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


25.11.07
  What You Can Find in Cellars

Well, it depends where you live, but in places built on history, skeletons may be hidden down there (literally, in Göttingen) or remains of older buildings. Like parts of the Roman castellum bath in York, then known as Eboracum. The story goes that the owner of a tavern of long tradition and different names situated in St. Sampson's Square needed more storage space and wanted to expand his cellar. The poor guy soon found himself without any cellar at all, because what came to light when they played Little Hobbit Builds a Hole in 1930 were the remains of a Roman bath.

The owners of the tavern made the best of it and used their unique underground as advertising, and adapted the decoration of the interior with fake Roman murals and other more or less historical elements. In 1970, the name was changed to 'Roman Bath Tavern', and in 2000 the glass floor providing a view into the past was replaced by a little museum. Thus visiting the past today only takes ascending a rather steep staircase and passing the legionary at the entrance who charges a fee comparably low for British museums but a lot more than a visit to the baths would have cost a Roman. Public baths worked on subvention basis, and the soldiers in Eboracum wouldn't have paid anything.

Roman Bath York, reconstructed entrance to the caldarium

Contrary to Chesters where the bath is outside the fort down at the Tyne, or Vindolanda, Saalburg and Osterburken, where it is situated in the adjacent vicus, the military bath in Eboracum lies inside the south-eastern defenses of the Roman fortress. It was possibly erected sometime during the early second century AD. Chance is that the members of the 9th legion used it before they disappeared into the mists of legend and a few contradictory facts, and maybe the centurion who can be seen in the cellars of York, walking straight through the walls, is from that unfortunate legion. Anyone needs a paranormal plotbunny? :)

Roman Bath York, caldarium with one of the furnace openings.
The tiles indicate the position of pilae.

What remains today is the caldarium, the hot steam bath, with the adjacent plunge bath. The floor of this room was raised above the level of the foundations by about four feet, supported by pilae, or columns, made of clay bricks (a little Latin lesson: a pilum is a javelin, and the plural is pila; a pila is a column or pillar, and the plural is pilae - that's one of the things that makes Latin grammar so easy *grin*). That way, a space was created in which the hot air - hotter than for a hypocaust heating - from the furnaces could circulate under the floor. Since the flagstones got very hot, the visitors of the caldarium had to wear some sort of clogs. The hot air was then conducted through flues in the walls and expelled through vents in the roof. Leaning comfortably against the walls therefore wasn't a good idea, either.

Remains of the wall between caldarium and balneum to the left.
You can see the blackened layer on the stone where the hot air passed.

The apsidal chamber which contains the balneum (the XXL bathtub) was separated from the caldarium anteroom by a wall; the hot air was conducted through two parallel channels, and warmed a floor raised less high. Because of this filter, the floor of the balneum was less hot, so you could sit in the tub. The surface of the floor and lower walls was sealed with opus signinum, some sort of waterproof concrete made of ceramic fragments and lime. It doesn't get clear from the description, but I suppose the wall between balneum and caldarium was only as high as to form the semi-sunken tub, together with the outside walls of the apsis. There are still traces of the white layer of the opus signinum on the walls.

Apsis with remains of the balneum.
The white layer is difficult to see, but you can spot it on the three upper rows of bricks.

The charming little museum not only covers the remains of the bath, but also houses an exhibit of finds from the excavation, modern replica of a Roman soldier's equipment, and a number of tablets describing Roman life.
 


4.11.07
  Saalburg Fort - Shrine of the Standards

Ave, my name is Aelius Rufus, and I've been asked to show you around some Roman sites in Germany. I'm a Raetian auxiliary, and since no Roman can pronounce my real name, they call me Rufus because of my red hair. We're a Celtic people living in the mountains called Alpes. My father got the citizenship under Hadrian after he served in the Roman army for 25 years. I'm following his steps and I'm currently stationed in the castellum Arcataunum, the Saalburg at the German Limes.

I'll want to show you the aedes principiorum today, the shrine where we keep the regimental insignia. Let's go through the exercise hall - I'll show you that one later when it's empty. Watch out for our dear Gaius Incitus, the guy near the door waving his gladius like it's a scythe. He's new and clumsy and hasn't yet figured out which end of the sword goes into the enemy. If he continues like that, the centurion will put him among the noncombattants where he can't do any harm. There we go.

Yard of the principia, view to the exercise hall gate

I'm sorry it's raining again. The weather is one of the reasons the Raetians got stationed here; we're used to it. Troops from Gallia Aquitania or Hispania would spend more time in the hospital sneezing and coughing than on duty, especially in winter.

Now we've crossed the yard of the principia, you should turn around and enjoy the view. It's a pretty large building of 41x58 metres. The Romans are good at that sort of thing. The rooms behind the colonnade or porticus on the side wings are the armamentaria, the weapon rooms. Oh, and just ignore those funnily dressed people huddling in the entrance, they're time travelers from the future. We get a lot of these.

View to the right corner and transept porticus
The half-timbered building in the background is part of the aedes

Ahead lies another yard and the transept. The yard is really a hall, though. I think we'll soon see a detachment of the XXII Primigenia here to build a new roof. Those Romans never trust the auxiliaries with the building stuff, don't know why. The higher middle room of the transept wing is the aedes, the rooms to the sides hold tabularia, also known as bureaus. They got hypocaust heating. Spoiled scribes.

The aedes is always guarded. Greetings, Crispus, my friend. We want to have a look inside the shrine. Ah come, those visitors are from Britannia and from the Terra Incognita across the Oceanus Atlanticus. Just a little peep through the wooden trellis. I'll pay you a jug of Falernian tonight. See, I knew you're a good guy.

Go up those stairs and then you can look inside through the holes in the trellis. The door is never opened outside the ceremonies. The regimental insignia are on that painted stone plinth at the back wall. This room is slightly trapezium-shaped, about 8x9-9.5 metres, but I've heard some have an apsis where the standards are kept.

In the middle is the regimental eagle of the XXII Primigenia, though I have no idea what the bird does here when the legion is stationed in Moguntiacum. Maybe it's for those time travel tourists. To the right is the pole with the insignia our signifer will carry when we march - the one with the red, lion-embroidered cloth and the golden plate with the goddess Victoria. A job of great honour but less fun, the thing weighs 7kg. The embroidered blue cloth is the vexilla our cavalry carries. We're a mixed cohort of foot and horse, a cohors equitata. The silver plates to the left are decorations we earned; they're called phalerae.

If you peek further to the left, into the shadows, you can see a little head on a pole. That's an imago of the emperor. It's made of gold, and will be brought out of the shrine when we swear our oath of allegiance every year. It is a very important symbol, the Romans say.

Closeup of the replica of the insignia (without the imperial imago)
(I had to use a flash to get that one, thus the shadows)

In the middle of the room is a trapdoor leading to a cellar. That's where all the money is kept. And I bet it's the true reason there's always guards in front of the shrine. Right, the regimental treasure and the personal savings of the legionaries, the funeral funds and the whole lot.

Yes, there is a bronze statue of our emperor, the noble Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus Pius. We call him Tony, but don't tell anyone. The stones are consecrations of gratitude made by members of our cohort for duties well achieved and such. The aedes is a bit like a temple, though not to any god; we have some of those outside the fort.

But we better go now, the prefect is coming our way, and I don't want Crispus to get into trouble. He's a bit of a stickler, that prefect of ours.

View from the porticus into the yard

Notes: The name Arktaunon found in Ptolemaios' Geography is not universally accepted as name for the Saalburg, but as writer, I need one, and so I use the Romanised version. Saalburg is a Mediaeval name.
The second yard should indeed be a hall, but no plans are made to change the original mistake. The Saalburg is history in itself, so only new additions are built according to modern knowledge. Only some smaller mistakes have been corrected, like getting rid of a few catapults on the battlements.
A reconstructed bronze statue of Antoninus Pius stands outside the main gate today. Some remains of a bronze statue have been found in the shrine during excavations.
 


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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