"Britannia Romana"

Joined: August 22nd, 2006, 9:29 pm

January 7th, 2010, 1:47 am #1

The Reverend John Horsley can rightfully be claimed to be the first antiquarian in history to carry out an exhaustive, full study of Roman Britain and the Wall. William Camden wrote of the Wall at the end of the 16th C. But it was still an utterly lawless region, and he was unable to visit large sections.

Horsley seems a fascinating man. He took his work extremely seriously, and managed to make surprisingly good sense of the limited and often contradictory records and then-visible remains. His tome, Britannia Romana, is an enormous work in 3 volumes, packed with excellent maps, charts, and translations of original Roman source materials. It can be read in full at http://www.archive.org/stream/britannia ... 3/mode/2up. Having been written before the wholesale destruction of so much of the Wall as the Military Road was built in the 1750s, it is an eyewitness account of much that is now long gone. It is priceless for a Wall historian.

The archive.org site also holds a lovely little work of memoirs of antiquarians, including Horsley, compiled for none other than Anthony Hedley. In the memoirs are a number of the personal letters that Horsley wrote to an associate as he was trying to make sense of the Wall and the region. Great stuff.

Below is an excerpt from Britannia Romana focused on Vindolanda. Though Vindolanda was little excavated or understood at this early date, there are still some gems in Horsley's writing.

Vindolana. Little Chesters is south from both the walls [i.e., Wall and Vallum -- ed], but stands just by the military way, which I have already described, that passes directly from Walwick Chesters to Carrvoran, which is very visible for a considerable space from this station. So that this station must be reckoned among those which belong to the wall, it being in this rout, and the only military way, which belongs to it, coming from the wall and returning to it. There are two or three forts more, as Carrvoran and Cambeck fort detached to the fouth of the wall, tho' none so far as this; yet this is not above half a mile from Hadrian's vallum.

The people there call this station Chesters, or the Bowers; but by others it is called Little Chesters, to distinguish it from the next station, that goes by the name of Great Chesters; and it is in reality not only less than Great Chesters, but than most of the other forts on the wall. It is only seven chains long from north to south, and four broad from east to west, and so does not contain three acres of ground. The ramparts are visible quite round, and very large, being in the third degree; but the ditch only in the first. The town or out-buildings here have been chiefly to the west, and south-west of the fort; there being a small brook to the south-east, and a descent from the station to it. The praetorium may be distinguished; and there seems to have been some towers at the corners of the fort, and perhaps too in the sides of the ramparts. The ruins of one of these towers are still very visible. What Dr. Hunter has told us in the Philosophical Transactions deserves notice. In the last edition of Cambden's Britannia this passage is quoted from him, but through mistake referred to House-steeds instead of Little Chesters. The doctor's words are as follow:

" Some years ago, on the west side of this place about fifty yards
" from the walls thereof, there was discovered under a heap of rubbish a square
" room strongly vaulted above, and paved with large square stones set in lime;
" and under this a lower room, whose roof was supported by rows of
" square pillars of about half a yard high. The upper room had two nitches
" like (and perhaps in the nature of) chimneys on each side of every corner
" or square, which in all made the number sixteen: the pavement of this
" room, as also its roof, were tinged with smoke. The stones used in vaulting
" the upper room have been marked, as our joiners do the deals for chambers;
" those 1 saw were numbered thus, x. xi. xiii."

This I take to be the place, which they shewed me, but it was then filled up. It looks very like a balneiri [nb - "bath"; he was right, this is the large bathhouse in the vicus, finally excavated by Robin Birley in the early 1970s -- ed], with the hypocaustum below it. And somewhat of this nature I saw at Lanchester, and Risingham; at this latter place it was not far from the praetorium.
Last edited by SacoHarry on January 7th, 2010, 2:02 am, edited 8 times in total.