Posts from the ‘roman fort’ Category

TRAJAN’S FRIEZE (Scene 6)

THESE  ROMAN  LEGIONARIES  ARE  MAKING  A  ROAD.

ONE  SOLDIER  SWINGS  A  PICK-AXE (A  DOLABRA),  ANOTHER  MOVES  EARTH  IN  A  WICKER  BASKET.  THE  ROMANS  DID  NOT  USE  WHEELBARROWS!

THEY  WORK  IN  THEIR  ARMOUR,  WITH  HELMETS  AND  SHIELDS  NEARBY  IN  CASE OF  SURPRISE  ATTACK.

TWO  CHOPPED  OFF  HEADS  HAVE  BEEN  SET  UP  AS  A  WARNING!

Soldiers building a road

Surely a mistake in the colour coding here. The severed heads, by their context, have to be  Dacian – and should have RED hair.  Should we associate these images with a head-hunting cult as suggested in previous posts?  I doubt it in this case. The troops here are legionaries,  which means they are all bona fide Roman citizens – and there is a purpose to this grisly display. It says “Men at Work.. Do Not Disturb”.  But if they are disturbed they are ready for you. Note the close proximity of helmets and shields.

Here we see construction work in an active warzone being undertaken while wearing body armour. I have done jobs in the construction industry involving hard manual labour. I also wear Roman body armour on a regular basis as part of my job at the Lunt. I would hate to have to combine the two!

Simply moving about and projecting the voice for two  hours , while wearing this stuff, is an exhausting  experience.  Of course, I am a modern softie – not of the hardy peasant stock these men were.  Yet even for them, this work, especially in high temperatures, must have been punishing. As we  learned  recently at the Fort, their stamina and endurance are held in awe by the toughest soldiers in the British Army of today….

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Reflecting on Constantine

In his last epistle Rob made some acute observations about Constantine.  I agree that Constantine the Great stands out as one of histories most fascinating, complex and confusing characters.   I remember learning about Roman history at primary school which was summed up in one sentence.

“…the emperors persecuted the Christians and then Constantine made Christianity legal and they stopped.”

Now before Robs head explodes this is an extremely simple summing up, to the point of childishness which of course is appropriate since I was a eight year old child at the time, and does not even approach the torment inflicted on Pagans by the Christian emperors but this is a well believed myth of history.  One get the feeling off oppression growing in intensity until it can no longer can be coped with until in the nick of time Constantine sweeps in and everyone can breath a sigh of relief.

In political histories vices and virtues can be exaggerated and diminished to fit a intellectual need, read a selection of Cecil Rhodes biographies to see this rule illustrated in neon lights,  it is only recently that Constantines faults have become apparent to me, let alone executing his sons and wife.  It is as if a person stops being a person when he becomes the property of history as completely as a person dies, is buried, dug up and exhibited in a museum.

Property is a powerful word intended to illustrate the movement of power from  a man to a historical character, a monster or saint reduced to a paper tiger to be pawed over by historians.  Constantine might have been Emperor, Hitler might have been a dictator and Rhodes an empire builder but for all their efforts they are now dependent on the most ghastly persons in society.

Historians do not work in a vacuum, since the 1960s the myth of scientific history has been exploded.  We do not see the past independantly but rather as a narative.  As a Christian myself I have a natural affection for Constantine, despite his faults.  Besides the fact who am I to judge another human creatures let alone imagine that I would do much better if I lived his life with the pressures and problems that he faced.

History is a construct making sense of the past according to the present metanaratives, the dreams and desires the present princes of mankind.  Yet this is the fate of the current princes, the tyrants of the present become pawns of the zeitgeist in the constructs of future historians.

Imperialism, soft power and the sausage…

I love Horrible Histories.  I have read the books and seen the series.  I can not get enough and when I saw this clip I nearly wet myself.

But it is not as silly as it looks.  Ever since the Robinson and Gallagher wrote about the Imperialism of Free Trade  imperial historians have looked to the myriad alternative explanations of the spread of empire to that of brute force.  Informal empire spread beyond the boarders of the official empire meaning that countries dependent on Britain for banking and industry, such as Chili and Argentina were more under the control of Westminster than formal colonies like Canada.

Culture, art, civilisation and food are all essential tools of the imperialist and their use can be demonstrated as effectively in the British Empire as in the Roman Empire.  The British encouraged their subjects formal and informal to drink tea at four in the afternoon, to wear dinner suits and listen to Elgar.  The same was true of ancient Rome.  In the prelude to invasion Roman goods, lifestyle and culture was being exported to Britain to bring that nation under the empire without the legions having to leave their forts.

But Rome did not have it all their own way and the sausage was a very dangerous manifestation of germanic soft power.  Just like the curry, roast beef or the beef burger the german sausage was an in road into the roman world centuries before the German armies even considered leaving their forests.

The Romans were confident enough to extend citizenship to conquered people, giving them a significant strategic advantage over the Carthaginians in the Punic wars.  But manumission only worked one way, barbarians were transformed into citizens by service in the army or as a reward for loyalty.  The patricians never imagined their citizens abandoning civilization to become sausage scoffers.

The Emperors reaction to the sausage says it all.  It was banned because they recognised its danger and it shows that the empire, after the civil wars, was culturally weak, looking for something new.  But the problem is that if you allow people to eat like barbarians, dress like barbarians and think like barbarians you end up with the kinds of people who watch and enjoy X Factor.

I need a farrier… is there a farrier in the house?

I have been thinking about the hippo sandal for months now and we have come up with a number of interesting theories.  What we need to explain is what it was used for… We know that it was a piece of horse tack worn on the hoofs the key problem is that we also know that modern horses can not get on with them.  A reconstruction for time team shows a very unhappy horse wobbling about on a set of hippo sandals looking uncomfortable.

This blog has seen a number theories about the hippo sandal, was it a training shoe? was it a hobbling device? was it protection against caltrops? or was it merely an emergency horseshoe?

So I did some reading, and read something interesting on Wikopedia…

“When a horse has certain types of lameness, the farrier may use the frog for support, using specialized shoes that help keep correct pressure on the frog so that less force is transmitted to the wall and sole of the foot or to the navicular bone, coffin bone, and deep digital flexor tendon.”

Now one of the interesting things about the Hippo sandal is how rare it is given that the centrality of the horse in the ancient world, especially in war.  It has always haunted me that an item that should be so ubiquitous should be such a rare find.  We should see a lot more of them even if horse shoes are so hard to find after they have been thrown.

So any explanation should account for this.  Now my new idea is that the hippo sandal was not a horse shoe, not a tactical tool but rather an ancient example of one of the above mentioned “specialist shoes” designed to correct the pressure on the frog.

So if any of you lovely readers is a farrier then please get in touch.

Another theory about the Hipposandal…protection from Caltrops

Right so this is a running theme of the blog… what in the name of Jupiters divine posterior was this thing for.  So far we have theorized that it was a hobbling device  a training device to get horses to highstep but not quite dismissed the idea that it was a temporary horse shoe… well not all of us.  The most exciting thing was talking to Amanda (thus avoiding having to actively participate in a little girls birthday party) and discovering that a similar design is currently being marketed and sold to equestrians (that means horsey people).

So guess what I did today…I was in the museum looking at the artifacts.  First I looked at the hippo sandal then the Caligae and then a caltrop.   Then I looked back to the hippo sandal and then the caltrop then the sole of the Caligae.

Caligae

The Caligae are an important piece of kit for the ancient Roman soldier.  They have thick soles reinforced with hobnails.  The Roman soldier had the best footware in the ancient world… maybe only rivaled by modern boots.  These were boots that enabled him to march over difficult ground and protect his soles spikes, caltrops and sharp stones not to mention a terrible weapon that enable the legionary to stamp a downed enemy into jelly.  But the caltrops held my attention.

Caltrops, known to the Romans as a tribulus, are a area denial weapon sown onto a battlefield to cripple men, horses and extreme cases elephants (and in the modern age tanks).  The enemy would stand on them and express their discontent in a loud manner before trying to get the thing out of their foot.  A charge of foot men is impossible, horses are rended lame and elephants go bonkers but the last thing the Romans would want is for their own horses to be denied the same area.  In fact a charge of light horse would change a faltering charge into a rout ,without the heavy infantry from even having to draw their gladius, in no time but they would need to protect their own horses frogs (the soft bit of the foot) from the caltrops.

What caught my attention was the “sole” of the shoe which is completely covered.  This iron base would be sufficient to squash any spike down allowing the horsemen to ride over caltrops with complete contempt… and of course anything else which was on the battlefield.

Head-hunting Romans?

As a follow-up to Dominic’s post on this subject, here is another image from our Frieze of Trajan’s Column which may add support for the notion that cultic behaviour was tolerated, perhaps even encouraged, by the Roman Army.

Got your hands full? Don't want to lose your trophy? Use your mouth...

This famous image (the soldier just above centre) shows an auxiliary in the thick of battle. With his hands full with shield and sword, he grasps the severed head of an enemy by its hair  –  with his teeth!   The head is something he is obviously keen to keep, and there has to be a good reason behind this extraordinary behaviour – something more than simple blood frenzy, which is the usual explanation.

Are we seeing here evidence of a  Celtic /Gallic head-hunting cult, still thriving within the Army in 100 AD?

Drussus Gets Dressed, Cingulum

FACT:
A Cingulum was a belt.

Cingulum symbol of a soldier

  It was a symbol or sign that a soldier was in the army.
  It was decorated with brass and silvered plates.
 It had a sheath for a dagger or pugio.
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