The Roman Empire is remarkably familiar to the modern eye. It had highways, indoor plumbing, religious tolerance, and even fashion violations such as wearing socks with sandals. It’s like a primitive version of our own culture, with more similarities than differences.
And now it turns out they had tourist trinkets too.
A press release from Hadrian’s Wall Trust announces that a new book examines what may be the earliest known tourist mementos in the world. “The First Souvenirs: Enamelled Vessels from Hadrian’s Wall” is published by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. It looks at three artifacts dating to shortly after the Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122 A.D. Three enameled pans bear the names of forts on the western portion of the wall. Some archaeologists believe these were mementos for visitors to the empire’s latest symbol of power and prestige.
Editor David Breeze says, “Remarkably it seems that Hadrian’s Wall was a tourist attraction soon after it was built. None of the pans were found on the Wall, but in southern England and France. As souvenirs they may have had no other function, though it has been suggested that they might have been used for wine drinking by veterans of the Roman army.”
Souvenirs for Roman tourists have also been found at other popular destinations such as Athens, Ephesus, and Alexandria. With the best transportation network in the ancient world and a large monied class, the Roman Empire could support a tourist industry.
Hadrian’s Wall stretched across northern England 84 miles from the Roman fort of Segedunum in the city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway, on Solway Firth., the traditional boundary of Scotland and England, and for two centuries the northernmost border of the Roman Empire.
For more information about the wall and its history, check out my series on hiking Hadrian’s Wall.
[All photos courtesy Tullie House Museum, Carlisle]