Driving north from Birmingham on the highway that is variously called the M1, the M18 and the A1, one comes across traces the Romans left of their long stays in Britain two thousand years ago. Around 120 AD Mr. Hadrian, properly known as Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, who was an avid tourist and visited almost every province of his vast empire during his reign, came to the far north. He decided to prevent the savage Scots (who are now trying to peacefully disengage from, and stay out of, Britain) from entering his realm by building a high wall to keep them out. How times change!
Successful or not, today the remnants of Hadrian’s wall run through a beautiful piece of gently undulating countryside that is well worth a few days exploration. From Corbridge, one drives along enchanting winding lanes to Vindolanda, where there is an exceptionally fine Roman Army Museum. There are several archaeological excavation sites in the surrounding countryside that regularly unearth details of everyday life in these Roman towns and garrisons.
Here is a link to the Vindolanda museum run by the Vindolanda Charitable Trust. The trust also funds the continuing excavations.
The Vindolanda Tablets are palm-sized wooden blocks that were used to send messages written in ink. The wooden tablets were folded in two like a sheet of paper for despatch. A number of these were found recently, buried in the mud, their messages perfectly preserved between the folds. The tablets provide touching personal insights into the lives of the legionaries who lived in this outpost of their empire, far away from their own home. In one, a legionary thanks a distant colleague for sending socks and warm underclothing; in another, a general’s wife invites the wife of a fellow officer to dinner.