ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 41, February 1999


Early images

From Mr Bill Harriman

Sir: Stephanie Moser's point about the many and varied influences within John White's picture `Pictish man holding a human head' is well made (`Seeing the past in standard images', November). I would venture to add two further influences to her already extensive list.

As a weapons historian, the first thing that struck me about this picture was the form of the sword. This is a Middle Eastern type known by the generic name of a `scimitar'. The hilt is typical of Turkish swords with its simple cross guard and plain grip terminating in a down-turned, bulbous pommel. This type of hilt, the `Mameluke', survives in the British Pattern 1831 General Officer's sword that is still carried by generals today on ceremonial occasions.

The tip of the scabbard is depicted as very broad. This was necessary to accommodate the point of the sword, which was often much wider than the rest of the blade. As scimitars are designed for use in a slashing cut, this concentrated weight and strength at the point to maximise the sword's cutting effect. This type of sword was not used in Western Europe, which relied on rapiers and broad-swords, both of which had straight blades. White may have seen a scimitar, perhaps brought back to England as a trophy of war. Alternatively he may have seen one in a print of Turkish troops. However, the source for this sword is less important than the reason why White chose it to arm his Pict. Two reasons suggest themselves to me.

Firstly, he might have meant simply to increase the exotic effect by giving his warrior a sword that fell outside the experience of most late 16th century people. Secondly, the scimitar may have been intended to create an association between this image and the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Empire was a major power, particularly in the Mediterranean, and the Turks were greatly feared - even after their catastrophic defeat at Lepanto in 1571. Perhaps White's choice of this very distinctive sword was to imbue his Pict with some of the fear and savagery associated with the Turks.

The figure's body decoration merits comment from an art historical perspective. I am reminded of the European tradition of depicting demons with additional faces on their knees, shoulders and stomachs. It seems that White drew on this tradition for the designs painted on the figure's body in order to give the figure a demonic or supernatural perspective along with the others that it exhibits.

Yours faithfully,
Marford, Wrexham
7 November

Bunsen burner

From Ms Anne-Marie Mears-Berendschot

Sir: In your news article, `Bronze Age "bunsen burner" discovered' (November), you reported that a bottomless perforated ceramic pot may have been used to produce a strong narrow flame, and that although such an artefact was widely distributed around Europe it has not been found in Britain.

An illustration in EC Curwen's The Archaeology of Sussex (1937) portrays a similar ceramic vessel, found at Bow Hill, West Sussex. On reconstruction of the fragments, the following is recorded: `This looks like the cover of a lamp, for it is hemispherical, its sides being full of small holes, while at the centre is a large opening such as might have been left to emit the heat of the flame.'

Yours sincerely,
University of Sussex, Brighton
18 November

Roman invasion

From Dr Martin Henig

Sir: Perhaps I might be allowed a brief reply to the various letters ranged against me (Letters and review, November). The assertion that the battle of Mons Graupius did occur as a major event rather than as a skirmish in the hills given literary form is not proof. Of course there was a fortress and there were forts, but these simply reveal the existence of an expensive Roman expedition into the heather.

I do not deny some early Roman activity in Kent, whether connected with the primary invasion or the following year, but so far the most convincing evidence is that from Chichester harbour. I was not writing about coastal forts in Kent, which of course became necessary later to guard the channel, but east of the Durotriges area and excluding military installations around Chichester, central southern Britain was largely free from forts.

The putative Togidubnus head is that of a boy, and is not therefore comparable to the ever-youthful Augustus. It was as an adolescent youth that he would have met Herod Agrippa and learned of the royal title prevalent in the East of `Great King'. His rule in Britain and the Fishbourne palace came later. Like Mithridates, `he died old' - like his forbear Verica. And like Verica (pace Ernest Black), I see no reason why he should not have been vigorous and powerful to the end.

Yours sincerely,
Institute of Archaeology, Oxford
12 November

From Mr John Manley

Sir: Brian Philp claims that there is `massive evidence' at Richborough for the main invasion force in AD43. This evidence constitutes two ditches enclosing an area of about 10 acres - hardly `massive'. Such an area would have contained about 2,500 men camped in leather tents. Most people agree that the invasion force would have been in the order of at least 40,000 men and would have needed an area of about 160 acres. Mr Philp conveniently invents a `certain erosion' to account for the statement that the base `probably covered at least 100 acres'. It is precisely this kind of specious argument that has allowed the Richborough hypothesis to go unchallenged for the best part of a century.

In Chichester on 23 October 1999, this Society is holding a one-day conference on this very topic. I invite your readers to come and judge for themselves the compelling new evidence.

Yours sincerely,
Sussex Archaeological Society, Lewes
16 November

Blast furnace

From Mr Jeremy Hodgkinson

Sir: The finding of a `prototype' early 16th century blast furnace near Rievaulx Abbey (In Brief, November) is exciting, but not as exciting as all that! Contrary to your statement, at least one blast furnace had been established in the Weald of Sussex at the end of the previous century, and the process had been evolving in Europe for three centuries before that.

If the Industrial Revolution had solely been the consequence of the introduction of the blast furnace - a grossly simplistic view - presumably the microchip would have been a Swedish invention of the late Middle Ages, and Columbus would have discovered America from the vantage point of a spy satellite!

Yours sincerely,
Wealden Iron Research Group
Worth, Sussex
8 November

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