Reenactment Event at Birdoswald
Birdoswald, 30th June 2005
It was a nice day and the word was that there was a Roman reenactment event taken place at Birdoswald Fort along Hadrian's Wall. So I jumped on a bus and got myself out there.
As it turned out the Ermine Street Guard were putting on a fine show. Plenty of soldiers, catapults (even an onager firing cabbages. Armed with my new digital camera I snapped away at anything that moved. Sadly though the military displayed unfortunately coincided with the bus times (ending when my bus arrived and starting shortly before my bus left), which left me little chance to capture the soldiers moving in formation or firing their catapults. Well, better luck next time.
In any case, it was a pleasant excursion to the old wall and I think there are plenty of worthwhile pics.
As I arrived the military display was just ending.
A full-scale onager catapult was among the exhibits. This one in particular fired cabbages...
A Roman cookery demonstration was taking place at a stall, people invited to try and taste. However, the crowds around were large. I never got a chance...
The encampment was guarded by wooden barricade erected from the individual prongs each legionary would carry with his kit.
With them the soldiers brought a full scale leather contubernium tent which would house 8 soldiers.
Having been challenged by the makers of the archaeological programme 'Time Team' in 1999 to furnish a crane using Roman technology, in 2004 the legionaries of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix came up with this suspended A-frame. It works handsomely and seems a very credible solution. On the right-hand picture you see a legionary working the lever which turns the ratchet mechanism, of the same type used on catapults.
'An army marches on its stomach...'
And the crafty 'imaginifer' was making sure he was first in line when the grub would be handed out.
Soon after, re-fortified with food and beverage he was spotted again, still hanging around the amphorae...
Talking of food, there was plenty of that about. Tables ached under the weight of examples of Roman diet.
Soldiers weren't just for fighting. The engineering skill of the Roman legions was virtually unmatched in the ancient world. An auxiliary is found working a piece of wood on an authentic workbench and a legionary busies himself with repairs to a tool.
Here we have a fine example of the famous groma. It is an ancient forerunner of today's theodolite, which engineers use to survey terrain and project lines.
Here's a simple example of the use of a groma.
An engineer planning the course of a road can walk up the hill you see in the picture's back ground. Meanwhile he sends an assistant ahead with a pole to the other side of the hill.
Up on the hill he plants the groma in the ground with two opposing plumb lines running exactly along the path of the oncoming road. He now simply walks around the groma to look in the opposite direction. Down there is his assistant with the pole. He signals his assistant to move either left or right, until his pole is perfectly in line with the two opposing plumb lines. Then he gives the assistant an order to bang his pole into the ground. There you go. He has just projected a straight line to a point out of sight beyond a hill. It's how the Romans got their roads to be straight.
With the other two plumb lines hanging from the cross beams, it's very easy to project lines at right angles. With a bit of geometry they could calculate smaller angles.
The manuballista (this had just suffered a defect; note the springs and bowstring are gone) is a contentious issue with some. With some it was a smaller ballista engineered with many metal components but fired in much the same way as the earlier, larger, timber models. With others it was effectively the fore-runner of the medieval crossbow. I guess you can guess what this gent's opinion on the matter is...
Big store was laid on the crossbar at the butt of the weapon. Most affix this vertically, but here you see it lies horizontal to the weapon itself. It's maker assured me that a vertical butt, alike that of a rifle, was not necessary as a crossbow does not recoil. Instead he suggested the horizontal bar would be a 'belly-butt', which the crossbowman would lean as as he pulled back the bowstring with both hands. It's perfectly plausible, but considering the passions this subject enflames among expert aficionados, I'll leave it for others to judge...
No grieves, no cape, no crested helmet or vine staff. Yet something tells me we're looking at an centurion here. It's unlike ordinary legionaries to strike quite such dashing a pose. Also, the 'phallarae' are a giveaway (the two rings on his chest - decorations for past bravery) and the leather fringes extending from under his armour.
Civilian dress was also in show. Here an instructor of the 'kids' army' was dressed in a typical peasant garb of tunica dalmatica under a rough over-tunic and a straw hat. But the trousers would most likely give him away as a yokel from the colonies. Celts and Germans wore trousers, Romans tended to see them as 'effeminate'.
A nice example of Roman female dress here. The long sleeved tunic covered with a brown stola which is clasped at the shoulder with a Celtic broach. Slung over these garments the lady wears a dark green woolen palla cloak.
Two more nice examples of ladies in tunica, stola and palla. The lady on the left has drawn her palla over her head to keep the wind and rain out.
A 'vexillarius' (standard bearer of the 'vexillum' standard) takes a moment's rest. A trumpeter (cornicen) walks by, accompanied by an auxiliary.
Some legionaries wearing the famous segmented armour (lorica segmentata) in all their glory. The armour would indeed be as polished as seen here as this aided enemy blows glance off more easily.
Two examples showing the improved mobility of a legionary once he had rid himself of his pack. On the left, two legionaries go by, each with a shield and pilum. Whereas, on the right two march past carrying all their kit. The gear they carry weighs quite a lot, which easily explains the legionaries ancient nickname; Marius' mules.
A good example of an auxiliary soldier. Note, the auxiliary was armed with a stabbing spear (hasta), not a the famous pilum, and his shield was oval, allowing him better manoeuverability over rough ground. If the legionary formed the battlefield's heavy infantry, the the auxiliary was the lightly armed skirmisher or fast response unit.
Two fine examples of the troop marching by. They really are quite a sight when in full swing.
Well, I hope you enjoyed that little display. My thanks to the reenactors of the Ermine Street Guard for a great photo opportunity.