A few weekends back I found myself looking around the Vindolanda site. I was last there about fifteen years ago when it was basically just a lumpy field with a few information boards saying that there was probably some great stuff underneath. I preferred Housesteads.
Well, things have changed. The Vindolanda site is incredible. We spent about three hours there and I could easily have spent at least another, if not more. The museum contains the only surviving legionary’s crest, which I found strangely touching, along with a mildly startling display of phallic good luck charms. Not so much phallic, actually, as phalluses. There was one small discreet one that was worn round the neck but sadly the gift shop were not selling replicas. A missed opportunity there I feel. But also, in the site itself, an information board told us that a keen observer might discern a phallic good luck charm scratched into the stonework of one of the drains. Sure enough one of my companions found it with suspicious ease:
There’s one at Housesteads as well apparently. The scholars tell us that Roman soldiers scratched them into stones as good luck symbols. Well, the past is a foreign country and all that, but I can’t help but feel that whenever a large number of men are gathered together in one spot for any period of time it is inevitable that one of them will draw a phallus on a nearby surface for a laugh. It’s one of those laws of nature that David Attenborough keeps using as an excuse to show us antelopes being eaten alive by alligators or whatever.
And I bet you will too.