Punic Ditches

My friend Rob has very kindly given the fort a copy of Webster.  Webster is the authority on the Roman Army and is incredibly readable.  Much better than Gibbon whose book is like using a cheese grater on marble.  In my very few down moments I am working my way through Webster and am finding it fascinating.

This week I have been reading about camps, forts and fortresses.  What I have found is that there is no aspect of the Roman military that they did not think about in incredible detail.  The ditches around the fort being no exception.

One of my faviourate books is “The Use of Weapons” by Iian M Banks.  In this book the principle character has a gift for turning everything he sees into a weapon, which causes the unfolding of his mind.  The point I want to draw out of this is that the Romans also had this ability, they could see an opportunity and develop it powerfully.

The ditches around the Lunt Roman Fort are powerful, deceptive and terrible.  On first inspection it appears to be a normal two stage ditch.  the idea being to cause an obstacle to siege machines and infantry.  But after a short inspection it seems easy enough to get down and then the bank closest to the fort is smaller than the decent.  As long as you can evade the caltrops  and the ankle breaker you can easily climb out and prepare to attack the ramparts.  But this is the deception.  The Romans withhold their missile fire, from their spring guns amongst other weapons until the ditch is full of enemy and then open fire.

The spring gun is a torsion catapult firing a bolt at about two hundred miles an hour.    The from the ancient records these could kill up to seven men with one shot.  A conservative estimate of the rate of fire is maybe three shots per minute meaning twenty one dead in a minute.  If these weapons are masses and co-ordinated they can cause chaos in the ditch.  The effect would be chaos and very soon the attack would collapse leading to a general rout.  At this point the genius of the ditch network becomes horribly clear.  The ditch was easy to get into but is in fact at a very steep angle and a serious obstical to escape.

It is almost as if the fort was designed to provoke attack.  We have no evidence that it was ever attacked but if it were the ditches would invite the celts to attack and then prevent them from escaping.

Best Job in the World

Today I would like to repeat my claim that I have the best job in the world.  I get to wear Roman armour, have intelligent conversations and shout at children.  The weather is still being kind to us and we have lots of schools coming to visit.

In the half term we will be having a drop spinner coming to demonstrate the art of changing a fleese into something wearable.

British Army retake the Gateway from guides dressed as Romans.

It was a bright and sunny morning, the sun was warming the frigid air and a group of British Army Soldiers came on site to do training for their imminent  deployment to one of the worlds trouble spots.  They spent the morning learning about the Roman Army and how it dealt with the Celtic insurgency of the first century AD and then had coffee.

Suddenly, just after coffee and before they had to go home they were issued with shields and told to attack the gateway which had been occupied by the guides.  Arrows reined down and… well you can see what happened here…



Crucifixion Good Friday

My event of Good Friday occurred to me in the previous year but by then Easter had passed.  I continued to think about it over the year and was able to run the event this year and count it a success.  Throughout the year I was able to do research into the event and the most surprising thing for me was the length of the cross itself.  I have always been under the impression that it was a very tall cross towering over the landscape, I was very surprised to discover that the whole thing was about seven foot in length with one foot in the ground to support it when it was in situ.  

My plan was to give a talk using objects and building at the fort to illustrate what happened.  There is a stake in the gyrus that was used to illustrate the scouring.  The one thing I did not act out was the scouring because last time I used a whip I hit myself in the face and the the back of the head at the same time.  

As I put together my props I found it hard to find suitible pieces of wood for the cross.  I found a cross beam but failed to find a shaft.  So I had a coffee and watched the rabbits until I suddenly realised that my cross beam was in fact seven foot long.  I even now am amazed that seven foot is so short.  I measured it and confirmed it and used it.  

Throughout the day people were amazed at the shortness of the cross and this provided an excellent sources of conversation.  We discussed how prisoners would be able to put their feet on the floor, prolonging the agony, how the victim would be in the face of the watchers, how easy it would be for the soldiers to keep the man alive with drink and food but also how a soldier could drive a spear into the side of the victim hitting the heart and lungs as opposed to the gut.

All in all a good day of experimental archaeology.

Good Friday

We had a really good day on Good Friday, thank you to everyone who came to the fort and especially thankyou to the two Swedes who traveled all that way for my talk.  During the day we explored the size of the cross, the process of execution and the kindness shown to Jesus by the soldiers who performed the execution.

Today we had the SCA fighting on site.  They were excellent.  Very impressive and excellent full on combat.   

Crucifixion seminar day on Good Friday

Lunt Fort Crucifixion Day. Come and learn about Roman Law and punishment this Good Friday at the Lunt Roman Fort. Fort opens at 10am and the talks start at 11am and continue to 3pm with the fort closing at 4pm. This will include a site tour, discussion, talks and “demonstration” Children activities are available during the horrible bits. £5 per person and £10 for a family.

Lunt Roman Fort Film post production coming to end

The Lunt Roman Fort is to immortalized in film, again, this coming month as Highfield Films puts the final touches to their film about the fort.  The film stars one of the guides at the fort, a self important flouncing toerag and a very successful actress whose portrayal of a guide was one that I found particularly moving.

The film follows the exploits of Antonius, a Roman soldier who is tricked into travelling through time by his rival.  Antonius arrives in the 21st century where his knowledge of the Romans is put to use teaching children.  After a tour de force he is able to return to his own time to settle with the wicked Dominicus…

Highfield Films is a innovative and growing company adds to its collection of awards almost weekly.  Last year it won the coverted 2 weeks to make it competition in both categories.

Trajanic Frieze at the Lunt Fort Scene 8








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The reconstructions at the Lunt  are, of course, notional. The reconstructions rise from their original post holes, but their precise appearance above ground level is unknown. The images of gateway structures on Trajan’s Column were the primary sources used to inform the reconstructed Eastern gateway of the Fort.

The gateway, seen in the background of the photo of Drusus in the gyrus, has two levels. The first is a fighting platform, which would probably have mounted one or two ballistae to command the direct approaches. These machines would possibly have been supplemented by archers (sagittarii). Using a bow on the ramparts to fire down into the killing zone between the double ditches (as I have done) gives a real sense of command. The upper level provides  excellent  views of the surrounding area – a great panorama of the centre of the modern city of Coventry. Many a freezing watch duty must have been undertaken on it!

The Lunt would have been a tough nut for any attacking force to crack. When  fully garrisoned by a cohort of auxilia (500 men) I estimate that a war-band of at least 3000 Celts  would have been needed to stand any chance of breaching the ramparts. There is, however, no archaeological evidence that the fort was ever attacked. This is not surprising. Like most Roman forts, the Lunt was offensive, rather than defensive in its intent. It was not a place for the Romans to hide and await attack. The Romans used their forts to dominate surrounding areas, and they were normally  part of extended and sophisticated offensive or counter-offensive  systems.

Dominating forests and surveying swamps speculations on why the Romans chose Bagington

My two previous posts have been about the ancient landscape of Britain.  I have discussed the preeminence of water and all the pervasiveness of the forests which were the dominant features of ancient Britain.  Modern Britain is very different.  Our country is criss-crossed with good roads, we need not fear ambush from lawless bandits, we do not have to stick to the high ground to avoid swamps and the unhealthy atmosphere.

This often makes it hard to really understand why our ancestors built where they did.  Baginton in Warwickshire is a strange, lovely little place out of the way and overshadowed by Coventry.  Not the kind of place where you would normally expect to find a Roman fort.  The Romans were pro-active with their defensive strategies so building the fort in such a nice place means that at sometime in the past Bagington must have been a more, robust, place to live.

But there is much more to Baginton that first meets the eye.  Just down the road and across the river from the fort are the remains of two prehistoric barrows – somebody having approved planning permission to drive a bypass through them kind of ruined the archaeology – on the other side of the river is the remains of a small fortified manor house, then a quarry made into a lovely garden, then the remains of Baginton Hall which was burned down in the late 19th century, a series of medieval fish pools around which the fields bear the imprint of the medieval serfs who toiled on the land.   So clearly there is something about Baginton, some unseen factor that makes it important in so many different ages.

I think that the position of the fort can be best explained by the Coventry road which runs through Baginton, it seems to be an very ancient road elevated over the landscape following the contours until it dips down to a bridge over the Sow and then onto Coventry.

This makes the fort extremely important strategically.  It was constructed in the  years following Boudican revolt when Agricola was engaged in measures to  reduce the forces of the Britons.  Lunt fits into this strategy of reduction as it controls the Coventry road, the crossing of the Sow and a major route in and out of the Forest of Arden.  From this position the Romans were able to bring up resources and supplies, prevent resupplies to the celts holding out in the forest whilst at the same time providing a safe retreat for soldiers policing the forest seeking the fugitives.  At the fort we have a fantastic model of the site in the sixty first decade which features a group of Roman soldiers bringing prisoners into the fort… to assist the Romans with their enquires which I speculate was a regular occurance during the sites twenty year life span.

This is of course speculation.  It might be based on observation, the use of my powerful intellect (ha) and reflective conversations with my colleagues but the thought processes, the strategic considerations and the planing that led to the fort being built at Baginton has been lost in the mist of time.  By the time of the Dacian war all of the soldiers who had been based at the Lunt, who had survived his service, would have retired and soon be coming to the end of their lives and as they passed certain knowledge of the Lunt passed away with them.

Dank Britain By Dominic Russell and Cleo Abtuse Tigerwiskers (Kitten) who is currently trying to edit my work and eat woodlice

In my last post, where I described the forests of ancient Britain which covered and dominated the landscape, I made no reference to the swamps, marshes, lakes, rivers and streams which were the other dominant feature which confronted the Romans.

Again ancient Britain is very different to the the land we now inhabit.  Modern Britain is remarkably dry.  Since the late 16th century a great deal of work has been done to navigate the rivers, that is make them navigable such as the Weaver Navigation in the 18th century impacting on the flow of water, the draining of fens, marshes and swamps to make farmland and protect population centres from flooding.  The impact of these industrial marvels has changed the nation beyond recognition in many different ways.  Diseases like Malaria once prevalent in the Oxford fens now has no foothold, marshland has retreated revealing ancient settlements and ancient victims in peat cutting operations.

Without these improvements the landscape had to be used differently and impacted people both culturally and materially.  Movement around the country was restricted to roads at high altitude avoiding the damp dark marsh haunted valleys.  The most ancient of these is the ridgeway which has been used for at least five thousand years.

The marshes provided natural fortresses for the defeated celts.  After the revolt the celts were driven to the forests and also to the marshes where they held off the heavy infantry of the Romans.  Just like the Saxson king Alfred the marsh became a well provisioned refuge from attack.

Finally it can not go without saying that water was a significant religious inspiration for the ancient celts.  I am not prepared to join in meaningless speculation regarding the religion of the Celt but it must be noted that marshes, rivers and lakes had a special significance for the ancients.  At flag fen alone hundreds of votive offerings have been recovered.  The idea that water was route to the other world was continued far into the Romano-British period evidenced by curses and requests written in reverse on lead and dropped into the hot springs at Aquae Sulis

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