Hadrian’s Wall: A Journey through Time by David Breeze, with drawings by Mark Richards a photographs by Peter Savin. Bookcase. £15.
Hadrian’s Wall stretches before you, snaking across the landscape, calling you to walk across the hills from Cuddy Crags to Housesteads or from Thorny Doors to Winshields Crags.
Mark Richards’s superb line drawings are an invitation to make a journey in space and time, to walk the eighty miles of the Wall from Tynemouth to Bowness and to understand the life the Roman soldiers lived when they were posted to the bleak north-western frontier of the Roman Empire.
The drawings, the concise, informative text by David Breeze - one of the world’s leading experts on the Wall - and the large number of detailed photographs by Peter Savin, present the actuality of Roman life. They give the reader eyes to see life as it was in Britain two thousand years ago.
The soldiers lived in barrack blocks. In Chesters two blocks face each other across a narrow street. A drain, which would have been covered in slabs, runs down the middle. The short pillars are the remains of columns that supported verandahs in front of each block. Eight soldiers lived in each barrack room. The rooms were divided into two, with the soldiers sleeping in bunks in the rear part, and their equipment being stored in the front.
The commander had a series of rooms around an open courtyard. Some of the rooms were heated and he would have his own bath house with underfloor heating so hot he needed to wear sandals.
The floors of the granaries, as at Housesteads, were made of wood and raised above the ground. At Corbridge a wide vent allowed air to circulate under the floor.
“The Roman army took considerable pains to care for its soldiers.” Each regiment had a doctor and assistants, and there were hospitals in the forts and there were bath-houses and sophisticated latrines. In the latrine in Housesteads, nicks cut into “the slabs show where the metal cramps held the seating in place”.
The soldiers served for twenty-five years, but only half of them survived until retirement. They wore a thick cloak called “the byrris Britannicus, the British cloak, which was exported to the rest of the Empire”. One carving shows three soldiers enshrouded in their cloaks almost as though they’re wrapped in sleeping bags, with their feet peeping out at the bottom.
At Maryport, a sign indicates that Wallsend is 84 miles away and Rome itself 1150. This attractively presented book brings the Roman life on the Wall much closer. It shows how the Wall functioned and suggests something of the actuality of the life of a soldier almost two thousand years ago.
Hadrian’s Wall: A Journey through Time, will enhance the experience of anyone who visits the Wall today.
Hadrian’s Wall: A Journey through Time is available from Bookends, 19 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com