Britannia 2010

Top 3 Uses for Roman Peacocks

#3  Meatballs – Only the wealthy could afford to eat peacock. But there was nothing that the Romans cooked that they didn’t think would be improved by the addition of honey and fish sauce. Yummy!

#2 Mascot – The Peacock was the symbol for Juno, top goddess and wife of Jupiter.

Sign at the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester

#1 Mosaics – Your Roman dinner guests will be so impressed with your peacock mosaic flooring as they recline and munch on their peacock meatballs.

Peacock Mosaic at the Jewry Wall Museum, Leicester

The Jewry Wall in Leicester is one of the highest Roman walls still standing in Britain at 30 feet high. It was once the wall of the exercise room in the bath complex of Ratae Corieltauvorum, the Roman town where Leicester is now located.

Jewry Wall, Leicester

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Ruminating on Roman Roads

Wade’s Causeway on Wheeldale Moor

I’ve always wondered where some of the names of Roman Roads in Britain came from; they’re obviously not Latin – Watling Street, Dere Street, the Stanegate, etc. Today I was doing some research and found an answer in the book, Roman Roads in Britain by Hugh Davies.

We don’t actually know what the Romans called their roads in Britain but the names we do have derive from the Anglo-Saxon and Norse invaders who came after the Romans. Watling Street evolved over the centuries to its present form from the Anglo-Saxon Waclinga straete, meaning road leading to the Waclinga tribe. The Stanegate near Hadrian’s Wall comes from stane meaning stone and gate, the Norse for road, so it was known as the stone road.

The section of Roman road on the Wheeldale Moor in North Yorkshire that I visited in late 2010 is part of Wade’s Causeway that travels from Whitby on the east coast. Its name may come from a Norse legend about the sea giant, Wada or Wade. The sign at the site tells us that “he is said to have built the road for his wife, Bell, to herd her sheep along the way to moorland pastures.”

Some of Bell’s Sheep on the North York Moors?

We certainly saw a lot of sheep on the moors that day, perhaps they were some of hers.

Fording the modern road on Wheeldale Moor

We also forded several streams going through the desolate, heather-covered moors. There is always lots of adventure and great scenery to discover along ancient Roman roads.

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A Stone’s Throw

One September morning last year two older couples were enjoying their morning coffee at St. Swithin’s church in Lincoln, UK when I had to ask them to move. Problem was their little card table in the church hall was right beside a 2,000 year old Roman altar and I couldn’t get a good picture of it without disturbing them. They were very accommodating, though, even inviting me to join them for coffee.

To the Goddesses, the Fates and the Deities of Augustus Caius Antistius Frontinus, being curator for the third time, erects this altar at his own cost

People over the years, including the Romans themselves, recycled stones in later buildings. This altar, dedicated by Augustus Caius Antistius Frontinus, was reused in the fourth century for Lincoln’s East Wall and only discovered in the 1870s when St. Swithin’s was built. Other signs of recycling in Lincoln include Roman bricks in a cottage chimney and a Roman wall incorporated into a much later shop front.

Lincoln Cottage Chimney with Roman Bricks
Lincoln Shop with Roman Wall

I started thinking about the recycling of Roman stones when writing about Maryport on England’s west coast. Here the entire fort of Alauna, built in AD 120s, was dismantled in the 18th century to build the new town of Maryport. Thankfully at the time Colonel Humphrey Senhouse hired a man to record and rescue any inscribed or carved stonework, adding to a collection started by his ancestor John Senhouse in 1570. Today the Senhouse Roman Museum has the largest collection of Roman military altar stones and inscriptions in Britain.

All that remains of Alauna Fort

Another example is found in Caerwent, Wales, where inside the village church is a statue base with one of the most important inscriptions from Roman Britain, the Pulinus inscription. This early 3rd century dedication by Tiberius Claudius Paulinus, commander of the Second Augusta Legion, gives details about military and civilian careers, as well as civil administration in Roman Britain. It had been part of a post Roman building in the village.

All these moving stones are pieces in the puzzle of ancient history, and one never knows where they’ll turn up.

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High Up Hardknott

How high could it be I thought? England has no real mountains (not like the mountains where I come from). And the trek up Hardknott Pass started gently enough, with its views of heather-covered hills and babbling brooks, lulling me into a false sense of “just another Roman fort”. After a week of visiting many forts along Hadrian’s Wall, Hardknott needed to be special to impress me.

But soon the country lane turned into a single track mountain road with hairpin turns and what seemed like nearly vertical grades. Near the top, if the cars coming down didn’t give way then I’m not sure we could have got the car going again once we stopped.

Mediobogum or Hardknott Roman Fort sits on a ridge of undulating ground at 800 feet above sea level, not too far from the top of the pass. The views from the site are spectacular to say the least. No the pass isn’t as high as those where I come from but it is impressive and unexpected.

And perched on hills and in fields around the fort, were herds of Herdy (Herdwicke) sheep. Those incredibly cute Lake District sheep start out life as black lambs with white faces and become grey as they age. Their faces are truly adorable.

For quick facts about the fort’s remains and history, go to Hardknott Fort.


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Sheep Among the Ruins

A bonus of my tour of Roman footprints in Britannia has been the expansion of my ovine knowledge. In other words, there are sure a lot of sheep among the ruins. And who knew there were so many different breeds? Here are a few of the woolly Romans I’ve met along the way.

North Country Cheviot Sheep stationed on Brunton’s Turret, Hadrian’s Wall
Two Swaledale Sheep on the North York Moors near Wheeldale Roman Road and Cawthorn Roman Camps
North of England Mule Sheep on Lambley Farm, my Hadrian’s Wall Headquarters
Sheep Sentries on Hadrian’s Wall – Walltown Crags
Herdwicke Sheep near Hardknott Roman Fort
Suffolk Black Face Sheep on the walls of Venta Icenorum, Norfolk
Greeting Committee of Norfolk Horned Black Face at Burgh Castle (Garionnonum), Norfolk

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Museums Along Hadrian’s Wall

The many museums from Newcastle to Maryport are filled with excellent artefacts and exhibits, and give a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived along Hadrian’s Wall.

Roman Glass
Copy of Corbridge Lanx

Great Northern Museum Hancock in Newcastle has an interactive model of the full length of Hadrian’s Wall, a reconstruction of Carrawburgh Mithras Temple, as well as many artefacts from the eastern forts of Arbeia and Segedunum.

Vindolanda Fort’s museum is filled with rare leather and wood finds, preserved by the anaerobic soil of several wood and stone forts built there over the years. These include the extraordinary wooden tablets with the words of the people who lived and worked at the fort. There is also a wonderful display of shoes and tools.

The Roman Army Museum (associated with Vindolanda Fort) has a very good film of the history with computer generated reconstructions and aerial footage of the wall. I’ve always been astounded by the delicate blue Roman glassware that has survived for almost 2000 years and one of my favourite souvenirs is a replica beaker with horses and riders I bought at RAM. This was made by Roman Glassmakers (

At Corbridge (Corstupitum) there was an early fort that predated the wall. Here there are also remains of the civilian settlement that surrounded the fort. Inside the site’s small museum are many interesting artefacts, including the Corbridge Lion and a replica of the beautiful silver Corbridge Lanx (the original is in the British Museum).

We chose a rainy day to visit the Tullie House Museumin Carlisle with its collections of artefacts from Roman Carlisle (Luguvailum Carvettiorum) and Hadrian’s Wall. We then travelled south along the Solway Firth to the SenhouseMuseum in Maryport with its extensive collection of altars and inscriptions.

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