more opus signinum.


This tank, used for dying fabric, is lined with plaster, which has been stained by the dye. The colour has been identified as Egyptian Blue/Pompeian Blue.


Traces of ammonia, lime and starch have been found in the drain channels and other evidence associated with fabrics were found in the area. Sewing, weaving, spinning have all left their mark.

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wine production

The large winery has evidence of all stages of production.

This beautifully paved tank was used in the transfer of the must (pressed-grapes), via a duct, to the lower area of the facility where there were fermentation and storage tanks.


The most striking feature is probably this storage and fermentation area. Sunk into the floor are huge amphorae called dolia in which the wine is left to age.



Speaking of amphorae, the associated display have examples of some of the amphora-stamps found a the site. This is branding, Roman-style.The equivalent of the pepsi logo.




And I just love these rather showy amphora lids.


garum production

The same dolia can be seen in the garum production factory.



There are also large rooms with spaces and structures used in the preparation of the fish. Filleting, descaling, gutting, mixing the eviscera in tanks to ferment. Mmm, yum (not).


Due to the late hour I had to get a wriggle on to get round the whole space. It’s actually huge. Every time I went round a corner, here was more. Loads more. Churches, more streets, more artefacts. Loads.

So if you do happen to be holidaying in Barcelona, in amongst all those Gaudis and the beach and whatnot, don’t forget to have a look at Roman Barcino.

Kevin Shields in a Hot Tub*

Loop in Barcelona. BAM 2015


2015 seems to be the year of ‘moments’. Moments of madness that is.

You know Loop, yeah? Well they were playing a gig in the street in Barcelona. As you do.

I had another of my little ‘moments’ and went over for the day. I’m really going to have to stop doing this.


Loop. Love. Blah blah. Here are some pictures.



I managed to get some decent ones of Wayne for a change.


Look! Smiling!


*Why Kevin Shields in a Hot Tub? I have no idea but Robert introduced one of the songs as Kevin Shields** in a Hot Tub.


**Kevin Shields is the Herr Obergruppenführer My Bloody Valentine.

Barça, Barça, Baaarça!

Ok, this is just a quickie for Roman gaming fans.

During my all-too-brief sojourn in Barcelona, I visited the City Museum (more of which another time). Now, my work on the Roman collection at the LAARC has turned me into something of an obsessive when it comes to seeking out Roman dice and other gaming equipment wherever I happen to be.

At the City Museum,  the Museu d’Història de Barcelona in the Plaça del Rei, the star attractions are the in-situ archaeological remains of the Roman and post-Roman city. These are amazing and I’ll post some pictures soon, but sitting quite unobtrusively in a display case in one of the small museum areas were these artefacts. Evidence of gaming and, possibly, gambling in Roman Barca.


First, these lovely dice. Made from animal bone with either dot-and-ring or dot-and-double-ring pips.


NERDS! there’s a fragment of a Type 2 lurking at the back on the right.


These are sheep’s knuckle-bones.


There could be used in similar ways to dice, but it’s not so obvious how the different sides would be counted, in numerical terms. As the bones faces are irregular and uneven, and are assigned different values, weighted to take account of these irregularities. There were also used to play a game called tali (in Latin, or astragaloi in Greek), which is similar to jacks.

I haven’t seen any of these in the London collect ion that have been securely identified as gaming equipment. Plenty as dinner though.

These are interesting.


They’re gaming counters made from the vertebrae of fish. The spines have been trimmed off leaving just the cleaned up centrum and, although they vary in size, they make great counters.

I saw some of these in museums in Tunisia and Algeria and it is particularly interesting to see them here in Barcelona because the museum presents other evidence of contact between Barca and parts of North Africa.

For example, alongside the Gaulish samian ware we see in so many museums, especially in northern Europe, at Barca, the finewares also included African Red Slipware (ARS).


Some pieces even have Christian symbolism imprinted or applied to them, highlighting the very active role that Christians in North African cities played in the dissemination and development of early Christianity. A hot-bed of activity which actually moulded the Christian church.


Lastly, a lovely piece to see up close, but terribly lit, is this stone gaming board.


The game played on this is called Nine Men’s Morris (or a variant of this game) and is a strategy game in which opposing players try to reduce each others’ counters (‘men’).

This is just a tiny glimpse at the delights found in the city museum. And not a Gaudi in sight!



Last weekend I was up in Liverpool with my mate Jeremy. We hadn’t just gone on a whim, but were attending a psych fest, rather grandly entitled Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia (Liverpool Psych Fest to you and me).


This festival runs over 2 days (Friday and Saturday), from mid-afternoon until the wee hours on both days. Obviously I wasn’t going to spend the entire 26 hours with my head in a speaker. I mean, there are other things to do in Liverpool, but I still got to see a few good bands, have a look at some very cool film and lighting installations, peruse the record stall and generally hang out and catch up with other chums.


So here they are, sort of in order of top-ness (although not necessarily exactly), my micro-reviews.

My overall winners of Liverpool Psych Fest 2015:

The Heads


50% of The Heads now = 50% of Loop, so that’s happening, right? But, in any case, I also like The Heads in their own right. By the time that The Heads were really doing the business in the later 1990s/early-2000s I’d gone off into the world of dark drum’n’bass so I pretty well missed them. A quite different group of Bristolians had my attention. I’m happy to be making up for it now though.

To describe this gig as ‘face-melting’ could be considered as something of an understatement. There were moments when the sheer volume was actually making me a bit dizzy. My inner ear took a right battering, I can tell you. At one point, I thought I was going to fall over. But I didn’t. So that’s ok.

This was largely a noise set rather than a sing-song (the gig at The Lexington in April was a bit more of a sing-song. But only a bit). But although, yes, it was stupid loud, it wasn’t stupid, if you see what I mean. And so they went storming around their back catalogue and we had lots of tunes from across various of their albums with barely a break throughout the whole set.

Basically, they went large.


At the end of the set, I was able to get a setlist from Wayne. Thanks Wayne.


THE BIG DECISION for a lot of people at this year’s festival was Spiritualized or The Heads. I made the right choice :D I can still say this, even though I know that Spiritualized played Take Me To The Other Side which, I bet, was a real tear-jerker.

After the set I had to pop upstairs to retrieve the swag I’d bought earlier, and when I was up there, another festival-goer remarked that I must have just seen a great band because I was still doing the monkey-dance :D It was the kind of set that leaves you reeling and high-kicking at the same time :D Fun, fun, fun (with added AHB).


I filmed a couple of songs on my camera, here , but the bloke standing next to me filmed the whole set at much higher quality, here.

Also mentioned in dispatches:


This is Simon Price from The Heads’ other project, and saw the ‘3’ expanded to ‘5’ with the addition of The Heads/Anthroprophh axe-man Paul Allen and Carlton Melton’s Rich Millman.

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This is a slightly less in yr face beast (but only ‘slightly’ less), but the set as a whole had a pleasing driving quality (lots of forward motion) with long (semi-) improvised (?) instrumentals building, evolving, adding layers and texture. A little less rock and a little more roll. One of the stand-out sets of the weekend, without doubt.


Etienne Jaumet


Multi-instrumentalist and producer Jaumet, of Zombie Zombie fame, pulled out a relatively low key set, with saxophone samples (sampled live!), beats and a certain Gallic funkiness. It’s less party-party than Zombie Zombie, but I liked it.


The Lumerians. I was actually in another little venue, District, seeing Vision Fortune (who hadn’t really got going yet) but Jeremy kept sending me texts telling me that there were sparkly monks playing in Camp. Sparkly monks, you say? Yeah, well obviously. So off I went.


I can’t honestly say that The Lumerians were big or clever, but they were fun :)  Lots of synths and rythmic guitars. And sparkly.

K-X-P, more hooded figures to round off Saturday night. These are a Finnish krautrock-y 3-piece with a nice line in ‘motorik’ (*snigger*) with pretty dark, driving beats and a certain amount of yelping. I did like this band but, unfortunately, they were following The Heads so I was still bouncing off the walls. I’ll need to see K-X-P again in order to do them justice but I think that they’re a goer.


Blanck Mass, him out of Fuck Buttons, pulled out a great, pretty upbeat dance set (much of my Friday was on the dance rather than psych side). Described as an “eclectic mix of krautrock, minimal synth and Detroit techno”, which is about right, but it also made me think that this is what hard house could be like if it wasn’t so bloody boring.


This was followed by Factory Floor who rounded off Friday night with another rousing dance-along. I understand that they sometimes have a live drummer which I think would have been even better (I like drummers. More drumminess please). It was more like a club vibe for the latter part of the night with hard techno beats and visuals there was no time for sleepiness until my head hit the pillow at stupid-o-clock.


Not bad, so-so and meh:

What’s Russian for ‘shoegazer’? Pinkshinyultrablast. These are getting a bit of a buzz at the moment and they’re alright, but a bit of a one-trick-pony. They are clearly (very clearly) big fans of MBV but I think that the reliance on one, very girly, female vocal becomes a bit samey after a while. The music is not bad, all late-80s fuzzy indie guitars, but I hope that they’ll push it a bit more and not stick to the one tried-and-tested formula.

Virginia Wing were also alright. They had a touch of the Stereolabs about them but I really felt like they could do with just a little more bounce. The songs (I think we saw 3 or 4) were pretty good but needed a little more energy to stop them tipping over into becoming a bit boring. One to watch, maybe.

Vision Fortune. Well TBH, it hadn’t really got going before I was lured away by sparkly monks (see above, The Lumerians).

Jane Weaver, yes yes I know you all love her and she’s the saviour of music (or something) but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to end up being the next Dido or Adele, and doing a Bond theme for nice middle class Guardian readers. I’m sure she’s very nice but I just don’t really need this.

There was another band playing in Blade Factory who we saw 5 minutes of by accident. One of the blokes had a hat on that was just upsetting me, so I had to leave. I don’t know who they were.

I also tried to avoid anything that smacked of prog, as I have an extremely low prog-tolerance. That means you, Carlton Melton.

Damn and blast it:

At festivals it’s inevitable that you’ll end up missing something that you wouldn’t have minded seeing, either because of clashes or because of late-night-early-morning-I-don’t-want-to-get-up-ness. Anyway, I missed Destruction Unit, but I’ve heard that the sound wasn’t great for them. I probably would have liked to have seen Hey Colossus but I was in Kandodo5, and ditto for The Octopus Project, but I was in Pinkshinyultrablast. Another time, hopefully.

In addition to all these musical shenanigans, the festival had lots of other spaces to hang out in and see stuff.


There was a chill-out cinema.


With groovy lights. (Look, Loop t-shirt :) )


There was silk screen printing which looked like fun (I didn’t really have time to do one).

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I really liked the room with the projections. They had bands playing in there too but it got too crowded to be able to even see anything.



And what about all those other things-to-do in Liverpool?

I had actually determined that while I was in Liverpool, I was going to have nothing at all to do with the B****es (because I’m contrary like that). I was doing pretty well until  I ran into this splendid specimen…



A legionary fortress in Wales: Who are you?

The Romans were a relatively literate lot. That is not to say that every common man and woman went around spouting Horace but they did leave a remarkable quantity of written information about themselves. Inscriptions, dedications, painted and handwritten notes, monikers, you name it, they left it.

At Isca, Caerleon Roman legionary fortress, we can see a whole range of written evidence for the people who lived and worked there, including the very people who built the place.

Lets start with the Legion which called Isca home, the Second Augustan Legion, Legio II Augusta.

We’ve already seen the terracotta tile in the bathhouse stamped with the moniker of the Legion.


But the Legion is namechecked again a number of inscriptions recording the dedication or rebuilding of buildings in the fort by units of the Legion.



This inscription (above), one of the few in Britain cut in marble, records rebuilding at the fortress, although it is not known which building it relates to. It was found later reused as a paving slab.

Individual units of the Legion also left their marks, often recording construction works. These few are from the construction of the amphitheatre.

This records work by the century of Rufinus Primus, from the third cohort.


And below, (top) the century of Claudius Cupitus (centre) from the fifth cohort, the century of Paetinus and (bottom) the century of Julius Gemellus from the eighth cohort.


RIB334; RIB340; RIB339

These blocks record sections of work carried out but this less formal inscription (below) looks more like a personal mark, perhaps left by a particularly keen gladiator-fan. It shows symbols of the amphitheatre; the victory palm and the trident of the retarius gladiator, flanked by representations of the shoulder-pieces worn by the gladiators.


Smaller and more personal inscriptions can be found on objects from the fort.  Living in close proximity with so many other people, individuals often tried to ensure that personal possessions didn’t go walkabout by engraving, writing or scratching the name of the rightful owner into the fabric of the object.

This mortarium, an ever-useful kitchen mixing/grinding bowl, has been etched with the name of, presumably, the owner.



Ok. That isn’t easy to make out and I have to fess up to not photographing the label. If anyone is in Caerleon and can go and have a look, or if anyone knows, please leave a comment. I’d be very grateful.

Right, here’s one that I did make a note of.


Compare this one to the one above. The hand is more polished, more formal and, as a consequence, more readable. It even has that little decorative flourish.

It runs:

‘(GENIO FELI)CITER AEL ROMULI’ which is translated as:

‘Good luck to the presiding spirit of the century of Aelius Romulus’ and is presumed as being connected with an annual regimental dinner.

And talking of wine…


The shoulder of this wine amphora bears the name of the legion, ‘LEG.II.AUG’ and a cursive inscription. This kind of wine jar arrived in Britain, probably from Crete, in the ’50s and ’60.

There is one type of object in the museum which is always of particular interest. An ink writing tablet. These are great. The most well known ones have been found at Vindolanda, up near Hadrian’s Wall, but there are others, from Carlisle, London and here at Caerleon.


The writing on the tablet is pretty crisp and clear but it’s still tricky to make out as it’s written in a script called Old Roman cursive. Basically Roman handwriting. This should help


Still none the wiser?

Well it has been dated to the late first century CE and it’s basically a record of works being carried out my men of the legion. Some guards have been sent to fetch the pay (ad opinionem petendam) and parties who are out collecting building material (material). One of the soldiers in charge of the pay-escort is called Ofillio.

Phew!  So there you have a little selection of the written evidence from Caerleon and I’ve managed to get through an inscriptions post without even mentioning gravestones.


Roman Inscriptions of Britain:

Roman Trajanic marble inscription from Caerleon:

A legionary fortress in Wales

And so back again to the legionary fortress at Caerleon, Isca. This is one of the relatively few legionary fortresses in Roman Britain. Home to around 5000 men, Roman citizens recruited to Legio II Augusta, the Second Augustan Legion  from northern Italy, Provence and southern Spain.

Visible remains around the modern town of Caerleon  include an area of barracks, an amphitheatre, stretches of fort walls, a number of ovens in which the troops’ bread would have been baked and impressive bathhouse. We’ve had a little look at the impressive bathhouse, so let’s have a look at the rest of the remains of Caerleon Legionary Fortress.

Let’s start with walls.

There are stretches of the north-west and south-west quadrants’ walls still standing, some now just under the under turf, some standing up to a height of about 3.5 metres.

There are the remains of a turret in this stretch of wall but there was a young couple canoodling in there so I couldn’t get a decent picture of it without looking like a total creep.


You’ll just have to use your imagination. It looks like a turret.

In the north-west quadrant are the excavated remains of the barrack blocks.


Each barrack block had rooms for ten groups of eight men (a century) with a suite of rooms at the end for the centurion.


The excavated blocks are just a small proportion of the accommodation in the fortress. These particular barracks are situated nearest to the fort wall in the north-western corner of the fortress, and there was a road that ran around the fortress just inside the walls. Between this perimeter road and fortress wall is a series of circular ovens. They are situated in this area so as to keep the fires used for baking well away from the buildings.


In the museum are these two lead bread stamps (because who doesn’t want leadie-bread? Right?). N.b. the bread isn’t original. This isn’t Pompeii!.


The top one, and the stamp in the bread says ‘Century of Quintinius Aquila’ [QVINTINI AQVILAE] (2nd century).

And below, ‘Century of Vibius Severus (produced by) Sentius Paullinus’ [VIBI SEVE – SEN PAVLLIN] (1st century).

The museum contains a large number of lovely artifacts, many of them directly associated with the military. There is this well-preserved helmet. You can see the much shinier replica on the model in the background.



Other bits of soldiers’ kit include this great little field flask,


This beautifully decorated 1st century plaque depicts Victory carrying captured arms.


There is a selection of the large quantity of gaming equipment found around the fortress. You know how I love gaming equipment.


Soldiers were cash-rich in comparison with many of the locals, but some of them seem to have lost/left some of their money behind when they left (or were killed), including this large collection of denarii.


And I love this beautifully complete little money box.


Well, as this is a Roman jolly, there must be an amphitheatre.


This amphitheatre would have held around 6000 people, seated in tiers. The lower part of the structure was built in stone, with timber upper levels. Amphitheatres attached to forts were used for the usual gladiatorial games, beast hunts and the execution of criminals, but also for  military training and drilling.


This is a lovely spot for a mooch or a kick-about on a sunny day.

Next time, we’ll meet a few of the individuals who lived, for a while, at Isca, including some of those who actually built the amphitheatre.

A legionary fortress in Wales: Rub-a-dub-dub

After visiting the civilian site of Venta Silurum at Caerwent, it was time for some military action, so I set off for Caerleon and the Roman legionary fortress of Isca.

Many of the (very cool) Roman forts in Britain were home to auxiliary units. Non-citizen troops working and fighting for Rome with the promise of citizenship and a nest-egg at the end of the period of service. A few sites, however, were home to legions; huge forces of citizen troops. Legionary fortresses were huge, the size of an large Roman town, housed at least 5000 men and had all mod-cons and amenities, and Isca was one of these. Home to Legio II Augusta, the Second Augustan Legion.

Visible remains around the modern Caerleon  include an area of barracks, an amphitheatre, stretches of fort walls, a number of ovens in which the troops’ bread would have been baked and impressive bathhouse.

I’ll start with the impressive bathhouse.


Fort sites always have a bathhouse but, being attached to a legionary fortress, this one is particularly fine. It had all the usual hot, warm and cold rooms for getting clean but also a large external games and exercise area, an indoor exercise hall and a long swimming pool. More like an Imperial bathhouse.

The visible remains represent only a small part of the whole structure. The section of swimming pool gives a bit of idea of scale and construction. I notices that in the walls of the pool there are lots and lots of pieces of tile, mainly tegulae. I wasn’t sure why this was, except perhaps they helped in getting the stonework really level and watertight.


Looking closely (and with the help of some handy indicators) you can see some other signs of fort life.

There are several animal footprints, cat and dog, left when those naughty animals walked across the wet clay times.


Other, more human, animals also left their mark.


And this more deliberate, and more official mark records the work of the unit responsible for the making the tiles and building the bathhouse, Legio II Augusta [LEGIIAVG].


Around to an internal area of the bathhouse. This area is the end of the suite of bathing rooms, the frigidarium.


Against the wall is a rectangular plunge pool which would have been filled with ice cold water, perfect for tightening the pores after the sweating and scraping in the hot rooms. On either side of this pool is a semi-circular recess which would have housed basins for dowsing with cold water.


Also displayed in this area is this fragment of one of the basins. Carved from purbeck marble and decorated with the Gorgon’s head.


Also this fantastic drain cover. It’s quite large. About a metre across.


Dotted around the bathhouse site and in the nearby museum are other finds recovered from the bathhouse. There’s this lovely dolphin water spout, probably from the fountain house at the end of the long swimming pool.


One of the most interesting places for finds in Roman bathhouses is…the drains. Ok, bear with me.

Roman bathhouses were undoubtedly places in which people could get clean. Bathers would smother their skin in the oil, then spend time in the warm and hot rooms, sweating out the dirt, which was then scraped off with a curved blunt instrument called a strigil. At Caerleon, several bathers seem to have had accidental breakages.  These bottle necks, complete with bone stoppers, are from the little globular bottles that bathers used to carry their olive oil to the baths.


But these baths had other functions; they were meeting places, places where deals were done, places to exercise and to relax, places to get a massage, places for naughty assignations, places to play games and get a bite to eat. All  of these activities have left their residue in the drains, heating flues and rubbish dumps of the bathhouses.

At Caerleon, the bathhouse drains have turned up a remarkable number of intaglios. These are the little gems made from materials like jasper, garnet, carnelian, agate, glass and rock crystal, engraved with images such as gods or animals, that were set into jewellery, often finger rings. The heat and damp of the baths evidently caused the gems to come loose as 88 of them have been found in the drains.



There is a bit of reflected light on this, but you can see from the blown up image that this gem depicts a horse.


Nice, but I bet that a few Romans would have been annoyed at losing them.

But bath-time is over now. I’ll have a look at the rest of the visible remains another time.

Pip pip.