Make a Roman Shield

This Roman shield has been a long time coming. We have had many previous attempts when the boys were smaller but had problems keeping the curved shape of the shield. So when my daughter decided that she wanted to make one for a school topic we just had to come up with the new improved version..

make your own Roman Shield

The original Roman shields or Scutums were made of layers of wood, with a metal frame and boss (the sticky out bit). They were most commonly rectangular in shape and big enough to properly hide behind. The wood was enough to stop most missiles but still light enough to carry.

In battles ranks of Roman Legionaries could overlap their shields to form a wall, or even make a roof above their heads to form a testudo (which is latin for tortoise.)

Form testudo!

To make your very own shield you will need:

  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Red paint
  • Gold card
  • Silver paint
  • Plain card
  • Round plastic tub or the bottom of a plastic bottle
  • Silver duct tape

First cut out a large rectangle from the corrugated cardboard. Make sure that the corrugations run from top to bottom – this is essential so that the shield can curve around your body.

Next round off the corners – we used a bowl as a template.

Make your own Roman Scutum

Cut two long strips of cardboard and stick them across the back of the shield in the middle. Then stick the two ends together (you could also staple them for extra strength.) You want to make the strap short enough so that the whole shield curves.

make your own Roman shield

make your own Roman shieldNow make the metal boss. Cut a circle in the centre of a piece of card just smaller than your pot slip the pot through it. Either tape it or glue it in place. Once the glue is dry you can paint it silver or gold. We sprayed it with some metallic paint we had but acrylic paint would also work well.

make your own Roman shield

Paint the front of the shield, stick on the boss and then you can decorate it with the gold paper. Make sure you get your pets to help out.

To finish it off stick some of the duct tape round the edge of the shield.

Finished!

prepare to receive missiles

take cover!We had great fun using it to protect against hails of nerf bullets and a toy cross bow. Now we just need to make a few more so we can form a testudo…

 

Celebrate Saturnalia!

Does it feel like you are getting up in the middle of the night at the moment? That you are dragging yourself to work or school when you should be in bed because it’s just so dark? Now imagine that you don’t have any electric lights and the only light you have is from candles or oil lamps and open fires. So maybe it should be no surprise that people have been marking the day that the nights stop getting longer for as long as we can tell.

The midwinter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has been celebrated for thousands of years. How do we know? Well, many neolithic henges and chambers have been found to be aligned to the winter solstice dawn or sunset. Stonehenge, for example, is aligned with the setting sun on midwinters day. Although this might not prove that the people who built these monuments ‘celebrated’ midwinter as such, it must have been an incredibly important time of year. It also shows that they must have had a good understanding of astronomy and have studied the sky over many years.

stonehenge

The Romans also had one of their most important festivals over the midwinter period – Saturnalia. On the 17th of December, a ceremony dedicated to the God Saturn would start the festival followed by feasting, gift giving and general partying. Slaves and their masters would trade positions, gambling was allowed for the only time in the year and children would become masters for the day. Greenery was taken into the house and lots of candles were used. These festivities could last a week! Does it remind you of any other winter festivals by any chance?

Saturnalia

So tonight we had our own Saturnalia celebrations – we decorated the table with leaves and candles and had a Roman style feast with breads, cheese, olives, stuffed chicken, salads, eggs, grapes, cheesecake and grape juice to drink. Had we really got our act together we could have made some stuffed dates, pizza or honey cakes too, but well, we also a bit busy getting ready for christmas!

saturnalia

The kids were happy enough to be the masters during the feast but I had to draw the line at staying up all night. It would be interesting to find out how that would have played out in real Roman houses!

Make a Roman Pizza

I have just got hold of a fantastic book by Mark Grant; ‘Roman Cookery, Ancient Recipies for Modern Kitchens’. Some of the recipes, it has to said, may not be entirely kid friendly (Pig’s trotter for tea tonight kids?) but a lot of them are quite similar to food we eat a lot. So it wasn’t too hard to persuade everyone to have a go at making a Roman Pizza, based on the recipe for Staititai or Honey and Sesame Pizza.

We followed the recipe properly using a spelt flour, but actually I think any regular pizza dough would be fine. So here is our simplified recipe:

  • 1 piece of pizza dough (preferably made with spelt flour) or ready made pizza base
  • olive oil for frying
  • some feta cheese crumbled up (or other cheese of choice)
  • sesame seeds
  • a drizzle of honey.

Roll the dough out until it is thin, and leave to rise for 20 mins. Heat the frying pan with the olive oil and fry gently on both sides until it is golden brown. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with the cheese, sesame seeds and honey. Melt the cheese under a grill then cut into pieces to serve.

pizza

We made a couple of variations – one cooked in the oven instead of being fried, and one made with cheddar cheese. The oven baked one was good but much crunchier and not as moist, the fried one was more like flatbread.

The verdict? No child was very keen on the feta version which smelt quite whiffy when the feta was melted, but the cheddar cheese version was lovely – like cheese on toast and was happily gobbled up with some lentil soup – a very Roman meal.

The most interesting thing though was the obvious missing ingredient. Where were the tomatoes?!! Did the Romans not like them? No, after a bit of research we discovered that the tomato was not introduced to Europe until the 16th century when in was brought back by the first explorers of Mexico. So the poor Romans had no tomatoes, no peppers and no aubergines (which were brought back from the Middle East). It was worth making a Roman Pizza just to learn this!

Make some Roman Stuffed Dates

dates1

These stuffed dates are a quick and easy thing to make for any Roman Feast. The recipe was written by Apicius, who wrote a cookery book in Latin some time between 300-400AD.

You will need:

  • Dried dates
  • Some nuts – walnuts and almonds work very well
  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Some chopped pistachios or pine nuts to decorate.

Firstly, pull the dates apart and remove the stone from the middle. Put an almond or walnut piece where the stone used to be. Put the dates onto a piece of baking tray or heat proof dish.

dates3

Next put the honey into a pan and heat it on a stove. Let the honey boil for a few minutes until it has reduced by half. You will need to get an adult to do this bit as the honey will get very hot. Take the honey off the heat and let it cool slightly before pouring it over the dates. Sprinkle the dates with a pinch of salt before the honey sets.

dates4

Warning: do not touch the dates until they have completely cooled. The honey will look and smell very tempting, but will still be very hot.

Sprinkle some chopped nuts over the dates before serving (optional). These would probably have been served as a dessert at a Roman feast along with fresh fruit like apples, pears and grapes, some nuts and cheese.

Why not invite your family to your Roman meal? You could lounge on some cushions on the floor while you eat with your fingers. You could get some entertainment too – how about reciting some poetry, watching some gladiators sparring, or just have a philosophical conversation about the meaning of life?

Enjoy!

 

Make a Roman Wax Tablet

wax tablet woman

Writing tablets have been used for thousands of years, long before paper was readily available. In ancient Greece and Rome, wax tablets were very popular. These were small, book sized wooden tablets that were hollowed out on one side and covered with a thin layer of wax. You could write on the wax with a stylus – a pointy tool made of metal, wood or bone. If you wanted to change your message you could either smooth the wax out again or heat it up to melt it. Two tablets were often tied together so they could be open and shut like a book, protecting your writing.

wax tablet

The pictures above were found on walls in Pompeii. Real wax tablets have been found in many places and were used for lots of different things including lessons, letters, lists and birth certificates. A few were found in Vindolanda, a Roman fort on Hadrian’s wall.

Here is how to make one of your own.

You will need:

  • cardboard
  • glue
  • scissors
  • black and brown poster paint
  • wax – melt some old candle stubs, or buy some wax from a craft shop
  • saucepan and an old bowl or tin

Note: If you do not want to use wax I’m sure some non-drying modelling clay would also work well.

First cut out four pieces of cardboard – you could use a paperback book for a template. Using a ruler draw a line 2cm in from the edge of two of the pieces. Cut out the centre from these two pieces. Stick them on to the rectangles.

waxtab7

Paint the cardboard with a mixture of the brown and black paints to make it look like wood.

waxtab5

Make some holes on the edges so you can tie some string through the two tablets. You will have to be careful – get an adult to help.

waxtab3

Once the paint has dried you can prepare your wax. You will need an adult to do this part. It needs to be melted in a double boiler – put the wax in the bowl or tin, and place it in the saucepan quarter filled with hot water. The pan can now be gently placed on the stove and the wax will slowly melt.

waxtab4

Once it is all melted, brush or pour a thin layer into the space in your tablets. Don’t pour in too much or it will just leak out. Once that has set you can pour another layer on top.

waxtab1

Leave the wax to cool down and harden before trying it out.

waxtab2

Have fun!

How to make a Roman serpent bracelet

serpentpint

Romans loved jewellery and solid gold bracelets and rings were often worn by women. Bracelets in the form of snakes were very popular and it was thought that the were worn for protection as they would ward off evil.

They were often worn in pairs around the wrists or upper arms.

Have a look at this beautiful example which was found in Pompeii. http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/pompeii_and_herculaneum/highlight_objects.aspx  If you live near London why not go along to the British Museum this summer to have a look at it?

Here is a quick and easy way to make your very own serpent bracelets. You will need some toilet roll tubes, scissors and pencil and some gold paint.

Firstly, draw the outline of your snake gently spiralling around the outside of the tube.

serpent-1

serpent2

 

We used spray paint which is very quick but you could easily paint it with gold poster paint.

serpent4

You could add details with pencil or pen, or even add some gems or glitter glue.

Why not make a Roman gown to go with it?

We would live to see your finished bracelets – send us some photos to gallery@timetravellerkids.co.uk