Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Vindolanda 2013 - Day Three

A day of slow progress.  The hoped for quick clean up to a clean road surface has been slowed.  We keep having to pick our way through random piles of rock that are trying to imitate actual features....

The finds are few and of the sort that make one think that the late Roman and post Roman inhabitants did not have a lot going for them.  There are bits of bashed up pottery, some a century old when discarded.  There are bones.  There is not much else...

But oddly we are finding a fair number of glass bits.  Here is a rather imposing specimen.  Although it looks like window glass it has a rounded edge indicating that it is the bottom or side of a vessel of some sort.  Note the sand like texture to it.  Makes sense when you recall that the Romans made these things by casting them in sand...

So I have had some time to reflect on the twilight of Roman power on the frontier.  It looks at first glance as if we are poking around in the ruins of an abandoned city street.  Kind of like the alley of a modern distressed urban area, abandoned by its vagrant habitants, littered with the remains of fast food meals and empty muscatel bottles.

But that is a tempting, modern, perspective.  In fact glass bottles in Roman times were only owned by the relatively prosperous, not by back alley winos.  And you have to recall that even at the end....even after "the end" there were still a few dauntless souls trying to keep it all together.

On tea break I wandered over to an area I had helped to excavate 6 years ago.  It was at the central core of the fort, an area that remained inhabited even into the dark years.  The main street had by then become some kind of market, where tiny late Roman coins of insubstantial value were exchanged for unknown the shadow of the former commander's house.

On the curb of a house alongside the street we find this.   It shows up better in the-all too common-wet weather, so you will have to believe me when I say it says RIACUS.

It is an interesting name.  The first half is Celtic, of the same general origins as Riannon and so forth.  But the CUS ending speaks to a recalled or adopted Latin heritage.

So who was Riacus?  We assume he was a figure of some import in the transition from Roman to post Roman occupation of the site.  We do not know if he was a chieftain, a merchant or just a guy who felt like carving his name on the outside foundation of his house.

It is a fascinating personal touch in a field of largely impersonal stone.  Note the little green mark on the stone?  It was where a late Roman coin was adhered.  What did it mean?

Was it stuck there as a good luck charm when he built his house in the late Roman era?   Or did the market outside his house continue to do business in a slowly diminishing coinage from a collapsing empire long after the soldiers of Rome had gone home or tossed off their allegience and gone native?

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