Podcastellum 4: Lorica Segmentata: The Roman Spitfire?

Delivered on 23rd September 2013 in Caerleon, Gwent, this was The Caerleon Annual Birthday Lecture.

There is a certain ‘from the lavatory next door’ quality to the audio, but some might say that lends it an earthy grittiness. Others might just find it unlistenable. If it seems at times rambling and over-long, bear with me, gentle listener, for I had forgotten my portable reading light, so could see neither my notes (I had decided not to script it, which was probably just as well) or my watch. Thus the structure came from the images (which of course matched the notes) and the duration from what flew into my head as I went on my merry way.

As for the content, here is Spitfire P7350, which you hear at the beginning (you would also have heard a Spitfire landing, at the end, but – as it turned out – didn’t; your lives are none the worse for that, trust me). All aircraft of this vintage that are still flying do so with a combination of new, fabricated replacement parts, and genuine used parts from other, donor aircraft (this is the process called cannibalisation mentioned in the lecture). Be honest: you didn’t seriously think HMS Victory is still entirely made up of 18th-century timber, did you? Heraclitus said that you never step into the same river twice, and by the same token all complex artefacts undergo a process of modification during their lives. Here’s the Daily Mail getting enraged about the fact that the RAF Typhoons I mention in the lecture were being cannibalised during the Libyan bombing campaign of 2011 (please do not attempt to understand the Sidebar of Shame without this aid). Particularly amusing is the quote ‘the RAF needs to shake itself out of this Steptoe and Son mentality’; a little bit of a history lesson needed there, perhaps (cf. 1940, The Few, etc).

The movie, FIrst of the Few, released in America as Spitfire, is freely available to download or stream, on archive.org. This was, is in so many ways, the birth of a legend. Here’s a man having an unforgettable encounter with a Spitfire.

However, for the ultimate example of cut’n’shut, here is Ezer Weitzmann’s black Spitfire, put together from multiple airframes (some bought, some cannibalised) after the Second World War (I know somebody who, as a cadet, used to have the duty of polishing it).

Trajan’s Column should need no introduction (but here’s Dr Jon Coulston ably disproving that statement) and if you want to find out a bit more about ‘lorica segmentata‘, here’s my old website about it (ten years old now, I realise, and – like me – badly in need of renovation). Read the National Museum of Wales’ blog about the Caerleon ‘lorica segmentatahere.

My thanks go to the National Roman Legion Museum at Caerleon (follow them on Twitter as @RomanCaerleon) for inviting me to deliver such a distinguished lecture and for their wonderful hospitality whilst there; to the audience for turning out to hear me and sitting patiently as I rabbited on for far too long; to Dr Mike Thomas for accommodating me and talking Romans and armour (which was inevitable); and to the Ermine Street Guard who paraded the colours of the legion (and, it turned out, me) through the streets of Caerleon, before and after the talk. If you listen carefully, you can hear them occasionally clink during the lecture, as they were sitting in the front row. The poignancy of doing all this in Caerleon, where I dug on Roman Gates in 1980, rendered it all the more special for me. Interestingly, by the time the report was published, I had managed to get myself into the bibliography!

In case anybody feels the need, don’t bother telling me that despite what I say at the beginning and end, the podcast is NOT about Hadrian’s Wall. There is such a thing as branding, you know. And to lend it some relevance, here is a piece of ‘segmentata‘ from the Wall.

Finally, why do I call it ‘lorica segmentata‘ in quotes? Because the name was made up in the 16th or 17th century. We have absolutely no idea what the Romans called it. ‘Susan’ is a possibility but, on balance, unlikely.

The podcast is available as an MP3 file (65Mb: this one’s a biggie!). If there is enough demand I can create an Ogg Vorbis file too, but you have to tell me you want it. Right click to download. A bit torrent link is also available. Finally, if you prefer, you can stream it directly from the archive.org web page.

With a fair wind and a measure of good fortune, you can subscribe to the podcast series using this link.

The PLV eboojs

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