In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I had visited the Roman Army Museum which is ‘twinned’ with the Vindolanda Fort just behind Hadrians wall. First of all, lets be clear, I am no expert on the Roman army. What ever knowledge that I have comes from the various films & TV series that I have watched ( yes, including Life of Brian…), the fictional books that I have read and the sort of casual knowledge that you pick up when your hobby is wargaming. However, at some point in the near future I intend to start to build an Imperial Roman Army. It’s an itch that needs scratching and I have had the itch ever since I bought my first box of Airfix Roman soldiers! So my visit to Northumberland and Hadrians wall was yet another ‘reconnaissance mission’ to start to immerse myself into the period.
The Roman Army Museum at Hexham does not disappoint. The museum gives a clear picture of what the Roman army was like: how it was organised; how it was armed and how it fought. The film presentations are amongst the best that I have seen at a museum. The main film in 3D ‘Edge of Empire’ is very well done and gives an insight into how the soldiers lived and died on the wall. There are two or three other short films around the museum that give more detail of how the Romans lived and occupied Britain. There is also one of the best and succinct explanation of how the Roman army was organised that I have come across. I have borrowed it from youtube to show here.
There is plenty more to see at the museum other than these films. As I have already shown, there are plenty of exhibits of the soldiers and their armour and weapons. There are of course, actual artefacts recovered from the nearby Fort of Vindolanda as well as a brief history of the life of Hadrian, the wall builder!
Once we had toured the Museum and spent a few bob in the excellent shop, it was a quick drive down the road to the Roman Fort of Vindolanda. The site itself is beautiful, surrounded by the rugged hills of Northumberland. The weather for us was a bit damp but didn’t stop us enjoying the day. In fact we only stayed for the afternoon as we were due to travel home that day but I could easily have spent a day wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere.
As well as the fort, there is another very good museum explaining how the excavations are progressing and of course displaying the various finds at the site. The most important being the writing tablets that have been recovered and deciphered. The detail that has been gleaned from these actual records of the fort are fascinating. It is no wonder that they are considered to be so important as they bring the past to life. It is mind boggling to me that they have the actual birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepindina written in AD100. I half expected to find out that Biggus Dickus was on the guest list…
As well as the ruins of the fort, there are reconstruction’s of the Wall, in both stone and timber, and also of various Roman temples. So there is plenty to see and to think about. My overriding thought as we drove away was that the real power of the Romans was their organisational abilities. The fort at Vindolanda was laid out in exactly the same way as the fort at Segedunum. Both were obviously ideal as defensive positions but also as small centres of administration and commerce. They both had all the amenities that were required to keep a small garrison functioning and as comfortable as they could be in what was then the frontier of the Empire. Clever blokes, them Romans!