Category Archives: Corinium Exhibition

The Poetry of Food – poems by Dan Simpson inspired by the ‘Food for Thought’ exhibition

These three poems were written in response to the Food for Thought exhibition, generously funded by the Roman Society and supported by the Corinium Museum. I’ve been writing poems based on British Roman history and artefacts as part of my work at the Roman Museum in Canterbury (https://canterburyromanresident.wordpress.com), so was delighted to be asked to do the same at the Corinium. There are lots of approaches to creating this kind of work, but I am personally interested in the small and everyday objects – they really do link us to our past, and tell us something of the people we come from.

Dan reciting his poems at the launch of the 'Food for Thought' exhibition.

Dan reciting his poems at the launch of the ‘Food for Thought’ exhibition.

Dan with the 'Food for Thought' team at the exhibition event.

Dan with the ‘Food for Thought’ team at the exhibition event.

Eternal Dog of the Hunting Cup

I was struck by the sense of movement the potter had captured in the dog depicted on the hunting cup. I looked into how dogs had co-existed with humans for millennia, being one of the fundamental species that helped our survival. I got to thinking about Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, and how he sees the love scene depicted on that object as immortalised. I wanted to do the same for the dog – and indeed, some of the lines in poem are directly adapted from the Keats’.

Dan musing about the Hunt Cups.

Dan musing about the Hunt Cups.

Ah happy, happy dog!

forever panting, and forever young

we can almost hear your barks of joy

the curl of your tail swinging back and forth

as the swift bounding of your legs

carries you eagerly over eternal ground.

You are not a nobleman’s hunting dog

all well-fed and well-bred muscle

sleek coat slipping through undergrowth

blood-scent in your sharp nose

keen-eyed and fleet-footed foe of deer and hare

nor are you some mongrel cur

snuffling through waste for scraps

a vagrant beast of burden

your ears and head drooping

your stomach growling more than your throat.

You are not a farmer’s black watchdog

eating with the family

as if you are one of them

standing silent guard in the household

alert for shadows moving in the night

nor are you a child’s over-indulged pet

fat from food fed from the table

lazily curling up next to your mistress

legs kicking as you dream of rabbits

fearful of other dogs not so well treated.

You are not the shepherd’s white dog

nipping at the legs of stray sheep

guardian and keeper of the flock

chasing away your wolf cousins

your lineage and history forgotten

nor are you a dog of war

half-starved and constantly beaten

made ferocious by the hands and whips of man

returned to your wild wolf origins

let slip to fight in the politics of conquest.

Caught in full flight made static by the potter

you have no name: you are every dog

man has ever loved and lived with

your barks echo back and forth down the ages

companionship resonating with the warmth of centuries

as timeless as the earth you are made from.

Prayer to Bacchus

The child’s drinking vessel is an interesting object as it’s adorned with vines and grapes – signs of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry. This wouldn’t be something obvious to put on a child’s object! I wanted to imagine why this might have happened, and who would get their child such an object. I settled on a new father, who was perhaps regretting his overindulgence and wanted to make peace with the gods through a prayer.

Dan with the objects from the British Museum. You can see the baby feeder in the bottom left-hand corner of the case.

Dan with the objects from the British Museum. You can see the baby feeder in the bottom left-hand corner of the case.

Janus, hear my prayer

you, god of many faces and roles:

as Consevius you have created new life

blessed my marriage with a beginning

Janus, you have opened a portal in time

as my child sets out on his life’s journey –

hear my prayer.

Bacchus, see my child

you, god of the harvest and fertility

who have been kind to me already

now I ask more of you:

for though you are god of bliss and pleasure

you, god of wine, have another face –

that of bitterness and fury.

Do not let my son inherit the weakness of his father:

I am too often found sat, alone and in company

my wine cup constantly empty and full

with a serpent lying in wait coiled around my happiness

the poison ivy of cynicism creeping through my veins

my thyrsus in hand, wand turned to weapon

the raging bull of my anger ready to charge.

Bacchus, do not look on my son with this drunk darkness

but rather with smiles and red-faced delight

do not tempt my child to the ruin I have suffered

but rather to understand you as a fickle god

the pleasures of your madness and ecstasy as transient

wine as occasional and brilliant as music and dance

a fleeting beauty, not a permanent scar.

I honour you with this drinking vessel

adorned with vines and fig trees

your hopeful symbols of life and joy

given to my child so he may always remember you

I leave wine in this bowl in dedication of you

freshly-harvested corn for the eternal feast

accept my sacrifices, Bacchus.

Hear my prayer, Vesta

goddess of hearth and home

I seal my words with you

with the intensity of sacred fire:

may the future for my son

be not one of struggle and strife

but of harmony with Bacchus.

Corinium Cockerel

I knew I had to write a poem on the Corinium Cockerel – the artefact is truly beautiful, and its backstory is tragic and intriguing. It’s the kind of object you want to reach out to and hold with your hands, and I can imagine that being especially true for a child. As it was buried in a child’s grave, it must have been loved by them – and the child in turn loved by the family.

To see the cockerel and hear Dan’s poem, click here.

Dan absorbed by the cockerel.

Dan absorbed by the cockerel.

Go, cockerel: I send you away from my household

and into the next world with my child

she, who was so fond of you in life

demanding to hold and play with you

at every moment of the day

from her waking cry at first light

to her softly-breathing sleep at night.

In some ways you are alive

animated by the craft of the bronze-worker

his hands shaping the prideful curve of breast and wing

the definite fix of comb and wattle

the lively detail of eye and beak

but it was my child who – like some infant Pygmalion –

breathed life into you through her love.

And yet more than this – we all gave you spirit:

in the hollow of your back you hold memories

household stories of a mother’s love

everyday moments of a father’s affection

sounds of siblings’ teasing and laughter

the clash and clatter of an entire household

turning our villa inside out, trying to find you when lost.

The dark shade of night’s sky lightens to deep blue

after this profoundly long and severe night

and I remember that you are Mercury’s creature:

heralding the coming of the light with a cry of triumph

a message from the gods that a new day is here

that we mortals are not forgotten by the gods

hope rising as surely – and slowly – as the sun.

Speak for me now, you who may speak freely with Mercury

tell him of my child who can no longer see that light

nor feel the first touch of Sol’s warmth

put my anguish into your crowing

give voice to my grief where I can not

so that the gods may know

something of mortal suffering.

Tell Apollo that his medicine does not always work

and that Mors has eager teeth to take one so young

crow for her who can no longer cry

and charge Mercury to see her safe

in her passage to the afterlife

where I may see her again one day

holding you, cockerel, as I hold you now.

To find out more about Dan and his poetry, click here.

To hear Dan recite these poems, click here.

Try this at home! Recipes from the Roman Food Festival (30-31 May 2015)

Last weekend we had a great time tasting, sniffing and touching Roman food and food remains. For those of you who couldn’t make it, or for those who want more, here are recipes for some of the food from the festival.

Sampling some of these recipes at the festival.

Sampling some of these recipes at the festival.

Mulsum

Mulsum was a wine flavoured with spices and sweetened with honey, mixed in just before it was drunk. The taste is similar to mulled wine, but more watery.

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 4 tbsp runny honey

Add all the ingredients to a large container or pitcher and stir well. Refrigerate for 24 hours to allow the spices to infuse, then remove the cinnamon stick and cloves. Serve warm or chilled

This will make about 4 cups and can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 5 days.

If you are using a thick honey, you may need to blend the wine, water and honey before adding in the spices.

Simon's 'Marcham Mulsum' - are these the modern equivalent of amphorae?

Simon’s ‘Marcham Mulsum’ – are these the modern equivalent of amphorae?

Moretum

Moretum is the name given to a dish prepared in a mortarium or grinding bowl – like a modern pestle and mortar. It is often made of fresh cheese, herbs, olive oil and vinegar and is very similar to what we call pesto. Virgil, a Roman poet, even wrote a poem dedicated to moretum.

  • 1 small head of lettuce
  • 100g fresh mint
  • 50 g fresh parsley
  • 200 g ricotta cheese
  • Pepper
  • 1 small leek/celery
  • 50 g coriander seeds
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • Vinegar
  • Olive oil

Process all the ingredients in a food processor – or to be more authentic, in a pestle and mortar.

You can use this as a dip with celery and carrot sticks. You could also spread it on Roman bread – for a recipe, click here.

 

Libum

Libum was a special kind of cake used as an offering to the gods that was sweetened with honey. The recipe comes from Cato (De Agricultura 75), but the cakes are also mentioned by Roman poets, like Ovid.

  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 beaten egg
  • ½ cup clear honey
  • Bay leaves

Grease a baking tray and cover with the bay leaves. Beat the cheese until smooth. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Slowly add the flour to the beaten cheese and egg. Gather up the dough and gently form into a round ball (for one large cake) or into small balls (for smaller cakes). Place the ball(s) directly onto the bay leaves. Bake in a hot oven (425F/200C/gas mark 7) for c 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and score . Warm the honey and pour over the cake(s). Serve warm.

Simon and the Trendles Project with their foodstuffs ready for sampling!

Simon and the Trendles Project with their foodstuffs ready for sampling!

These recipes were cooked and selected for the festival by Simon Blackmore, who is one of the Trendles Project team. We are very grateful to Simon and the Trendles Project for sharing their food with us! To find out more about the Trendles Project, visit their website.

Food for Thought Exhibition: Installation Day 3

Today began much more smoothly with no transportation hiccups. In the morning, Miranda Creswell and I installed her ‘Chop Marks’ exhibit. The exhibit comprises a set of modern, used chopping boards (including one of mine!) on which Miranda has responded to the chop marks in her drawings of imagined landscapes. We also did a trial run of Heather’s projection, which shows objects that we weren’t able to include in the exhibition – happy to say, it all works. In my opinion, both ‘Chop Marks’ and the projection add some lovely texture to the exhibition. We then spent the rest of the afternoon doing the finishing touches, ready (nearly) for our preview tomorrow evening.

Miranda, making sure that 'Chop Marks' is looking its best.

Miranda, making sure that ‘Chop Marks’ is looking its best.

Any measures to make sure everything is hanging correctly!

Any measures to make sure everything is hanging correctly!

Food objects have many uses - here my upside-down (modern) pie dish makes for a very handy projector prop.

Food objects have many uses – here my upside-down (modern) pie dish makes for a very handy projector prop.

Numbering the exhibits - these little stickers are surprisingly fiddly and difficult to get straight.

Numbering the exhibits – these little stickers are surprisingly fiddly and difficult to get straight.

Case labels waiting to take their place in the exhibition.

Case labels waiting to take their place in the exhibition.

And my final job of the day - touching up the paintwork.

And my final job of the day – touching up the paintwork.

If you would like to know more about Miranda’s art, you can follow her on twitter:

@MirandaCreswell

and read her blog at: https://visualenglaid.wordpress.com

Food for Thought Exhibition: Installation Day 2

Today did not start well – Heather’s car wouldn’t start and Lisa was stuck on a train with a flat tyre (!). We battled on, however, and by the end of the day we had made lots of progress. While I was out collecting Lisa from the train station, James and Dan hung our panels. When we had everyone together in the museum, we then continued installing the rest of the objects, using material from Corinium Museum’s stores and from the University of Reading’s Silchester Insula IX Townlife project. Dan also spent some time planning his gallery talk on learning about food from Roman pottery, which will be on 21st May, and gathering food memories from the staff of the museum to hang on our memory trees.

Yay! Against the odds, Heather and Lisa have both made it to the museum!

Yay! Against the odds, Heather and Lisa have both made it to the museum!

Lisa adding some seeds from Silchester to the 'How do we know about Roman food?' case.

Lisa adding some seeds from Silchester to the ‘How do we know about Roman food?’ case.

Our memory trees, already filling up with people's food memories. The trees are both olive trees, which were grown widely around the Mediterranean during the Roman period.

Our memory trees, already filling up with people’s food memories. The trees are both olive trees, which were grown widely around the Mediterranean during the Roman period.

What food memory will you share with us? If you can't come to the exhibition ,you could tweet us @NotJustDormice

What food memory will you share with us? If you can’t come to the exhibition, you could tweet us @NotJustDormice

Food For Thought Exhibition: Installation Day 1

Today saw the first objects being installed at our exhibition. A great big thank you to Vikki Jessop from the British Museum for all her expertise and help installing the objects that we have on loan. Looking forward to day 2!

After months of waiting, the truck has arrived!

After months of waiting, the truck has arrived!

Unpacking the first box of objects.

Unpacking the first box of objects.

Our poster boy, Bacchus, emerging from his packaging.

Our poster boy, Bacchus, emerging from his packaging.

Corinium Museum's Director, Amanda Hart, and Vikki Jessop from the British Museum checking the condition of Bacchus after his journey.

Corinium Museum’s Director, Amanda Hart, and Vikki Jessop from the British Museum checking the condition of Bacchus after his journey.

Vikki and I carefully place Bacchus into his new home for the next three months.

Vikki and I carefully place Bacchus into his new home for the next three months.

The mule-shaped couch decoration being checked as he sits on his custom-made mount, ready to go in the case.

The mule-shaped couch decoration being checked as he sits on his custom-made mount, ready to go in the case.

Part way through the installation: Bacchus has some new friends.

Part way through the installation: Bacchus has some new friends.

And to see the rest of the objects on loan from the British Museum, you will have to come to the exhibition, which starts this Saturday.

Grain milling in the Roman world

One of the most iconic sights in Pompeii are the bakeries with their donkey mills. These hourglass-shaped mills were one of several types in use in the Roman world to mill grain ready to make bread. The donkey mills have a solid lower stone, called a meta, which was bell-shaped. Over the top was a hollow upper stone, which was shaped like an hour glass; this was called the catillus. The catillus functioned like a hopper into which the grain would be poured for grinding. The stone used is hard and abrasive to help with the grinding, often basalt. As their name suggests, these mills were probably rotated by donkeys. In addition to these extant examples, there are also numerous depictions on tombstones and sarcaophagi. These come not only from Italy, but also from North Africa, the Aegean and Gaul, which attests to how widespread they were in the Roman world.

One of several bakeries in Pompeii where grain was milled on site using donkey mills.

One of several bakeries in Pompeii where grain was milled on site using donkey mills.

One of the objects we have selected for our exhibition comes from a different kind of mill: a rotary hand quern. These are also made from hard, abrasive stone to help grind the grain. Rotary querns are flatter than donkey mills, but also have an upper and lower stone. These kinds of mill would have ground smaller amounts of grain and would have been sufficient for a domestic household.

At the other end of the scale are watermills, which could grind grain on an industrial scale. Studies of Roman watermills have suffered in the past from the traditional view of technological stagnation in the ancient world. It was thought that slave labour and lack of interest in investment in new technologies caused a lack of water milling technology. As a consequence, for a long time, all water mills were thought to date to the early medieval period at the earliest. This idea was challenged by Orjan Wikander in the 1980s, who started to find archaeological evidence for watermills belonging to the Roman period.

There are two main types of watermill that are distinguished by the orientation of the wheel: vertical or horizontal. The vertical wheel requires a right-angle gear and turns a horizontal wheel shaft on the other end of which is a vertical cogwheel. This cogwheel drives a horizontal cogwheel and the millstones above. The horizontal wheel does not require a gearing system and is driven by water conducted either by a steep chute onto oblique paddles on the wheel or from a nozzle at the base of an arubah penstock (which functions like a tube delivering water to the wheel), or exceptionally, as a turbine.

Schematic drawing of a vertical-wheeled mill with a right-angled gear.

Schematic drawing of a vertical-wheeled mill with a right-angled gear.

Schematic drawing of a horizontal-wheeled mill with an arubah penstock.

Schematic drawing of a horizontal-wheeled mill with an arubah penstock.

In most parts of the Roman world, mills are of the vertical-wheeled type. In some cases, as at Barbegal in France, there were 16 wheels in a single installation. This multi-wheeled mills give a strong impression of the scale of grain milling that was occurring in the Roman world. They suggest that grain was being milled at a near-industrial scale and so that there was a large market for grain and bread. This market may have been related to the annona, a system of free grain (and later bread) given out to the populace – this is where the phrase ‘bread and circuses’ comes from i.e. that these were given to the people to keep them happy and peaceful.

In the Near East, the majority of the 25 known watermills seem to be of the horizontal type with an arubah penstock. The arubah penstock is usually a 6-10 m high stone tower that contains a column of water. This column of water is let out through a narrow orifice at the bottom of the tower, so the wheel is driven by a jet of water under pressure. It seems that this type was used in the Near East because it is a particularly efficient design to use when there is a limited flow of water.

Dating watermills is fraught with difficulty, so most of the Near Eastern mills I looked at in my PhD thesis were only tentatively dated to the Roman period. A case in point is the mill complex at Lejjun, which was thought for several years to date to the Roman period, but excavation subsequently revealed that it dates back only as far as the 19th-century AD Ottoman use of the area (McQuitty, A. “Watermills in Jordan: technology, typology, dating and development,” in Amr, K., Zayadine, F. and Zaghloul, M. (eds) Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 5 (Amman: Dept of Antiquities, 1995), 745-751.). In some rare cases, the mills can be dated from literary references, for example the mills at Amida were mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus (18.8.11) and so can be firmly dated to AD359.

For more info and a list of all possible Roman watermills in the Near East, see my book (Zena Kamash 2010 Archaeologies of Water in the Roman Near East (Gorgias Press) and http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/kamash_2006/

For a full account of grain mills and milling, in the ancient world, see LA Moritz 1958 Grain Mills and Flour in Classical Antiquity – old, but still good on donkey mills and rotary hand querns.

Another fun day at the museum stores (19.11.2014)

This week saw us return to Corinium Museum’s stores for a second time. This time we were focused on animal bone and ‘small finds’ – ‘small finds’ is a loose term used to describe types of find that are rare on site, often metal, glass and worked bone objects. To make the best use of our time, we divided the team into two: I went hunting for animal bone, while Lisa was in charge of looking through the small finds.

I went to Northleach with Priscilla Lange, who is an animal bones expert based at the University of Oxford. Heather Dawson, from Corinium, had kindly brought out a small selection of the animal bone kept in store, so we were able to make a quick start. Priscilla found lots of useful material for the exhibition, including the remains of a suckling pig and a cache of pigs’ trotters from Cirencester. In the exhibition, we really want to show how we know about Roman food, so we also selected animal bones that show the difference between evidence for food and evidence for other practices, for example these cattle metapodials.

Cattle metapodials from St Michael's Field in Cirencester. They show a variety of treatments. Top row (l-r): cut marks for meat removal; marrow extraction; bone working; marrow extraction. The example at the bottom has  been sampled for scientific analysis.

Cattle metapodials from St Michael’s Field in Cirencester, which show a variety of treatments. Top row (l-r): cut marks for meat removal; marrow extraction; bone working; marrow extraction. The example at the bottom has been sampled for scientific analysis.

Meanwhile, Lisa spent a productive day with James Harris finding artefacts from the Corinium Museum on-site store, looking at the small finds from the excavations within Cirencester itself and from sites in the surrounding region. Here we found a range of objects from those used to produce food, to those used to eat food. This meat hook would have been used to hang cuts of meat in Cirencester, causing the holes seen in cattle scapulae (shoulder blades).

Meat hook from Cirencester.

Meat hook from Cirencester.

Me holding a cattle scapula that has been pierced by a meat hook, like the one in the picture above.

Me holding a cattle scapula that has been pierced by a meat hook, like the one in the picture above.

Meanwhile, Lisa spent a productive day with James Harris finding artefacts from the Corinium Museum on-site store, looking at the small finds from the excavations within Cirencester itself and from sites in the surrounding region. Here we found a range of objects from those used to produce food, to those used to eat food. This meat hook would have been used to hang cuts of meat in Cirencester, causing the holes seen in cattle scapulae (shoulder blades).

Some artefacts were used for food consumption, for example a lovely bronze bowl and some bone spoons. Other items may have had a more ‘special’, possibly ritual, significance beyond food, like a ceramic vessel with a snake wrapped around the handle.

A fragmentary bronze bowl from Cirencester.

A fragmentary bronze bowl from Cirencester. Finds like these are very rare.

As well as selecting objects for the exhibition, I also met up with Jak Harrison from the Churn Project (www.churnproject.org.uk). This is an excellent initiative that works with elderly, unemployed and family groups within the Cirencester area to improve quality of life and well-being. We discussed several potential collaborative events and activities that we hope to have running before and during the exhibition at Corinium Museum. This is an exciting prospect and I’m looking forward to putting these ideas into action.