Tourist Trinkets From The 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.

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]

New website aggregates the best “crap souvenirs”

Travel writers would like to think we’re above the average traveler when it comes to souvenirs – we don’t sport I <3 New York tee shirts or buy a shot glass from every city we visit … unless it’s a really, really good one. But there’s a good chance we might make fun of the average fanny pack-wearing traveler for doing so. Hey, a good dose of kitsch never hurt anyone, right?

That’s why we’re practically peeing our pants with laughter over writer Doug Lansky’s new website,, originally covered over on The Huffington Post, where Lansky is a writer.

The user generated blog encourages people to submit the crappiest, tackiest and funniest souvenirs and momentos they encounter in their travels. From bottle openers engraved with images of the Pope (above) to pirate heads and rasta bananas (both from Tennessee, no less), we are starting to feel like our collection of Starbucks mugs from various cities isn’t that bad. At least those are useful.

Have a favorite? Submit it in the comments below so we can all get a good laugh.


[Image courtesy of and submitted by Julie Mangin]