My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology


26.7.07
  Roman Saddles

Roman saddles look quite different from the English ones I'm used to. They're probably closer to Western saddles though my experience with those is limited to one ride, and it felt pretty unusual for someone trained in the classical style.

Roman saddle from the side; the horse's head would be to the right
Since Roman saddles had no stirrups, they used four horns to support the rider. It's quite comfortable, but movements are more limited than with stirrups. If you want to stand up to have more swinging room for a cavalry spatha, you need to rely on pressing knees and lower legs against the horse's flancs. Stirrups were an improvement there. Also, the horns can get in the way if you want to turn in the saddle to fight someone sneaking up from behind.

Roman saddle seen from the front angle
I'm not sure if most auxiliary cavarly used the same sort of saddle - we know from the Numidian mounted archers that they used no saddle at all but only a blanket. Heavy cavalry like the Parthian cataphracti will have used it, I suppose, because they needed to keep a firm seat to balance the impact of a close attack with the lance. Cataphracti can be compared to Mediaeval knights to some extent, only the latter knew stirrups. But Mediaeval saddles are different from modern ones in having higher support in front and back as well.

I couldn't resist to try the saddle, and I would love to ride a real horse that way. I sit relaxed here (if I sat properly, you shouldn't see an empty space between my knees and the movie horse), but I had to relax in order to take a decent pic without flash; it's the trick to make those work. The light was a bit strange which counts for rather more red in my face than the sunburn I got in Corbridge gave me.

Pictures taken in Carlisle Museum.
 


  More Stones

Remains of the headquarters of some Roman forts at the Wall. Because I know you like old stones. :)

Cilurnum (Chesters)

I'm so glad they let the tree stand. It adds an element of picturesque to those ruins. The past coming alive in new surroundings.

The hypocaust heating shown in this post is on the other side of the building.


Vercovicium (Housesteads)

Housesteads is pretty much a hill fort. In no other place at the Wall I visited did the Romans have to deal with such an uneven ground, though maybe there have been some mile castles facing the same problem.

I was asked why I visited so many Roman forts, since they all follow the same basic pattern. The reason is simple - every of these has its own, particular atmosphere. It is also the reason I'm going to see some Roman forts at the German Limes border in August. I'm sure they'll be different again.
 


24.7.07
  Where Richard III is Hanging Out

The little Richard III Museum in York is located in the Monk Bar Gate, one of the gate houses of the town fortifications. Since I was looking at the fortifications anyway, and some of my blog friends are Richard III 'fans', I decided to have a look and maybe take some pics. I didn't regret it.

Monk Bar Gate, seen from the battlements

It's a bit of a fan museum, with lovingly drawn geneaologies, information tablets and some decorations like banners and replica of period armour. They also sell books and such. Central part is the audio tape trial the plays via loudspeakers in the main room, and a volume where you can add your own verdict. Someone wrote 'George Bush'. :)

Portcullis in Monk Bar Gate, framed by Richard's family.

The location is part of the charme of the museum. Monk Bar Gate has the oldest working portcullis; it was last lowered in the 16th century but it's still in working order. The interior is very Mediaeval - stone vaults and not much space.

This is another shot of dear Richard III.

He looks pretty sinister in black, though he needs a moustache to twirl to make a proper Evil Overlord ™. *grin*

Here is another pic of the interior of Monk Bar Gate house.

Monk Bar Gate, main room

It looks rather comfortable for a 14th century building, though I have no idea if they ever managed to get rooms with such thick stone walls warm. The secrets of Roman hypocaust and wall heatings had been lost then, and fireplaces don't make up for that. Though there might have been carpets and tapestries.

Closeup of one of the ceiling vaults

No torches and hanging lamps with candles these days, but unromantic neon lights.

Below are two more pictures of the interior of Monk Bar's Gate.

You enter from the street level, pay your fee, and then you have to go up a narrow and steep 14th century staircase.

People must have been smaller back then, and they obviously didn't carry big backpacks. I did not have one this time, but I remember shoving one of the suckers through some stair-cases in Scottish castles, lol. Well, maybe the guards sometimes had to drag a reluctant prisoner up there. Binding him tightly and hauling him up the stairs by a rope might have worked best. Yes, I'm evil - I'm a writer, what did you think? :)

Monk Bar Gate was also used as prison. I got a giggle out of that one. The ensuite facilities were a night pot and a water jar. The cell is tiny, someone from our time who's 180 cm or so tall would have difficulties to lie down comfortably.

But I suppose comfortable wasn't a requirement. At least, the cells had daylight and probably less rats than your average cellar dungeon.

Though I hope the princes in the Tower had a bit more space and some furs to lie on.
 


22.7.07
  Some Kings, Having a Bad Hair Day

Your Honour, I have no idea what happened to the princes in the Tower, I swear.

But I do know what will happen to the idiot who did my hair this morning. Mwuahaha.

Richard III standing trial, Richard III Museum, York

The scene is accompanied by an audiotape that plays a virtual trial with the arguments for and against Richard's involvement in the death of the princes safekept / imprisoned in the Tower in London.

York has close connections to Richard III and there's a little museum dedicated to him. A fun place hidden in one of the towers of the old town fortifications.

And for our Edward fans:

Edward I-III, York Minster

There are statues of the kings of England from Henry I to Richard III.

I can't help, but Edward III's hair looks like a perm gone wild. And that Gimli beard ... Ed II looks sullen. Did Piers smile at another man? :)

I took the photo without a flash. It's slightly blurred but the relief is a lot more plastic than in a pic of the same motive I took with flash and which looks cold and flat. An experience I've made more than once.

This is post no. 300. *opens champagne bottle* :)
 


17.7.07
  Mithraeum at Brocolita (Carrawburgh)

Mithras came from the Mespotamian and Persian pantheon, god of light, of oaths and treaties, of truth and justice. He supposedly was the god of the warrior élites in Mesopotamia and Persia, though in the latter religion he stood in competition to Ahura Mazda.

His cult was carried west by the soldiers of the Roman Empire, and at the end of the first century AD he had become one of the most popular gods among the soldiers. Caves and grottos were now seen as places sacred to Mithras. The Mithras mysteries were celebrated in subterranean buildings, the mithraea. A good number of these has been discoverd all over the Roman Empire. Central part of the celebration was the killing of a bull, replaying the killing of the primordial bull by Mithras, the fight of Good against Bad, in some versions the creation of life.

Mithraeum at Brocolita, overview

Even some emperors (Commodus, Julian Apostata) became members of the Mithras mysteries. Because of its popularity, the cult stood in competition with the Christian religion, and there were similarities between both. The Mithras cult knew something like the last supper where the members shared bread and wine in commemoration of the last supper Mithras shared with his disciples before he entered his sun chariot and descended to heaven. They also believed in ressurrection and eternal life after the body went through the spheres of the planets (the 7 then known) and some sort of final judgement.

Closeup of the sanctuary

Almost everything we know about the Mithras cult comes from iconography (sculptures and reliefs), there is little written information because the cult was supposed to be a mystery to all but the initiated. There have been seven grades of initiation, and membership was restricted to men. Its aim was the fight against untruth, treason, and bad morals. Membership in the Mithras mysteries didn't exclude membership in other religious cults.

Closeup of the anteroom
The blue umbrella peeking out from the entrance is mine. :)

The mithraeum at Brocolita (Carrawburgh) was built about 200 AD. The altars were dedicated by the officers of the Batavians stationed in the nearby fort, the main altar depicting Mithras slaying the bull has been destroyed - assumably by Christians who saw the the Mithras ceremonies like the above mentioned final supper as parody of their own religion.

The mithraeum was originally a dark room with only few lights, most of them close to the altar. The anteroom was probably used for initiation tests. In the central nave, stone benches would have stood on both sides. At the far side lies the sanctuary. Mithraea were small and usually didn't hold more than 30 to 40 people.

The mithraeum seen from the other angle

The mithraeum at Brocolita was discovered by chance when after a dry period the ground sank and some stones became visible. It was excavated in 1949. The altars have been replaced by replica; the originals are in the museum at Newcastle, while other finds are displayed at Chesters.

To the left is a closeup of one of the altars depicting Mithras as Sun Charioteer. If you look closely, you can see that the rays surrounding his head are cut out of the stone, and behind them is an hollow where an oil lamp would be put so the rays shone in the dark. Time has destroyed part of the corona.

The identification with the sun god became so strong that Mithras was celebrated as Sol Invictus in the Roman pantheon.


I want to thank my very kind hostess in the B&B in Haltwhistle for having been able to see this one. She had offered to come and give me a ride back from Housesteads because the bus time schedule was such a mess, and then asked if I was in for some more walking through wet grass and rain, and drove me to Brocolita. It was worth getting wet.
 


15.7.07
  Let's Go Swimming

Here is another picture post. This time it's some Roman baths at the Hadrian's Wall.

Cilurnum (Chesters), view from the bath to the river Tyne

And proof that the sun shines in Britannia, sometimes. It was a lovely day. I sat in the grass and had some tea while enjoying the view.

Cilurnum, anteroom of the bath

The other side from where I sat. The niches are not clothes' lockers, but places where statues would have stood.

One of the baths at Vindolanda, remains of the heating system

Though the sky was overcast, it was warm enough I'd have enjoyed a nice swim in a cool pool. Well, I got one in Haltwhistle public pool the other day. There's nothing better than an evening swim with the sun peeking out from the clouds and sparkling on the water.

Remains of the hypocaust system under the Commander's House in Cilurnum (Chesters).

In Rosemary Sutcliff's novel The Silver Branch, a hypocaust system, unused in summer, serves as hiding place for the MCs and a certain bronze eagle.
 


12.7.07
  The New Garrisons

Here are the new garrisons of some Roman forts at the Hadrian's Wall. *grin*

Birdoswald

Ain't they cute? It took me some tries to get them stay down - most sheep would rise and walk away the moment I approached them. Starlets they are not, lol.


Housesteads

They are everywhere, and the little brown things they leave behind are everywhere, too. Which is less cute. But you still can't resist the charm of some curious lambs. I caught several shots of these before they realised I was photographing and decided to show me their wiggly waggly tails instead.


Remains of the latrines at Vercovicium (Housesteads) to the right

I wish the sheep would use that one.
 


7.7.07
  Carlisle Castle

The pictures of Carlisle Castle serve as illustration for Alianore's todays post about Edward I and his son. Edward II was proclaimed King in Carlisle Castle on July 20, 1307.


The site at the British west coast, known first as Luguvallium and part of the Hadrian's Wall defenses, had seen a sequence of Roman forts from the 1st to 4th centuries AD, and then the turbulent times when Romano-Britains, Anglo-Saxons, Picts, Scots and Vikings strove for power; at that time the place was known as Caer Ligualid.

The next traceable step in the history of fortifications took place in 1092. In the wake of the Norman conquest, William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, raised a castle on the old Roman site, a Norman style motte and bailey construction made of timber. He had pushed the Scottish frontier north of Carlisle and needed a strong border fortification. During the following century it was refortified in stone by Henry I. The 12th-century stone keep is the oldest surviving structure in the castle, which was frequently 'updated' in the centuries to follow. For example, the rounded, shot-deflecting battlements of the keep were added when Henry VIII adapted the castle for artillery in 1540.


King David I of the Scots captured Carlisle in 1135 and completed the changes made by Henry I, but in 1157 it was retaken by Henry II who added a second curtain wall.

Carlisle Castle played a role during King Edward I's conquest of Scotland. It also served as prison on occasion, as carvings in a room in the keep, probably made by captives held here by the future Richard III in 1480, demonstrate.

Situated so close to the Scottish border, Carlisle Castle saw lots of action. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned within the castle for a few months in 1568, and it was besieged by the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War in 1644. Important battles for the city of Carlisle and its castle took place during the second Jacobite rising against George II of Great Britain in 1745. Carlisle and the castle were seized by the Jacobites, but they were driven north by the forces of the Duke of Cumberland. Carlisle was recaptured and the Jacobites were jailed and then executed.
 


1.7.07
  Birthdays, Battles, and A Saint

This time it's Ann who spreads a meme.

The rules are: You go to Wikipedia and type in your birthdate. Then you write down 3 events, 2 births, and 1 holiday. I added comments in italics.

October, 23

Events
42 BC - Roman Republican civil wars: Second Battle of Philippi - Brutus's army is decisively defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian. He commits suicide. And 67 years later, Octavian, then known as Augustus, would ask the dead Varus to give him back the three legions lost in Germania (according to Sueton).
425 - Valentinian III is elevated as Roman Emperor, at the age of 6. He is the son of Galla Placidia, Honorius' sister and King Athaulf's widow, who plays a role in my novel 'Endangered Frontiers'.
1157 - The Battle of Grathe Heath ends the civil war in Denmark. King Sweyn III is killed and Valdemar I restores the country. Valdemar is the foil for the King of Danemark in my S&S novel 'Kings and Rebels'.

Birthdays
1503 - Isabella of Portugal, queen of Spain and empress of Germany (d. 1539). The House of Habsburg is later than the times of my special interest, so I admit I know little about her.
1801 - Albert Lortzing, German composer (d. 1851). His opera 'Der Wildschütz' was among the first I saw on stage.
1942 - Michael Crichton, American writer. Gotta love dinos, lol.

Holidays
Saint Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. That's a cool patron saint for me; I've even read some of his stuff. :)

The links are Wikipedia and to be read with the usual caution.

Slaget på Grathe Hede, 23. oktober 1157 - Battle of Grathe Heath
as the artist Lorenz Frølich imagined. (Wikipedia Common License)

I tag whoever wants to play along. It should give the history gang a field day, lol.
 


The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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