My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology


28.6.14
  Room Sharing, Roman Style

Hi, it's me, Aelius Rufus. Gabriele has taken an old post of me and added some of those little pictures and more information, so I have to retell a few things. I got to see the cavalry fort at Aalen which dates to the time of Antoninus Pius, and she thought it would be fun to compare the soldiers' barracks of the standard Hadrian's Wall / Limes forts to the cavalry ones (in another post to come).

A reconstructed barrack in Arbeia

That's the place where my friend Gaius Fannius commands a unit of the 5th cohort of Gaul auxiliary, sometimes visited by the mysterious, time traveling Merlinus. Well, he's a centurion and gets some more space to his own.

One barrack has been reconstructed, though there were several, of course, depending on the size of the garrison.

Interior of a room in a fort barrack (Caerleon Museum)

When I travel I usually get better places to stay than my living quarters in the Saalburg castellum. Thanks to Merlinus and the ongoing interest in Romans that leads to Rebuilding the Past projects, I can show you how our room looked. Pretty much like in the picture above.

(Oven for a contubernium, Caerleon Museum)

Eight of us, called a contubernium, share a room of 15 square metres plus a little anteroom with shelves for our equipment, and a kitchenette. You see it's pretty dark and sparsely furnished - not that there'd be space for anything more than bunk beds, one table, and a few pegs in the wall. When on campaign, we also share a tent.

Roman soldiers and auxiliaries don't have a central dining hall and no chefs (Asterix got that one wrong); we have to do our own cooking and can be glad if one of the chaps gets a bit of a hand for it. The ingredients, grain, beans, bacon, sometimes dried figs or other fruit and a bit of fish, as well as beer and wine are distributed by the command. There is always enough to keep us fit, but it's not roasted venison in a creamy juniper berry sauce, and potato gratin (ops, that's Gabriele chiming in, I have no idea what potatoes are).

Usually ten contubernia, a centuria that is though it only comes to 80 men, not a full hundred, share a barrack in the fort. Sometimes we get lucky and a bunch of the guys is commissioned elsewhere, like manning the mile forts and watch towers, accompagnying some tribune on some mission or whatever, and then we can spread out a bit more. The cavalry guys have more space, too.

(Modell of a fortress in Birdoswald Museum. In the lower part you can see the barracks with the attached houses for the centurions.)

We're led by a centurion, and those guys don't live in such crowded and dark quarters. No, centurions are special and have their own house at the end of the barrack and slaves to cook for them, and us poor soldiers to clean their armour.

Yes, dear Gaius, you know complaining about the centurions is part of the job.

Bedroom of the centurion, Arbeia

They also get ten times the salary we get. It's a damn injustice - invented by Augustus, I've been told. He wanted a gap between the ordinary soldiers and the officers so the army wouldn't stick together and turn against him or some such. And indeed, when there were mutinies like the time Tiberius became Emperor while the legions prefered Germanicus, it was the centurions who got killed during the mess, and in the end the mutiny came to nothing and Tiberius stayed put.

(Anteroom to the bedroom, Arbeia.
The centurion's anteroom was larger and also used as office.
)

There's one good thing, though, and that's the fact the centurions are ranked according to the place of the centuria they lead, and half of them spend their time ogling the place of the centurion ranking above them. It's even worse in the regular legions where there are sixty of the lot and the structure is even more complicated.

There was another good thing to being a centurion, Gaius Fannius told me. He could order some of the guys to slap a fresh layer of paint on the walls of his rooms in Arbeia. The reconstruction needs a house makeover; it gathered a fair bit of dirt and cobwebs.

Yeah, I could try to rise to the centuriate - I'm a Roman citizen thanks to my father - but I'm not sure I really want that. I doubt I could have so much fun traveling around when I had the responsibilty for some 80 lads. No way I could claim the whole lot as personal guard and take them around with me.


Bunk beds like above is the most common layout, but sometimes barracks had kings size beds for four like in the image Gabriele captured with her little picture box below. Even worse, if you ask me; I prefer the bunk beds. Especially the way Gaius Incitus keeps trashing around at night, dreaming of fighting Germans. I don't want to get his arm in my face. Creating an earthquake in the bunk bed is bad enough.

Soldiers' quarters in Arbeia

But now I must go and fix the hobnails on those damn sandals. I swear they'll use lost nails to track the ways of the Roman army one day. *

Oh noes, Crispus and Buccio are playing at dice again. Which means the rest of us can listen to Buccio complaining that he's lost a weeks worth of pay. Again. He should know better and not play against Crispus, that man has some uncanny luck.

Barrack foundations at Caerleon

* They have in fact done that in Hedemünden where those nails mark the way from the south to Hedemünden Camp and the further route north on the hills along the Visurgis valley. A smaller camp (sort of a mile castle) also was discovered along that way. Sandal nails also helped showing the way the Romans retreated after the battle at Kalefeld.
 


14.6.14
  Pretty Things That go Boom

Yesterday, I promised Brian McClellan* on Twitter that I would post some photos of historical guns and rifles I took in the museum in Coburg Fortress. So here we go.

*BTW, go check out his Flintlock Fantasy novels, they're a lot of fun. A revolution, guns, magic, a divine chef, and things blowing up.

Coburg Fortress; the Blue Tower to the left and the High House to the right

The history of Coburg Fortress (Veste Coburg) goes back to the 11th century, but I'll leave that for another post. It is one of the castles that has never fallen into ruins, but was altered significantly over time. Albeit some old features still remain, like the Romanesque lower part of the Blue Tower or the Gothic High House, the most striking parts today are the fortifications from the 16th century.

The name Coburg likely will ring a bell for those interested in history. The town and fortress are today in Bavaria, bordering Thuringia, but once the land belonged to the Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Want some geneaology again? I'll try to make it easy, I promise.

Coburg Fortress, the outer curtain wall and bastions

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was the daughter of Prince Edward Duke of Kent (the 4th son of King George III of House Welfen/Hannover) and Princess Marie Louise Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1786-1861, House Wettin).

Marie Louise Victoria's father was Franz (Francis, 1750-1806), the eldest son of Ernest I Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1724-1800) and Sophia Antonia of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, of one of the several Welfen lines (1724-1802).

Marie Louise's brother, also named Ernest (1784-1844), would become the first duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1826 due to some altered distributions of the landed heritage. He is the father of Prince Albert (1819-1861), later Consort of Queen Victoria. Albert's mother was Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg whom Ernest divorced in 1826.

Outer defenses of the castle

Ernest's older son, another Ernest (1818-1893) who became second Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, would add significantly to the collection of arts and weapons in Coburg Fortress which his grandfather Francis had started in Saalfeld ansd which Ernest transfered to Couburg.

The family lived in Ehrenburg Palace in the town, though the last Duke, Carl Eduard (1884-1954) lived in the fortress which had been sold to the county of Bavaria in 1920.

One of the vitrines with guns

The collections displayed in several rooms in the castle include copper engravings, paintings, glassware and coins, as well as lots of weapons and amour, including historical guns, rifles, and pistols - that part encompasses about 10,000 pieces. I had a field day there, though of course, I took even more pics of the swords and the armour than of the guns. There are also some parade coaches and sleighs.

A flintlock gun

There is one hall full of vitrines with guns, rifles, pistols, and a few crossbows, mostly used for the hunt and sport shooting; some 300 pieces in all.

My father's friends from the sport shooting club would likely get lost in that room for hours. Well, the museum is couple friendly; you can leave the spouses to look at the glassware instead. ;-) Though personally I still prefer the guns.

Closeup of the trigger meachnism

Since it's not one of my special areas, I concentrated on the prettily decorated - and mostly older - pieces. If someone wants high resolution versions of some of the photos to better see the ivory inlays and other decorations, feel free to contact me.

Another vitrine with guns and pistols

This one looks like an early version of a flintlock. There's a video showing how the mechanism works, and the difference between various ways of firing a gun. I'm not a specialist on the variants of wheel locks and flint locks and their dates, but some of the older mechanisms look intriguing. Though I wonder how often those things blew off in the wrong direction.

Duelling pistols

Taniel gifts duelling pistols to his father in McClellan's Promise of Blood. Maybe they looked a bit like the ones above.

Wheel lock pistols

The collection is one of the most important ones in Europe. The weapons date from the late 16th century until present time and geographically reach from Russia to Spain and Sweden. Some famous gunsmiths are Zacharias Herold in Dresden (~ 1580), Lazarino Cominazzo, Brescia (~ 1680), Bertrand Piraube, Paris (~1700) and Ivan Permjakov, St.Petersburg (late 18th century).

Matching gun and pistol

The weapons and armour were mostly collected by Duke Ernest II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He also obtained part of the contents of the arsenal of the town Coburg and moved Francis' collction of glass and copper engravings to Coburg. He had the rooms renovated, and the castle and its collections opened for the public in 1839, which was a suprisingly modern decision at the time.

Racks with guns

There is another room with racks full of armour and guns from the 16th and 17th century, the Rüstkammer. Those were actually used to equip armies. They are much more utilitarian, and some of the armour sets, swords, halberds and guns show signs of use. Most of those come from the town arsenal.

Bulletproof armour

One of the things I found interesting was a group of armour sets that were supposed to be bullet proof. The sign of quality was a bullet shot (or several) that would leave a dent but not go through. You can see one in the left armour and there's a smaller dent at the junction between the right (left on the photo) leg and the body part in the middle one.

That armour was heavy, though, 20-30 kg. It was mostly used by the cuirassiers, the heavy cavalry which obviously got its name for a reason, lol.

Boxed set

Other exhibits include the stuff that is part of using a gun or rifle, like powder kegs, rammers, fuses and magazine boxes. They're mostly distributed among the guns and pistols in the various vitrines.

Organ mortar

There are also some cannons. I really liked this one, the predecessor of the magazine gun. It's called an 'organ', a sort of mortar that can shoot 49 bullets in salvas of 7 (one row). Nasty thing to have on a battlefield.

Some modern guns

Of course, there were several vitrines with more modern guns, pistols, and air guns as well, but I found those less interesting. Weapon fans may disagree, *grin* The above display shows some development of the trigger.
 


8.6.14
  British Coasts and Beaches, or: It's Way too Hot

34°C this afternoon. That's just mad.

And so I looked for some photos with nice, cool water. :-)

On the way to Dunstanburgh Castle

Sunshine and pretty green grass is a bonus. I would have loved to walk barefoot, but there were too much sheep droppings.

A cliff at the castle

The fun thing about British coasts is that they never get boring with their mixture of sandy beaches and imposing cliffs.

Lindisfarne at low tide

The tide adds to the interesting atmosphere. In the distance, you can spot Bamburgh Castle.

Lindisfarne

And the other side, with the sun sparkling on the pools of water.

Scarborough, north beach

Or there will be mists coming in, drawing a cold veil over everything. Including the ruins of Scarborough Castle.

The beach at Alnmouth in the evening sun

I especially love evenings at the beach. That one was so calm and relaxing; I just sat in the sand and watched the waves.

The tide coming in at sunset

And then I walked a bit through the cold water - barefoot this time. A sweet change to rocks and pavement.

Tynemouth, wave breakers at the harbour entrance

Or we get all wind and waves and drama. I love that, too.

View from Dunottar Castle

I like this shot of the calm, mysterious water between the cliffs at Dunottar Castle.

More cliffs

All those photos are from the east coast, but I got some nice series from the west coast - mostly Scotland - as well. Those who are new(er) to my blog may check out these posts.

 


The Lost Fort is a travel journal and history blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, as well as some geology, illustrated with photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)


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