The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


28 Jun 2014
  Room Sharing, Roman Style

Hi, it's me, Aelius Rufus. Gabriele has taken an old post of me and added some of those little pictures and more information, so I have to retell a few things. I got to see the cavalry fort at Aalen which dates to the time of Antoninus Pius, and she thought it would be fun to compare the soldiers' barracks of the standard Hadrian's Wall / Limes forts to the cavalry ones.

A reconstructed barrack in Arbeia

That's the place where my friend Gaius Fannius commands a unit of the 5th cohort of Gaul auxiliary, sometimes visited by the mysterious, time traveling Merlinus. Well, he's a centurion and gets some more space to his own.

One barrack has been reconstructed, though there were several, of course, depending on the size of the garrison.

Interior of a room in a fort barrack (Caerleon Museum)

When I travel I usually get better places to stay than my living quarters in the Saalburg castellum. Thanks to Merlinus and the ongoing interest in Romans that leads to Rebuilding the Past projects, I can show you how our room looked. Pretty much like in the picture above.

Eight of us, called a contubernium, share a room of 15 square metres plus a little anteroom with shelves for our equipment, and a kitchenette. You see it's pretty dark and sparsely furnished - not that there'd be space for anything more than bunk beds, one table, and a few pegs in the wall. When on campaign, we also share a tent.

Oven for a contubernium, Caerleon Museum

Roman soldiers and auxiliaries don't have a central dining hall and no chefs (Asterix got that one wrong); we have to do our own cooking and can be glad if one of the chaps gets a bit of a hand for it. The ingredients, grain, beans, bacon, sometimes dried figs or other fruit and a bit of fish, as well as beer and wine are distributed by the command. There is always enough to keep us fit, but it's not roasted venison in a creamy juniper berry sauce.

Usually ten contubernia, a centuria that is though it only comes to 80 men, not a full hundred, share a barrack in the fort. Sometimes we get lucky and a bunch of the guys is commissioned elsewhere, like manning the mile forts and watch towers, accompagnying some tribune on some mission or whatever, and then we can spread out a bit more. The cavalry guys have more space, too.

(Modell of a fortress in Birdoswald Museum. In the lower part you can see the barracks with the attached houses for the centurions.)

We're led by a centurion, and those guys don't live in such crowded and dark quarters. No, centurions are special and have their own house at the end of the barrack and slaves to cook for them, and us poor soldiers to clean their armour.

Yes, dear Gaius, you know complaining about the centurions is part of the job.

Bedroom of the centurion, Arbeia

They also get ten times the salary we get. It's a damn injustice - invented by Augustus, I've been told. He wanted a gap between the ordinary soldiers and the officers so the army wouldn't stick together and turn against him or some such. And indeed, when there were mutinies like the time Tiberius became Emperor while the legions prefered Germanicus, it was the centurions who got killed during the mess, and in the end the mutiny came to nothing and Tiberius stayed put.

There's one good thing, though, and that's the fact the centurions are ranked according to the place of the centuria they lead, and half of them spend their time ogling the place of the centurion ranking above them. It's even worse in the regular legions where there are sixty of the lot and the structure is even more complicated.

Anteroom to the bedroom, Arbeia.
The centurion's anteroom was larger and also used as office.

There was another good thing to being a centurion, Gaius Fannius told me. He could order some of the guys to slap a fresh layer of paint on the walls of his rooms in Arbeia. The reconstruction needs a house makeover; it gathered a fair bit of dirt and cobwebs.

Yeah, I could try to rise to the centuriate - I'm a Roman citizen thanks to my father - but I'm not sure I really want that. I doubt I could have so much fun traveling around when I had the responsibilty for some 80 lads. No way I could claim the whole lot as personal guard and take them around with me.


Bunk beds like above is the most common layout, but sometimes barracks had kings size beds for four like in the image Gabriele captured with her little picture box below. Even worse, if you ask me; I prefer the bunk beds. Especially the way Gaius Incitus keeps trashing around at night, dreaming of fighting Germans. I don't want to get his arm in my face. Creating an earthquake in the bunk bed is bad enough.

Soldiers' quarters in Arbeia

But now I must go and fix the hobnails on those damn sandals. I swear they'll use lost nails to track the ways of the Roman army one day. *

Oh noes, Crispus and Buccio are playing at dice again. Which means the rest of us can listen to Buccio complaining that he's lost a weeks worth of pay. Again. He should know better and not play against Crispus, that man has some uncanny luck.

Barrack foundations at Caerleon

* They have in fact done that in Hedemünden where those nails mark the way from the south to Hedemünden Camp and the further route north on the hills along the Visurgis valley. A smaller camp (sort of a mile castle) also was discovered along that way. Sandal nails also helped showing the way the Romans retreated after the battle at Kalefeld.
 
Comments:
I wonder if they had problems with snoring room mates? That's interesting about the nails. A couple of the photos didn't load for me for some reason.
 
Welcome back, Aelius Rufus!
 
Shelley, I bet they had.

That's odd, I can see the photos fine. Anyone else got problems?


Thank you, Carla.
Aelius Rufus.
 
Sounds more like Crispus has dodgy dice, if you ask me. :)

Love that detail about the hobnails!
 
Yeah, I have my suspicions about Crispus' dice, too, but he'll get away with it until I find out what the punishment for using dodgy dice was. ;)
 
Lol. Great post - glad I don't have to live in those conditions!
 
Gabriele


I suspect the entire Century will swear to the Centurion that they do not know why Crispus was walking along the battlements with blanket over his head when he took misstep. And the Centurion, will accept that story.

-------------

I think Rufus, in a plea for sympathy ,is not letting on to the whole story. Except in war the Army was seldom recruited to full strength, most of the time there would only be four to six soldiers living in a room. And some one would be on duty so the whole contubernium would seldom be present at once. And it is probably more weather proof than he could have had as civilian. It does make those temporary WWII barracks that were used for the next forty years look good.
 
Wonderful shots and details--you can take photos in the museum? I love visiting the Greek and Roman exhibits at the old Getty Museum in Malibu, but they don't let you take photos! d:(
 
Lol Hank, sounds like an idea.

Dayya, it depends on the museum. Some will allow photographing without flash, and sometimes my charming smile has an effect on the guards. ;) But I have also encountered situations where I could not take pics.
 
Enjoyed this article immensely. Thanks for posting.
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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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 still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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The Star Wars


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King Henry's Lithuanian Crusade

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The Earldom of Richmond and the Duchy of Brittany

Contested Borders

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King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


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Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
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King David and the Civil War, Part 2

Houses Bruce and Stewart
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Clan Feuds
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A Scottish Wedding


Wales

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The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

Rebels

A History of Rebellion
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Denmark

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House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

A Time of Feuds

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Towns of the Hanseatic League

Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


Poland

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


Bohemia

Royal Dynasties

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
King Sigismund and the Hussite Wars


Other Times

Prehistoric Times

Germany

Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Scotland

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society

Scandinavia

Gotland
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Biographies

European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
Buntsandstein Formations in the Northern Harz
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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