Category Archives: History

Roman Cavalry displace their skills at Carnuntum – A day amongst the Romans (Part 2)

The four riders wonderfully brought Roman Cavalry history to life, providing the crowd with an excellent display during the recent Roman Fest at Carnuntum Archaeological Park.


Carnuntum which is situated next to the Danube River, about 30mins drive from central Vienna, was a Roman Provincial Capital and today visitors can experience the feel of Roman life by spending time exploring a set of wonderfully reconstructed buildings. Images of the site on a normal visitor day can be seen here and here.

A few images from the Cavalry display:



































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Filed under Activities for kids, Austrian History, Festivals, History, Out and about in Lower Austria, Uncategorized, Vienna Life

The Physician, religions, work and fun – A day amongst the Romans (Part 1)

Carnuntum Roman Fest – Part 1

It’s not every day that you learn how to take an arrow head out of someone’s skull, sit in a Roman Villa with soldiers and citizens milling about, or find out about the latest cosmetics and fashions in (Ancient) Rome.

Carnuntum Archaeological Park is always worth a visit but yesterday was somewhat different as my family  joined hundreds of other visitors attending the Roman Fest.  Carnuntum which is situated next to the Danube River, about 30mins drive from central Vienna, was a Roman Provincial Capital and today visitors can experience the feel of Roman life by spending time exploring a set of wonderfully reconstructed buildings. Images of the site on a normal visitor day can be seen here and here.

My daughter is a bit of a history fanatic, something I’d like to claim comes from me but in reality it’s more a result to exposure to places like Carnuntum where you can touch and feel the past, alongside watching and reading everything connected to Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories. So for her history is something real, alive, accurate, and fun. As for me, my interested in history unfortunately makes me one of those sad people who mumbles loudly in cinema’s at ‘historical movies’ or around tour guides whose historical presentations are full of inaccuracies. My daughter and I are therefore a rather tough audience to impress and it was, I suspected, something of a relief to my wife that the Roman Fest lived up to the high expectations we have of the Carnuntum site.

A few images of the day:

Tools of the trade for a Roman Physician…..


Luckily the Romans had a good command of German as I don’t think most of us could manage the Latin…..


All the instruments where made by the Physician himself and based upon original Roman descriptions. His talk enthralled H, especially the bits about cutting open the skull…..


The main Villa was full of visitors listen to the talk by the Physician or exploring the building, but also some of the City’s military……


Outside the main Villa near the shops order was being maintained by the local auxiliary…..


I wonder if this chap was in need of the Physician or had already been to see him?……………..


I was outvoted as we passed this cosmetics stall on the main street and some time was spent chatting about (and buying) some Roman creams etc……


As the discussion of perfumes and creams continued, I was distracted by the public announcements on the new status of the Sect known as the Christians……..


Not to be distracted by this talk of the Christians, I wandered further down the road to watch the priest perform a more traditional ceremony……















The Roman Fest had plenty for the kids to get their hands dirty and minds active. From designing mosaics…….


….or ceramic painting……


While other children painted shields and swords, H decided to practice her catapult (sling shot) skills….



Then on to exercising the brain with a Roman board game…..



While wandering around you had to keep an eye out for the traffic……


…..but wandering was the thing to do as there were so many sights to see, people to talk to and things to do. Other distractions meant that we missed the wedding but I did get some shots of the wedding party preparing……




In addition to the slaves, there were some free Celts at the festival and H had her name translated……



Finally, visiting military units were encamped around the edge of the site and here are a selection of images from the camps…..


















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Filed under Activities for kids, Austrian Roman History, History, Out and about in Lower Austria, Vienna Life

Carnuntum – Some more images of life in the world of the Ancient Romans

As the post A glimpse of Roman life – Carnuntum remains one of the most viewed items on my main blog, I thought I’d add some additional pictures here for those who would like to see more.


Sitting by the Danube River, at about the half way point between Vienna and Bratislava, is the site of the Roman City of Carnuntum. An important location within the Empire, part of the City has been brought back to life with the reconstruction of a small number of Roman buildings on the original site.

The visit of some friends at the beginning of November was an excuse for us to make a last visit to Carnuntum before the site closed for the winter. One of the advantages of visiting when the weather is cold is that you really get to appreciate just how effect under floor heating in Roman villas really was. This large room was a very heated to a very welcoming temperature and the floor was warm to the touch…


It took us a while, as usual, to reach the restored buildings as the visitors centre provides plenty to read, listen and watch. These displays and presentations give the visitor the opportunity to gain an awareness of Roman life and the Carnuntum site which adds to the later experience of actually walking through and touching life in the restored buildings…. 









Just outside the visitors centre a model of the ancient city gives you an overview of the geography and layout of the settlement and military installations…..




Once on the main site you will spend a wonderful few hours exploring the Ancient Roman world……

















































Filed under Austrian Roman History, History, Out and about in Lower Austria, Vienna Life

When the last foreign troops left

It’s Austria’s official birthday today. The Austrian National Day marks the birth of the Second Republic in 1955. Although the Austrian State Treaty was signed in May and came into force on the 27th July, it was the 26th October that was chosen to mark the start of the new independent, democratic state. On the day before the last foreign troops had left Austria, ending ten years of occupation, and so the 26th October 1955 saw the Austrian 2nd Republic enjoy its first day as an independent and sovereign state.

At the end of the Second World War, Austria was occupied by the Allied powers and divided into four zones overseen by the Soviet Union, Great Britain, United States and France respectively. The ten year occupation lasted much longer than most people had expected due to the deterioration of relationships between the allies and the struggle for whether the new Austria would become part of the Eastern or Western block.

Bring us back to the present day, I note that der Standard has an article (on its website) in which a national survey suggests that only 34% are ‘very proud’ to be Austrians compared to 42% respondents a year ago. This may in part be connected to the number of high profile scandals that have been enveloping the political parties over the last twelve months or so.

On a lighter note, I have to agree with the 86% who are proud of the scenic beauty of the country and the 66% who highlighted the high quality of life. As a vegetarian I’m less inclined to concur with the 68% who mentioned the quality of the local cuisine – this is a very meat orientated country and vegetarianism outside Vienna can be challenging at times – but they are probably right none the less 🙂

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Filed under Austrian History, Austrian Politics, Festivals, History, Holidays, Politics, Vienna Life

History – it pays to be open minded

Like most people I know with an interest in History I have my ‘periods of interest’ and characters or places than fascinate me. I also have the unfortunate trait of being dismissive or simply uninterested in certain periods or individuals. One such individual is Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the western front from 1915 until the end of the First World War.

As a result of this dubious attitude on my part I initially skipped the article in by Gary Sheffield ‘Postwar Revolutionary?’ (in the October edition of the BBC History magazine), despite its rather intriguing  title. It’s Haig, that’s enough to get me to look for a different article – even if it’s yet another one about the Tudors (which was actually rather good). I knew, as the article says in the opening paragraph, that the caricature of Haig in the popular mind has been shown to be grossly unfair, but still it’s Haig.

The thing is that, despite my rather doggy desire to dismiss such articles, another aspect of my character is to want to absorb, comprehend and challenge almost any history I encounter. If I visit or stay somewhere, see or hear something that I’m not familiar with I just have to look into its history. As a result, unless I’m ridiculously busy, I usually end up reading the History magazine from cover to cover – though I tend to avoid getting too absorbed in the letters page as it can get me going 🙂

So with most of the magazine read I did eventually turned back to Gary Sheffield’s article and in doing so found myself appreciating the history of post war Britain and the character of Haig in a new light. The article is well worth reading for the case it makes for Haig’s influence and for what he could but didn’t do in a turbulent period of British history. It was also a reminder to me that history, study and life is better when I remain open minded and liberal in my attitudes.

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Filed under BBC History Magazine, British History, History

Hiking into history

In this post I moan about having to go to the beach and more interestingly describe a hike to the Tiscali   archaeological site.

It’s well known amongst my friends that I have a strong, shall we call it, ‘dislike’ of sun, sea and beaches. Unfortunately for me the other members of my family are big fans of such places and so the compromise on our recent trip to Sardinia was to base ourselves at an agritourism, I Mandorli, near the coastal town of San Maria Navarrese and more importantly on the edge of the mountains.

This location gave us the chance to spend some time driving and walking through the Sardinian mountain country, villages, and visit a few archaeological sites, thus reducing the time available for me to moan about sand, heat and boredom – I really, really don’t understand why people find laying on sand and burning in the sun so enjoyable but then luckily we are not all the same.

So trapped in my idea of hell the only escape was, as I say, to make the most of the opportunity to drive up into the hills and mountains. On one such trip I was able to combine two of my interests – hiking and archaeological. R and I also discovered that our daughters long held dislike of any form of walking does not in fact include climbing over rocky paths and undertaking steep narrow routes so long as climbing over rocks is a big part of the experience.

The destination for our hiking trip was the hidden village of Tiscali, an interesting and rather curious historical ruin. As we stood looking at the information board, at the start of our journey, we were approached by two hikers who, taking one look at 8 year old H (who would wish me to point out she is almost 9), suggested that the route would be to challenging – steep climb, rocks and over two hours walking in the heat were all described. After a short family conference it was agreed that we would try the path and could always turn round and return to our starting point where a shallow, gently flowing, river offered an inviting alternative afternoons entertainment.

Initially we walked for a short way along a dirt track which had the river to our right and the mountains to our left. It was at the moment when the comment was made that ‘if the path was like this for much of the way, but steeper, there would be no real problems’ that our route suddenly turned and we found ourselves on a stony path which rapidly ascended the mountainside. With shouts of ‘cool’ H discovered her enthusiasm for hiking which grew stronger as the route increasingly included climbing over rocks. For about 20 minutes we scrambled our way along and up this rocky route with the path taking us towards a gap between our mountain and the one we had walked past at the beginning of the hike.

Once we reached the gap the path levelled off and we took a few minutes breather and consumed a small quantity of what was to become our very precious water. We continued our walk along the now undulating path and comments were exchanged regarding the benefits of walking under the shelter of the trees. Much as I enjoy hiking, I have to admit that I am currently (again) in a truly unfit condition and so was feeling the 33C heat and sun more than I should have. However, this in no way detracted from the pleasure of the walk.

Quite soon we were on a downward slope on a rocky but well established path which was comfortable to travel along. This then turned into a flatter path with a far less noticeable incline and we found ourselves in a much denser part of the woods. At this stage, based upon definite misunderstandings, I thought we were now going to continue walking through the valley and emerge from the woods onto the site of Tiscali. I was therefore not surprise when the woodland started to thin and we found ourselves in an area with hills all round except to the fore where the valley continued to descend and appeared to turn off to the left. At a junction on the path we encountered a sign which told us about the 5 Euro entry fee and that Tiscali was only another twenty minutes away. After another much needed water break (our supply was now down to one third) we started the walk up the gentle slope indicated by the sign.

Very quickly we realised that the gentle slope was in fact becoming somewhat steeper again and was about to turn up along the side of the mountain. So once again H was shouting with glee as we climbed another rocky path which narrowed at regard intervals into a ledge. Up until this stage the few fellow walks we had encountered had all been wearing hiking boots or other appropriate footwear plus carrying rucksacks etc. Now as we climbed and traverse this steep and rocky path we encountered a family with young children all in sandal looking as though they had just left the beach. We then passed a couple who again appeared to be attired for a stroll along the promenade. Now all these people seemed to be fine and as far as I know all happily returned to their cars safely. Anyone taking on this or any other hike could get into difficulty and have to be rescued. But why, oh why, do people think its ok to wander into mountains etc inappropriately dressed and in so doing add to the work of emergency services?

The path finally brought us to the entrance to a crater at the top of the mountains. We descended the few steps cut into the rock with the aid of a rope. The bell attached to the rope alerted the guardian of the site to the arrival of new visitors. The chap who took our entry fee and provided us with information sheets (in both English and German) was also helpful in explaining a little about the geography of the site and what is known/assumed/not known. In chatting with him we discovered that he was one of a group of people who looked after and protected the site. Like us he had walked up to the site and would stay for a few nights until relieved by another colleague.

Seeing the evidence of habitation within this natural bowl (even if no one is sure how long people actually lived here and why) added something to what had been an enjoyable hike in its own right. The first group of structures we saw were said to been house for those who had lived here. On the other side of the crater we viewed the structures believed to have housed the livestock. It must have been an interesting experience to have live, even for a short time, in this natural bowl but as the sites custodian and the literature both said you did wonder about how people and animals could maintain an existing in a place with no spring and limited options for growing food.

When the time came to head back we scrambled down the first part of the mountain and then after another water and photo break half way down found ourselves back on the valley floor sitting next to the Tiscali sign again. On our descent we fulfilled what is clearly the traditional role of all those coming down the mountain, that is to confirm to those going up that yes it’s not  too far now but you will have a bit of a climb, especially over the last section.

With the sun still beating down and the heat remaining in the mid 30’s we took sips of our now very limited supplies of water and re-entered to denser woods that marked the next stage of our journey. As the gentle upward path turned steeper the breaks became more frequent and the last of our water was consumed. This walk really wasn’t overly demanding and as I have already admitted I’m currently seriously unfit. However, it does involve some scrambling over rocks and in the heat you really need to take a large supply of water between you.

As we started down the mountainside I could see the river and our destination seemed tantalisingly close. Alas I’m not a crow and so had to take the rather longer meandering route. The pace of our descent was slowed a little by the need to watch ones footing as the path was often made up of loose stones and larger jagged rocks.

Once off the mountain I stepped up the pace, leaving H & R to wander along as they were busy in some discussion. When they eventually caught up with me I was sitting by the river with my feet being gently soothed by the flow of the water. R joined me in the foot soaking, whilst H rolled up her trousers and went paddling in the shallower part of the river.

If you do find yourself in Sardinia and like both hiking and archaeological then I would recommend this trip. However, be warned, if you are coming down the main road the turn-off is not signed (but clearly signed coming up) and it is further to drive to the end of the side road than some guidebooks suggest.

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Filed under History, Italian History, Out of Austria, Sardinia

England’s first iron lady

What ifs are fun aspects of historical study. The article on Ǽthelflaed in the August edition of the BBC’s History magazine includes a rather interesting what if? Had she not died before Edward ….’it is likely that the unification of England would have taken place, not under King Ǽthelstan in 927, but under a women, Ǽthelflaed. And her daughter Ǽlfwynn, would have succeeded her, not merely as ‘Lady of Mercia’ but as Queen of England.’

Alex Burghart’s article ‘Ǽthelflaed iron lady of Mercia’ is the latest in a series of fascinating pieces on the Anglo-Saxon’s. It describes the story of a remarkable woman who ruled, as the piece says, at a time when ‘rarely has British politics been so turbulent’.  I was also interested to discover the historic first achieved by Ǽthelflaed and her daughter Ǽlfwynn, but you should read the magazine to find out what I’m referring too.

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Filed under BBC History Magazine, British History, History