For insights into the Roman military, what better places to visit than the legionary fortress Carnuntum (Austria) and the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall (Britain)? This summer, equipped with funding from the Research Travel Award, I was able to visit these two superlative Roman military sites and several others in Austria and Britain.
My first goal was to inspect and better contextualize forty inscriptions related to my dissertation. I am studying the slaves and liberti of Roman soldiers, so I was eager to see in person a sample of relevant inscriptions and military establishments. My second goal was to meet up with two of my external dissertation committee members, Fritz Mitthof (University of Vienna) and Elizabeth Greene (University of Western Ontario), and several other researchers in the field, such as Alexander Meyer (University of Western Ontario), Ian Haynes (Newcastle University) and Andrew Birley (Director of Excavations at Vindolanda).
This trip solidified my belief that it is always beneficial to inspect in person (“autopsy,” as epigraphers call it) the inscriptions you are studying and the archaeological sites they came from. Especially with fragmentary texts, it is worth having a look at the original artifact yourself, as I realized, for example, in the case of one stone slab from Corbridge. Traces of letters previously not well understood can be reconstructed to suggest a connection with the Legio II Augusta. Working among the many stone inscriptions in the archaeological depot of Carnuntum helped me better appreciate their relative size and potential visual impact on the ancient beholder. At the site museum, reconstructions simulate the original context in which many of the funerary inscriptions are thought to have been set up. Since my dataset contains a vast number of funerary texts, this reconstruction was particularly stimulating.
Such museum displays along with visits to the archaeological remains of military establishments and their attached civilian settlements imparted to me a differentiated view of the military communities along the frontiers of the Roman Empire. It was particularly insightful to talk with the archaeologists on the ground. Elizabeth Greene, Alexander Meyer, and Andrew Birley helped me appreciate the dynamic stratigraphy of the Roman auxiliary fort Vindolanda and the many other sites along Hadrian’s Wall. The fascinating complexity of these sites is something I could only have learned by traveling there and I now feel much better equipped to draw a picture of the slaves and liberti who lived in these places.