Monday 11 April 2011

My first week digging at Vindolanda, The Eagle Film and more...

(I'd like to dedicate this post to my 95 year old grandfather who is, just a tad unwell, in Hexham hospital at the moment. Wishing him a very speedy recovery!)

Photos above: A group of us diggers at Vindolanda on the first week. Some new hands including myself (my royal blue fleece is covered by my navy jacket) plus some experienced hands/archaeologists who showed us the ropes. The weather was awful to start off with but gradually got better as the week went fact it became almost tropical! Hurrah!

I'd been meaning to join the merry band of volunteer diggers at Vindolanda for a long time but, at long last, I got the chance to try my hand at some excavation last week. It was the very first week of digging there for the 2011 season. It has been massively oversubscribed (see Hexham Courant article for more details) so I was lucky that I got my application in on time. I'd already had a brief spell of excavation last year over at Arbeia, South Shields, fort (see sidebar for more details) and again - dug in blazing sun. It would be good that, each time, even if I didn't find a great deal...then at least I could bring along some good weather!!

It is truly addictive this digging malarkey and the camaraderie which soon existed amongst all 25-26 diggers reminded me of my scuba diving days at our old diving centre in the Red Sea. We diggers tried our hand at doing a bit of surveying (not easy in high winds), pot washing, trowelling, wheel barrowing and telling jokes....but believe you me - there was plenty of hard work involved as well...I can attest to that! So I'll definitely be back for some more at some point. My expectations were far from dashed...

Turning now to.....

... "The Eagle" film - What do I think of it?

Ahem. Hmm. I dashed over to see it at The Tyneside Cinema (newly renovated) a week yesterday. The special showing was organised by The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle (of which I am a member) and Lindsay Allason-Jones (Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies and Reader in Roman Material Culture) at Newcastle University was giving a talk after the showing of the film as she was its historical adviser.

I loved the book on which the film is based, The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. (If you click on the Rosemary link it takes you through to an authoritative blog by her nephew, Anthony Lawton). A good review of the film by Philip French of The Observer is here. I've just read a friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Cuthbertson's review of the book and film and agree with her summing up of the relationship between the two wholeheartedly. It's so good...I urge you to read Sarah's account!

Rosemary Sutcliff was inspired to write the book when a wingless bronze eagle from a Jupiter statue was found in Silchester. She linked this discovery to the rumours of the mysterious disappearance (?) of the Ninth Legion in Scotland...and wrote the book in 1954.

The film is very loosely based on the book. I definitely preferred the book. Having said that I think this new film is a reasonable "buddy" action film set in Roman Britain in AD140. It's a pretty good advert which will encourage tourists to come up to this neck of the woods...there is a short scene in which we see the two heroes passing through a dilapidated milecastle in Hadrian's Wall. (The Romans had built a further frontier up in Scotland by the time this film is set - the Antonine Wall - thus Hadrian's Wall may not have been in the best of nick.) Hadrian's Wall and the Wall Walk (still argued about in many quarters) is also well portrayed.

I warmed to Lindsay as she gave her talk. She said she could only advise on those questions posed to her by the research/production teams...not on those that were not! She declared that she could happily sit through the blood and gore but utterly cringed when she saw someone wearing a 4th century brooch!

I asked her "What really happened to the Ninth Legion?" Her theory is that they slowly disappeared via Nijmegen (Netherlands), North Africa and then Armenia in separate units across the Roman Empire having not covered themselves in glory during the Boudiccan rebellion in Southern England in AD60. (For a BBC British Roman timeline click here.)

There were many other questions from the audience and I, sadly, had to leave before the end of the talk. A few choice questions and replies were:

Q: "Why shortened title of The Eagle'? What happened to 'The Eagle of the Ninth'?"
A: "Market research in America showed that people might think it was a film about golf."

Q: "Why are they, the Roman soldiers, seen riding using stirrups?" (Romans had saddles but not stirrups.)
A: "The insurance companies insisted upon their use otherwise they would not insure the actors."

Q: "Why the incorrect use of thumbs up/down for the gladiator-slave scene?" (The accepted Roman tradition was: thumbs down - the sign for the person to live; thumbs up - the sign for the person to die.)
A: "The other way round is what every modern audience is used to in all Hollywood films."

Lindsay stated upfront that she disagreed with the opening title which goes along the lines of "The disappearance of the Ninth Legion in Scotland so angered Hadrian that he ordered the building of Hadrian's Wall".....

And so to finish...I would say that the battle scenes are very good. There is one particular scene where they show a tortoise formation (one of the accepted Roman battle formations) which is breathtaking. I'd recommend seeing the film for that alone!

So, therefore, turn a blind eye to the amazingly good standard of dentistry in those days and to the fact that Marcus Flavius Aquila, the Roman hero, is also able to travel for months on end without needing a shave....Hey! Those Romans were unbeatable weren't they????!

P.S.: I'm extremely honoured to have been invited to be a member of The Primary Latin Project Committee by Barbara Bell, Minimus' author, which meets twice a year.
P.P.S: I'm also tweeting "pipio" ("I tweet") as Minimus the Mouse @minimus_latin every once in a while.... :)


the fly in the web said...

I tend to dislike 'the film of the book' as a general rule.
They never get it right for me.

The bike shed said...

You diggers look a happy bunch - brings back memories of when they first opened Vindolanda when I was kid and we had a school trip there. At that time there were hundreds of archeologists on site.

Tacitus said...

I shall be digging week five, perhaps we shall meet in person.

Your blog has been one of several inspirations for starting my own...Vindolanda stuff this week, more oddities to follow, including my patented scheme for negotiating Egyptian markets!

Dig on.

Tim Wolter


Hadriana's Treasures said...

Fly: Yes. Spot on. You know - we must meet up sometime...our views coincide time and again! (Hope that tea party went well the other day. Sounds like great fun.)

Mark: We are/were a happy bunch. Some diggers are able to stay on for a second week. If I get the chance I might pop over to say hello to them this week. The whole site attracts different people week in, week out: academics, tourists, families, archaeologists, geography students, students of all ages - creed and colour. Like the Roman Empire it tends to throw everyone together!

Tacitus2: Hi Tim! I'm sure I've seen you over at WeDig. I'll have to log on to WeDig a bit more - it's just that I lack time to do everything.

Love your moniker...I had a tussle with Tacitus in my A-Level Latin 6th form (so to speak!) and as I am stubborn by nature...I would not let Tacitus defeat me and he has led me to living my current way of life up here in Hadrian's Wall Country. Just as I wouldn't let numbers defeat me I ended up in the City for ten years...I have to understand what on earth Tacitus was writing about. I think I am getting there!

I'll follow your blog, Tim. Be nice to meet up with you when you are over here digging again. Let me know and I'll pop by.

Vale for now! Hadriana

General note for all: Tacitus was the Governor of Britain, Agricola's son-in-law, historian by trade, Tacitus was not 'silent' in writing about his father-in-law's conquering campaigns in Britain in the late first century.

N.B.: some interesting meanings/derivations: tacitus = silent. In English we get "tacit"
agricola = farmer. English = agriculture

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Good to have you back - you lucky digger you. Just got the Eagle of the Ninth out o' library for daughter, who was doing a project on Morris dancing, wanting to show her Sutcliff's account of a primitive, ritual dance, possibly inspired by the Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers.
But life being what it is the project is fin and the book lies unopened amongst a welter of paint-colour charts and findings from the Skudder House.

Mac n' Janet said...

Oh do I envy you!!! Would love to help out on a dig!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Jeneane: Yes - considering the demand for places I was very glad to get a place on the dig! We end up with lots of bright ideas to do things and yes - things go unfinished. I've currently got two Aurelio Zen books out of the library which will have to go back unread!

Mac n' Janet: if you get your application in by 1st Nov midday (each year) you stand a good chance of being able to get on it! Good luck! :)

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Mac n' Janet: Oops. Forgot to give you the web address as to where/how you can apply:

Also some brilliant news - my grandfather came home from hospital today. Very pleased. Have a great day! :)

Grumpy Old Ken said...

As Tommy Trinder used to say, 'You lucky people!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Ta muchly, Ken. Sorry I've not been over to yours in such a long while. I'll try and remedy that over the Easter hols. Hope you are fine! :)

Unknown said...

I always had an inkling to do some archeology. Funny but I hated History at school. I love historical novels, especially Edward Rutherfurd.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello IO,

I think I've always liked history. Thinking about it we used to have a fairly scary history teacher in early Senior School. I was away from school at the time (living in Italy) but I think there was one occasion when the lesson finished...she put her boots back on only to discover they were full of snow! She didn't bother me though...

We had another history teacher later on who was also jetting about in her sports car. I thought she was OK but her handwriting was awful. She would give us reams of handwritten notes for A-level...I wanted to word process them (even in the days before computers...dare I say that?!!!)

Maggie May said...

Hope Grandfather is feeling better by now.
Digging must be a really exciting thing to do but not if you're an impatient type of person.
I enjoy watching things like that on TV. Also deep sea divers unearthing shipwreck finds.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thank you, Maggie, for asking that. Yes he's feeling a bit better now. Thank goodness. I was more than a bit worried last week but, touch wood, he's on the mend...

It's funny Maggie - I can be impatient with some things and not with other things. I enjoyed the digging. There must a certain patience in the DNA after all.

Back in Egypt there was a group of wrecks up in the North part of the Red Sea. I've dived a few shipwrecks. All pretty fascinating. Those TV programmes are good too. I still remember the TV coverage of the raising of the Mary Rose. Spine tingling!

Sandi McBride said...

I have not been ignoring you, life reared her ugly head and now I'm playing catch up! I loved the book and now fear watching the movie...wish I could learn to watch the movies then read the books then I could cast aspersions on the author rather than the director, lol! Wish I were digging with you...
hugs and so glad to be reading you

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Dearest Sandi,

I wrote you the longest reply ever and Blogger has lost it! Extremely happy to see you here again and if I can I will pop over to yours. (My reply went along the lines of..."this must be telepathy as I thought about you the other day". No kidding I really, really did!!!! Glad you are back amongst us bloggers. ;)) Hxx

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thought of 3 no 4! (shades of Monty Python) decent film / book treatments =
1. Howards End
2. Room with a View
3. Trainspotting
4. Picnic at Hanging Rock