Written in stone

Fifteen or so miles west of Mannheim is the town of Bad Durkheim. It’s an attractive spa town; a bit sleepy I think. Getting there from Mannheim is pretty easy, although slightly complicated by works on the S-Bahn line. And this is what I was there for.

Up on the hill above the town, in a clearing in the woods is the old Roman quarry known as Kriemhildenstuhl. I’ve been to Roman quarries before but if I ever say to someone that I’m going on holiday to visit a quarry, I tend to get a slightly blank look and a hesitant enquiry about what on earth there is to see in a quarry. A quarry is, after all, just a big hole on the ground. It’s what we see after people have taken away all the stuff that they want. It’s the gap that’s left.
But wait! There’s a lot more going on here than just a big empty hole in the ground. Let’s have a closer look.

The first thing that’s really clear to see is the way that the stone was being cut.

Big squarish blocks cut out of the rock face, which were then taken out to be cut up into usable-sized blocks, or cut down into columns away from the main quarry face. We can also see the marks left by the cutting tools. These are really clear, all over the exposed surface of the rock.

Now, there’s plenty of evidence around the Empire for Roman soldiers getting a bit bored and scribbling on things, and Kriemhildenstuhl has oodles of it. Some of the inscriptions are indicated on the cliffs, others not, but there’s a very handy guide at the site to help with spotting them.

There are squiggles and doodles all over the place.

The unit working the quarry was Legio XXII Primigenia, “Fortune’s Twenty-Second Legion”, who were stationed at Mainz, Moguntiacum, around 200CE.  We can tell this because they left their mark all over the quarry faces.

The Legion’s insignia were the Capricorn (half goat, half fish) and the demi-god Hercules. So here’s Capricorn…

And here are some fellows who may or may not be Hercules…

Keeping with the military theme, these shapes could be representing stylised military standards.

Soldiers from the 22nd seem to have had a fondness for horses, as there is plenty of graffiti of a horsey nature etched into the rock.

There are also birds and other animals.

Some pics require a little ‘eye of faith’. Is this something?

A number of the soldiers have etched inscriptions into the rock; names, regiment, “I woz ‘ere”, that sort of thing.

Kriemhildenstuhl is just one feature in these hills and there seemed to be walking trails going in all directions, including up to a ridge immediately above the quarry. The view of the quarry from above was great.

This upper ridge provided a nice spot to chill out, have a drink and relax before setting off down the hill and back to Mannheim. The local authority had kindly provided the most chilled out park bench ever for just this purpose.

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Horse guards parade.

The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition currently on display at ten sites across the northern frontier lured me up north for a short visit. As I didn’t have the time to get to all of the exhibition sites, I prioritized the expos in Newcastle and Carlisle at the Great North Museum: Hancock, at Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, at Segedunum and at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.

I’ve previously written about the extreme coolness of Roman cavalry parade helmets, so this is a little bit of an extension of that, as well as just a general Roman cavalry parade helmet love-in.

First up, Arbeia.

Arbeia Roman Fort, situated at a strategic point on the River Tyne was founded in about 120CE and was occupied right up until the end of the Roman period in Britain. Throughout this long life-span, the fort served as a base for (among others) auxiliary units of cavalry from Spain,  the First Asturian, and boatmen from Mesopotamia. It was converted into a supply station in the Severan period, handling the import of commodities destined for troops in the military zone.

At Arbeia Roman Fort, the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, ‘Uncovering cavalry‘ is more about highlighting objects in the existing collection with just a couple of additions of objects on loan. This iron cavalry helmet from Limesmuseum Aalen is known as an ‘Alexander’ type due to its resemblance to portraits of Alexander the Great from around the same period, CE150-250.

Many surviving cavalry helmets are made from copper-alloy, sometimes coated in silver, but far fewer iron helmets have been found as they are more prone to corrosion. This helmet was found in a scrap metal dump near the workshops of Aalen cavalry fort.

A quick hop over the Tyne on the ferry took me to Segedunum. The larger exhibition there, ‘Rome’s elite troops – building Hadrian’s cavalry’, looks at the make up of the cavalry units and some of the manoeuvres used by cavalry units in battle.

Segedunum Roman Fort was built in about 127CE, when Hadrian’s Wall, originally starting at Pons Aelius (Newcastle upon Tyne) in 122AD, was subsequently extended by four miles to the east, to Wallsend. The fort was home to mixed cavalry-infantry units including the Second Cohort of Nervians in the 2nd century and, in the 3rd and 4th centuries the Fourth Cohort of the Lingones.

Alongside objects from Segedunum’s own collection are several helmets and helmet cheek-pieces on loan. One unusual helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins is this double-eagle crested helmet, a type worn by members of the Imperial Horse Guard in the third century.

  

Also in the exhibition is this silvered shield boss on loan from a private collection in the UK. The boss shows significant damage, probably sustained in battle during the Dacian Wars.

The boss is decorated with incised images of mythological subjects; Mars, Medusa, Jupiter, Apollo and Hercules. The outer part is decorated with images related to battle; shields, winged Victories, armour and a helmet.

There are two inscriptions on the boss; at the top, a statement of the ownership of the shield by Marcus Ulpius, a member of the Imperial Horse Guard in the time of the Emperor Trajan, and at the bottom, a record of the donation of the shield boss as an offering by Flavius Volussinus in memory of Marcus Ulpius.

Back in town, I went off to Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock to see two helmets of a particular type. The display there, ‘Hadrian’s Cavalry: Shock and awe – the power of the Roman cavalryman’s mask’ shows the Ribchester Helmet (on loan from The British Museum) together with a second helmet of the same type (on loan from a private collection).

 

The Ribchester Helmet was found in Lancashire in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. It’s a bronze ceremonial helmet with a distinctive peak. The second helmet has been dated to roughly the same period as the Ribchester Helmet; 70-110CE/75-125CE.

Also at the GNM is Mithras.

The museum is home to a brilliant collection of Mithraic images and objects collected from sites along and around Hadrian’s Wall. Alongside more familiar mithraic imagery of the Tauroctony and the companions of Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, this collection also includes this amazing carved stone sculpture of the birth of Mithras, with the god emerging from the Cosmic Egg.

Added to this, until 27th August, are three objects on loan from the collection at the Museum of London. The three marble busts were found buried under the floor level of the Mithraeum at Bucklesbury. They are a marble head of Minerva, the head of Serapis and the head of Mithras himself.

This is such a great idea. Bringing together the two best Mithras collections in the country. It’s also a good opportunity to have a bit of  look at Mithraeism in two different environments; the Mithraeums up on Hadrian’s Wall were in a military zone and associated with forts; e.g. Housesteads/Vercovicium and Carrawburgh/Brocolitia, while the London mithraeum was in civilian, urban area. The accompanying film also looks at the discovery of the London mithraeum in the 1950s.

A swift trundle west to Carlisle brought me to Tullie House Museum for the Guardians on the edge of empire – cavalry bases and Roman power exhibition, and more helmets. This is the largest of the exhibitions that I visited and there were some fantastic objects on display.

The fort at Carlisle, Stanwix/Uxelodunum, is thought to have housed cavalry troops, most the Ala Petriana. Home to a thousand mounted troops and their horses and support staff. This unit’s exceptional service earned them Roman citizenship while still serving. This is the unit in which Flavinus the signifer whose memorial now stands in Hexham Abbey, served, albeit at an earlier date.

The exhibition focuses, again, on the role and organization of the cavalry on the frontier and has an impressive range of helmets, face masks and other armoury pieces on display.

There are some pretty showy pieces, including this 2nd-3rdc. CE ‘Ostrov’ type helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins.

The helmet is a shape similar of one found in a burial at Ostrov, Romania and has a distinctive Phrygian cap shape on the upper part, topped with the head of a griffin and covered in scales.

The Gallery Attendant on duty when I visited was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibition, and I had several conversations with her while I was looking round. She was particularly interested in this 3rdc. CE Amazon face mask (from Archäologische Staatssammlung München) and wondered about its origins and possible influences on the styling.

 

It really has a strong eastern look, reflecting the exoticism of the Amazon warriors. But comparing  it with the second Amazon face mask in the exhibition (mid-2nd – mid-3rdc. CE, from Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg) just shows up how exotic this one really looks.

This 1stc. CE ‘kalkreise’ type face mask (below), on loan from a private collection, is interesting as it has markings on the cheeks. As Imperial cavalry forces were usually auxiliary, i.e.non-citizen, units raised in provinces incorporated into the empire, these could have been indicative of tribal tattoos.

It’s really interesting to see the number of helmets and masks, and other pieces of armour, on display that are from private collections. This makes these displays even more worth seeing while they’re on, as there’s no telling whether they’ll be displayed in public again.

So there you are. A little peek at a few of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions. It would have been nice to have been able to do all ten as a road trip but I only had time for a flying visit. And I should also just point out that these exhibitions are in addition to the already excellent Roman collections at the museums and sites in question. Of course, on the back of seeing these exhibitions and displays, I’m now going to have to get down to Mougins to visit the museum there, and it has encouraged me to add more of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium to the (never-ending) list.

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The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition continues until 10th September at ten sites along Hadrian’s Wall and down the western coast as far as Maryport.

Where all roads meet

Well, maybe not ‘all’ but 7, in any case.

From the area map at the bus stop.

This is Bavay, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, close to the France-Belgium border. A sleepy little village that isn’t really on the way to or from anywhere. But 2000 years ago, Bavay was on the way to loads of places.

Bavay, or Bagacum in the 1st century CE, was the tribal capital or civitas of the powerful Nervii tribe.  Seven major routes passed through Bagacum so it grew into an important site for trading, administration, law courts and the military. Its situation on the road from Boulogne (Roman Gesoriacum) to Cologne (Roman Colonia  Agrippinensis) made it a key stopping off point between the Roman provinces of Germania and Britannia.

The site was known about in the eighteenth century as chance finds and unofficial digs turned up many Roman objects, but the site was really uncovered due to heavy bombing during WW2. The post-war excavations revealed a huge Gallo-Roman forum basilica, the largest outside Italy, measuring 200m by 120m.

In the Claudian period, the town flourished and grew rapidly, with the construction of civic buildings like the forum, the basilica, public bathhouses fed by aqueducts and temples being built and beautified. The town was an important centre for the production of pottery goods and traded in, in particular, bronze-working, and was a key staging post during the conquest of Britain.

I’d been wanting to get to Bavay for a little while and had pondered making my way over there when I was staying in Belgium last year, but it’s a faff to get to on public transport and a lot of routes take absolutely hours to get there. It’s not a natural stopping off point on the way to or from anywhere in particular so this time I decided that I’d just make it the be all and end all of a visit. The easiest route was London > Lille, Lille > Valenciennes, Valenciennes > Bavay, so, timetables checked, I was off.

By the time I got to Bavay it was pouring with rain, and I’d left my umbrella in London. Oh well. There’s a museum to visit at the site, so I started there, hoping that the rain would ease off a bit.

(cue museum break)

By the time I left the museum not only had it stopped raining, but it was scorching hot; cracking flags! My stroll around the site was, therefore, a slow and lazy one. A lot of the better preserved sections seem to have been buried in the building of the later ramparts, hence the excellent state of preservation.

At one end of the site there are the remains of a cryptoporticus; a covered storage area below ground level.

Much of the site has been turfed over but here and there, there are still little patches of the Roman paving. There’s even the odd wheel-rut.

The fortunes and function of the city began to changes in the third-century, when it served as a post for regional defence, and around the turn of the fourth century, the ramparts and city walls were constructed.

Getting to Bavay without a car was a bit of a schlep but it was worth it, as it’s a really interesting site with a great museum. As I had to pass through Valenciennes and Lille to get there, I made a point of visiting a few other places on the way, including the Musee des Beaux Art, Valenciennes and Lille Cathedral, so all in all this made for a great little trip.

Necropolis Now

In Orvieto there are lots of things to see; a beautiful cathedral, museums, quaint little streets and squares, a funicula!

There are also a million other tourists wanting to see all these lovely things. On at least one of my visits, I managed to avoid the large tourist groups but even I couldn’t evade the school outing group of screeching teenagers. It was ok though. They did what all school outing groups of screeching teenagers do: charge about screeching for 15 minutes and then go for lunch. And, to be fair, it is actually their own local history that we were looking at so if anyone has more right to be there, it’s them. Anyway, the kids in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the site and even gave me a thinking point or two.

The site in question was a rather fancy Etruscan necropolis, Necropoli Etrusca di Crocifisso del tufo, which is just on the northern slope of the rock of Orvieto.

The area around the rock of Orvieto contains numerous rock-cut tombs, the final resting places of the ancient (roughly mid-6th – late-5th century BCE) people of Velzna, the Etruscan city on this site. The particular necropolis that I’d come to see, however, consisted of neat rows of little house-tombs, built close together and kitted out with suitable resting places for the deceased.

The tombs are pretty uniform, with only minor variations, which has lead to hypotheses about Etruscan equality and a relative lack of hierarchy in Etruscan society in this area. There is certainly none of the conspicuously competitive display of Roman tombs, just a neat, rather middle-class conformity.

You wouldn’t believe it from these photos but I was dodging excited teens the whole time.

Anyway, I took my time, because these tombs have some very interesting construction features that I wanted to have a look at. On a hot hot Italian day, it was deliciously cool inside the tombs. You can see that they’re not underground, although the ground surface on which they were built is several feet lower than the modern ground level. Still, just stepping down the foot or two from the excavated ground level into the tombs, the temperature drops really noticeably.

Inside the tomb you can see pretty clearly how it’s made. The walls are built up with tufa blocks, using no mortar, and then the roof is built by setting blocks lengthways, projecting progressively inwards. These are then locked in place using t-shaped keystones along the roof spine. You’ll notice that from the outside, the roofs are flat. This shaped roof is a ‘pseudo roof’ on the inside of the tombs.

The remaining tomb furniture consists of benches for the bodies.

The deceased were interred with a range of tomb goods which have since been removed. These consisted of Greek pottery vases, in both red- and black-figure; bronze and iron objects; weapons; jewellery and personal items. Some are on display at the on-site museum.

Back outside, above or beside the doorway, the names of the inhabitants are inscribed. I can’t read Etruscan but I am reliably informed that the range of names seen on tombs in this area indicates high levels of immigration. Many new Orvietans were foreigners.

Seeing these names inscribed on the tombs while dodging screeching teenagers caused me to think about who the people interred in the tombs actually were, and how, or if, the screeching teenagers were connected to them by more than just geography. I wondered if any of the modern people of Orvieto can, even tenuously, claim descent from the more ancient people of this area. I suspect that it’s impossible to know. The random comings and goings of peoples, immigration, emigration, conflicts, invasions and exodus all change who the ‘locals’ are, and over the course of twenty-six centuries, the ‘locals’ are apt to change a lot.

Still, those screeching teens and these silent Etruscans do have one thing in common; the rock of Orvieto.

The future of the past

Have you ever seen those programmes and films from the ’50s and ’60s that were concerned with how we would be living in the future? Futuristic cities in the sky, hover cars, and jet packs. Lots and lots of jet packs.

EUR, a southern suburb of Rome is a bit like that.

But perhaps a bit more fascistic.

The genius of the sport, Italo Griselli

Planned and begun under Mussolini as the intended site of the Esposizione Universale Roma, a world fair to celebrate the beginning of the Fascist era. Designed as a modern echo of the ancient city, construction began in 1939 but was abandoned due to the entrance of Italy into the second world war. Works stopped in 1942 and the site was more or less abandoned until the 1950s, when the authorities recommenced building works with the intention of creating a new business district for modern Rome.

The Palazzo dei Congressi (formally the Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi), now with added BMXer

Although it has had its ups and downs, the recent renovation of some of the buildings has resulted in a resurgence of interest in the area.

I was visiting on a Saturday and, in the usual way with business districts, the area was half deserted. I did run into little clusters of people around particular buildings and there was constant traffic on the main road but many of the streets and piazzas were completely devoid of people. This made me think of those futuristic but bleakly apocalyptic films in which all the people disappear due to alien invasion or as the result of human folly.

 

My initial interest in the area was because it’s where the Museo Nazionale dellAlto Medioevo, the medieval museum, is situated. In a city with so many sights, museums and historic buildings, this museum seems to get a little overlooked, possibly due to its location away from the tourist centre. The museum concentrates on the period from the late-antique to the medieval; 4th-14th centuries and contains a range of religious, household, military and decorative objects.

I’m not going to post lots of photos from the museum here, I’ll link a separate post later because the collection is really worth a look. It’s only about 20 minutes on the metro from Termini and a short walk to visit this museum so do make the effort if you can. It’s worth it.

When I left the museum I headed west to have a look at some of the fascist-era and other 20th century buildings. Many of the buildings, open spaces and public art have been designed as a sort of echo of Rome’s ancient imperial and renaissance past. So buildings are arcaded; there are curving colonades; there are monumental statues, friezes, mosaics, pools and fountains.

Materials used in construction are mainly travertine marble, granite and tuff, giving the area a gleaming whiteness, echoing ideas of classical purity (though not the more colourful reality of the ancient world).

Right next to the museum, in the middle of the, frankly, lethal road*, the Via Cristoforo Colombo, is the Obelisco di Marconi. Built in 1959, for the 1960 Summer Olympics, this obelisk is decorated with scenes from Marconi’s career and achievements.

Just along the road is the Piazza dell Nazione Unite. Begun in 1938 but not completed until 1952, this consists of two large semi-circular arcades on either side of the main road,

 

On the external walls are these high relief panels.

Quite a bit of this was boarded up when I visited and it looks, generally, like a number of the buildings are either in the process of, or waiting for renovation.

Next I walked over to a really nice, relaxing, cooling spot by the Salone delle Fontane, there are these cool lines of water fountains, flanked with near-spherical bushes. It’s all very very architectural but with just enough greenery to soften its edges.

In the pool there are mosaics, mimicking the monochrome mosaics seen at Ostia Antica. These are, unfortunately, quite faded and difficult to photograph, but you can get at least an idea of how they look.

  

This one looks like a map of the area.

Standing in a wooded area nearby, the Parco del Ninfeo, is this statue of a youth, apparently called ‘The fields are redeemed’.

This statue is interesting because, even though it’s a modern rendition, it looks like the sculptor has consciously mimicked the look of a bronze statue created using the lost-wax technique.

 

The building here is the Palazzo degli Uffici di EUR and the entrance at the end of the fountained pool is flanked by this monumental bas relief panel by Publio Morbiducci; ‘The History of Rome through its buildings’.

   

This is a really interesting artwork, taking modern Rome and mixing it with its ancient counterpart, presenting them as the same. It shows events, building works, industry, notable people; it’s like Mussolini’s very own ‘Trajan’s column’.

And so to the really iconic building of EUR; the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, also known as the Colosseo Quadrato (Square Colosseum).

Designed in 1937 by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano, the building works were begun in 1938 and finished in 1943 but, due to the cancellation of the trade fair, the building remained empty for over a decade. It has been used on and off over the years since 1953 but its latest incarnation is as the headquarters of the Italian fashion house Fendi.

 

It sort of echoes the tiers of regular arches on the Colosseum and the ground level is lined with classical-esque statues and flanked by sculptures. The inscription at the top of all four sides is taken from one of Mussolini’s speeches, made on 2 October 1935: “Un popolo di poeti, di artisti, di eroi, di santi, di pensatori, di scienziati, di navigatori, di trasmigratori”, trans: ‘a nation of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of migrants’.

Fendi has restored the  building to it former glory and hosts public exhibitions as part of its programme of ‘giving something back’. Fendi has also funded the renovation of several other sites in Rome, including the Trevi Fountain.

The ground level of the building is populated with ‘classical’ statues, emphasising Roman virtues such as industry, commerce, invention and so on, again emphasizing the connection between modern and ancient Rome

And so I spent a short afternoon in EUR. Not enough time at all, as there was much more to see, but it was good to at least have a brief look at the area. As so much of this trip was spent looking at ancient Rome, this area provided a really interesting counterpoint.

EUR can be reached by taking the Metro, Line B south from Termini or the historic centre. I got off at EUR Fermi for the museum. There are also plenty of buses from other parts of the city.

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* there are several roadside shrines attesting to the lethal nature of this road.

Bread and circuses. But mainly bread.

After a week in Italy with a couple of friends, my last few hours before my flight were spent scouting around a few minor sites by myself, failing to get into some (because they’re churches and it was a Sunday in Rome), wandering the streets looking at this and that, and hanging around on a roundabout surrounded by trams.
That last doesn’t sound very glamorous but there was a very particular reason to be on this particular roundabout.*

This is the Porta Maggiore, the ‘Larger Gate’ on the eastern side of the third-century CE Aurelian Wall. Over time, this ‘gate’ has served several purposes. Built in the year 52, under the Emperor Claudius, as a support for two of the aqueducts bringing water into Rome, the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus, the arches were later incorporated into the city wall built under Marcus Aurelius in 271.

At the top of the central section, the two water channels are still visible.

But before all that, before the aqueduct and the wall and the gate, there was this:

Positioned at the intersection of two key roads leading into the City, the Via Praenestina and Via Labicana, this is the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker and (possibly) his wife Atistia.

Wealthy merchants, freedmen, and prominent citizens of all classes were always keen to be remembered after their deaths, and  so set up tombs, sometimes very large and elaborate ones, at key positions along the roads leading into the City. A walk along the roads leading into the City takes in reams of memorials vying for attention and this tomb occupies a particularly prominent spot where the two major  roads meet.

The memorial is a tower tomb type, with much of the height now below ground level. Its trapezoidal ground plan (rather than square or rectangular) was necessary to fit it into the available space. It’s built of concrete faced with travertine on a tufa base and on one side, where the facing has gone, you can see the brick interior filled with a concrete and rubble core.

It’s a bit of an odd-looking structure. Sort-of classical but a bit squiffily classical.

The (surviving part of the) inscription tells us that Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces was a baker, a contractor and a public servant.

EST HOC MONIMENTVM MARCEI VERGILEI EVRYSACIS PISTORIS REDEMPTORIS APPARET,

The ‘contractor’ bit suggests that Eurysaces held government supply contracts, perhaps to supply the army with bread.

As is often the case with the tombs of wealthy tradespeople, the tomb displays the source of his wealth, with the decorative frieze around the top section depicting various stages of the bread-production process.

sorting and grinding grain; kneading; weighing; baking; transporting and selling.

The pilasters and pairs of engaged columns are squashed in tightly together.

But, undoubtedly, the most striking aspect of the tomb is the weird circular features on each face. It has been suggested that these may represent pieces of bakers’ equipment, probably grain measures.

In Roman society, social mobility was possible. People whom circumstances had dumped at or near the bottom of the social structure could, through hard work and dumb luck, rise in wealth and status and end their lives wealthy, important and influential. it’s very possible that Eurysaces was such a man. Although the tomb inscription is not conclusive, Eurysaces may have been a Freedman; an ex-slave who had been able to work his way out of slavery and end up a very rich man.

The tomb’s later history is a bit inauspicious but probably saved it for posterity. As the city of Rome declined and succumbed to invasions from the north, the tomb was utilized as the base for a fortified tower. Only in the nineteenth century was it uncovered again as the result of the archeological interests of Pope Gregory XVI.

And now it’s stuck on a traffic island at a tram stop, but this tomb has done its job in ensuring that Eurysaces the Baker hasn’t been entirely forgotten. You do have to exercise care getting across the road to see it, or just catch the tram!

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*Some of the photos are a little fuzzy because I had to take them with a long-ish lens. I wasn’t able to get as close as I’d have liked as that would have involved jumping a fence in plain sight of all the people waiting for their trams :/