The Roman Army Museum, Vindolanda; Hadrian’s Wall

Up on a visit to the in-laws, I am today seizing the opportunity to visit the newly refubished Roman Army Museum at Vindolanda. I’ve been there several times before, but not since the new work has been completed. Most importantly, I haven’t seen the 20-minute 3D film, Edge of Empire, which is meant to be absolutely amazing. Take a look at the museum’s site here.

If I’ve got time, I might nip over to Housesteads  as well. It’s got the best Roman latrines around, whereas Segedunum, in nearby Wallsend, has the most amazing Roman bathhouse, and a 35m viewing tower so that you can get a bird’s eye impression of the impressive site. And then I might look again at walking the path which now leads from east coast to west, following for the most part, the route that Hadrian’s Wall took across Britain. I’ve wanted to walk it for ages, even before Anthony Riches walked a good chunk of it last summer in full Roman gear, and put the pressure on all of us similar authors to do so as well. When I do it, I can tell you that it won’t be in Roman gear. Proper hiking gear all the way!

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  1. John Salter
    Posted 1 August 2011 at 09:02 | Permalink

    How was the museum Ben? It looks fantastic now that its been re-furbished. I may go and have a look when I’ve got a couple of weeks off work. What was the film like?

    Quick aside: I got the blue ray of The Eagle at the weekend, superb colour and quality, even the seal people aren’t as annoying, well worth the £15 Tesco are asking!

  2. benkane
    Posted 1 August 2011 at 10:21 | Permalink

    @John: I haven’t been yet!! Will be going in a few hours, and will post again then. Blu Ray sounds as if it’s in a different league to ordinary DVDs. Is that the case?

  3. John Salter
    Posted 1 August 2011 at 11:26 | Permalink

    Ben, yes it is without doubt. To be honest I was dubious when they first came out but the quality is far better. My kids got me a blue-ray player for Christmas and it’s a different class. I actually bought the normal dvd of ‘The Eagle’ and played it on the blue-ray player and the picture was a bit grainy so I bought the blu-ray on Saturday and it brings the vision and sound alive, it’s like being there.

    We were discussing it at the weekend because if you remember when dvd’s first came out, they were crisp and sharp, a bit like blue-rays are now. The suspicious side of me thinks that maybe the industry has dumbed down the regular dvd’s. However, The Eagle blue-ray is only £15 in Tesco, so well worth it.

    Shame they cut the chariot race!

  4. benkane
    Posted 2 August 2011 at 07:25 | Permalink

    @John: Hmmm. More technology to buy! Will get there eventually, I suppose. I don’t like the sound of DVDs being made worse quality, though.

    The Roman Arm Museum is now excellent! It was quite dated before, but it’s been thoroughly revamped and the film is great. Very evocative.

    PLUS – and I had no idea this was there – they have the ONLY known Roman helmet crest ever found. Amazing!

  5. John Salter
    Posted 3 August 2011 at 08:42 | Permalink

    Maybe worth a trip ‘upt north’ when I’ve got a couple of weeks off then.

  6. benkane
    Posted 3 August 2011 at 16:19 | Permalink

    @John: absolutely worth it + a visit to Housesteds, the Mithraic temple at Brocolitia, Vindolanda, and the bathhouse at Segedunum – all of which you may well have already seen!

  7. Gav
    Posted 7 August 2011 at 20:00 | Permalink

    I’ve been to the museum a couple of times but not since the refurbishment. I guess another visit to the new all singing all dancing museum should be arranged now. Perfect timing for the school holidays too! The girls will be impressed!!!

  8. benkane
    Posted 8 August 2011 at 07:53 | Permalink

    @Gav: welcome to my site! I hope you all enjoy the museum when you get there.

  9. monty
    Posted 20 August 2011 at 13:29 | Permalink

    Hi first time blog for me putting that aside, may I thankyou for your great books they are a godsend when I’m parked up. Once again thankyou and keep them comming cheers Monty

  10. benkane
    Posted 20 August 2011 at 15:24 | Permalink

    @monty: welcome to my site, and thanks for posting! Do you mean that when you’ve got a break from driving, you read my books? Excellent – I’m really pleased that they give you such enjoyment. Cheers!

  11. John Salter
    Posted 22 August 2011 at 20:30 | Permalink

    Ben, here’s a quick question for you? It’s not a trick honestly and you may know the answer off the top of your head. If a Decurion was a Roman Auxiliary Cavalryman, was there a Centurion rank in a Roman Cavalry Squadron? John

  12. John Salter
    Posted 23 August 2011 at 10:59 | Permalink

    Ben, I’ve had a good ‘root round’ on RAT and it seems opinion is divided, some say certain centurions were mounted (special duties, messengers and scouts) and others say they weren’t but apparently there are depictions of mounted centurions on Tajans column, which would suggest there were.

    Any ideas?

  13. benkane
    Posted 23 August 2011 at 11:35 | Permalink

    @John: my gut reaction was ‘No’, but I wanted to check Goldsworthy’s book on the Roman Army before coming back to you. A decurion was in charge of a turma of 30 men. 4 turmae made up the 120 cavalry attached to some cohorts. AFAIK, and what is thought to be the case, other larger cohorts with more cavalry, or large cavalry cohorts, called alae, were simply commanded by their individual decurions. A cavalry prefect commanded each ala. There is no evidence of centurions serving in regular cavalry AFAIK – unless it’s in the circumstances you mention above. They don’t appear to have existed as regular cavalry officers, due perhaps to the different structure of the cavalry. I hope this helps!

  14. John Salter
    Posted 23 August 2011 at 13:07 | Permalink

    Ben, thanks for that, cheers

  15. Mike Reed
    Posted 25 August 2011 at 22:57 | Permalink

    I drove up to the RAM last week Ben. I said to Tony Riches that had you not mentioned the RAM, I would never have heard of it. Eager to know what it’s like I shot up the M6 in just barely 3 hours and paid it a visit. Surprisingly (for that part of the country!) the weather was fine! I watched the film as well as that of the very “welcoming” officer briefing the new arrival (assumably me!). What a drive along the Stanegate though! It’s like Route 66 isn’t it? I didn’t see any of Tony’s Bluenoses though did you? Best wishes, Mike.

  16. benkane
    Posted 26 August 2011 at 15:56 | Permalink

    @Mike: glad that you had a good trip up to the museum. The drive up there is indeed fanstastic. So too is the A68 north of the wall – in one section, it is virtually straight for about 5 miles, and you can see all that length as you crest the rises. It’s so easy to imagine legionaries marching along it. I walked from High Rochester (Bremenium fort) to Melrose (Trimontium) in 2004, a distance of about 40 miles. That was so atmospheric too – most of the path is on MOD land, or estate land, and I met virtually no one. Didn’t meet any Bluenoses, luckily!

  17. Mike Reed
    Posted 27 August 2011 at 10:12 | Permalink

    I’ve just been looking at an atlas and I see where you mean (the A68). The trouble with driving along them roads is that there are one or two of those hill crests that have junctions at them, and if another vehicle is joining the road as you’re approaching, it can be danderous can’t it? I’ll try and squeeze in another visit to that area before the winter sets in, perhaps firstly visit Housesteads, then onto making some enquiries at Corbridge Art gallery (where I plan to show my Operation Spartacus Exhibition, on which work has just about begun). I don’t remember going along that particular stretch of the A68 in my past, but if I have it might jog a few memories.

  18. benkane
    Posted 27 August 2011 at 16:31 | Permalink

    @Mike: yes, some of those junctions are very dangerous. There are places to stop and take in the vistas, however.
    Good luck with preparing the artwork for your exhibition – it sounds like an excellent venture!

  19. Mike Reed
    Posted 28 August 2011 at 10:35 | Permalink

    Thanks for that Ben! I’ll keep you posted on that.

  20. Almatolmen
    Posted 12 September 2012 at 04:57 | Permalink

    I live in the USA. I found this site when I was looking for a DVD about Vindolanda. I can’t find any. I got the impression that “Edge of Empire” is an on-site only film. Is that right? I couldn’t see anything even at I hope that someday a film is made about this fascinating project, made available for Region 1 players. I envy you your trip. I’ve been to the UK twice, never further north than Coventry, but I did visit Cirencester.
    I was previously unaware of your books, but will now look out for them, especially the Spartacus. Aside from a really excellent juvenile series about some young relatives of Julius Caesar, the first exposure to ancient Rome came when I was about 10 when I sneaked a read of my 22 year old sister’s copy of the novel upon which the Douglas film was based. You can imagine it made a big impression on me in every way. Such an impressionable age!
    Would you ever consider setting novel/s in Vidolanda, perhaps including material from the famous tablets?

  21. Almatolmen
    Posted 12 September 2012 at 05:55 | Permalink

    Whoops! I meant Chedworth.
    I’m reading Robin Birley’s Vindolanda (2009). Also, I just read Tabulae Vindolande III. Great stuff!

  22. Ben Kane
    Posted 12 September 2012 at 09:28 | Permalink

    @Almatolmen: welcome to my site and thanks for posting! I am glad you found it, even if this wasn’t quite what you were looking for. I would guess that the film Edge of Empire is only available to visitors to the Roman Army Museum. If you ever get here again, I heartily recommend a visit to Hadrian’s Wall. It’s stunning. Chedworth villa is only about 50 miles from where I live.

    I am not surprised that you enjoyed the Spartacus book as a boy. I used to read Wilbur Smith books without my parents’ knowledge!

    I have no plans to write any books set in Vindolanda. You might be interested, however, in the excellent books by Anthony Riches. They are about a Tungrian unit, based on the wall in the late 2nd C AD.

    Best of luck, and I hope that you enjoy Spartacus when you get to it!

  23. Almatolmen
    Posted 12 September 2012 at 16:13 | Permalink

    Thanks for the reply and the recommendation. I’ll check out Riches’ books.
    After I posted here I checked to see if there was anything on YouTube. Lots of brief snippets about Vinlanda and the Wall, mostly tourist videos. But there was a “making of” about the RAM film. Very interesting. I especially liked watching the Birleys talking about their involvement.
    Do you live anywhere near Solihull? I stayed a week with a host family there. I was with a tour group, but our hosts took us places on their own, which is how I got to visit Chedworth and the RST (opening night for the season–“Measure for Measure”). Very fond and happy memories!
    Any films of you books in the works? When I was checking out the YT videos, there were some videos concerned with the Channing Tatum movie “Empire”. It seemed interesting. Did you see it? Any reactions?

  24. Almatolmen
    Posted 12 September 2012 at 19:31 | Permalink

    I just ordered Spartacus: The Gladiator and Hero of Rome on Amazon. I could have them as early as the 19th. As I was reading about Riches’ book I realized that the Tatum film is based on his novel. I hope he liked the adaptation, always a fraught matter. I can go on and on about my disappointment with The Robe and Ellis Peters’ The Pilgrim of Hate. Abominations! I’ll let you know my reaction once I’ve read it.

  25. Ben Kane
    Posted 18 September 2012 at 10:43 | Permalink

    @Almatolmen: Apologies for the delay in replying. I don’t live near Solihull, no – well, not especially. It’s about 110 miles away.

    Films of my books? I wish! One day, I believe it will happen, but there’s nothing stirring at the moment. The Tatum film was called ‘The Eagle’, a shortening of the original title of ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’, an iconic YA book by Rosemary Sutcliff, written more than 50 years ago. It’s sold more than a million copies, is still in print, and is one of the reasons I write about Rome. The film had good parts and awful awful parts. About a 3-3.5 out of 5 stars effort.

    Hero of Rome is good too, but it’s by Douglas Jackson, not Anthony Riches, and is not about Hadrian’s Wall…

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