Tourist Trinkets From The Roman Empire

Roman Empire
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.

Roman EmpireEditor 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]

Roman Empire

Hadrian’s Wall To Be Turned Into World’s Longest Work Of Art

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian’s Wall has been the traditional boundary between England and Scotland ever since it was built by the Romans in the second century A.D. This 73-mile long structure was once the northernmost limit of the Roman Empire.

As part of the London 2012 Festival, the New York-based artists’ collective YesYesNo will light up the entire length with a series of tethered balloons lit by internal LED lights to create a line of pulsating colors. The project, called Connecting Light, aims to transform this protective border into a line of communication.

The lights will change color to respond to messages sent across the wall. Go to the website to write your own and it may be picked to be part of this interesting project. They’re looking for messages about connectivity across borders, are pretty much anything positive. Check out their blog to see how this massive art project is shaping up.

If you can’t make it up there, you can follow the action online. The project runs from August 31-September 1.

Historic stretch of Hadrian’s Wall repaired

Hadrian's Wall
A stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, the famous fortification in northern England that for centuries marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire, has been repaired.

After 2,000 years, parts of the fortification meant to keep out northern barbarians are in pretty bad shape. People have stolen stones over the past several centuries and you can see parts of the wall in local farmhouses and churches. Weathering and animals have done damage too.

Now Natural England has stepped in and reconstructed a stretch of the wall between Great Chesters and Housesteads Roman forts. Natural England is a government organization that protects and improves England’s natural environment and encourages people to enjoy and get involved in it.

Hiking along the wall is certainly a good way to do that. You can hike the entire length, 84 miles from sea to sea. Many of the forts along the way are open as museums, and you pass through some amazing countryside on the border of England and Scotland. I did this a couple of years ago and it’s a fun hike. Read more about hiking Hadrian’s Wall here.

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New exhibit sheds light on Antonine Wall, the Roman Empire’s northernmost border

Antonine Wall, ScotlandThere’s not much left of it now, just a deep swale in the earth and a few stones jutting out of the grass. Almost two thousand years ago, though, it was the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire.

The Antonine Wall protected a narrow part of Scotland between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde, from the 140s to 160s AD. After the Emperor Hadrian built Hadrian’s Wall across what is now the border of England and Scotland, his successor Antoninus Pius decided to move 100 miles further north to gain a military and propaganda victory and add more land to the empire. The wall was built of turf on a stone foundation and stretched 39 miles, as opposed to the stone Hadrian’s Wall that ran 73 miles. Forts placed at regular intervals strengthened the both walls.

Now a new permanent exhibit at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow brings together numerous artifacts from the wall to show what life was like for the soldiers living up there. Included are several elaborate sculptures commissions by Antoninus Pius to show off his great victory.

The Antonine Wall was only used from 142 to 162, and briefly again around 208. Later emperors decided it wasn’t worth the expense and effort and instead used Hadrian’s Wall as the northernmost boundary. Despite this short lifespan, several communities sprang up around it and there were at least two Roman baths. Excavations have yielded some interesting artifacts such as preserved sandals and a gravestone that shows someone from the Middle East lived there.

I’ve walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall along the Hadrian’s Wall Path and would love to do the same with the Antonine Wall, but sadly there is not yet a trail going along this important remnant of the glory of Rome.

Antoninus Pius, Antonine Wall

[Wall photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Photo of coin of Antoninus Pius also courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

New discoveries reveal life and times of the Roman Emperor Hadrian

Emperor Hadrian, HadrianThe Emperor Hadrian is one of Rome’s most famous emperors, ruling at the height of the Empire from 117-138 AD. His villa just north of Rome is a popular tourist attraction, yet some Italian researchers have discovered what countless visitors never noticed: the buildings are aligned with astronomical events.

On the summer solstice (June 21 this year) light passes through an opening above a doorway and shines on a niche in the opposite wall. The niche probably contained the statue of some deity. This sort of light effect has been found in other ancient sites. Another building is aligned both to the summer and winter (December 21 this year) solstices, during which the light shines through a row of doors.

The effects may have been part of the worship of Isis. Originally an Egyptian goddess, a popular mystery religion grew up around her in the Roman Empire.

Hadrian’s other famous monument, Hadrian’s Wall, is also the site of a recent discovery. At the fort of Vindolanda, dozens of circular huts have been discovered that don’t look like anything the Romans built. In fact, they look like the huts of the tribes living north of the wall in Scotland, outside the direct influence of the Roman Empire. These may have been homes for refugees from friendly tribes fleeing common enemies, perhaps during the invasion of Scotland by Emperor Septimius Severus (ruled 193-211 AD) or the homes of temporary workers who lived along the wall and served the Romans.

For more on Hadrian’s Wall and a hike you can take along the entire length, check out my series on hiking Hadrian’s Wall.

[Photo courtesy Jastrow]