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Vindolanda Visitors Go Roaming in Roman Era; 9 July 21010
Topic Started: Jul 11 2010, 08:48 AM (640 Views)
SacoHarry
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(original article located at: http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk/news/news-at-a-glance/vindolanda-visitors-go-roaming-in-roman-era-1.731630?referrerPath=/hx-news-and-sport-1.257779)

By MYLES HODNETT myles.hodnett@hexham.courant.co.uk

Fact number one: The Romans drank real ale so they must have been pretty decent fellows.

Fact number two: Get on the wrong side of them and you’d probably end up with a spear stuck through your head.

This was less decent and got a whole lot messier when they’d follow this up by decapitation, before parading your head around on a big stick. Sounds like they were an interesting bunch, and indeed they were, if what we know about the garrisons at Vindolanda are anything to go by. You pick up all sorts of snippets of information, like the ones above, during a visit to this Roman fort.

Or should that be forts, because what you see today is the latest of a number of buildings which were built on top of each over a period of about 400 years. The Romans first put roots down there in AD 85 – 40 years before Hadrian built his wall just to the north – and they constructed at least nine forts on the site, before moving out when they all left Britain at the beginning of the fifth century. The earliest buildings were made of wood and lie up to six metres beneath the ground.

But the beauty of Vindolanda is that it’s constantly changing, due to the ongoing excavations which take place every year. Director of excavations, Andrew Birley, is the latest of his family to oversee the archaeological work. His grandfather first excavated Vindolanda – or Chesterholm to give it its Roman name – in 1929.

The excavation season runs from April to September every year, and attracts volunteers from all over the world. They do their bit to uncover more of the site and shed more light on its past. “There are fantastic finds all the time,” said Andrew. “A day does not go by without something that makes that connection with the people that were here in the past. Last year we found a temple to a god from the east – Dolichenus (Jupiter of Doliche) – and in front of it we found two fantastic altars. One was complete with the relief of the god riding a bull with a lightning bolt in one hand and an axe in the other. He was a weather god. The weather was absolutely crucial to the Romans – more than it is to us today.

“This remarkable find was found on day two of the excavation by a couple on their first excavation. They have helped to change the view of what we find in a Roman fort.”

Modern-day changes are also on the horizon at Vindolanda with the museum on the site and the associated Roman Army Museum near Greenhead due to be completely redeveloped this winter. The Vindolanda Trust, which runs both sites, has commissioned a 3D film which will show how the forts of Carvoran, Vindolanda, and Hadrian’s Wall looked in their former glory.

“There’ll be reconstructed in photo-realistic 3D CGI,” enthused Andrew. “It will be absolutely amazing.”

Of course any mention of Vindolanda has to go hand in hand with the tablets. Nearly 2,000 of these wax coated slivers of wood – the Roman equivalent of the post-it note – have been found and they provide a fascinating glimpse into normal day-to-day life of the Roman soldiers. The originals are in the British Museum, but some will be brought back to their home next year, to be displayed in the new museum. One of the tablets describes the Britons as ‘wretched’ and castigates them for not bothering to mount to throw javelins. Whatever next?

The Ninth Cohort of Batavians would have made short work of Tynedale Beer Festival, judging by the inscription on another message board. Their officer, Masclus, puts in an urgent order to his commander, not for food or more weapons, but beer. “My fellow soldiers have no beer,” he complains. “Please order some to be sent!”

Vindolanda even had its own pub. God help you if you were a lost Caledonian tribesman and stumbled into the tavern on a Friday night.

It was such an unfortunate chap whose skull was found on the site. Examining the injuries like forensic scientists, archaeologists deduced that this local from north of the Wall was killed by a heavy spear thrust through his head, followed by a hammer blow and a slashing cut just to make sure. His head was then removed from his body and stuck on a pole for all to see, probably with a sign below it saying: “Keep out! This is what happens to Caledonians here!”

Don’t worry. People from all over the world are welcome at Vindolanda today.

The site is open every day during the summer months (until September 30) from 10am-6pm. For other opening times, check with Vindolanda.
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