Thursday, October 18, 2012

Roman underpants and all that

 
While we were in the Carlisle area we had to go and admire Hadrian's Wall. It was built for 73 miles across the top bit of England to discourage attack from the north. There it is in the middle distance. I think the farmer whose field it borders may have tidied it up; but for something begun in about 122 AD, it's not in bad shape. The bit at the front is part of what remains of Birdoswald Fort.
 
 
Obviously the Wall used to be considerably bigger, but over the past 2000ish years people have helped themselves to lumps of it  - from the top, understandably - so now the highest part we saw was about Mr-Life-size, which is 6 feet 1 and a half. At some points, however, it's evidently still 10 feet tall. Even that wouldn't have deterred a determined ancient Scot from scrambling over and marauding so it must have been a lot higher originally. (Speaking for myself and probably my wimpish ancestors, I would be easily discouraged from marauding, especially in the cold and mud. But it was a lovely day when we were there.)
 
 
 
 
Then we went to Vindolanda, a Roman fort and its associated village near the Wall. It was astonishingly extensive. Above is a bath house with space underneath the floor for hot air to keep the Roman extremities warm. The effect is somewhat lessened by all the rainwater lying in the once-hot part, but you have to imagine floors, walls, and naked Romans sitting about reading their books and reaching for their soap. One has to hope that they'd invented bookstands by then.
 
 
If you're ever nearby, it's well worth a visit. Steeped in ghostly presences as we were, it wasn't hard to imagine the place crowded with chaps in togas and their wives and children. (I don't think soldiers wore togas, actually, more those kilt things - chilly in the wind.) There's a really excellent museum too, with lots of artefacts. Maybe the most impressive display was a huge case case filled with shelves upon shelves of shoes. The leather was preserved by lying for centuries in mud without any air to allow it to rot. Somehow it's very easy to imagine those long-ago people when you see their shoes just sitting there as if waiting for their owners to come back.
 
The other really fascinating objects excavated are slivers of wood on which people wrote - all sorts of things, mainly in letters. These tablets, once read, were thrown away; and again the mud preserved them. There is, for example, an invitation from one woman to another to her birthday party - the earliest example of a woman's handwriting. And a chap writing to someone to ask him to send some underpants. So that's what they wore under their kilts.
 
Where will our blogs be in 2000 years? Preserved for the astonished future? I doubt it. Vanished into the air... .

10 comments:

magsmcc said...

British Library, I think, has been archiving blogs. Mine is there, apparently! They must have needed an example of mundane Northern Irish suburban life with children. Must try to find that link for you. Hadrian's Wall is lovely- did you hear the Radio 4 play set there in Roman times? It was on a few years ago, but 'twas very good.

Lesley said...

Oh my Lord, archiving blogs - I wonder if they had a vacancy for a chubby 40-something who loves her dogs just a little toooo much?? What a thought.

I have intended to visit Hadrian's Wall FOREVER and WILL get there. I love all that history and now there's roman underpants, well, what's not to like??

Lesley x

Fairlie said...

I've always thought that togas were not compatible with Scottish weather. I'm glad to hear there was alternative attire for the Romans north of Hadrian's wall...

Gillie said...

Every time I visit (usually in the wind and rain) I think of those poor Romans posted to that somewhat bleak place, far from wine, sun, and citrus fruits! Definitely a hardship posting!

libby said...

This will be added to my list of places to see....that part of the world is fabulous.....and my list is getting longer.

Jinksy said...

Thank you for that fascinating glimpse beneath the togas! LOL

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

We were there in '98 and enjoyed the feeling of connection to a more distant past than we usually experience. But we didn't see all the correspondence that you did, and I'm smiling now to think of it.

Gina E. said...

A very enjoyable post, Isabelle! I love your way of introducing humour into history:-)
I saw something on the news about Scotland wanting to be independant of England. I thought you were? In an Australian kind of way...ruling yourself but still part of the commonwealth? Although you are closer to England than just being a commonwealth country of course. Your more learned blog readers will be shaking their heads over my ignorance...sorry. Just wondering what you and Mr Life felt about the proposed changes.

Mac n' Janet said...

Visited there back in the 90's, really enjoyed it. Would love to walk the wall someday before Im too feeble. I read a book about who did it---think it was Hunter Davies. Of course it would probably take me 6 or 7 months to do it.

Avus said...

As a member of the Ermine Street Guard (Google it)I have often displayed in Roman kit on Hadrian's Wall. Housesteads and Vindolanda are my favourite sites.

I have even gone to the ultimate realism of wearing Roman under pants (subligaria). Not pants, as such, but rather like a sumo wrestler's attire - a cloth about 5 feet long and 18 inches wide. Worn wrapped round the waist, under the crutch and brought back over the front wrapping to hang like a short pinafore before. Very realistic, but very likely to come unravelled and hang behind as a "tail". (or fall off completely) Most impracticable, which is why, I guess, they mostly did not bother!