Following on from my last post on this subject I just wanted to share some observations on the rather coy wording of the Roman Manchester excavation publication.
‘The discovery of the beads, glass fragments and gaming pieces in the building outside the fort strongly helps to identify the character of the building as a hostelry serving the soldiers and occupying the prime position on the immediate northern edge of the fort. Another object found with the gaming equipment begs a further question. It is a fine obsidian ring… with a spiral inlay of millefiori glass…[more on this later]. If it is to be associated with women’s jewellery, it raises a possibility that the building served a wider range of functions.’
What the excavators seem to be alluding to here is that the building was a brothel where soldiers went to ‘relax after the rigours of a harsh military life’. What’s perhaps surprising is that this was published in 1974 when you’d have thought people were more open-minded and could have discussed this more openly. The subject of prostitution as part of civic history is covered at M-Shed, the new museum of the city and people of Bristol that I visited during the recent Society of Museum Archaeologists’ conference.
These women could have been camp-followers rather than members of the local tribe. And some of the relationships between the occupiers and the occupied were clearly loving rather than exploitative.
It’s interesting to tease out these meanings from the archaeological evidence and only possible because of the systematic recording of the finds on the Manchester dig directed by late Barri Jones, who was Professor of Archaeology at the University and who died tragically early.
David our new volunteer has just found a piece of Roman military glass that almost certainly comes from this context and I attach the image becasue it’s relevant to this discussion.
What are the gaming pieces made from?
They are made out of glass as far as we can tell. Some of them could be stones that happened to be of the right size and shape to be used as gaming pieces or counters. There is also a rather interesting bead which is made out of amber but which has a thread of millefiori glass embedded in its surface (mentioned in the blog). I’ll look at that in a future posting.
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