It’s half way through the summer before the third and final year of my HoA undergraduate course at York and sensibly, therefore, it’s time to begin thinking about preparations for the dissertation which will be due May next year. A few of us have started looking towards the not so far off future of dissertation planning, and having spoken to previous third years in my position, it’s advisable to research early, if possible, during this time. I’ve written briefly of the proposed topic for my dissertation here on my blog, but I don’t think in any great depth. Likely because at some point I decided my topic bores the socks off most people who aren’t interested in ancient history (over the past couple of months I’ve experienced that a lot of people I spoke to are writing around more contemporary and modern periods) and secondly because I hadn’t until recently begun narrowing down, significantly, my line of approach to a handful of questions surrounding art in Britain at the time of Roman occupation in AD43.
A month or so ago I spoke with a lecturer whose area of expertise covers that of my interest and we whittled down my topic to a study of the religious art made by and for the Roman auxiliaries stationed at Hadrian’s Wall during it’s use as a military outpost on the fringe of Empire. A quick read of the history books tells us that the auxiliaries stationed on the Wall were not Latin speaking Italians, but mainland Europeans who were made by the Romans to fight in their armies. Spaniards, Germans, Syrians, French and so on formed the bulk of this force in Northern England, and as they were allowed to continue the worship of their own native Gods under Roman rule, this accounts for examples of multicultural religious art along the Wall. I intend to conduct some sort of iconographic study into what extent there was an identifiable integration of cultures through the religious art.
This in part isn’t a walk in the park because there isn’t a huge amount of artifacts and artwork surviving which falls into this category. But luckily there is enough and mostly within manageable distances from each other in various museums along Hadrian’s Wall itself and last week I took a 4 day trip to visit the majority of the wall and the Roman forts and museums along it with the items I needed to see on display. It was also a great excuse to go camping and do a lot of walking along one of the most dramatic stretches of the wall.
Over my time there with my brilliant Dad (a Classicist himself and therefore just as keen as I to see all this stuff!) we visited Chesters Roman fort and museum, Vindolanda Roman fort and museum, Housesteads Roman fort and museum, the Roman Army Museum and the fantastic Corbridge Roman Town and Museum. A lot of these are English Heritage properties and are cared for well. A lot of the objects I will study are stone sculptures, usually forming parts of what would been communal altars or more private personal altars. Because the above sites are situated close together, it was in some ways fortunate to discover that a lot of the relevant objects I needed to view were taken and housed collectively in Chesters Museum. This is something I’ll discuss further in the next blog post.
The landscape up in this part of the country is pretty fantastic. Even on dull days! Having spent some time on and off with family in the highlands of Scotland throughout my childhood, the Northumberland landscape along this stretch of land struck me as more similar to that I’ve seen further up North than the roaming English fields of the South. Having the sites close together and walking along the wall itself gave a pretty solid realization to the locality and sense of community along the wall during its activity. Not to mention the struggle of working in a brutal climate. This again is something I’ll talk about more when I write about the individual sites I visited. Some holiday snaps are dotted throughout this article.
During my time there I saw lots of great things and took lots of notes, so I’ve got a handful of blogs posts in different parts ready to go documenting what I got up too. I’ll end my gibber jabber later with a museology orientated article on Hexham Abbey which had me pretty excited and is definitely a place worthy writing about on it’s own.