Post-event tourism at Hadrians Wall 2023
On the way back down from the Irvine ADLG tournament, Dave from the Podcast and I stopped overnight in Carlisle (probably a one off, Sunday night is not showing the town at it's best) and then the next day hit the sights of Vindolanda and the nearby Roman Army Museum for a bit of Hadrians Wall action
For those of you who may not have been, Vindolanda is a pretty remarkable Roman archaeological site located in Northumberland, approximately 15 miles to the southwest of Carlisle.
Vindolanda is on the edge of the Hadrians Wall zone of the Northern border, and was the site of a marching fort which became a semi-permanent garrison and settlement, with acres of stone-built foundations of both the fort and "outside the gates" township now exposed through years of digging offers a captivating glimpse into the ancient world of Roman Britain.
Vindolanda is particularly famous for its collection of wooden writing tablets, which have provided invaluable insights into daily life, military activities, and correspondence during the Roman occupation of Britain, but luckily there is loads of other actual military stuff there too.
The Roman Army museum is pretty close by, and is part of the same (commercial-ish, as in its not National Trust or English Heritage) organisation so you can get a joint ticket to the two of them. We were a little sceptical (I mean, what did visiting a Roman Army Museum ever do for us..?) but it was a pleasant surprise with a pretty comprehensive overview of the life and operations of the Roman units that occupied this region over quite a long period of time.
There are plenty of convincingly dressed up 1:1 scale soldiers, as well as some good timeline stuff, and a pretty decent 3D film that is worth sitting through too, voiced by Brian Cox (not the physics one) that tries to give a glimpse of the experience of being part of a Roman auxiliary unit stationed on the wall.
So, on with the pictures!
Ideal for fans of Coldplay's Viva La Vida album, this is a Roman cavalryman rendered in 1:1 scale with what looked to us to be a pretty convincing array of uniform, shield and weapons.
A proper Lorica Segmenta Legionary (of course), with a shield design that would struggle to scale down to 15mm due to the thin width of the lighting flashes. There are plenty of bits of real armour in the display case too!
Auxiliary, as if lifted from the Armies & Enemies book, and sensibly also wearing trousers in this chill Northumberland morning air.
Here is Dave in a Roman army encampment.
We were surprised to find the Legions on the Northern border had all mod cons, including a flat screen TV playing stirring montages of their commanding officer bawling out the new recruits to keep everyone in line - I suppose this would be better for him than having to repeat the same speech every time a new detachment arrived from the far flung corners of the Empire?
How many helmets can one man have is the question no-one has asked before - but good to see a bright red crest on the centre one, as I'd been drifting towards black for some of mine in recent years
This recreated helmet is pretty spectacular, and suggests a justification for taking more effort on even the archers helmets than I currently tend to do.
There is a vaguely Middle Eastern air to it, and the museum has finds in it that suggest that archers were imported from the Middle East and further afield to join the Auxiliary formations on the Wall
This was one of the stand-out pieces, a ballista that I have posted on my blog already to ask the question "are the ones we see in 15mm cast metal actually way too big ?"
The one on the left is apparently a millimetre-perfect reconstruction based on an actual ballista frame discovered at Xanten-Wardt in North West Germany in 1999
It is very clearly man-portable and designed to fold up, to the extent that you could almost imagine Roman soldiers using it in pairs with one offering his shoulder as a tripod as if they were a WW2 German MG34 team!
Serious chain mail - you can't actually put this on, but you can lift it to feel the weight
Lets just say you'd need the padded jerkin underneath.
Here's three different types of armour - the one on the left is eastern-influenced cavalry armour for sure
Still not sure I'd do any Roman troops with armour that hue though, it might just look odd on the tabletop
Here's your Scorpio's again.
Looking at such a small and portable device it was also very easy to imagine a Roman legion or auxiliary unit setting up a few of these and pinging off a sustained barrage of bolts at a distant enemy, either encamped or even just gesticulating angrily at them from the top of a nearby hill.
In terms of a "mass battle" of many thousands that we wargamers often simulate the effect of this still may not have been all that significant, but walking through the countryside near Hadrians Wall, and seeing the size of the garrison at Vindolanda you can easily imagine that the norm would have been much smaller actions - where a sustained volley of well-aimed long range bolts may indeed have had a quite dramatic effect on the morale of a tribal warband numbering in the dozens, rather than the tens of thousands.
And an "Ancient British"-style chariot reconstruction as well!
Yes, a veritable Armies and Enemies book in 3D on display here in the Roman Army Museum!
The Roman Army Museum
This is a view of the whole fort and associated settlement at Vindolanda - as you can see its is vast, with the wall of the garrison running across the middle of the picture.
Digging is ongoing on some parts of the site - and probably will be for far into the future as there is a lot to find!
This is from the "township at the gates" part of the site, which still has impressively stone-built buildings.
Horse Head Armour reconstructed and on show in the Vindolanda museum
Personally this looks way too expensive to risk in an actual battle - I'd probably keep it in a well lit glass display case if I were a Roman Equites rider
A lot of spear-heads, still well preserved
The "broom bristle flattened and cut to a point" approach is very much endorsed by the design of these implements as well !
This is apparently the oldest bit of cock and balls graffiti ever found in Britain!
This display gives clear evidence of why the Roman army did so well at subduing huge swathes of the world in short order
Loaded dice, rather than weapons, tactics or logistics are clearly responsible
(although not getting called out for rolling 8/10 sixes does make it sound as if the umpire must have been on the payroll too for much of that time)
This is just bonkers - a painted beer glass with gladiators on it
Bits of this have been found all round the site, which as the guide explained to us, is because the Tavern was just outside the main gate of the garrison and so was connected directly to the main drain (aka toilet drain) which ran round the fort
This glass was chucked down the drain when it broke, so fragments have been found at various points around the perimeter of the fort as they were washed down the drain along with other less pleasant items!
Always good to get a bit of reconstructed fortlet !
Slightly iffy but still atmospheric 3D reconstruction
And a nice memorial listing the units who were garrisoned there over the centuries
And to end, a reminder of just how tough life could be in the Roman army.
We also created a video of our entire trip, covering Ironbridge, Cosford, Irvine and these two museums that you can watch (and listen along to us chuntering on) here or on YouTube