Tastes and habits of food and drink are often a good indicator as to how people defined themselves. Cultures often mixed and matched the objects that expressed these identities. For the Roman army, it is envisaged that, at least initially, many foods were imported from further south and east across the Empire, since most Roman forts included a granary. Additionally, while food sourced locally no doubt made up a significant part of the Roman military diet, imports would also have continued to be important.
Amphora (ceramic transport vessels) in a range of sizes and styles were used to transport food and drink to the frontier. A fine example, sadly unprovenanced, found in the 19th century, survives in Perth Museum (registration no. 976). Amphorae are common finds on Roman forts (eg Pitts and St Joseph 1985). Fragments of amphora are rare finds on Iron Age settlement sites.
Samian ware (Terra sigillata), a red-gloss pottery mass-produced from the first century BC to the third century AD, is also a common find on Roman military and civilian sites across Britain. Quantities have been recovered from military sites in Perth and Kinross such as Strageath (Frere and Wilkes 1989, 204–18) and Inchtuthil (Pitts and St Joseph 1985, 314–24). Evidence from the fort of Bearsden indicates that such pottery was most common among officers rather than everyday soldiers (Breeze 2016). Samian is the most common form of Roman pot found on Iron Age sites, for example at the souterrains at Newmill (Watkins 1981) and Shanzie (Coleman and Hunter 2002). It was clearly a desirable vessel form in local society, and was often reused after breakage, for instance as a pigment source.
Much of the pottery on Roman military sites consisted of coarse wares, which supplied the basic ceramic needs of the troops for storage, cooking and consumption. There is evidence of local production in Roman Scotland to meet this demand, either by the soldiers themselves or by migrant potters.
Glass vessels were imported to Roman military sites as transport and storage vessels, notably bottles, and as fine cups and bowls for consumption, the latter mostly among officers. Shards have been found on Iron Age sites in Perth and Kinross, including Castle Craig broch (Poller forthcoming; Case Study Castle Craig Broch). It is likely that exotic foodstuffs and alcohol were gifted and traded far and wide with drink-related Roman glass vessels known from many Scottish Iron Age sites, mainly concentrated in the south and up the east coast to the Northern Isles (Ingemark 2014, 175, figure 4.1). The presence of Roman samian and fine glassware on a variety of elite sites during this period shows the willing incorporation of Roman goods or foodways within food and drink cultures, including at the level of social elites. Feasting remained important in the maintenance of power and relations (Hunter 2007, 16; Ingemark 2014).
An essential part of a soldier’s cooking equipment was a handled copper-alloy cooking skillet/saucepan or trulla, sometimes more loosely known as patera; several examples are known from Perth and Kinross.
A notable example in the collections of Perth Museum (registration no. 1295; Wright 1966, 220–1, no. 16) is stamped on the handle with the name of the bronze worker ‘Cipius Polybius’ indicating it was made at this firm’s workshop in Campania, Southern Italy. This important object was repaired several times before being placed in Stormont Loch, near Blairgowrie, though whether by Roman auxiliaries or locals is uncertain. A complete bronze Roman saucepan was also discovered at Castle Craig broch (James 2011; 2012; Poller forthcoming; Case Study Castle Craig Broch).
The eight bronze vessel finds from Strageath fort are predominantly trullae, but also include two fragments of a bath saucer and a jug handle, indicating the range of bronze vessels in use on Roman fort sites (Frere & Wilks 1989, 152, fig 77, nos 71–3, 75–6; Hunter, pers comm). A different sort of vessel is evidenced by the recent metal-detector find from Kindrochet, near Comrie (MPK20263). It is a worn escutcheon in the shape of a human (probably male) head (Perth Museum registration no. 2021.50). It is likely to have been one of at least a pair, supporting suspension rings which probably suspended a basin from chains. The basin was probably used to serve alcohol. It dates to the second or third century AD. Although of Roman manufacture, the find spot is closer to Dundurn fort, where other Roman goods have been found, than Dalginross Roman fort at Comrie and may again signal a Roman vessel which passed into Caledonian hands.
Building and decorating
Where local clay was available, the Roman military made tiles for floors and roofs in workshops near to the relevant fort. These often carry the stamp of the legionary unit who made them. For example, inscribed roof tiles from Carpow bear the stamp of the Legion VI Victrix, which was based there during the campaigns against the Caledonians and Maeatae under Severus. Claiming victory, he awarded the legion the honorary title Britannica. Another tile from Carpow (McManus Art Galleries and Museums accession number DUNMG 1987-291) includes the print of a dog’s paw, and provides intimate insight into a moment in time. It is probably of a dog smaller than a fox (Catherine Smith pers comm). A single example of a dog paw print was excavated from Inchtuthil and analysis showed it to have been made by a fast-moving whippet type dog (Pitts and St Joseph 1985, 340). Recent analysis of the various animal and bird footprints on tiles from Silchester (Footprints on Roman brick and tile – Silchester Archaeology) points to an unrealised potential for a study of such evidence from Roman Scotland to explore the dynamics and the seasonality of tile production and animal keeping.
In AD 82/83, or perhaps 83/84 work commenced on building the huge legionary fortress at Inchtuthil on the River Tay, south-west of Blairgowrie. Planned as the base for the Twentieth Legion (Valeria Victrix) in the conquest of Scotland, the fortress was never finished as around AD 86, legions were sent to reinforce the Danube frontier, resulting in the abandonment of forts on the Highland line and others to the south. Before leaving the fort at Inchtuthil, legionaries dismantled what they had built and buried nearly one million iron hand-forged nails, weighing 10 tons (Pitts and St Joseph 1985).
Amongst the earliest buildings completed at Inchtuthil was the bathhouse, situated in an annex outside the site. Bathing was an essential routine for the military for hygiene, social engagement and relaxation. It included a large entrance hall, part of which was heated; a frigidarium with a cold bath at one end; a tepidarium, and a double-apsed caldarium.
The playing of board games took off across Europe as a consequence of Roman practice and influence (Hall and Forsyth 2011). Elites in southern Britain were acquiring board games before the conquest and evidence indicates it was linked to other elite practices including literacy and wine consumption. Partial and complete sets of gaming pieces, sometimes with boards, are a not uncommon element in inhumation and cremation burials of British, and after the conquest, Roman elites and military. With the ongoing conquest of Britain by the Roman army, the social spread of board games widened. It was one of the most common leisure pursuits for Roman soldiers, and it was often linked to spending time in the bathhouse. Glass counters used as pawns in a strategy board game called ludus latrunculorum are commonly found on Roman sites in Scotland and in Perth and Kinross, 24 such counters – seven of blue and 17 of white glass, probably elements of various sets – were excavated at Strageath fort (Price 1989, 196, 200–2, fig. 102.1-5). Fragments of ceramic tiles marked out for ludus were discovered at the Roman forts of Bertha (Perth Museum registration no. 1994.423.1; Croom 2002, 43) and Inchtuthil (Perth Museum registration no. 11/1935) (Hall and Schädler forthcoming). Across Scotland, board game kits are found across Roman and British sites (Hall 2007; Hall and Schädler forthcoming) and in Aberdeenshire there is an example of at least one elite Roman Iron Age burial with gaming pieces (Hall and Forsyth 2011, 1331, fig. 3; Cool and Hall 2016, 47–52). To date in Perth and Kinross, the evidence for board games is confined to Roman sites. The presence of such material on other Iron Age sites should be anticipated however, and may signal Roman interaction.