Friday, May 24
Well, I apologize for my absence. Between the holidays and starting school (yay, trigonometry), I’ve been a tad busy. With school continuing (yay, calculus), posts will probably be more photo-intensive than wordy so please ask if you’d like more information.
Northern England near the Scottish border is Hadrian’s Wall country. We started our history lesson near Hexham at the Vindolanda Roman Fort and the Roman Army Museum. There was a banner out front which proclaimed “2013 was the 1800th anniversary of the last Roman Fort to be built at Vindolanda 213-2013.” This is the kind of history I was excited to see when we were planning our trip. I liked walking down the paths and imagining what the people who lived here almost 2000 years ago were like.
It was very cold and windy so there weren’t a lot of other visitors. Jim and I were both bundled up and still could have used some additional layers. I couldn’t help but think of the soldiers in their short kilts and armor. Wool has been an industry in this part of the world for centuries so hopefully they at least got the locals to knit them some warm socks!
Some of the sites are partially excavated and left as found but I think some careful reconstruction has also been done. New sites are being found with some regularity by farmers ploughing up their fields each spring and it seems like the work will continue for the foreseeable future. I can hardly imagine starting with something like this,
piecing everything together and then trying to determine what buildings were used for what purpose.
Some of the buildings are part of the Severan Fort, occupied between AD208-211. They believe this was a butcher’s shop with the remains of a counter and a drain.
This was a tavern. The plaque reads “Situated next to the workshops and the west gate of the fort, the tavern was in a prime location and was one of the largest buildings in the village.”
This was an shrine in a temple dedicated to Jupiter. The plaque reads “This was an extremely rare temple dedicated to the god Jupiter Dolichenus, built around AD220 inside the walls of the fort, probably by a commanding officer of the 4th cohort of Gauls. Jupiter Dolichenus was an ancient weather god who originally came from the south-eastern region of modern Turkey. His worship was widely adopted by the Roman Army at the end of the 2nd century AD. This building was eventually destroyed and the remains set on fire around AD370, when paganism was being replaced by Christianity. The worship of Jupiter Dolichenus was associated with feasting, and the central heated room has been identified as a possible feasting hall. At the centre of the main room is the Aedicula or shrine to the god.”
The headquarters of the fort is “where the regimental officers and their clerks maintained the records of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls. The central room in the southern range of buildings was the Chapel of the Standards (aedes), where the precious regimental emblems were displayed, with a statue of the Emperor.”
Behind the chapel was a sunken strongroom for soldiers’ pay and savings.
When we had enough of the cold, we walked down the hill to the museum. There were lots of interesting artifacts. Lots of armor and weapons and bits of clothing that had somehow survived the centuries. Most amazing were the Vindolanda Tablets. From Oxford University,
“The Vindolanda writing tablets, written in ink on post-card sized sheets of wood, have been excavated at the fort of Vindolanda, immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Dating to the the late first and early second centuries AD, the formative period of Roman Britain’s northern frontier, they were written by and for soldiers, merchants, women and slaves. Through their contents, life in one community on the edge of the Roman world can be reconstructed in detail.”
The sheets were displayed in a very dim room behind protective glass. It must have been nerve wracking to handle these thin sheets of wood that are so valuable. Unfortunately, we missed the piece I’d have most liked to see – a remnant of a birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa to her sister Sulpicia Lepidina. It turns out this piece is housed in the British Museum in London. It was written by a scribe but the closing written by Claudia and it’s the earliest known piece of handwriting in Latin by a woman.
We wandered back to the car and drove to the Ashcroft Guest House in Haltwhistle. We had supper at the Black Bull, a local pub. I was pleased to find a veggie burger on the menu and Jim decided on a regular burger. We had a couple of pints – Skinner’s Cornish Knocker and Skinner’s Betty Stog and watched the resident German Shepherd pup wander around the pub keeping a close eye on his people.