The Romans in Britain - The Roman Army Primary History


The Romans in Britain - The Roman Army

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Why did so many join the Roman army?

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What was life like for soldiers?

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-Why did the Romans build Hadrian's Wall?

-What did Roman soldiers do?

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-My name is Senecus Spurius Longus, centurion.

-What?

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-Senecus Spurius Longus...

-Yeah, yeah. I heard you the first time.

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It's a bit of a mouthful, that - Senecus Spur... Sen!

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I'll call you Sen.

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Romulus the Roman - master trader, genuinely good bloke.

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You can call me Rom. Most people... Aargh! Ow!

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Ooh! Mind where you're putting your sword, Sen!

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Oh!

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-I've just done a marathon.

-You?! A marathon?!

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I don't believe it. When did YOU run 26 miles, carrying full kit?

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Ah! Not THAT kind of marathon.

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It was... it was a 26-course marathon banquet.

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-You should eat less and take fitness more seriously.

-I AM fit!

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Fit?! Greedy, more like. Certainly you could never be a Roman soldier.

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-How would YOU know?

-Because I'm in charge of strong, disciplined men.

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The Roman army could never have conquered Britain

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-if it had eaten a 26-course banquet!

-Yeah, well...

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I wanted a few snacks before I came to the 21st century.

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-I'll take you to all my favourite places.

-This trip is not a holiday.

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We're here to see signs associated with the Roman army, and only that.

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-You'll have to do a full timetable on a full stomach.

-I can manage it!

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-No trouble!

-Hmm. We'll see.

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'Next stop, 21st century. Mind the time gap.'

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-Where are we?

-Can't you tell?

-I recognise that hill over there...

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-It can't be!

-It IS! Hadrian's Wall!

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As built by the great Roman emperor, Hadrian.

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What's happened? This should be three metres high!

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It's still here, though, eh? Look! It's very peaceful.

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Why is it so quiet?

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Where have all the soldiers gone?

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Well, I don't suppose there's much work for them any more.

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It IS very cut off. Why did you lot come here in the first place?

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-We were following orders!

-But there must have been a reason.

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Hey, don't worry! I shall use my gadget to find out why.

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After the Romans landed in Britain in 43 AD,

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they conquered more and more land.

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Large numbers of soldiers were based in the north of England,

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keeping an eye on one of the Roman empire's furthest frontiers.

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When Emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122 AD,

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he decided a wall should be built

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to mark this boundary and keep the Scots away.

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It was 120km long and called Hadrian's Wall.

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-Where are we now?

-Wait, you'll see.

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You said there were lots of signs of us Romans here.

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There are. There are also lots of signs of the 21st century!

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Sometimes you have to look a little closer. Come on!

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This is Segedunum, a museum right at the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall.

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It's fantastic, isn't it?

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I've been here before. Ah, yes - excellent Roman remains.

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This might come in handy!

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Look! Great Roman objects,

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-aren't they?

-How can you say that?

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Do people in the 21st century know how to look after anything?

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A Roman soldier who neglected his equipment would be on latrine duty!

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These are 2,000 years old! You can't expect them to be perfect!

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Yes, I can. The Roman army was a precise military machine...

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..disciplined, well-trained, with superior armour and weaponry.

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They would let the side down.

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Hey! I DO know some 21st-century people, though,

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who are into all that Roman army discipline.

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They dress up as Roman legionaries and put on displays across Britain.

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Maybe you, um... maybe you could inspect them, Sen.

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A Roman legionary was a fine fighting machine.

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He wore a highly protective helmet, with guards for neck and face.

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His armour, made from metal pieces, was called "lorica segmentata",

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and he wore hobnailed leather boots, ideal for any situation.

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His weapons included the "gladius" for one-to-one fighting,

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the "pugio" - a shorter backup sword -

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and the "pilum" - a long, deadly javelin.

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His shield was an excellent defence against all enemies.

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BATTLE CRY

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-What's special about the Roman army?

-Why did they win battles?

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Of course, I'm not just a legionary.

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-I worked my way up. I'm...a centurion!

-Yes, I know.

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-I can tell from your helmet.

-Yes, the crest makes me stand out -

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makes it easier for the 80 soldiers under my command to recognise me.

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I have a very serious job to do. I give the orders, the soldiers obey.

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Oh! So that's what made the Roman army so successful -

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-lots of shouting and funny costumes!

-No! We had organised battle plans!

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-I expect your toy could show you some.

-I expect so. It's very good.

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The Roman army could have used one!

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Our army was a mighty fighting force. It never needed a gadget.

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Every Roman legion had more than 5,000 soldiers,

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and there were 20 legions in the Roman army.

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That's over 100,000 men -

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a terrifying sight for any opposition.

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In battle, the Romans had clever tactics and marching formations,

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like the "testudo", or tortoise. Their skill gave them the advantage

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time and time again.

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We had it all worked out. The Roman army was perfect -

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-impossible to beat.

-Impossible to beat?! I'm not so sure.

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-We had this area licked.

-Yes? Well, why did you need to build this wall?

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-Well...

-I know!

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-It was to hide behind!

-Absolutely not!

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We were ordered to build it by the great Emperor Hadrian.

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In fact, my great-great-grandfather,

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Senecus Spurius Crispus, centurion, worked at it. It took six years.

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I reckon you still hid behind it!

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Use your gadget to find out!

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Hadrian's Wall was built by the Roman army.

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The soldiers constructed and protected it

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and lived in forts alongside it.

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This structure marked the edge of the Roman empire...

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until Emperor Antoninus Pius built a second wall further north.

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The Antonine Wall was occupied by the Romans for 20 years,

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but they eventually retreated to Hadrian's Wall and remained there.

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-Why did the Romans build so many forts?

-Were they wood or stone?

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You know, the Roman army didn't just build walls.

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We built roads, houses, shops, forts - all sorts of things.

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-I suppose it was quicker to build forts out of wood?

-Much quicker.

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And later, when we knew we were staying, we used stone instead.

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Like these reconstructions of both here at Vindolanda?

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See, Sen - another example of a site associated with the Roman army.

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Can we have a break now? Oh, dinner!

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I know a great place in Corbridge - it's a Roman town...

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I'll remind you that we've come to the 21st century

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to see signs of the Roman army, not to party!

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I'll take you to Housesteads. It's a Roman fort not far from here.

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Excellent! I know it well! Come on!

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Look!

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-There's Housesteads!

-Where?

-There!

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-Isn't it a magnificent location?

-Oh, magnificent!

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Come on! No loitering!

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This is where we used to come every morning

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and report to the commanding officer and receive our orders.

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-Seems like there was a lot of orders being given!

-An army needs orders.

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This doesn't really give any idea of how it used to be,

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with its beautiful courtyard, and paintings.

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The commanding officer lived in such luxury...and his family.

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He was such a great man.

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Related to the emperor...distantly.

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You can't stand there! Only the commanding officer is allowed to!

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I can stand where I like! This is the 21st century,

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and I won't be told what to do by a commanding officer OR a centurion!

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I was looking for somewhere to sit down!

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No time to sit! We've got lots to see.

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What was life like at a Roman fort?

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Did the soldiers leave anything?

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What are you doing? Sleeping on the job? I knew you couldn't keep up!

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Excuse me! I was NOT asleep!

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-I was admiring the fine Roman engineering.

-Nice!

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The 16-seater latrine!

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-Splendid, isn't it?

-Oh, splendid(!)

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-It's a toilet!

-Yes, but what an invention!

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-A good opportunity for bonding with the men.

-A thousand of you used it!

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Yes - a bit of a queue after breakfast!

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Ah, there you are. What are you writing?

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-I'm writing a letter to my mother in Tungria.

-You're from Belgium?

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That's what they call it in the 21st century.

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She'll love to hear what I'm up to, especially in the 21st century.

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-And I need new socks and pants.

-Careful what you write, Sen.

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These archaeologists in the 21st century found lots of Roman letters.

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You'd be amazed what they found out.

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We're here at Vindolanda in the heart of Hadrian's Wall country.

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What makes Vindolanda very special as a Roman site

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is it has a lot of forts built on top of one another in a short time.

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What that means is that the earlier forts made of timbers, like these,

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are protected from the air,

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so you find things at Vindolanda which simply don't exist elsewhere,

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because they've rotted away through time.

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You get hair and things like that surviving.

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Here we have a man's shoe or slipper,

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and you can see all the lacework.

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Turn it over, and you see they've worn a big hole in the heel.

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-Do you think that's a piece of cloth?

-Oh, yeah! Look at that!

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That is ultra-rare, that you find bits of Roman garments surviving.

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Today we've found a piece of Roman fabric. It looks like a bandage.

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It's phenomenal, because things made of textile are very fragile,

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and for that to survive is wonderful.

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The Vindolanda writing tablets -

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which look like wooden postcards, written on with an ink pen -

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the very first tablet found told us about mundane things.

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It was found by the director of the Vindolanda Trust, Robin Birley.

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He was sitting in the trench and he found two little slivers of wood

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that were sandwiched together.

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He put his fingernail between them and split them, and opened them up,

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and he found to his surprise he had line after line of writing there.

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We discovered a wonderful letter -

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somebody's mum sending a parcel, containing...

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Up until this point in time,

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we had no idea that the Roman army even wore underpants in Britain!

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So they got parcels from home 2,000 years ago, just like we get today.

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-How did Roman soldiers spend their days?

-Did they have any free time?

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SNORING

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-Are you sleeping again?

-No! Of course not! What do you want?

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There's so little left here, let's go back to a real Roman fort.

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-Back in time?

-Yes. Let's see if the Vindolanda tablets are accurate.

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-And I've got a letter to post.

-Right.

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At ease, men. ..See - these are real barracks.

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Smell that? Porridge - best way to start the day.

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You know, eight people live in these two rooms.

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-They sleep at the back.

-Out!

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Bye-bye.

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Every day, Roman soldiers train for at least two hours. Every month,

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they must go on a 26-mile run.

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Those swords don't look very dangerous. Wouldn't scare anybody!

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They only train with wooden swords, so as not to hurt each other.

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We've heard enough about soldiers' fitness, Sen.

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What do they do for fun?

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Well, there's the baths.

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And there's the vicus. Every fort has a lively settlement outside.

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The vicus! I've been to one or two of those in my time!

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-Great bars, good place to do a deal. They...

-See?

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Life in the Roman army was fun.

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-Come on - can't we go back to the 21st century?

-Oh, all right.

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-Why did people join the Roman army?

-Was being a soldier a good job?

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Look! Little soldiers! I love this game! Do you play it?

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I certainly do. Much more my idea of soldiering!

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Why do people join the army? It seems such hard work.

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It was a good life. Good money, good prospects.

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Some soldiers - auxiliaries -

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joined the army after we Romans invaded their countries.

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-Army life was better than life as a slave.

-You're right. Your move.

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After a spell in the army,

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you could win your freedom and become a Roman citizen.

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-Ha-ha! I win!

-I was distracted! I demand a re-match! I'll beat you!

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-Got to get back - dinner soon.

-Can't we see one more Roman army site?

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Well, actually, yeah. You might be impressed by what they've got here.

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Come on.

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Ah! This is more like it!

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Yeah. It's a reconstruction of Hadrian's Wall, back at Segedunum.

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Impressive. They can still build a decent wall.

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Why DID the Romans leave Britain?

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We were so strong, so disciplined.

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-Did some great invading force scare us away?

-No!

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It just got harder to find people who wanted to join the Roman army.

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Once the empire had granted them freedom, no need to fight for Rome.

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-It was an honour to fight for Rome!

-You can't live on honour, Sen.

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No - there was problems with wages not getting through to Britain,

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lots of problems in Rome. Thousands of men got sent back there.

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People did stay on in Britain.

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They just looked for other ways to make their living.

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I can't believe it. Things would never have got that bad in my day.

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But we Romans have a lot to be proud about. We ruled here for 400 years.

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-We have, haven't we?

-Yeah.

-Thanks, Rom. It's been an enjoyable trip.

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It's amazing -

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there are still signs of us Romans 2,000 years after we first arrived.

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-I think it's time...

-..for dinner!

-Yes.

-Oh!

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Hey! Why don't you come to mine?

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Why not?

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But I don't want a 26-course marathon meal...and neither do you!

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Subtitles by Judith Russell BBC Broadcast 2003

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E-mail us at [email protected]

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History for schoolchildren. Rom the Roman and Sen the Centurion search for signs of the Roman army in 21st-century Britain. They visit Roman sites near Hadrian's Wall and find out why the Roman army is still admired after two thousand years.


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