Monday, May 16, 2011

Vindolanda, The Road Back

I always enjoy my sojourn on the Roman frontier.  I even like the muddy slogs with the wheelbarrow up the spoils mountain on a day when finds are few and the Goddess Fortuna is giving me the cold shoulder.

Generally I am planning my return while still in the air over the Atlantic.

I know the road back. 

And I mean that quite literally.

The Roman fort of Vindolanda sits on the Stanegate road built in the first century to run east west across the barbaric province of Brittania.  My walk to the site each day is literally in the footsteps of the Romans, the current country lane either being the original route or within a few feet of it.  Note the ruler straight layout, which suggests a Legionary engineer laid it out rather than some bare footed peasant driving balky cattle:

All Roman roads featured milestones, stone markers that indicated one thousand paces of an experienced soldier.  In fact our term mile comes to us direct from the latin "mille pacem".  The above stretch of road actually has the remnants of two milestones still in their original location.  (Or pretty close, this is a subject of pub table discussion).  Here is the first one:

And tucked off in some roadside greenery, the second:

My routine each morning was to walk to the site.  It is about two miles, and a good opportunity to loosen up 54 year old muscles before a day of manual labor.  One day I decided to test the "mille pacem" premise, as part of the ongoing discussion of whether the milestones are actually in situ.

With my best impression of a hard marching Roman soldier I determined that it was 938 paces between the two stones.  Case closed. 

Or is it?

Much depends on whose pace was the standard.  Some studies suggest that the typical legionary soldier was five foot six inches tall.  In my walking boots I run about five foot nine.  Allowing for this difference the corrected distance was 980 paces.  Getting close now.

Perhaps some additional allowance needs to be made for it being a down hill stretch.

Or perhaps I was more eager to see my destination than a footsore soldier doing a twenty year hitch.

If we give a ten pace correction for each factor I think the pub table debate can be brought to a successful resolution. 

Vindolanda is where it has always been.

The road is where it has always been.

And the milestones along the way still read true.

1 comment:

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thank you for undertaking that interesting exercise. In the back of my head I had wondered about that.

In the main I am also more than a bit obsessed with the Stanegate. Where was it? Where did it run to and from? I've looked at the John Poulter book a few times but not invested in it as yet.

I'd love to know where the rest of the "butchered" milestone is...i.e.:what did the farmer of yore do with it?

And so the questions continue (for now at least)...