Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Monday, November 30, 2009

Roman Souvenirs

Here are some interesting and extremely rare finds from Roman Britain. I feature these bronze bowls in my second novel, Eleri's Tale.

The bowl to the right is called the Staffordshire Moorlands cup and it was discovered in 2004 by experienced metal detectors out for a walk.

The bowl has the names of the first 5 forts on Hadrian's Wall engraved along the top outside rim, and originally had a handle and might have been used as a type of skillet. It dates to the 2nd century.

It has elaborate Celtic-style curvilinear design and possesses much of its original decoration which was done in vivid turquoise, blue, red, yellow and purple enamel.

In the photo below you can see the name "DRACO" inscribed on the top left. It is uncertain if Draco was the owner of the bowl or the person who manufactured it.

The photo below is of a copy of the Rudge cup, found at the bottom of a well at the site of a Roman villa in Wiltshire, England. It shows a representation of Hadrian's Wall with its turrets and milecastles. The cup dates to the first half of the second century and also lists forts on the Wall.

It is believed that these bowls are military souvenirs of the time, much as we would go on a trip and buy a coffee cup or a set of salt and pepper shakers with "Niagara Falls" or "Las Vegas" emblazoned on it. Probably only high-ranking Roman officers could afford to purchase these.

I visited Hadrian's Wall in northern England in 2008 while I was writing Eleri's Tale. Fascinating country!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard, Biblical Inscription

Of the more than 1500 gold and silver items found in the Staffordshire hoard, none have elicited more interest, excitement and speculation that this one.

It's a thin band of gold inscribed in misspelled Latin, with a scripture from Num. 10:35

Surge domine et dispentur intimici et fugent qui oderant te facie tua...

"...Rise up, O Lord, and let thy enemies be scattered and those who hate Thee be driven from thy face..."

Michelle Brown, Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies in London, believes the style of lettering implies a 7th or early 8th century date based on the use of uncial letter forms.

Professor Okasha of Cork has identified traits that suggest 8th or early 9th century.

There are multiple websites already dedicated to this hoard and many discussions going on all over the world with experts from various backgrounds weighing in.

One discussion centers around which type of hoard this is because of the nature of the items: all the items are militaristic with the exception of the 3 crosses. There are no feminine items. And the hilts and pommels have all been stripped off the swords and knives they once decorated.

If you'd like to see some great photos, you can go to:

Thursday, November 26, 2009


To all my friends and family I wish a blessed Thanksgiving.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103:1-5

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard

Some new photos of the Staffordshire hoard discovered in July of this year have been published.

In the words of Leslie Webster, Department of Prehistory in the British Museum:

"This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England...as radically, if not more so, than the Sutton Hoo burials. Absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells."

The hoard dates to the 7th century and contains over 5 kilograms of gold, the richest hoard ever discovered, and over 1500 artifacts, many decorated with precious stones.

It has been said that archaeologists and historians will be evaluating and debating the significance of this find for decades.

The top right photo is of a folded cross. Note the detailed work on the gold.

The artifact above is a gold and garnet scabbard boss fitting for a sword. Below is a gold and garnet sword hilt.
One item that has provoked the most interest is a strip of gold with a Biblical inscription and I will write a post on that this week.

A website has been established for the hoard for anyone who wishes to know more. It has 500 photographs of the finds so far. Many artifacts are still waiting to be dug out of blocks of soil taken from the dig.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Wax Tablets and Writing Implements

My husband read through some of my recent posts this weekend and he noted that the last 4 all dealt with female things such as jewelry and make-up. I assured him that the post today would be interesting to both sexes!

In my second novel, Eleri's Tale, my character Eleri is learning to read and write Latin. She writes her translations out on wax tablets.

These were thin sheets of wood with a poured layer of wax. A stylus would be used to engrave your letters in the soft surface of the wax. The wax could be easily softened over a small flame when you needed a new page.

Above is a fresco from the tomb of a Roman lady. She is shown holding the aforementioned wax tablet and stylus.

Wax tablets have been around for thousands of years. Pictured below is a reproduction kit made for the reenactors of Roman and Celtic history like the organization called PENNSIC.
Below is a new wax tablet with a message inscribed in Latin.

The wax tablet below is similar to the Vindolanda wax tablets found in the 1980's in the Roman fort of Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Most date from around 100 AD and they cover a wealth of information about life in the fort, from shopping lists and requests for warm socks to a birthday party invitation, sent from a lady in another fort to a lady at the Vindolanda fort.

If you would like to read more about wax tablets and the making of them, go to www.randyasplund.com for a very informative article.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ancient Beauty II

Wealthy women treasured their cosmetics and implements 1500 years ago as we do today. Below is a wood, bronze and carved bone cosmetic box that was excavated from Pompeii. You can see a mirror on the left and other implements and jars.

The cosmetic box shown below is especially fascinating to me. It's Egyptian and it has nothing to do with Eleri's Tale but it is such an amazing box!

It contains a pot, 2 vases, a pumice stone, a cosmetic dish, a pair of sandals and a kohl pot. It dates to about 1550 BC and was discovered in a tomb. There is something so incredibly poignant about that pair of sandals (bottom left of box).
The two spatulas below are made of silver and are about 6.5 inches long. They were designed to reach into long-necked glass bottles to retrieve the powders stored in them, such as ground azurite to color the eyelids blue.

In Eleri's Tale, my character watches her Romano-British mistress, Minacea, prepare for a banquet. The cosmetic slave uses spatulas such as these to mix the cosmetics for Minacea's face. Some of the ingredients used in ancient cosmetics were toxic, such as mercury and lead, used to whiten the skin.

Shown below is the world's oldest face cream, found in 2003 by archaeologists excavating a Roman temple on the banks of the River Thames. This little tin pot is 2,000 years old. The lid still bears the fingermarks of the person who last used it.

Now you may think I am crazy but I find those prints absolutely fascinating!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ancient Beauty

Women who lived 1500 years ago (the time period of my second novel) were just as concerned with beauty as women are today. They used combs and mirrors, cosmetics and the implements to apply them, and wore jewelery.

In the time period of Eleri's Tale, only wealthy women had access to these things, especially cosmetics. Shown above is a set of Roman implements, including bone combs and long hairpins. The mirror is made of polished bronze.
In Eleri's Tale, both her former mistres Ciara, in Ireland, and her new mistress, Minacea, possess bronze mirrors such as the one shown above. This is a mirror that was found in Britain and done in the Celtic La Tene style, with elaborate curvilinear designs that would have been applied with the use of a compass.

This particular mirror is in the British Museum, and dates to about 50 AD, several hundred years before my story takes place, but it gives you an idea of what the mirrors looked like. The reverse side would have been highly polished and given a fairly good reflection.

The details feaure a cloverleaf pattern, engraving in a basketweave pattern and "hatched" texturing. Doesn't it look gorgeous for its age?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Kirkmadrine Stones

At one end of this tiny Victorian chapel, set on a lonely hill in southwestern Scotland and overlooking the Bay of Luce, is a glassed-in wall. Three of the earliest Christian stones ever found in Scotland sit inside it.

They were erected around 450 A.D. to mark the common grave of three priests who served in the area. For 1400 years they stood unmolested in the churchyard until 1850, when they were pulled up and taken away for another use.

It is thought that the three priests may have served with St. Ninian at his "Candida Casa", or the white house on the hill across the bay. Ninian is a character in Eleri's Tale.

Two of the stones are about 7 feet tall, with the third being about 3 feet. All 3 stones have an early Chi-Rho symbol carved at the top. Each cross is surrounded by a perfect circle, deeply cut into the stone. The circle is a symbol of eternity.

Below the Chi-Rho symbols are the Latin inscriptions. They were meant to stand together and form a continous narrative. The translation of the Latin is:

"Here lie the holy and eminent priests, Viventius and Mavorius (first stone), and Florentius, (second stone), and on the third stone "INTIUM ET FINIS", the Beginning and the End.

If youu look carefully, you can see Mavorius listed under Viventius. Florentius is quite obvious.

I used the names Mavorius and Florentius for the characters of 2 priests in Whithorn in Eleri's Tale. This is an example of how archaeological research can drive the story.

In 1861 the two taller stones were discovered in the manse gate. The third stone wasn't found until 1916.

But that's a story for another post - the "lost" stone of Kirkmadrine.