Toga Tuesday!

Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire was full of Romans last week. There were soldiers and civilians, and families ranging from toddlers to grandparents. They were wandering in and out of the houses, feeding the sheep, eating, playing, laughing, working, shopping and having their hair done.

Woman in doorway of round house


Lady with display of Roman goods

Some of them were even having their photos taken in silly poses:

Ruth sitting on couch with mirror

This splendid family day out was one of the Roman Days that Butser are running every week over the summer holidays, and last week’s theme was Wardrobe and Weapons. Costumes were on offer for anyone who wanted to dress up and the multi-talented Fiona Rashleigh was on hand to create authentic-looking hairstyles from unpromising material:

Plaited hair held in place with pins

The hairpins, the mirror (the one I’m holding in the photo) and much else were made by Fiona’s partner Steve Wagstaff, who crafts replica Roman items that jump off the display crying out, “Buy me! Buy me now!” I’m not sure who made the shoes in the picture below, but more of Steve’s work can be just about seen on the far table.

Some of the photos of visitors in costume will be used to inspire new murals on the walls of Butser’s very own Roman Villa, which is currently being renovated:

Builders' vans outside villa

Here’s what it looked like when we visited back in 2010:

Painted walls inside the Roman villa

Portrait of Peter Reynolds
Peter Reynolds, founding Director of Butser Ancient Farm

Front aisle of villa with row of tables

Olive branch painted on a wall inside the villa

Hopefully the renovated Villa will be open again later in the year. Meanwhile there was still plenty to see and try out, including felt-making (but no photos, because they all came out blurry) and this – weaving a braid from the ends into the middle. Painstaking and highly skilled work. I’m guessing you’d want to choose your partner carefully.

Two women weaving braid

One end of the woven braid

The other end of the braid

These are the farm’s Manx Loughtan sheep, an ancient breed. They’re about to be disappointed when they find out we haven’t brought any food.

Sheep running towards camera

This young chap will soon be off to charm the lady goats at a rare breed farm. Hopefully nobody’s told him that the best brushes for painting murals on Roman walls are made of… goat hair.

Close-up of young goat

And finally, a couple of useful thoughts to take home from a great day out:

Notices on gate - Archaeology is not what you find but what you find out, and Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence







Park in the Past

In Roman times a basic marching camp could be built in less than a day – often by men who’d already carried heavy kit for many miles through hostile territory, and now needed somewhere safe to bed down for the night.

Park in the Past badge

Building a Roman fort in the twenty-first century is going to take a little longer. These days, even big men with swords have to negotiate the complexities of land ownership, planning permission and Health and Safety. Besides, these men (and women) are aiming to create something much better than a rectangular ditch with a few tents inside it. Park in the Past have a  vision of not only a full Roman military fort but an Iron Age village beside a lake, set in a beautiful area of the North Wales countryside that’s open to all.

It’s a hugely imaginative community project that’s working to give new life to a former quarry site near the aptly-named village of Hope, near Wrexham.

There’s lots of info on their website, and the site really is as stunning as their photos. It’s not yet open to the public but I was lucky enough to join a preview tour, and was bowled over not only by the potential, but by the way nature is already beginning to flourish, and reclaiming this former industrial site.

Some of the guiding lights behind the project are the people who run Roman Tours in Chester and the city’s annual Saturnalia shenanigans. They also organised my one and only close encounter with a Roman emperor a while back:

With the Emperor

The man with the gold wreath on his head is Domitian, exercising the power of life and death over brave gladiators. He was aided by a lot of cheering and booing from the crowd.





These men are after your money…

…and they’re armed.



Having seen what they look like, you’ll be pleased to hear they won’t be dropping by to collect. Instead authors Ben Kane, Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield will be walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall this April (yes, dressed like that) and they’re on the hunt for sponsors*.

All the money they raise will go to two excellent causes –  Combat Stress and Medecins Sans Frontieres.   If you want to join in without getting the blisters,  here’s where you do it.

*UPDATE, 9 April – offers of sponsorship for the walk are now heading towards £9,000!

Romans on Patrol around York

Should you happen to be in York tomorrow, look out for some unexpected Romans patrolling the walls. They’ll be members and staff of the Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC), dressed in Roman kit and attempting to  walk six laps of the city to raise money for the  YAC Branches.

Marker in pavement showing position of Roman gateway

No, those aren’t Roman boots – they’re Doc Martens.  And what’s below isn’t the Roman Fortress either.  Tho’ I guess it might include some of the original stone.

Walking the walls of York

Map showing the walk around the Walls

Things have changed a little in the last 1900 years.  It’s clear from the map I photographed last summer (well it is to me, but I fear the picture may come out a bit blurry) that the YAC will be walking much further than the original garrison would have needed to go. The walls reach way beyond the original Roman fort, so the modern patrol will be defending the local civilians as well.

Weather and blisters permitting, they’ll enjoy some fine views of a very lovely city. And, with luck, raise some cash for a good cause. There’s more info. here, along with the chance to sponsor them.