Reenactment Event at Birdoswald
Birdoswald, 28th May 2007
I heard that the ‘Ermine Street Guard’ (aka Legio XX Valeria Victrix) were going to hold a display out at Birdoswald Fort again. So I packed my bag and got on the bus out to Hadrian’s Wall. The weather was a bit ‘dodgy’ that day. A northwind blew in very cold air. It was very windy and rain was forecast. But on such occasions one just trusts to luck.
Three quarter of an hour’s ride takes you from the city of Carlisle through some breathtaking countryside along the course of the wall to the Fort the Romans called Banna, but which is known today as Birdoswald.
I arrived around midday, catching the end of the first display. I snapped away with the camera and caught as much as I could before it ended. Nowing that the next display would be around three o’clock I hence made some good use of my feet and went walking along the wall. I was especially keen to get some pics of sites of some towers and milecastles along the wall. As it was, time allowed for me to cover quite a distance and I hope to show some results of that little excursion in the wild.
Once back at Birdoswald, I was just in time for the next display. I know that I felt thoroughly uncomfortable in the cold, damp weather, so I dare not imagine how the reenactors of the Ermine Street Guard felt in their tunics. No doubt, they’re made of fairly stern stuff.
Unlike other occasions where I visited such events I decided not merely to capture what was of any particular interest to regarding ancient Roman subject matter, but also to try to capture something of the atmosphere of the event in various group shots. I’ll leave you to judge if this was a success or not.
A model representation of what was once the very impressive fort of Banna with grain storage buildings and a very large exercise hall, to allow for all-weather training.
The Legio XX Valeria Victrix descends the sloping ground of Birdoswald fort. Note the cavalry men overseeing matters from a distance.
The centurion leads the vexillation under his command down the hill, the unit’s vexillarius and signifier.
A great deal of practice seems to be spent on keeping the reenactment troops to perform their display with such precision. There’s no denying that their drill is very impressive.
If there is one thing in particular that the Ermine Street Guard is famed for it’s their expertise in ancient artillery.
Left: A soldier shoulders his manu-ballista and carries a bag of quivers in the the other hand.
Right: A scorpio-ballista in action. The crew was skilled and found the target repeatedly.
Perhaps most spectacular among all their arsenal of catapults is the large scale ballista. Seeing it in action is quite amazing. The noise the arms make as they slam into the front piece on release is testament to the sheer power harnessed in this device. It easily fired a stone ball 30 to 40 yards without much effort. More torsion on the ropes and ideal elevation and who knows how far this machine could reach…
Left: Two auxiliaries wind back the ratchet, to launch another ball.
Right: The ballista is primed and ready. The stone ball is clear visible. Immediately behind the sling the iron release mechanism is clearly discernable. On pulling back it’s black lever the sling is released and the ballista fires.
This ballista is at maximum elevation. At this angle the machine fired its charge 20 to 30 yards high into the air.
The heavies were there too. Legionaries wind back the ratchet on an onager to force back its powerful throwing arm. Of all the catapults present this was eminently the most powerful by far. It fired the greatest load of weight.