Posts tagged ‘Lunt Fort’

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.

Imperial Portraits from The Lunt Coin Hoard

Few visitors to the Fort appear to pay much attention to the coins found during the excavations of the late 1960s and early 70s. This may be due to shortcomings in the display. The silver coins are to be mounted properly soon – and already have some detailed interpretation in the form of a booklet attached to the cabinet. However, the bronze coins present difficulties. The soil conditions at the Lunt are not kind to copper alloys, and most of the bronzes are in poor condition, corroded by acid attack.

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But there are some splendid exceptions – and these are coins from the Lunt Hoard. This small hoard of coins, of both bronze and silver, was  found buried close to the position of the Eastern gateway. I say “the position of” because when these coins were deposited, that gateway (now so impressively reconstructed), was no longer there!

The Hoard was buried some 35 years after the fort was abandoned. This is evidenced by the appearance of the emperors Domitian, Nerva  and Trajan – with the sequence of bronze coins ending c.113 AD.

This all appears  straightforward enough, but there is a genuine  Mystery here. As Richard Reece commented in the Second  Interim Report, dealing with Primary Dating  Evidence :

“The hoard is interesting for several reasons. First, it is unusual to get a cache of coins in which all the main denominations are represented, from Denarius to As. Secondly, there is the difference in the date of the last silver and bronze coins (c.87 AD for silver – as against c.113 AD for bronze) for which there is no simple or convincing explanation.”

Very odd indeed!

Among these coins are some wonderful portraits of the emperors from Vespasian to Trajan. These are true portraits –  naturalistic in  style and pulling no punches. We see the fat, balding Vespasian; the smug smile of Domitian; the elderly eagle-nosed Nerva and the strong martial features of Trajan.

They are impossible to see in the cabinet. Here they are in all their glory!


The Abolition of the sky…

I recently joined the Cloud Appreciation Society – an organisation devoted to the abolition of “blue-sky thinking” and with a mission to persuade all who’ll listen of the wonder and beauty of clouds.

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Here we go back to the halcyon days of Summer to watch the course of a Cloud Day at the Lunt.

Let’s all try to live with our heads firmly in the clouds!

Teatime. Well-defined base of Cumulus congestus – producing torrential, but short-lived, rain.

Mid afternoon. Cumulus congestus forming.

Early afternoon. Thickening Stratocumulus approaching from W. Wind rising.

Lunchtime. Altocumulus forming. Rain approaching from SW.

Cirrus spreading and descending.

Mid morning at the Lunt Fort, early August. Spreading Cirrus






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….

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.


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.

Drusus Gets Dressed Helmet

A Galea was a helmet worn by Roman soldiers.
 The ears and eyes were not covered so the soldiers could see and hear very well.
  The neck was well protected by a guard at the back.
  The top of the helmet was very strong with a guard across the front.
  Unfortunately the middle of the face was not protected and many Roman soldiers lost bits of their noses in battle!

Drussus Gets Dressed, Cingulum

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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