The eccentric charioteer

I’ve never been to Hull before. It’s a bit of a schlep from London so it does require an actual effort to get there but it’s just one of those places that I’ve never had any particular reason to visit. However, I had been wanting to see the museum’s collection of Roman mosaics so, as I’m a lady of leisure at the moment, now seemed as good a time as any to make the effort.

The museum is fairly compact but is home to a pretty impressive collection of not only mosaics but also other Roman material, prehistoric, iron-age, anglo-saxon and medieval artefacts and an amazing, and very large, iron-age log boat. The mosaics in this collection were discovered at villa sites around the Humber region and there are fifteen villas are known in the area, with villa-building reaching its height in the fourth-century. Before visiting I had a quick look on the go-to place for information on Romano-British mosaics, ASPROM (The Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics), where the Hull mosaics are described as “rather eccentrically interpreted” local versions of Mediterranean models. Here’s a few of the mosaics.

The Horkstow Mosaic. At the villa site at Horkstow an enormous 15m x 6m mosaic was found, the second largest Roman mosaic found in Britain. It’s fragmentary and has been displayed in pieces around a recreation of a Roman atrium house. Because it has been displayed in this way, it’s not that easy to really get an idea of how it would have looked when complete but, still, there are some decent sections to see.

It was divided into three panels. In the top panel (on the floor in the image above) sat Orpheus, with his lyre, surrounded by the wild beasts charmed by his song. Only about a third of it survives but it’s possible to see that it was laid out as a wheel with images of the animals surrounding the central Orpheus.

The central panel has been called ‘the Painted Ceiling’ or the ‘Medallions Panel’, and contains scenes from mythology. They aren’t that easy to make out.

The panel at the bottom of the mosaic shows a chariot race in a circus, complete with a spina, the central island, and the metae, or turning posts.

The various sets of horses and charioteers represent the action at the races with these horses stumbling dangerously.

On the left the team is storming ahead but, on the right, the chariot loses its wheel and the rider is leaning dangerously, about to fall.

And here, the rider, with his lasso, is coming out to recapture horses that have run wild.

From Brantingham, along with some very nice Geometric Mosaics, is this Tyche mosaic.

The figure at the centre, unfortunately displayed upside down and halfway under a sofa (!), has been identified as Tyche, the deity of a city, on account of her crown, which represents the city walls.

Also known as Fortuna in Latin, she watches over the city, protects it, brings it prosperity and good fortune. The flipside of Fortuna is the bad luck and disasters that can befall a city if they do not carry out the necessary rites and rituals of worship.

The panel on the wall, from the same mosaic, has been identified as one of the muses, wearing a coronet and with her head surrounded by a halo.

The mosaic border also includes these lovely reclining water nymphs.

From Rudston is this fantastic Venus mosaic.

A typically nude Venus holds a golden apple, the symbol of her victory in the tale of the Judgement of Paris. By her side is her mirror, symbolizing her beauty and vanity.

Although the mosaic depicts a very typically classical subject matter, the image itself is not very typically classical, particularly Venus’ body-shape. She is pretty low-slung and broad in the beam, and look at that jelly belly!

Nevertheless, it’s a fun, lively mosaic, with Venus herself looking quite wild and free, especially her hair! I think that this is definitely one of those “rather eccentrically interpreted” mosaics.

Next to Venus is this, frankly, weird looking Triton, or merman, holding a flaming torch. He reminds me the Creature from the Black Lagoon (from the 1954 film).

Other panels in this mosaic contain wild beasts like a lion, a bull and a leopard; a figure identified as Mercury by the inclusion of the caduceus, and other lively figures. The leopard, in particular, looks like it was created by a workman who only had a vague idea of what a leopard looked like.

And finally, here is that eccentric charioteer; the  Victorious Charioteer mosaic from Rudston.

The central image is of the winner of a chariot race, with the victorious charioteer riding a ‘quadriga’, or four-horse chariot.

In his left hand is the winner’s wreath and in his right is the palm frond, these symbols indicating his win.

In the corners of the mosaic are the Four Seasons and the border panes have some rather odd looking birds.

 

Well, it was definitely worth the trip up to Hull to see this collection. It’s true that some of these aren’t the most finely worked mosaics and some of the images are pretty squiffy but they do have  plenty of life and personality, and must have really enhanced the homes of the Roman villa  owners in this area.

Roman walls in car parks. This is actually a ‘thing’.

In 2012, archaeology in car parks hit the headlines. The perfect mix of the prosaic and the sensational; the ancient and modern, seemed to excite the interest of people who usually had no interest at all in archaeology. Of course, you throw in a king and an ‘odd feeling’ and that gets the tabloids going. But I am a Romanist and we don’t do kings. We do, however, do car parks.

On my wanderings I have found myself in many a car park, squeezing between Vauxhall Astras and Ford Focuses, tramping about the place to look at…what? Walls. There’s loads of them. So many that I’ve decided that ‘Roman walls in car parks’ is an actual ‘thing’. So here are a few.

York (Eboracum).

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Ok, that doesn’t look like much but York was an extremely important and powerful city in the Roman period. Founded by the soldiers of the ninth legion in 71CE;  the seat of Roman power under Septimius Severus’ from 208-11 (and the site of his death in 211), the capital of Britannia Inferior under Caracalla; the location for Constantine’s accession to the purple in 306.

This is all big stuff. Seriously.

It’s ok. Those bits of wall in the car park aren’t the only surviving Roman walls. There are some quite impressive sections still surviving to full height. With bastions.

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There is also Roman wall in other British car parks. Here in London (Londinium), you have to go underground. Under the aptly-named London Wall is the London Wall Car Park and if you go along to the motorcycle bays (around Bay 52), you can find… the London wall.

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I like this because you can see the construction methods clearly, the inner core made from rubble with tile courses for stabilization, faced with nicely worked  stones on the exterior, all on a beautifully chamfered  plinth.

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Nearby, hidden behind a nondescript door by the side of the ramp down to the bit of the London Wall Car Park that’s under the Museum of London…

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This is what remains of the west gate of the fort and it’s associated guardroom, which stood in the north-west corner of Londinium. Built in about 120CE, the fort predates the city wall and was utilized to form the north-western corner of the enclosed city when the wall was built  in the third-century.

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This isn’t always accessible but the Museum does do regular tours/talks so look out on their website for those.

And here’s Colchester (Camulodunum).

In Colchester you can see a mixture of original and recreated Roman wall. Here’s a bit of the recreated.

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Basically you can just see what the Roman wall looked like when it was pretty new, and you can, again, see the way that the wall is built using courses of stone blocks with layers of terracotta tile for stabilization.

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Round the corner is a decent stretch of the real thing.

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It’s looking a bit less pristine but then, it is pushing 2000 years old. The city was fortified with walls when it was rebuilt after its destruction during the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61.

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The walls were built fairly rapidly and utilised whatever building material they could find. Within the wall structure you can see bits and bobs, like this piece of roof tile (tegula), some of which show signs of burning.

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Again, there are other, pretty extensive, Roman walls surviving in the city. And they are easy to follow round, taking in some of the city gates on the way

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I’ve observed that this is not just a British thing.

Arlon (Orolaunum)

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Further afield, in the Belgian city of Arlon, is this magnificent section of wall, complete with a bastion.

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The foundations were built using old bits of worked stone, inscriptions and tomb stones, and it’s possible to still see some of those in-situ.

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An earlier blog post has a few more pictures of the delights of Roman Arlon and some more of the many many carved stone monuments found there.

Paris (Lutetia)

There is a rather sorry little section of the Roman city wall in Paris. The door here was locked so I could only see it through the glass but it’s not that impressive in any case. Still, here it is.

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It’s in the stairwell of an underground carpark on Boulevard Saint-Michel.

As far as I’m aware, that’s about it for the Roman city wall of Paris but I discovered that there are some other Roman walls in a car park in Paris. The brilliant Crypt Archeologique at Notre Dame is one of the best places to see the remains of Roman Paris (see also the amphitheatre, the ‘arènes de Lutèce’; and the great big bathhouse at Musee Cluny). I had thought that Crypt Archeologique was just next to the Notre Dame carpark…

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…but a display about the discovery of the remains shows that the site is actually inside the carpark, albeit separated from the vehicles, so I’m claiming this one too.

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The crypt contains, among other things, Roman houses, a bathhouse, a bit of a bridge abutment and part of a quay on  the River Seine.

Nimes (Colonia Nemausus )

Nimes is another city where it is possible to follow the circuit of the old Roman walls, happening upon gateways, decent sections of standing wall and sorry little scraps along the way.

Here’s one of the sorry little scraps.

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On the Rue Armand-Barbès, just by the side of the pavement, are these hardly-noticeable remains of the city wall.  It’s a bit more obvious when you look at the run of the wall that leads into the nearby car park.

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It’s not much to look at but it’s just a small element of the, quite extensive, remains of Roman Nimes and so, for a Romanist like me, worth looking out for on my way round town.

Angers (Juliomagus Andecavorum)

In Angers, in terms of Roman remains, there is, frankly, not much. In the Roman period there were the usual houses, bath-houses, bridges and temples, including a Temple of Mithras. All of this has been built over,  plundered for later building work, and swept away for the construction of the castle and later ramparts.

So what is left?

Apart from some artefacts, now in the local museum, there is only this stretch of wall on Rue Toussaint.

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It’s a chunky stretch of wall made mostly of petit appareil but also looks like it has been altered, built on and up against, and knocked through so that it contains elements of Roman and later construction. It’s actually by the side of a road but there are designated parking spaces all along this stretch, so I’m calling it a car park.

A few kilometres away, there’s more.

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Enclosing the carpark behind the Studio Cinema on Rur des Ursulines is this stretch of the Roman city wall.

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The wall has clearly been built from reused material with a mixture of petit and grand appareil

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There’s another stretch in the Jardin de St Pierre le Puellier. This area has actually been set out as a public garden with signage about the walls and the bastion.

Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)

And, lastly, I was just in Cologne, a city with some quite decent stretches of its city wall still standing, on my latest car park-related jolly. So here it is, the Roman wall of Cologne, in a car park.

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And another car parky-bit.

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These are in an underground car park right underneath the Cathedral. The remains of the north gate of the city have been reconstructed up at ground level but down here we can see the in-situ remains. This being a rather historical car park, there’s also a medieval well!

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And down the road is another section of the wall bordering another car park.

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Ok, this doesn’t look very Roman, does it? But, trust me, it is. The Roman wall core has subsequently been faced with brick so it all looks much later but, at its core this is still in-situ Roman wall. You can see this better at the exposed end of the wall.

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In the making of this post I gatecrashed a tour being run by one of the Curators of The Museum of London. He raised an interesting point about how the decision to preserve the particular bit of wall we were looking was taken. As a car park is, essentially, a big empty space, I started to wonder about the discussions that preceded the decision to preserve or not preserve, and how that discussion might differ if it was, say, a row of houses rather than a big empty space that was being built. How many chunks of Roman wall have been swept away, demolished to make way for new homes and shops? Probably loads. Maybe it’s easier to argue for the preservation of ancient monuments in car parks specifically because a car park is big empty space. That might explain why there are so many bits of Roman wall in car parks.

And so I rest my case. Roman walls in car parks are clearly a ‘thing’. The evidence speaks for itself.

Oh, and if you’re planning to seek out random archaeology in random places people will, inevitably, wonder why on earth you’re taking photos of a crappy bit of old wall in a car park, so be prepared for funny looks.

Looking for Londoners: Working the Walbrook

Having to get a job.

If I was independently wealthy I wouldn’t have had to have gone to a job interview the day before yesterday but, things being as they are, I did have to go to a job interview the day before yesterday.

I blame my parents.

Anyway, after the interview I went off to meet my pal Craig for one of our, now pretty regular, weekly wanders. After doing a few others things, we ended up at the Museum of London. This is always a great place to pop in, see what’s new and have another little look at familiar things, and there’s currently a really good free exhibition of images of blitz-damaged London (http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/perspectives-of-destruction).

In the space dedicated to ‘Looking for Londoners’, there is also a free display of Roman hand tools, excavated from various sites along the Walbrook Valley, which I was very keen to get a look at.

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The Walbrook, one of London’s famous ‘Lost Rivers’ cut a north-south slash through London from Finsbury Circus to Canon Street and along its banks were workshops of all kinds. Leatherworkers, metalworkers, coopers, jewellers, carpenters and more all set up shop along the Walbrook and archaeologists excavating sites along its course have found the lost and discarded remnants of their trades.

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One thing to flag up straight away: check out the condition of these artefacts! Some of them are pristine. This superb preservation is the result of the waterlogged conditions of the sites. The thick wet mud lacks a crucial ingredient for decay and rust; air, so these anaerobic conditions slow down the normal processes by which objects deteriorate and, often, entirely disintegrate.

So let’s have a look.

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This fantastic looking implement is actually a double-ended scraper/brush tool, found at Bucklersbury House. To the left is a cutting/smoothing tool (think of a paint scraper or polyfiller knife), and to the right, a socket into which bristles would have been packed to create the brush. It’s exact use is unknown but it may have been used for applying gold leaf or for smoothing and painting small areas of wall plaster like this (below), found at St. Mary Axe (the Gerkin),

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Sometimes tools feature text; stamps giving a maker’s name as a form of advertising, stamps marking goods made by or for the Roman state, owner’s name, and so on.

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The stamp above is inscribed, in reverse, with ‘MPBR’, which has been interpreted as an abbreviation of Metalla Provinciae Britanniae: ‘the mines of the province of Britannia’, so may have been an official stamp to mark ingots of metal.

These two tools, a bradawl found at Moorgate Street and a chisel found at Bucklersbury House, have marks stamped into them.

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The chisel has been stamped with ‘MARTIA(L)’. Possibly the maker’s name.

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The, possible, maker’s mark on the bradawl hasn’t been punched very clearly and is illegible.

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Nevertheless, in these tools we see evidence of two layers of London’s industrial life. The stamps represent evidence for those making the tools, either locally or further afield, that other workers then used to make products for Londoners.

As well as the tools, there are are a few pieces of the products being made. This scrap of cut and printed (or maybe stencilled?) leather, found at Lower Thames Street, is the vamp of a slipper (the front and centre part of a shoe’s upper), decorated with a  gilded design.

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I was trying to work out what kind of shoe it might have been and it looks like it might have been part of a toe-post sandal, with the post held in place by the hoop at the top.

The display also contains a really unusual tool.

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I don’t think that I’ve seen one of these before but it’s actually a sort of saw, used in barrel- and bucket-making. It’s for cutting a groove around the inside of the bucket or barrel, into which the base would sit. It’s called a croze.*

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It’s unusual to find the wooden elements of barrels and buckets as, unless they are found in anaerobic conditions (they’re sometimes found in wells), these organic elements just rot away and disappear. This croze is clear evidence for the coopers who made the buckets and barrels needed in London, and the specialist tools used.

Lastly, there is this lovely, near complete pot from St Thomas St. Southwark.

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A close look at the neck of the pot reveals these details. The pot is decorated with tools of a trade; a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs.

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The pot was found at the bottom of a timber-lined well and it’s not unusual to find objects deposited in wells as part of a ritual closure deposit. Perhaps the well belonged to the smithy and was ritually closed down when the smithy ceased trading, with an offering of thanks to the god Vulcan.

There are lots of other tools in the display. This is just a small selection. The Museum of London is free to visit so do go along and have a look.

This display was curated by Owen Humphreys (@Roman_Tools), PhD student, Museum of London & University of Reading.

http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/roman-rubbish-reveals-lost-londinium

*UPDATE: Someone I used to work with just read his blog and then messaged me to say hat her Dad had one of those crozes, which his Dad, a blacksmith, had given him some time in the 1940s. Hand tools really haven’t changed in millennia.

2016 – annus horribilis

Where to start with 2016.

What an absolute shower. Brexit, Trump, our heroes dropping like flies, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. This is all, all awful.

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Which is why I’m not going to write another word about any of it and focus on all the cool things about 2016.

2015 ended like this…

And 2016 started like this…

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I spent the New Year in Jordan, at Petra and also a few other places like Madaba and Amman, over the course of a week or so. This was pretty cool, although it was quite cold and there was something going on at Petra which meant that the army was called out. This was, initially, slightly alarming, but it was all fine and I was able to spend some quality time looking at archaeology and cats. Two of my favourite things.

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By the end of January, I’d handed in my notice at work and was looking forward to some freedom. As I had to work quite a long notice period, freedom had to wait, but at least it was on the horizon.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be…

I’ve been travelling a fair bit this year, mostly, but not exclusively, in northern Europe and mostly chasing Romans, so here’s a little round-up (with links where I’ve already blogged my travels).

At Easter I popped off to Morocco for a bit. Friends had warned me to be careful because some people have had negative experiences, especially in Tangier, getting a lot of hassle from pushy touts and over-eager shopkeepers. I had no problems at all (except for one grumpy taxi driver). No, I had a great time visiting some of the Roman sites in northern Morocco, including Volubilis

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Lixus

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Chellah

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and Tamouda.

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I think that most people don’t really think of Morocco as a Roman area and, it’s true, the Romans only really settled the north, away from the main tourist areas of Fez, Marrakesh and the desert. Still, Romans were what I wanted and Romans were what I got.

Once I’d done with work and was free (FREE!!) I was off to Paris.

While there, I visited the last resting place of millions of humans (Les Catacombes de Paris) and hundreds of animals (Le Cimetière des Chiens). It’s rather telling that it was only the latter of these that reduced me to a sobbing wreck.

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Then up to Northumberland to meet up with some digging pals; Tim and Laura, AKA Lord and Lady Trowelsworthy; Pete; Pierre; Scott; Jeff…the gang.

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It’s not often that I get a welcoming committee and a banner!

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And then down to Marseille for a week of sun, ships and … Romans 😀

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And now I must mention ATP.

In the spring, ATP was holding two festivals at a holiday camp in north Wales. I wasn’t going to go because I find the whole holiday camp schtick a bit trying, but a number of friends were at the first of the two. These festivals didn’t exactly go as planned (cue: divers alarums) and the fall out left a rather bitter taste in many mouths.

There had been another ATP festival due to take place in Iceland  at the end of June, which I was going to. To be honest, I was already well prepared for this to go pear-shaped and, as I’d been able to book flights and accommodation for good prices, I had already decided that Iceland was on, whatever happened with ATP. Obviously, as it turned out, ATP went west but I still went north, and had a great time.

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Boats, beaches, puffins, architecture, spelunking, and football 😀

And even…Romans!!

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Seriously, these are the only four Roman coins in Iceland.

In August, I spent some time in Belgium, again looking for Romans. Based in Liege, I made several trips to sites in the surrounding area.

Heerlan

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Tongeren

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Arlon

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and in Liege itself

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At the end, I popped over to Berlin for a few days (the flight from Brussels was £9! £9!!) and hit the museums and hot-spots like a total tourist.

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I was actually back in Berlin again in November, as my friend Katherine was going over and that seemed like a great excuse to join her.

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Levitation France was on in Angers in September, so I went over for that and…Romans (obviously).

Starting off in Nantes

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Then moving on to Angers for the festival with side visits to Jublains

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Le Mans

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and Tours

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Life is good

The dark dreary wintery end of January was brightened up with groovy lights at Lumiere London.

Summer saw a visit to excavations at the Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch

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And I started working on a research project for the Petrie Museum. This is the museum of Egyptian archaeology at UCL and the project was looking at archaeology in the middle east during, and around, the First World War.

Summer also saw me doing a bit of digging with Hendon & District Archaeological Society at a site in north London.

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The society has been investigating Clitterhouse Farm for a while and my friend Roger suggested that I come along for a bit of a dig. We had a lot of fun and found 6 courses of a wall that wasn’t supposed to be there!

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September started off with a horrendous dental nightmare (root canal is hell) which I managed to get sorted, eventually. To cheer me up, the Dice People, John, Guy and me, went on a jolly to Richborough Roman Fort.

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The Dice People also became Lamp People as we spent a few days at the Archive (LAARC) seeking out all the Roman pottery lamps for the next Volunteers’ project. We found some cracking lamps, some of them complete.

London also commemorated the 350th anniversary of The Great Fire of London, by building a huge model of the City on a barge on the Thames and torching it!

This was actually ridiculously exciting.

Luck was on my side when I entered a draw for tickets to attend a lecture by Stephen Hawking at Imperial College. The lecture was on recent developments in the science of black holes. Apparently, 25,000 people applied for tickets so this was a bit of a coup for me.

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Now, I’m a scientific ignoramus so most of the sciencey stuff went whizzing way over my head but Prof Hawking is actually quite an accessible speaker. He tries to make it comprehensible even to thickies like me so the opportunity to attend one of his lectures was a treat.

Also, he’s on Big Bang.

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2016 was also the year that I, rather unexpectedly, became a great-aunt when my nephew and his girlfriend popped out a surprise baby. None of this was planned of course but, hey ho, these things happen. I’m delighted to report that all is well and his name is Roman…ROMAN!! 😀 😀

Music makes me lose control

There has been no Loop in 2016. This is a source of great sorrow to me and the implosion of ATP caused me to assume that there would be no more in the future. I’m pleased to say that there is now the promise of more Soundhead action in 2017, so I live in hope.

Nevertheless, I have been to some cracking gigs this year and here’s a little round-up of some of the best.

Cavern of Anti-Matter at The Moth Club, Patterns in Brighton, Dingwalls (for my birthday), and at Liverpool psych Fest. I like Cavern of Anti-Matter. The band features Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth of Stereolab  fame and sounds pretty well as you’d expect them to sound. This is a good thing. Plenty of bounce, groovy drums and some cool squelchy electro- synths. Nice.

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The Vacant Lots at the Shacklewell Arms, the Prince Albert in Brighton and The Moth Club. The Vacant Lots are definitely too cool for school, but Jared really should be more careful. He actually ended up in stitches (at Homerton Hospital) after the Shacklewell Arms gig.

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My focus in the first quarter of the year was to drag myself to the end of my notice period and escape work with my sanity, and I was helped along by two cracking, and very loud gigs by The Heads.

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I also got to see The Coathangers at The Moth Club and Follakzoid, playing at the Raw Power Festival. I was also treated to a brilliant gig by Sonic Boom with a new find (for me) in support; Happy Meals.

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And Sonic also played at Levitation France, and with Etienne Jaumet (of Zombie Zombie)  at a gig with James Holden at St. Luke’s.

There have also been lots of very good gigs by (in no particular order) Camera, Michael Rother, Damo Suzuki, Xaviers, Silver Apples, Minny Pops and Ulrika Spacek. Girl Band, Big Naturals, Spiritualized, Spectres, K-X-P, Anthroprophh, Zombie Zombie, Traams, and Tomaga.

And a spooky Christmas gig from Low.

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However, the latter part of the year has undoubtedly been owned by Teenage Fanclub.

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I’d had to miss the Teenage Fanclub gig in Islington in September because of the aforementioned dental issue and the resulting facial deformity (seriously, it was baaaad 😦 ) but I was recovered sufficiently to see the Fannies at Rough Trade the following week, with Dave and Adam.

That album I’m holding was their first new album for 6 years and I have been crushing on it, HARD, ever since the second listen (the second listen, mind).

To support the new album, the Fannies had embarked on a pretty extensive tour, first in the US/Canada then the UK. Initially, I only had a ticket for the Cambridge gig but that would just not do, and I was fortunate enough to bag a ticket for the London gig just a couple of days before the gig.

Good move 😀 I haven’t seen TFC in ages but seeing them again filled me with all the same good feelings of old.

After the fun of the London and Cambridge gigs I was eager for more so, having a pal up in Scotland who I knew was going to the Barrowland gig, I set about investigating the possibility of getting up to Glasgow without being utterly ridiculous. This worked out pretty well (despite the initial hiccup of my train being cancelled!!) and I was able to go to a top night out in the East End with Simon, Andy, Rob and Donna. I wished that I could have stayed for the second night (at the ABC O2) but, really, there are limits and I had to get back for the cats.

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So,  2016 has been, nationally and internationally, as dodgy as flip, but, personally, I’ve had a blast. Clearly, I’ve had a pretty self-indulgent year so I’m ending it working some shifts at a Crisis centre. I haven’t done this in a couple of years because I’ve been out of the country but now I’m back in my usual chair with the sewing team. We do repairs and alterations for guests, on items that need a bit of TLC; clothing, bags and rucksacks, sleeping bags, that sort of thing.

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It’s fun and we always have  a good time but housing insecurity and rough sleeping are on the increase and, clearly, it would be far better if this wasn’t necessary at all. It can feel a bit overwhelming and I certainly can’t fix anyone’s problems. I can, however, fix the seam on their trousers, or the zip on their bag, so that’s what I’m doing.

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Of course, I’ll have to go back to work now. I’ve had my fun but, not being independently wealthy, I do actually have to earn a living (my friend thinks that I’ve won the lottery. I haven’t). Still, it was great while it lasted.

So goodbye 2016 and hello 2017. Love to you all from me, and from my own little Beastie Boys, Archie and Bertie.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

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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.

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Roman Inscriptions of Britain: http://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/

Roman Trajanic marble inscription from Caerleon: http://education.gtj.org.uk/en/item1/25413

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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And I love this beautifully complete little money box.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Other, more human, animals also left their mark.

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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].

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.