Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Legions of Rome

Monday 27 May 1998. Now, for those of you who have stumbled here by accident and haven't a clue how you got here, Fran and I are on holiday in Wiltshire and on this particular public holiday are at Old Sarum, the fortified town that was abandoned in the 1200s at which point Salisbury was developed.

Those nice chappies at English Heritage had arranged a display of Roman Army tactics and equipment entitled "The Might of the Roman Army".

No "might" about it - here they are!

The performers for the day were members of four groups: the Ermine Street Guard, Gemina Project (from Holland), Vexillatio Legionis Geminae and The Troop.

They were representing Imperial Roman soldiers from the second half of the first century A.D.

You would not want a Glasgow kiss from someone wearing a helmet like that! They are also carrying the Roman javelin. A volley or two of those would thin out the first couple of lines of mad marauding Celts and Picts.

Please note that I have myself recognised the tendency of this blog to become a little bloodthirsty over the last couple of entries but we shall soon be back to normal!

The troupe were representing Imperial Roman soldiers from the second half of the first century A.D.

This would be the conquering army of Britain, though they were hard pressed by the guerilla tactics of the native tribes. Their equipment and tactics were well fitted to each other though. On the face of it a great hairy Celt, dressed in nothing but a bit of blue paint and beard and swinging a long sword should have no problem dispatching a chap in a skirt with a short sword.

But long swords are best when swung and when two armies are pressed together by weight of numbers there is no room to swing a sword without lopping off your mates' heads... So the short stabbing swords of the Romans were apt to win the day as long as there were enough of them to keep the enemy in front of their shield wall.

We stood on the walls of Old Sarum as they marched around the inner sanctum.

Here they are passing the foundations of Old Sarum's cathedral. Its replacement was Salisbury Cathedral but you can tell from this photograph that the original was an impressive size.

The chap in the middle of the front row was blowing away at his instrument, which was a relief as I thought for a moment he was going to suck and vacuum the grass... He didn't get much of a tune from it, but no doubt in its time there were plenty of hard pressed Romans who were glad to hear it announce the arrival of reinforcements!

Once in the arena, the various items of equipment were displayed and explained and demonstrations of tactics were given.

One of the best displays that we saw was the use of the shields to form the testudo (the tortoise), with the men totally protected apart from their legs as they ran around the arena in close formation. Yes, you're right - I didn't get a picture of it as they were too far away at the time. But an image search on Google for roman testudo will give you ample example. (Nice bit of wordplay thrown in there for free!)

In the next entry we'll get away from all this warfare and take a look at a more modern Salisbury and cathedral and at what is perhaps the oldest mechanical clock in Europe.

Large versions of the photos: all the photographs from this holiday can be found in a set at Flickr

1 comment:

  1. A great day out, for you that is, the Romans may not have enjoyed themselves back then.

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