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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Well, it’s a pleasure to be back again here at South Shields at Arbeia Roman Fort with Dr. Nick Hodgson. And this time we’re actually looking at the Commanding Officer’s House, as it’s often known, or more properly, perhaps, the Courtyard House at Arbeia. So Nick, could I ask, first of all, how did you go from the process of excavation to this extraordinary and very vivid visualisation that we can enjoy today? We did excavate the building in its totality. That’s important to say. Every single part of it was excavated. So we got the sizes of all the rooms absolutely firmly. And that immediately tells you something about how tall they must have been.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds The great dining room at the east end of the building, if you’re inside that, it obviously needs a lot of light, being a dining room and if it was to have windows at all in its west wall, they would have had to have been above the level of that roof. And in the reconstruction, we’ve placed them immediately above that roof. They could’ve been higher, the room could’ve been higher– in theory– but we’ve given it its minimum possible height if light was to get into it from the west end. So those are the sorts of processes of reasoning that are built on the items that we find in the excavations, and, of course, on the building plan.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds We’re preparing for a Roman dining seminar, and as part of that, we need to come dressed in 4th century costume. I was wondering if you could kind of give us an idea of, you know, 4th century footwear? I mean, what, Maya and I as women would have to prepare? Are there men at the banquet as well? Yes. Yes. OK. So really it’s men and women, because that is, in a way, the first problem, because Roman shoes are fairly unisex. What we do find is that very often the men’s shoes are much better decorated than the women’s shoes. And that’s, well, fairly obvious really, because you’ll be wearing long dresses.

Skip to 2 minutes and 32 seconds So only the tips of your toes will peep out, whereas you’ll have, probably, hose or socks, and then you’ll see the full length of the leg with the shoes. The shoes in the 4th century are very different to what we’re used to in the 3rd and the 2nd century. In those periods, what we generally have are fairly high shoes, closed as you can see– if you’ll just kind of hold that one, perhaps. Then maybe if you look, you can see all the nail holes here. But in the 4th century, we begin to see many more shoes made of just a single piece of leather which is folded together and sewn so that it fits around the foot.

Skip to 3 minutes and 18 seconds But a very light construction.

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 seconds We’ve got a seminar coming up on 4th century dress. How can looking at brooches be very helpful with that sort of thing? The only type that’s really still going in the 4th century is this crossbow, which we mentioned, here. You have one type of plate brooch– which, unfortunately, I don’t have an example here– that’s still in use. But really, by the 4th century, it’s only the crossbow. So what we can see about fashion and, you know, dress is that there was obviously a change in what people wearing, because they weren’t needing brooches to keep their clothes on.

Skip to 3 minutes and 57 seconds So whether or not they had moved towards using more pins, or it was just– the way the tunics were designed, they didn’t need so many. So really what brooches tell us in the 4th century is only about what the military and the high standing officials are wearing. But by the absence of other types, it does tell us that the fashion has changed, that we need to look elsewhere for evidence.

Skip to 4 minutes and 27 seconds OK. So I hope that covers it. Does anyone have any questions now? Yes. So how about makeup then? Ah, yeah. There’s not a lot of evidence for makeup, but if you look at some of the art historical examples, the Empress pepper pot from the Hoxne hoard, for example, the gilding was, kind of, over the eyes and the mouth. So I think that is indicating makeup. I think you should think old fashioned, almost Charles Dickens drama makeup in some cases. That you would be high status women with makeup available, but it’ll probably be limited to, kind of, something on your face to, kind of, give it an even appearance. But more like talcum powder as opposed to a modern foundation.

Skip to 5 minutes and 12 seconds So what about beards? Ah, yeah. Beards is a good one. We tend to think of the 4th century as being a beardless century, because the emperors don’t have beards. But when we look at Stilicho diptych or the Projecta Casket, we see men there with not only beards, but actually quite established beards– so like Josh’s there. So we’ve got– you know, you can wear a beard and feel that you have to be clean shaven. We know from art history that beards are acceptable through the 4th century.

Visualising life in the later fourth century

We can never relive nor, strictly speaking, reconstruct the past, but we can create visualisations that help us to think about how it might have appeared.

At Newcastle University, we form our students’ understanding of their topics through all the classic elements of university teaching – lectures, seminars, tutorials, fieldwork and laboratory classes – but in addition we use visualisation exercises to provoke the students to confront the limits of their, and our, knowledge of daily life in the past.

Challenging people to visualise how things may have appeared is a different way of getting them to appreciate both how much and how little we know of daily life in the past. It also engages all the senses and in doing so, provokes new questions and lines of enquiry.

In this video we look at some of the work that went on behind the scenes to produce the visualisation you have just seen in the previous five videos. In the first section Ian interviews Nick Hodgson on the visualisation of the Courtyard House where the videos were filmed. The extraordinary attention to detail paid by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has ensured that this structure and its decoration offer a very vivid evocation of a late fourth century house on Hadrian’s Wall. In the remainder of the video, you will see our masters students preparing for the original seminar exercise from which these videos were adapted, and discussing such diverse themes as footwear, jewellery and make up.

  • What does this video tell us about the challenges archaeologists face when they attempt to visualise the past?

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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

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