Posts Tagged ‘Roman history’

Hadrian’s Wall

Posted: February 21, 2018 in History, Roman History
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The Romans in Britain

Posted: February 8, 2018 in History, Roman History, UK
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Map of London City Walls

Map of London City Walls

The Roman city wall around London was built between 190-225 AD. Although most was built from scratch it did incorporate the northern and western walls of the Roman fort that had been built around 100 years earlier, although even here they doubled the thickness and height of the existing wall.

Roman wall showing original fort wall (left) and reinforced city wall (right)

Roman wall showing original fort wall (left) and reinforced city wall (right)

The reasons for building the wall are unclear and a number of hypotheses have been put forward

– it was connected with trouble in northern Britain
– it was built by the governor of Britain, Clodius Albinus, when he claimed the throne of the Emperor to protect his capital city. He was subsequently defeated by Septimus Severus.
– it was built to enable netter control of goods coming into and out of the city and the collection of taxes on goods.
– it was a civic prestige project marking the growth of Londinium as an important city in the empire.

The wall fell into dis-repair following the abandonment of the city after the Romans left Britain. However the line and foundations of the wall were used when it was renewed in the medieval period.

Roman wall remains at foot of Medieval wall

Roman wall remains at foot of Medieval wall

Roman wall remains at foot of Medieval wall

Roman wall remains at foot of Medieval wall

Roman wall remains at foot of Medieval wall

Roman wall remains at foot of Medieval wall

The best preserved section of Roman wall is at Tower Hill.

Roman wall at Tower Hill (Lower part of wall) incorporated into Medieval wall

Roman wall at Tower Hill (Lower part of wall) incorporated into Medieval wall

Roman wall at Tower Hill

Roman wall at Tower Hill

The Draco

Posted: April 13, 2014 in History, Roman History
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The ‘Draco’ was part of a Roman military standard. It was initially used by the cavalry as they charged into battle, but over the course of time came to be used by other units in the Roman army. From written and pictorial sources we know that it consisted of dragons head which was mounted upon a pole and from the head a ‘body’ made of some form of fabric was attached. From these sources we also know that as it was carried into battle on horseback this body would stream out behind the head. However, perhaps the most fascinating thing about the Draco are the references to the noise that it made as the air passed through the head.
Some examples of the Draco have been found in excavation, most notably the one found at Niederbieber in Germany, but all that survives is the copper head and many questions remain to be answered. In c 2003-4, a group of British archaeologists and craftsman set about to see if they could recreate a Draco and perhaps more importantly, to see if they could work out how it made the eerie sound recorded in ancient writings.

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A replica of the Niederbieber Draco head

The Draco comprises of three elements: the head: the tail or body and the noise-making device. The head was perhaps the least difficult since the craftsman had the example of the Niederbieber Draco on which to base their re-creation. The head consists of two copper parts, upper and lower, which are riveted together to create an open mouth and in addition the eye-holes are unfilled (to promote air passage?). The tail was more problematic as no tail has survived or been discovered in excavations. The tail for the experimental Draco was based on the one shown on Trajan’s column and was made of silk because of its weight and density. From the illustration on the column, it appeared that the tail was attached to the head by means of a drawstring, which meant it could be removed from the head easily – presumably for the purpose of cleaning. It was estimated that the tail was approximately 9 foot long.

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The Draco from Trajans coloumn

When it came to the noisemaker, the archaeologists were firmly in the dark. There are no clear references in the written or pictorial evidence as to what made the sound. In examining the excavated examples, it did not appear that the Draco head had any fittings apart from those which attached it to its pole. This suggested that the noisemaker s were not fitted to the head and so the logical conclusion that follow from this work that they were fitted to the pole. After experimenting of a number of different types of whistles the team settled on Chinese kite whistles, which themselves date from ancient times. It is known that examples of these whistles traveled into Western Europe in ancient times and so these seemed a plausible method to choose. During the experiments, these were initially fitted on the pole inside the head, but due to the reduced airflow they made no sound whatsoever. An alternative was sought and they were re-positioned on the pole just below the head. This proved a great success as even if the horse was walking, a good sound could be heard if the wind was in the right direction. At a gallop into the wind it was found that the sound can be heard above horse’s hooves at a distance of at least 200 m.
I was fortunate to see and hear the experimental Draco in action at a Roman re-enactment display in Shrewsbury in 2007. The sound, which comes from it can definitely be described as eiery.I wondered what the effect of this strange noise would be on the waiting enemies as the Roman cavalry charged towards the. This was one Draco – but imagine the combined sound of 50 or hundreds of these charging into battle.

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For more information on Draco’s
http://www.fectio.org.uk/articles/draco.htm

The making of the Draco was recorded as part of
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team/4od#2929879

It is interesting that apart from the materials from which they were made the Roman doctor /surgeons instrument kit resembles that which was still in use up until relatively recent times

Probes, needles and sharp hooks

Probes, needles and sharp hooks

Scoops, probes and spoons

Scoops, probes and spoons

Forceps

Forceps

Catheters

Catheters

These examples all from the collection of the British Museum

At the recent Roman health and medicine symposium I attended there was an excellent talk by Prof Eberhard Sauer (Edinburgh Univ) on the spring veneration in the Roman Empire. The tossing of coins into water has become a common feature and it is now almost impossible to pass any fountain or similar item without observing coins at the bottom. In regards to springs I was surprised to find that there is little evidence for veneration before the Roman period, although there is some evidence for devotional springs in Greece as early as the eighth century BCE. Certainly, there were water veneration sites in earlier times but these did not seem to include springs focusing instead on rivers and bogs.

Prof Sauer presented data on the spring at Bourbonne-les-Bains in France, still one of the most used spas in northern Europe and which can date its history back to the early Roman Empire. It is the only such site where Augustan coins have been found within the offering.

Caesar Augustus coin
photo by Kim Forest (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/)

Augustus
phot by Portable antiquities scheme (http://www.flickr.com/photos/finds/)

Most of the coins seem to us to be of small value and have often been cut in half (These half coins were used in circulation as legal tender). However, if you work out the value relative to the salary of a legionary it was 10% of daily pay. If we were to compare it to someone who earns £20,000 per annum, most of these ‘small coins’ would be the equivalent of donating around five pounds, considerably more. I would hazard a guess, than most people throw into them today and so these were not just a causal offering.
It is likely that the coin offerings were offered either in response to a healing or alternatively as an offering to the God of the spring for the health of someone else. Suetonius tells us that representatives from all classes of society threw a coin into a spring for the health of the Emperor Augustus.

The coin offering at Bourbonne-les-Bains seems to decrease about the time that Christianity becomes prevalent in the Roman Empire, but does continue although at a much reduced quantity into the early Middle Ages.

I attended an interesting meeting at the weekend on health and medicine in the Roman Empire. One of the presentations was by Dr Nicholas Somerton. He started by looking at Vindolanda tablet 154 which includes a list of legionaries who are unfit for duty. On this particular occasion, this seems to have accounted for about 10% of the total number of soldiers present at the base. 15 were listed as being sick, six as being wounded and 10 as having eye inflammation.

154_1-front_t

Dr Somerton, a GP by trade, went on then to examine some of the remedies that have been recorded in Roman literature for eye inflammation problems. The ingredients of these included antimony, lead, zinc and copper. They also contained non- metallic ingredients such as gum arabic, saffron, opium and frankincense. Interestingly, one ingredient Euphrasia pollen is still available in health stores today, marketed under the name ‘eyebright’. Once the particular mixture of ingredients had been combined and made into a paste, it was divided into lozenges and allowed to dry. This probably made for easy storage and transport. When required, material was ground off of the lozenge and the resultant powder was mixed in either milk, egg, wine, lime juice or water to make a paste, which could be applied to the infected area.

This could be the sort of materials needed for medication preparation

This could be the sort of materials needed for medication preparation

A stamp for stamping lozenges with identification information

A stamp for stamping lozenges with identification information

Dr Somerton then proceeded to present some initial results of the effectiveness of some of these medications by looking at their antibacterial activity. Whilst none had the effect of modern antibiotics, some did show some clear antibacterial activity.

Probably the most fascinating thing about the Villa is the finding of a cult room in a cellar. The original pagan shrine appears to have been dedicated to a water deity, perhaps not surprising given that the river Darent flows through the grounds of the villa.

Well like structure in Cult room

Well like structure in Cult room

Niche in Cult room for statue or idol

Niche in Cult room for statue or idol

it appears that sometime in the third century, the nature of the worship in this room changed and two male busts were found here. It has been suggested that this constituted a change to a form of ancestor worship or of a household deity.

In the fourth century the room above the cult room was converted into a Christian chapel as indicated by the paintings of Christian worshippers and the presence of the Chi-rho symbol. This Christian house church is a unique discovery in Roman Britain.

Picture of Chi-rho symbol from wall paintings

Picture of Chi-rho symbol from wall paintings

Picture of christian worshipers from wall painting

Picture of christian worshipers from wall painting


The original wall paintings are in the British Museum

One further intriguing suggestion is that both rooms may have been in operation at the same time. Was this a family hedging its bets or one refusing to go completely with the new religion of the Empire?

One of the most interesting features of this villa is the central dining room and its mosaics. These date from the mid 4th century and evidence suggests that this impressive dining room which is situated in the centre of the main building was probably added around this time. There are two mosaics one depicting the abduction of Princess Europa by the god Jupiter, disguised as a ball, and the second, which depicts Bellerophon slaying the Chimera.

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This room must’ve been the showpiece of the villa and it is easy to imagine its residents as they declined in their dining room looking out over the valley below.

The Rape of Europa Mosaic, Lullingstone Roman Villa
Photo by Loz Pocock (http://www.flickr.com/photos/blahflowers/)

Bellerephon Killing the Chimera Mosaic, Lullingstone Roman Villa
Photo by Loz Pocock (http://www.flickr.com/photos/blahflowers/)

Unfortunately, this is the only in situ mosaic in the Villa and so it is difficult to estimate whether all the other rooms were decorated in such an opulent style or whether it was only confined to this the most public of rooms,

Visited Lullingstone Roman villa which is situated in Eynsford in Kent.

Eynsford and Darent Valley - Lullingstone Roman Villa
photo by Scott (http://www.flickr.com/photos/protactinium/)

One of the unique features of this villa is that it appears to span the entire time period of the Roman occupation. The first structure was estimated to have been built around 82 CE and was expanded on at least three occasions up until the fifth century when it seems as though a fire damaged the Villa and it was finally abandoned.

There has been some suggestion that this villa may have served as a country residence for the governor of the province of Britannia. This idea is based upon the finding of a bust identified as Pertinax, Governor of Britain in 185 to 186 CE (and later Emperor for approximately 3 months in 192 to 193 CE, following the assassination of The Emperor Commodus). In addition to this a personal seal of the British governor has also been found on the site.

Copy of bust found at Lullingstone suggested to be of Pertinax

Copy of bust found at Lullingstone suggested to be of Pertinax

Personally, I confess I’m a little doubtful about this association as I would imagine that the governor of a major Roman province would have a much larger house and it would be much more elaborately decorated.

The villa was rediscovered in 1750 when the fence around Lullingtone Deerpark was being renewed, when a post hole broke through a Roman mosaic. These finds were duly noted and more evidence of a Roman villa was noted when tesserae were found in 1939 after a tree had been blown over in a gale disturbing the ground which had been planted. A proper excavation was conducted between 1949 and 1961 which exposed the Remains of the Villa as it is seen today.

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Lullingstone Roman Villa
phot by Ian May (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyebee/)