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Roman and Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall- Everyday Life On A Roman Frontier
Hadrian's Wall- Everyday Life On A Roman Frontier
Hadrian's Wall is a major World Heritage site, set in stunning unspoiled countryside in Cumbria and Northumberland, where the Wall and its forts are the most visited Roman remains in Britain.
It runs through the narrow gap across the Pennines between the Solway Estuary in the west to the appropriately named Wallsend on the river Tyne in the east. For much of its length it is still visible, especially in the central sector where it runs along the north facing cliff known as Whin Sill. Building started around AD 122 after the Emperor Hadrian visited the north of Britain and inspected sites in person to mark out the line of his new frontier. Hundreds of Roman legionaries from Chester, Caerleon and York marched north to quarry the stone and build the Wall, which took several years to complete. This book tells the story of how the Wall was built and manned by Roman soldiers, what life was like on the frontier, and what happened to it when the Romans left. Includes over 70 colour photographs and black and white drawings and plans.
Hardback; H:234; W:156;
Eighty four miles of stone and turf, two millennia old and as evident a piece of history as you could wish to see, except, apart from measuring it and describing it and digging around it, how much do we really know about Hadrian's Wall. And the answer is often that we know the questions to ask and we can speculate on the answers, but really we're often making intelligent guesses.
Of the native Britons, we know next to nothing. According to Patricia Southern: "They lived as they had always lived, dressed as they always had, worshipped their own deities, probably continued to celebrate their own festivals and probably rendered their tax payments." Civilian settlements grew up round the forts, in the vici, but they were often temporary establishments.
The Wall was not garrisoned by Roman legions but by troops of auxiliaries made up of non-Roman citizens. There commander would serve a three year term. He would be of a higher social status and would be housed accordingly in a Mediterranean style building with rooms arranged around a courtyard. He would have his own bathroom and some of the rooms would have the benefit of hypocausts or under-floor heating. His walls would be plastered and decorated and he and his family might well walk on mosaic floors.
The infantry soldiers lived in the barracks. Each of the ten groups of eight would have a pair of rooms, one of which was reserved for sleeping in. The small cubicles would be bare and unheated. The cavalry would have kept somewhat warmer as they shared their barracks with their horses. Some would be on double pay and some on one and half times pay.
A few, a very few from all the soldiers who garrisoned the area over the centuries when the Romans were in Britain, emerge with any identity whatsoever. One was a standard-bearer named Flavinus, whose tombstone is to be seen in Hexham Abbey. He was 25 when he died and had been serving in the army since he was 18. Another was Barathes the Palmyrene. He lived to be 68 and he may have been either a standard bearer or he may not even have been a soldier but may have earned his living making standards for the army. He had a British wife, Regina from the tribe of Cartuvellauni, but she was only 30 when she died.
The soldiers came from all parts of the empire and would usually serve for 25 years. Their basic food was wheaten bread. Barley was fed to the horses, but barley bread was sometimes used as a punishment ration. The soldiers did eat meat. "An examination of the finds from thirty-three forts showed that the highest proportion of bones came from oxen, pig, sheep and red-deer, followed by goat, roe-deer, boar and hare." The soldiers went hunting and erected an altar to Silvanus at Birdoswald.
The glimpses of the real lives of the soldiers and the native Britons are few and far between. Patricia Southern has assembled a great deal of the tentative, equivocal scholarship to tell us all that is known about Hadrian's Wall, about its construction, its purpose and function, its garrison and the changes that took place over the more than three centuries in which the Wall served the varying fortunes of the Roman Empire. But she can only tell us so much. The archaeological remains, the documentation, the knowledge of practices elsewhere in the empire and all the fragmentary information that can be gathered about this formidable construction can only go so far. They provide the bare bones, the outline of the picture, just ghostly suggestions. We can never fully recover the people themselves, the lives they led almost two thousand years ago.
Review by Steve Matthews
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