What's in the latest <i>Britannia</i>?

A nice rumination on the latest edition of 'Britannia' from Borders Today

One of my treats is the annual thump on the mat of the exceedingly learned journal Britannia, the harvest of scholarship of studies of our Roman past in Britain.

By excavation of sites and refining understanding of texts we continue to be able to piece together ever more of the shattered remnants of the astonishing achievement that was the Roman Empire. Britannia is compiled by the clever people at the Hunterian in Glasgow.

I cannot help myself but form the false assumption that Selkirk must be an echo of the Borders tribal name Selgovae. The other tribal entities, the Damnonae, the Novantae and the Brigantes are difficult to place with any precision. Perhaps their boundaries were quite fluid.

The journal attributes names familiar to us to the names employed by the Romans. Castledykes = Clindum or Lindum. Broomholm = Croucingo. Easter Happrew at Lyne = Carbantium. The Roman name for Berwick is new to me – Olei Clavis, itself a corruption of Horrea Classis, meaning a naval stores base. Truculensis ought to be Hawick, home of the ever-truculent Cymrae, but it seems it is not.

Britannia lists some recent Borders finds. In Peebles they discovered a copper alloy statuette of Jupiter. At Wolfelee, near Roxburgh, a trumpet brooch and iron axe head were found by metal detectors. At the Lyne fort a piece of slabbing was unearthed, showing how Roman stonework was dismantled and used by the natives for their less elegant structures. At Oxnam a broken silver brooch was found by the road at Cappuck fort.

My favourite is of a wild boar tablet found near Melrose. The boar was the regimental symbol of the Legion Victoria Victrix. The XXth was raised in the sunshine of Provence. What can they have thought of a Borders winter?

Because we know so much more about the military spine to the Roman presence, I think we see it through false eyes. The day-to-day reality must have been trading rather than fighting. The Romans would scarcely bother with the Borders if it was not profitable for them. No doubt Selgovae women were handsome, but Empires depend on transactions. Our pretty counties do not represent mineral wealth. It can only have been food we traded.
We have almost no insights into the Borders mind of the past. I suspect there was a great quantity of superstition and religion, and of great dexterity at skills we no longer have.

We know the Romans termed our hairy unsophisticated ancestors as the 'Britaniculae' and thought their Latin less than accomplished – implying but not proving – the schools were run by local authorities even then.

Without copies of The Southern Reporter how did they know what was going on? It has to have been gossip.


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