We began our final day with a trip to Housesteads Roman Fort, located atop a hill on one of the highest points of the wall in the local area, with picturesque views of the surrounding landscapes to the North and South. Not far from Vindolanda, we once again encounter the Tungarians, a tribe of what would now be of Eastern Belgium origin who were likely stationed at both sites with evidence of their presence at Housesteads arising from similar sources as those discovered at Vindolanda.

The site in itself is not dissimilar from that of Vindolanda, if not better preserved in parts. The onsite Museum, much smaller than anticipated, was what I was essentially there to see, however, because it has on display one of the more recognized examples of a sculpted genii cucullati. From a small, personal shrine found in the vicus, this reasonably moderate sized relief of a trio of hooded figures carved in stone is important to my studies in comparison with other trio sculptures from parts of the United Kingdom and at Hadrian’s Wall of  the same period. Miranda Green in her text Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art, writes a chapter on Triplism and Multiple Images; a text in which the author discusses the particularities and purposes of this numeric, stylistic phenomenon (her conclusions of which are largely based on loose assumptions; points I will aim to address in my paper). I will likely spend a large amount of my time reading other similar texts dealing with numerical sculptural distinctions and their possible meaning and functions. Other chapters in Green’s text I mentioned, such as the first chapter; ‘The Female Image and Symbolism of the Natural World’, will also likely prove to be worth reading and an important basis for further research and analysis into sculpted reliefs of multiple goddess carvings and water deities.

Genii Cucullati at Housesteads Museum
Genii Cucullati at Housesteads Museum

The trio interestingly arises again and again and this is something the origins of which I intend to study. In my first post of this series of four I mentioned and included a picture of a trio of female water nymphs discovered at Coventina’s Well, held at Chesters Museum. The iconographic similarities and an analysis of their relationship will likely unearth nothing new to that written in the texts of Green, Henig and so on, but may lead me down routes such as their European origins and/or counterparts. This is an exciting point in my research and I feel that at the very start of September this is comfortable position to find myself in. And I do believe this. I swear I am not purely writing this to subconsciously reassure myself that this is happening and not to panic and that everything is going to be okay. I swear. If it is then at least I’m enjoying it either way, so what the heck.

Next on we visited Corbridge. One of the best excavated Roman sites I have been to in the UK. Only a small fraction of the earlier Roman Fort here is present in the excavated areas whereas the remains of the much larger and slightly later (AD160) Roman Town dominate the site and offer a largely different insight into Roman town life as opposed to military life. The wide and well preserved road crossing the center of the site is called The Stanegate and divides the area in two: on one side is the Courtyard with a fountain and remarkable granaries and on the other are two legionary compounds.

The sculpture section at Corbridge Museum (English Heritage)
The sculpture section at Corbridge Museum (English Heritage)

A walk around this site is fascinating to see different pieces of Roman social history and town life in coexistence with previous military developments in the fort. As with Vindolanda, you can imagine the scale perfectly and begin to understand the reality of living in such a place. The large scale excavations here are breathtaking.

But it was the Museum at Corbridge I was there to see, and was immediately impressed and excited. This a museum with a heavy focus on the more interesting carved remains from buildings and shrines, and sculptures in devotion to local, Roman or hybrid (for lack of a better term) deities and so forth. A couple of weathered Celtic heads are on display, for one example, giving real depth to dating the range and scope of artifacts from Corbridge. A trip to the Museum to discover the quality of this collection (although arguably the quality of the pieces I was there to see were not too high – see below) is definitely worth anyone’s time. The differences in dating and considering style across their rich collection of reliefs, figurines, portable shrines and other objects is something which I can only think will help solidify in my mind a more well-rounded understanding of what was coming from this site and by who it was made. Even only if small assurances can be placed on certain objects or pieces of evidence, with the precise dating of objects from these periods a little difficult to accurately pinpoint, then that is something positive to take away from my time spent in Northumberland taking in the fascinating historic landscape.

An example of a trio of mother Goddesses from Corbridge
An example of a trio of mother Goddesses from Corbridge
Another example of a trio of mother Goddesses from Corbridge
Another example of a trio of mother Goddesses from Corbridge

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