Roman Socks and Sandals Rereredux

Newspapers in the UK are starting to get agog over a recent find … the Telegraph seems typical:

New evidence from an archaeological dig has found that legionnaires wore socks with sandals.

Rust on a nail from a Roman sandal found in newly discovered ruins in North Yorkshire appears to contain fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Now scientists are examining the remains in the laboratory to see if it is true.

The fashion faux pas was found in a 2000-year-old “industrial estate” excavated as part of a £318 million Highways Agency scheme to upgrade the A1 between Dishforth and Leeming in North Yorkshire.

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers, clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

It also contains the evidence of the socks in 14 graves on the outskirts of the area.

Blaise Vyner, an archaeologist heading the cultural heritage team on site, said: “You don’t imagine Romans in socks but I am sure they would have been pretty keen to get hold of some as soon as autumn came along.”

Similiter:

Harry Mount (also in the Telegraph) writes a good accompanying column, but without giving the journalists a much-needed  lack-of-research slap-on-the-wrist:

I can quite believe the story that Romans stationed in north Yorkshire 2000 years ago wore socks with their sandals, and so kicked off an unfortunate British fashion that’s survived to the present day.

Yes, the Romans were a fantastically tough martial race with great imperial ambitions. But they were also from the hot south; the Geordie weather of Hadrian’s Wall was not for them.

35 years ago, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, at the fort of Vindolanda, archaeologists found letters to and from the legionaries there – most of them hailing from Gaul. Like anyone far away from home, they missed their wives, and their food.

The letters talk fondly of Mediterranean food and drink: Massic wine, garlic, fish, semolina, lentils, olives and olive oil. When they can’t get their favourite food imported, they have to make do with local British fare: pork fat, cereal, spices, roe-deer and venison, all washed down with beer. Walk into your local pub – things haven’t changed much.

What really gets the legionaries down, though, is the cold of Northumberland. They are desperate for “subuclae” – or vests – and “abollae”, thick heavy cloaks. The most famous letter just lists the items sent from Gaul to one freezing soldier: “Paria udonum ab Sattua solearum duo et subligariorum duo”; that is, “socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”.

Socks, sandals and pants. Without them Roman Britain would not have lasted nearly half a millennium, until 410AD, when they packed their smalls and headed down south to warmer climes.

Okay … before we get to some more responsible coverage, let’s note that back in 2003, back when rogueclassicism was but a babe among blogs, the BBC had a report about a dig in London which began:

Evidence for what, by modern standards, would be considered a lack of style has been uncovered at a major archaeological dig in south London, where a foot from a bronze statue appears to be adorned with both socks and sandals.

Here’s a photo:

A couple of years later, when rogueclassicism was a bit more mature, the BBC also had:

The sartorial elegance of the Italians has been shattered, with news that woolly socks helped their ancestors’ conquest of northern England.

The evidence has emerged among archaeological objects found in the River Tees at Piercebridge, near Darlington in County Durham.

Among the items was an unusual Roman razor handle, made of copper alloy and in the shape of a human leg and foot.

The 5cm high foot is wearing a sandal with a thick woollen sock underneath. […]

… here’s a photo:

Adrian Murdoch has responded to the present hype with a good post on other evidence for the practice: Roman socks and sandals

Dorothy King responds in a similar vein as I do, with some additional details: Socks and Roman Sartorial Sins ….

… and as long as we’re on the subject, we really should highlight the BBC’s responsible coverage of the current find, which is actually about a hitherto unknown ‘industrial estate’ which may have been home to a legion:

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman industrial estate near ruins which may once have been home to a lost legion.

The site has been excavated as part of a £318 million scheme to upgrade the A1 in North Yorkshire.

It is close to a fort at Healam Bridge, which might have been used by the Ninth Hispanic Legion, which disappeared some time in the 2nd Century AD.

The find includes evidence that the Romans may have worn socks under their sandals!

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers along with clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

Cultural heritage team leader Blaise Vyner said: “We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting.

“We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important.”
Neil Redfern from English Heritage with the remains of a horse, found under a building. Image courtesy of COI Yorkshire & Humber

The industrial area comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a beck, which powered the mill.

It would have supplied the fort with goods and provisions, probably processing meat and other food, as well as flour.

It could also have developed into something of a settlement in its own right.

There is also an indication that the Roman occupants may have worn socks. Rust on the nail from a Roman sandal appears to have impressions from fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Mr Vyner added: “You only have to look up the road to Catterick to see how garrison towns are serviced by local shops. Perhaps we have something similar here.”

Economic role

Neil Redfern from English Heritage said that the discovery of the site had given a “real insight” in to the industrial processes used by the Romans.

“The time span of the remains uncovered illustrates how the site developed from a frontier fort and settlement to a more settled site with strong local economic role relating to the presence of mills along the banks of the beck.

“The complexity and depth of deposits were unexpected and the excavation team has dealt with them very professionally.”

Very little is known about the Roman fort itself, which is now a scheduled monument.

It only came to light as a result of geophysical surveys carried out in the 1990s in readiness for the A1’s planned upgrading. The line of the new road was adjusted to avoid the main site.

Gary Frost, Highways Agency project manager, said the excavation, which began in July 2009 and was completed this summer, gave experts a unique window on the past.

cf: Roman ‘industrial estate’ unearthed in North Yorkshire | BBC

… they also have a video report at:

So the upshot is that we’ve known about the Roman socks-and-sandals look for quite some time; as for this new site, hopefully we’ll find some burials nearby which can tell us a bit more about the people who lived there.

Pre Roman Remains at Brading Roman Villa

From the County Press:

THE third phase of the Big Dig at Brading Roman Villa may well have been one of the toughest excavations eminent archaeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe had ever undertaken but it has yielded some treasures and a greater understanding of Brading’s history up to its Roman occupation.
With the three-week dig ending yesterday (Friday), Sir Barry’s team has unearthed, over the past two weeks, numerous pottery remains, ranging from pieces of amphorae to a tray for sifting sea water to extract salt.
The discovery of a second century BC saucepan became the earliest evidence of occupation on the site, pushing its history back as much as two centuries.
Examples of early jewellery were also found, which included an example of a small mid-first century AD brooch inlaid with enamel.
A butt beaker, a type of Gaulish pre-Roman period drinking vessel, bronze tweezers, a flagon and a cremation jar were also discovered.
During the first week of the dig, Sir Barry’s team unearthed a rare cooking pot and a copper coin bearing the image of a goddess.
This year’s dig concentrated principally on a site to the rear of the villa’s car park.
There is, according to Sir Barry, strong evidence the villa was a high-status farmstead in the late Iron Age, trading with the Romans before the AD43 invasion of Britain.
“We’ve got reminders of Mediterranean manners and lifestyle before the Roman invasion and them being incorporated into community life,” he explained. “It is likely salt was a product of this area. The farmstead may well date back to an earlier period of the Iron Age. The dig was unrelenting — one of the toughest sites to dig any of us has ever seen.
“Yet it yielded a host of fascinating features and gave us a real understanding about the villa story.”

Yewden ‘Brothel’ Followup

Remember that claimed brothel site with the 97 infant burials from the Yewden Villa in Hambleden? Here’s an incredibly interesting followup:

ARCHAEOLOGISTS investigating a mass burial of 97 infants were ‘horrified’ to find what they believe to be the skeleton of a dismembered child.

Chiltern Archaeologists suspect the site in Hambleden could have been a Roman brothel – where unwanted babies were systematically killed.

Dr Jill Eyers, who lives in Lane End, said the group has discovered cut marks on the bones of one of the babies.

She added: “These were knife marks and would represent a dismembering of this infant. We are horrified to say the least and are now about to closely check all other infant skeletons.

“If dismembered this could be signs of a ritual activity at this site. This is turning more sinister by the minute.”

Dr Eyers said ritual activity was not unusual for Roman Britain, citing a ‘head cult’ which was present in St Albans in Hertfordshire.

The group has been carrying out tests on excavation finds from 1912 at the Yewden villa.

An examination of the remains, which were rediscovered in boxes kept at Buckinghamshire County Museum, revealed the babies died at 40 weeks gestation.

A BBC documentary set to air on August 19, called ‘Digging for Britain’, will feature the Hambleden discoveries.

Presenter Alice Roberts was so enthused by the project that she has volunteered to join the Chiltern Archaeology team.

via: Skeleton of ‘dismembered’ child discovered by Chiltern Arcaeologists | Bucks Free Press

It’s unfortunate that we’re not given more details about where these purported cut marks were. It’s worth pointing out in this context that child sacrifice was not unknown in Roman Britain, e.g.:

In a few cases, evidence seems to point towards child sacrifice. At the temple at Springfield, Kent, excavated in the 1960s, foundation sacrifices of paired babies were found at all four corners of the temple. The burials took place at different times, indicating that the practice was repeated as the temple was extended. Similarly, excavations in the 1970s in the centre of Cambridge included a subterranean shrine and ritual shafts, of which no fewer than 12 contained newborn babies in baskets, several of them buried with small dogs. The shafts seem to have been left open for about 200-300 years.

via: Allison Taylor, “Burial with the Romans”, British Archaeology

Clearly this is still a developing story … we’ll see if they still cling to the ‘brothel’ theory …

Massive Roman Coin Find from Wiltshire

What will likely be a pile of coverage just starting on this one … here’s  the incipit what the Telegraph says:

David Crisp, a 63-year-old hospital chef, located the 52,503 coins in a single earthenware pot in a field near Frome, Somerset.

Mr Crisp, from Devizes in Wiltshire, said his detector gave a “funny signal” prompting him to dig down and have a look.

What he found was an astonishing collection of coins from the 3rd century AD, a period barely touched in most history books on Roman Britain.

“The joy of metal detecting is that you never know what you will find,” said Mr Crisp, who has been sweeping the fields for 20 years.

“I always live in hope but didn’t expect to find something like this.”

All the coins had been left in a single two-foot-high pot. At 160kg – just over 25 stone – the haul weighs as much as two fully grown men.

It is slightly smaller than the largest ever British Roman coin hoard, of 54,912 pieces, found in two pots near Marlborough, Wilts, in 1978.

A selection of the Frome coins, found in April, is to go on display at the British Museum from July 22 until mid-August.

Roger Bland, its head of portable antiquities and treasure, said 766 coins were from the reign of the “lost” British emperor Carausius, who ruled the province from 286 to 293 without the authority of Rome.

Carausius fell out of favour with the Roman Emperor Maximian after he used his Channel fleet to amass enormous wealth by capturing pirate ships.

Maximian ordered his execution but the rebel refused to submit and ruled Britain and northern Gaul in defiance of Rome.

He became the first emperor to strike coins in Britain, which he did to affirm his legitimacy. Five of the Carausius coins are solid silver, the first such pure coins minted anywhere in the Roman empire in over 150 years.

Despite the Frome haul’s quantity, most are a relatively common denomination known as ‘radiates’, made of debased silver and bronze. The haul is likely to be worth around £250,000, given prices for individual coins. […]

The BBC has a nice little video interview with the finder, which includes some good shots of what was found and which also causes one to think that we really need to start using a word other than ‘hoard’ to describe these things ….

Daniel Pett (of Portable Antiquities fame) has an excellent/extensive photoset of coins from the hoard at Flickr

Other coverage:

Buckinghamshire’s Earliest ‘Recorded’ Resident

Here’s an incredibly interesting followup to that purported brothel/infanticide story from t’other day which likely isn’t going to make it beyond the local press:

A ROMAN woman living around 150-200 AD has become the earliest named Buckinghamshire resident ever to be recorded, Archaeologists say.

Siitomina, who is thought to have lived at the Yewden Villa in Hambleden, carved her name into a pot.

It was found at the same site as a mass infant burial – which archaeologists believe housed a Roman brothel.

Dr Eyers said the fact she was able to write was surprising because the Romans “didn’t like the local population getting too clever by being literate”.

She added it was even more unlikely considering she was a rural woman.

There were 70 styluses – an early form of pen – found on site.

Okay … is it just me or have the folks telling the press about this site totally misinterpreted it? Seventy styluses? Have styluses ever been found in such quantities at one site before ? I honestly don’t know, but surely that would suggest something other than ‘brotheling’ was going on at the site. We should also highlight this little paragraph from the Independent coverage we excerpted the other day (I didn’t include this paragraph in my excerpt):

In 1912, archaeologists found 60 iron styluses (Roman writing utensils) in the complex – a discovery which suggests that many of the inhabitants were scribes involved with some sort of record-keeping activity, potentially governmental or commercial administration. The early archaeologists also found 16 corn-drying kilns, suggesting that the complex was involved in large-scale agricultural processing. Historians know that at the time, food supplies including grain were being shipped from Britain by the Roman authorities to supply the Roman army on the Rhine.

And where this opinion about the Romans not liking the locals becoming literate claim comes from is beyond me. Previous coverage from the Bucks Free Press on the brothel thing includes the following:

Dr Eyers, who began her career as a geologist before switching to archaeology, said the findings are “hugely significant” for learning about Roman life in Britain.

She said: “We do need to do some more tests but if we are spot on this is the first. This is why everyone is so excited.

“This is the sort of information and data set that the Roman archaeologists have been looking for for years.”

Dr Eyers said she only expected it to be a small project when it began and was amazed by the flurry of media interest since Friday.

After interviews with television, radio and newspapers across the country, Dr Eyers is also set to appear on American news channel CNN.

“I feel like a celebrity and I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she said.

…. hmmm … I’ll let y’all form your own conclusions.