At the beginning of August I was privileged to join Britannia, the best Roman Reenactment group in Britain at a site near Hull called Petuaria.
Petuaria is now called Brough, a pretty little village near Hull. The event was a celebration of the excavation of the site, which is ongoing and a chance for reenactors to strut their stuff, see below. I must add to the organisers that it was one of the best and friendliest events that I had ever attended.
What was incredibly surprising was that the archaeologists let me have a go in the trench doing some digging. It was great fun and I found some interested things. But more about that another day.
This blog is dedicated with thanks to Steven Dowd in recognition of the kind help he has given me. Without him I would have composed a blog about Winchcombe without actually discussing Winchcombe. I remain in your debt.
As I have already said my skill set involves knowing things and telling people what I know. One morning I was driving and came through this fascinating town, Winchcombe.
Now what interested me about the name of Winchcombe was the Winch element which has eluded me for a long time. This is a bit embarrassing because its one of those short cuts between two pieces of knowledge. I come from a village in Cheshire called Wincham. Here we see the Winch element combined with the Saxon ham which means hamlet. The Winch element is a bit confusing because we are descended from the Anglo-Saxons and not directly from the Romano-British. In Latin there is no V. Any V is pronounced W. This means via meaning road is pronounced Weir and so the Winch is a spoken not written latin which could more accurately be written as Vinch. Vinch is related to the word Vicus, pronounced Weekus so we see that Wincham was once Weekusham. The village probably has its origins with the Roman Fort at Castle in Northwich (probably derived from the Latin Castorum meaning fort) and is easy march of that place. The villages relating to forts were called Vicus and it is from this word we get village. When the Roman legions leave Britian in the 4th century plus they settle in existing settlements. In the case of Wincham they identify it as a hamlet by adding ham to the end of its Roman name, thus we have Village Village. Winchcombe is equally interesting.
Before I start explaining Winchcombe I must express a debt of gratitude to Steven Dowd. Mr Dowd is a gentleman. He has pointed out to me that I wrote this blog about Winchcombe and completely forgot to actually discuss Winchcombe. The name Winchcombe combines two elements. The first is the now familiar Winch from the Latin Vicus pronounced Weechus meaning the village surrounding or near to a Roman Fort. The second is the Saxon Combe which means valley. From this we get Village in a valley. I think but can not be sure that it means wooded valley. What might be of further interest is why did Roman forts have villages around them. Well the first is the uncomfortable truth about soldiers. They like guns, girls and gold. The Roman soldier was not armed on his off duty and his weapons were kept in the Secellum under the watchful eyes of the Signifers who were also the pay masters. Nobody wants off bored armed soldiers. Bored armed soldiers often wander off and find something to do, kill or over throw. So denied weapons the Romans would wander off to the vicus where there were girls and that proportion of their pay they did not spend or gamble they wasted. Amongst these distractions lived their wives and families. Roman soldiers could not lawfully marry and if they unlawfully married their families could not enter the fort. So lets imagine Winchcombe maybe 1700 years ago. The Romans are in control of their empire but storm clouds are on the horizon. A young soldier goes to the Principia where the Signifer signs over his pay less deductions for food, armour, pension and burial fund and then he makes a generous donation to his centurion. After this generous and voluntary payment he leaves the fort and enters the vicus. Lets imagine him walking through the valley, past the prostitutes and the dice games, he smells the oysters and goes to a small house where his new Celtic wife is waiting for him, maybe nursing a baby. Now lets imagine two hundred years in the future. The young soldier is long dead and cremated in the graveyard with a monument to his distinguished service during which he rose to become a centurion himself. Leaning against the grave stone with his arm around his Romano-British wife is a pale man with a slightly hunted expression. He looks over the wooded valley and the strange remains of the forts ramparts. Maybe he was Deor who composed the poem we now call “The Ruin” (yes I know but if it was good enough for Tolkien it is good enough for me!). He looks over the valley, the woods and the safety and asks his wife, “What do they call this place?” Her accent would sound Spanish to us. A combination of Greek, Latin and the Celtic languages, probably quite savage and classical, “Weecus” she replies. He thinks, that’s an interesting name, “I shall call it the woody valley of Weecus.”
I hope you all enjoyed this blog, below is a short video of me trying explain this against the background of car traffic.
My first job in Coventry was working as a guide at the Lunt Roman Fort in Baginton near Coventry. In all honesty it was a mixed bag as all job are. I have some nice stories and some horrible ones but I think it best to dwell on the good and let the bad fade away. The work was mostly with schools but we also had special schools and sometimes adult learners. One of the most fun days was with the Cambridge Classical Association.
The Lunt Roman Fort is one of the most important Roman sites in the country. It is unique in that it is the only reconstruction in situ, actually using Roman post holes, and the gyrus. The gyrus is a circular feature inside the walls which has been interpreted in various ways. I personally do not agree with the accepted interpretation, a horse training ring, but rather think that it was an enclosure for prisoners.
I recently bought this on eBay because I love the Fort and like collecting information about it. Its an excellent report and really puts the vision (never realised) forward that the archaeologists intended.
In this image we see the Roman Army engaged in a battle (to the left). As the heavy infantry engage the Dacians the Emperor “interviews” a prisoner held before him by an auxiliary soldier. The legion was for the battle winning action whilst the role of the auxiliary was to enable them to win. Behind the emperor are the signum the standard and the cultic musicians.
What is especially exciting is the mounted catapulta in the background. Mounted on a cart this Scorpion is a dart throwing artillery weapon that could be quickly and easily moved over the battlefield supporting the role of the infantry.
The success of the Roman Army lies not only in the fantastic equipment and training of the legion but in the backup it received from the rest of the army. In modern terms this can best be described as the “warm fuzzy” feeling that the British Army tries to inspire. The idea that the individual soldier is not alone and everyone else has his back. Consider this, if you had this feeling how could you not conquer the world?
This is one of the fascinating scenes from Trajans Column in Rome. It shows an Auxillary soldier holding a head in his mouth. What it suggests is that he is a celt, possibly from Britain, Gaul or Spain who has been recruited into the army and is now fighting in Dacia.