Vindolanda: Archaeologist discovers 500 Roman Empire letters
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The Roman conquest of Britain began some 2,000 years ago. For 400 years the imperial army worked its way north through England, securing swathes of land. Countless native Celtic tribes were destroyed in the process, many historic battles and uprisings having taken place, most notably Boudica’s revolt in 60 AD.
Myriad remnants of the battles have been found in the places where the Romans set-up military barracks.
At Vindolanda in Hexham, Northumberland, an entire museum holds a number of Roman artefacts, many of which were used in battle.
The pieces were explored during History Hit’s documentary, ‘Vindolanda: Jewel of the North’.
Vindolanda was primarily a military site and so evidence for war has been uncovered over the years.
Among the finds include ballista bolts, spears, practice swords made of wood, and slingshots.
Victims of conflict have also been unearthed, including devastated fragments of bone and a skull cracked and snapped in half.
The museum not only holds Roman weapons but also the armour they protected themselves with.
A striking feature of the armour is how glamorous it is: shining bronzes and deep copper colours, often with artistic emblems and engravings pressed into the outer shells.
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Dr Andrew Birley, Vindolana’s director of excavations, talked through a technique used by the Romans to instil fear in their opponents even before taking to the battleground.
He explained how the soldiers would decorate their horses in shining chamfron as a means to strike terror into the native Celts.
He said: “We think of the Romans as being very decorative, of course, the cavalry is always blingy too.
“This is probably the sort of headers whilst on parade, or doing a manoeuvre.
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“But of course, horses have to be armoured as well as the men so they can survive in this environment.
“Part of the process of the Roman army in terms of its image and protection of power is to be very blingy, very in your face.
“Almost like the Red coats in the sense that you could see them coming over the hillside from miles away.
“And so not just the soldiers but the horses would also just shine and shimmer in the light because of all of the bronze and the copper alloy which is attached to their armour.”
Later, Dr Birley talked through the “basic” stuff and how even thin and decorative pieces of armour had an intense amount of attention given to them.
He said: “Even the harness belts and buckles, they’re all really shiny too.
“So, you can still imagine this very bright, dazzling force coming over the hills and very noisy, because all of this stuff clanks and clinks.
“You could hear a Roman army and see a Roman army from a long way away.”
Roman presence in Britain gradually faded from 370 AD.
Each outpost in the country left at different times.
The soldiers left for Rome which was at the time under attack.
Britain subsequently fell into chaos with native tribes and foreign invaders battling it out for power.
There was a great spread of Angles, Saxons and Franks after the Romans left.
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