How women coped with life on the wall
Published at 21:35, Wednesday, 21 March 2012
ESKDALE and Liddesdale archaeological society members and visitors were enthralled by the talk given by Lindsay Allason-Jones on Women’s Life on the Roman Wall.
Lindsay is familiar with Langholm. She first came as an undergraduate about 40 years ago when she was involved with the dig at Boonies, Westerkirk, now the first site on the prehistoric trail.
She is an author of some distinction and has been consulted on numerous occasions by radio and television programme makers. More recently she acted as a consultant on the film The Eagle.
She said that, while the broadcasting media were anxious to authenticate their facts, movie makers had a different agenda – what would make a good film.
In a very amusing discourse Lindsay said much of her information about her women’s lives was derived from the headstones dedicated to their memories. One such was to Regina, a British woman of the Catuvellanian tribe from the area of St Albans. She was married to a Syrian-born Roman army standard maker.
He honoured his wife with a lovely tombstone inscribed in Latin and Syrian script. Regina is depicted wearing the colourful clothes of a British woman and lots of jewellery, more usual in Syrian society.
Her tombstone shows her sitting in a basket-type chair with a jewellery box and wool and spindle, indicating she was most likely a mother who spun and made clothes for her family.
Another stone was dedicated to Julia Lucilla, the wife of a high-ranking officer. She was an aristocratic woman and one can only speculate that she was following her husband to the bleak outpost of Hadrian’s Wall.
A find in the Netherby area indicated she had originally come from Germany, possibly the wife of a trader. Among other finds were tablets, some written on bone, indicating that the women exchanged news and letters.
What could be noted from the tombstones and surviving woodcuts was that, while the women’s dress styles changed little, there was a great variation in hairstyles.
From study of the stones it emerged there was frequently a big age gap between husbands and wives.
This might be because soldiers were not allowed to marry until they were discharged from the army. The average number of children was only 2.5.
The standard of hygiene among Roman troops was much higher than among British natives so children would have a far higher survival rate.
While the houses and kitchens of the ordinary people and traders/settlers were dark and smelly, those of the commanding officers were of a high standard and contained items of good furniture as well as pieces of jewellery such as earrings, rings, bangles, armlets and amulets.
The society looks forward to a return visit from Lindsay when she has completed her latest study on crime in Roman Britain.
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