Monday, 11 April 2011
My first week digging at Vindolanda, The Eagle Film and more...
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 on...in 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.... :)