18. September 2015 · Comments Off on Reconstructing Romans (in Germany) · Categories: Uncategorised · Tags: , ,

It’s Day Five of the conference I think – it’s a pretty full on schedule so I’m feeling quite exhausted and loosing track of the days.

Today, I wanted to highlight a couple of the papers I’ve heard which have sparked my interest. The one area which has really had me thinking concerns reconstructions of Roman activities, gates, forts and camps. Piotr Zakrzewski of the University of Warsaw who undertook a digitisation of the results of survey and excavation work on the legionary fortress at Novae (Lower Moesia). It was a fascinating insight into how digitising old results can be combined with modern survey techniques (in this case a site survey with a total station) to give a better idea of the how a site may have looked, and in this case the fort gates. My PhD research is intending to look at the front gate of a fort, the Porta Praetoria, and examining if these gates, as the main entrance, looked any different or had any sort of symbolic purpose in comparison with the other gates. One of the difficulties we have is knowing what a gate actually looked like originally, particularly the Porta Praetoria as very few fragments survive and a lot of what we think we know about inscriptions and statues coming from a gate are speculative based on where these are found as we don’t have many good examples of surviving Porta Praetoria. The images below come from the surviving Porta Praetoria at Ravensbourg (where our field trip went yesterday).


As you can see, there is little left of the right gateway and nothing particularly special about the surviving remains of the tower. This lack of details was reflected in Piotr’s talk, simply because we have very little about the decorative remnants of the gates, but still it was an interesting and thought provoking paper.

The second paper which was extremely interesting and useful was by Philip Smither (University of Reading) entitled ‘A 3rd Century Roman Camp: Digitally Reconstructing the Past”. More specifically this focused on the Roman camp at St Leonard’s in the Sottish Borders, a site which I look at in my course, “Beyond the Empire” at Edinburgh University. St Leonards is a 165ha site (the second biggest known camp in the Roman Empire), and is succeeded (by a handful of further (but smaller camps) further north, equally spaced at around 11km apart – although camp sequencing and dating is a difficult (and somewhat controversial) task, it is assumed that these sequences belong to the Severan invasion. 

A group of model makers, Mules of Marius, have recreated (above) what a Roman camp would look like (on display at the Minoritenkirche in Ravensbourg where we were yesterday. But back to St Leonard’s where Philip recreated the camp for a BBC Scotland programme a couple of years ago and showed the footage of the camp in full, as oppose to the TV edited version. His camp layout was based on the instructions given by ‘Psuedo’ Hyginus in his military manuals (something which I’ve used as the basis of my PhD research). The recreation was done using Google Earth and Google Sketch, the latter of which I’ve no experience of but once I’m back in Durham I’ll try a little experimentation with it and see if it and see if it’s useful for demonstrating some of my PhD ideas. One of the more thought provoking aspects came with the questions when it was pointed out that if this camp is the largest one, particularly in this area (with nothing of a comparable size preceding it) does it represent a site where several cohorts came together; and if the camps afterwards are smaller, did some troops group off. 


In terms of my research, what I found most interesting about St Leonard’s (plan above from RCHAMS: Canmore) is the shape – it’s not the traditional playing card shape of camps we normally find in Scotland, and instead the shape takes into account the natural topography of the site. Philip allowed for this in his modelling, with part of the camp splitting in the northern sector, and a V shaped gap. But what does this tell us about the layout of camps versus fort? We believe that camps are more temporary structures, so was this camp thrown up in the best, but not ideal location? And if they had intended to put a fort in this location, would they have cleared the surface so that the fort fitted the more traditional layout?

Prof David Breeze presented a paper, ‘The role of zeitgeist in the study of Roman frontiers’. While I’m not going to comment specifically on the paper, I thought it did raise some interesting points relating to how each generation sees Roman frontiers; it’s especially relevant given that there are over 30 nationalities at the Limes Congress, and a number of those are from countries which have had closer experiences of conflict than those of us in Western Europe may have had. I was wondering what the zeitgeist for my generation in western Europe would be; the only barrier that I’ve had some awareness would be, ias the Berlin Wall, but that went before I was 11! Of course, we’ve had conflict in Northern Ireland, but that , again, is something which has always felt rather remote and something which was happening when I was much younger. It would be intersting to explore the concept of zeitgeist (in relation to Roman frontier studies) with younger generations (which may not have the influence of WWII and the Cold War as some may have done), but also it would be an interesting comparison with those growing up in, or next to areas of conflicts, not to mention looking at everything influx of migrants to the EU which is so current.

There were a number of other interesting papers, though many not connected to my specific areas of interest, but nonetheless worth listening to including one on on Same-sex and single-parent families in the Roman Frontiers by T. Ivleva of Newcastle University and one which I’ve just come from by Elizabeth Wolfram Thill (University of North Carolina) on Visualising the Frontier in Rome, essentially looking at the depictions of the frontier areas and how they were depicted at the military triumphs and in the sculptures (i.e. Trajan’s Column, etc). 

This afternoon’s papers promise to look at the most recent research in Roman Britain, particularly the role and influence of soldiers and sailors in the conquest of Scotland, and the recent discoveries on Hadrian’s Wall.