Posts from the ‘archaelogists’ Category

Head hunting Gallic Auxiliaries Trajan’s Frieze Scene 5

At the Fort we have a wonderful frieze (over 100 feet long) showing a colourised version of part of Trajan’s Column inRome.  Here’s another scene from it.


All the Roman soldiers shown here are auxiliaries (infantry and cavalry). The interesting point to note is the extreme shortness of their tunicas and mail shirts. As someone only too used to wearing the mail “lorica hamata” I feel well qualified to make a few comments on this.

None of the mail shirts worn by auxiliaries on the column show shoulder- doubling.  This doubling can be clearly seen on the image of yours truly depicting a member of the Fort garrison. The extra thickness of mail on the shoulders was a vital protection against attack by slashing weapons. It was copied from the Gauls in the time of Caesar and rapidly adopted by the late Republican legions. It is surprising to find its absence on the Column, depicting events around 100 AD. Facing up to the murderous Dacian falx would make shoulder -doubling  very very important.

The other odd thing here is that extreme shortness I mentioned a few lines ago. The cavalrymen would indeed have worn a short hamata, as it was necessary for them, as riders, to have freedom from the hips down. The same does not apply to the infantry.  The more protection the better – and one of the great advantages of the flexible mail shirt is that it gives good protection to the rather vital area of the crotch, which a “lorica segmentata” (as worn by legionaries) leaves wide open. My mail shirt ends halfway down the thigh, completely covering groin and rump. You feel safe in it.

It definitely leaves me wondering whether the designers and sculptors of the Column had ever actually seen a soldier in a mail shirt. If the men were not wearing their “femenalia” – the tight (eye-wateringly tight it appears) knee breeches – the Column would be a spectacle of mass indecency.

Lunt Denarius

One of the really fun things to do at Lunt is to strike your own Roman coin.  At the beginning of the year we bought a coin striker and since then we have be knocking them out like Romans.  Everybody loves to do it because they get to hit the striker with a big mallet.  Roman coins are really quite cheap because so many were struck.  Literally millions of them, metal was mined, milled, melted and then struck at an industrial rate.  But one of the things that amazes me is how many of them were lost.

Many coins come from hordes, where they were buried for safety and the owner never returned for them, quite a haunting idea really, whilst many others were just lost.  To recover these we use natures archaeologists, the mole.  The mole loves to dig but does not think much of artifacts so commonly throws out coins, pottery and other artifacts with his spoil.  As a result we actively encourage the moles at Lunt because you never know what they might uncover.

Attached is a picture of the coin that we strike at the Lunt, it is a Vespasian Denarius from the first century.  On the face is Vespasian in his uniform, which he would have worn as a general in Claudius’ army, and on the reverse is the goddess Vesta.  It is a copy of one of the coins that was discovered on site during the excavation.  A number of coins were discovered in pit in the Secellum.

Dragon in Coventry

Please excuse the dramatic title but I have just seen a dragon.  I spent today at the Priory and in my short break I was able to read about green men.  We have one at the priory engraved on a piece of stone that lay hidden under Coventry for five centuries.  After this I went to Trinity Church where I was able to look at three others all carved in wood but no less dramatic.  Two spew out leaves and vines and the last one stands in a coat of leaves.  Enthused I returned to work and told Sue.  Sue was interested and then asked me if I had seen the Dragon.  I replied that I had not and she took me to a non-descript piece of stone which as she pointed out elements reveal itself to be a beautiful representation of a sleeping dragon.  With these things they do not appear immediatly but need to be coaxed out with attention and care.  I suddenly saw its eyes, then its snout, its coiled scales and wings all resting in a bed of oakleaves.  Suddenly this thing carved in sandstone by a unknown mason at least eight centuries ago could be nothing other than a snoozing dragon.

Traditionally the dragon is a representation of the devil but this fat creature seems so sweet, so modern and so lifelike as if tired it had slumped into the oakleaves after a long and arduous migration.  I love it and everyone who comes into the museum now has to look at it.

So what has this to do with the Romans, Lunt or my normal jobs.  Well what I want to do is pay tribute to the odd shaped minds possessed by archaeologists and historians who can drag from a few odd bumps on piece of rock and reveal a carving that once graced the halls of a medieval priory.  The same is true to the great Brian Hobley who oversaw the excavation of the Lunt and the inspirational amatur archaeologist Brian Stanley who saw a Roman fort where others only saw a field.  Today I pay tribute to archaeologists everywhere.

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