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Edible Architecture: Hadrian’s Wall

Among the most creative of our edible construction projects was Hadrian’s Wall. This project was very unique, very different from other projects of its kind. First, instead of recreating a finished structure, we opted to recreate the structure in process. Second, this project did not use any gingerbread. However, like all of our other edible architecture projects we did recreate a structure that was significant to the classical world, and every piece was edible.

Background

As far as recorded history tells us, the Romans first contact with Britain came in 55 B.C. and again in 54 B.C. as an extension of Caesar’s invasion of Gaul. Caesar crossed the English channel, battled the Celts, proved the valor and might of Rome, then left. His interactions with the natives of Britannia is recorded in Book IV of his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentary on the Gallic War). While the Romans did establish some interactions with the ancient Brits in terms of trade and diplomacy and a few smaller invasions, the next full scale invasion did not occur for nearly a century.

In AD 43 the emperor Claudius launched an invasion for the published purpose of reinstating Verica, an exiled king. However, the emperor also ended up making the southern area of Britain into a Roman Province, complete with Roman governor. That first governor would be none other than Claudius’ own general Aulus Plautius. (motives? hmmmm)

Fast forward another half century to Gnaeus Julius Agricola, a later governor of Britain. Agricola began his military career in Britain. He later supported Vespasian in his bid for emperor during the volatile year of AD 69. Vespasian rewarded Agricola with the governorship of Britain in AD 77. During his time as governor, Agricola circumnavigated the British Isle, invaded Scotland, and even ventured into Ireland.  His son-in-law was the historian Tacitus, which proved rather convenient for preserving his legacy. Thanks to Tacitus and his desire to promote his father-in-law (and thus his own family connections) we can read about the geography and ethnography of ancient Britain in De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae.

English-Heritage.org (link provided in resources below)

The Celts, however, did not appreciate Roman rule and their frequent harassment of the settlements necessitated some action. This is where we bring Hadrian into the story. The Emperor Hadrian, known as one of the five good emperors, ruled Rome in AD 117-138. The emperor is well known for consolidating the empire, better defining and defending boundaries, and most of all for building really cool things. Hadrian loved the art and engineering of architecture. He is the mastermind behind the reconstruction of the Pantheon with its impressive dome (See Gingerbread Pantheon). Hadrian visited Britain in AD 122 after a string of rebellions in the previous three years. During his stay he planned the construction of a wall extending from coast to coast that would define Rome’s boundary and keep out the Celtic barbarians. In some places the wall is rather low, in others quite high. A “milecastle” was built at each mile interval with smaller towers and forts in between. The wall still exists today and serves as a window into the past; life on the Roman frontier. One of my dreams is to one day hike the wall, now a National Trail in Britain. Links for other websites on Hadrian’s Wall are provided towards the end of this post.

Edible Architecture Project

“Vallum Aelium” Hadrian’s Wall at Saturnalia by Grace Academy. Click on image for a magnified view.

The Grace Academy Classics Club recreated Hadrian’s Wall in AD 2011. Our creation shows a great engineering project in progress. Gingerbread just wouldn’t do this structure justice. We used sugar cubes instead. Sugar cubes better resembled the cut stone used to build the wall in some places (other sections used uncut stone or even turf). One of our men can be seen pushing a sugar stone block up a rampart. Our structure also shows one of the fortified towers. These were not as large as the milecastles, but were still designed to hold a single auxiliary unit.  Although manned by these auxiliary troops, it was the Roman legionaries, trained in building fortifications, that built the wall and its forts. Our replica shows them in their camp enjoying a nice fire. For our holiday purposes, the soldiers are enjoying Saturnalia and the celebration of the Winter Solstice with forest trees decorated for the occasion. Of course, even on holiday the Roman soldiers can’t let their guard completely down. Thus you see a Roman soldier stationed on the wall.

Hadrian’s wall in some places had a maximum height of about 15 feet (4.6 metres) and was 10 Roman feet (3 metres) wide. This made a space wide enough for a walkway along the top, perfect for keeping an eye on the Celtic peoples on the other side. Of course, the Celtic people (like the little blue guy in our scene) kept their eyes on the Romans too.

The wall, as written above, is made of sugar cubes. The tents are graham crackers covered with pieces of fruit roll-ups. Marzipan and fondant both serve as excellent material for creating figurines such as soldiers, Celts, logs, and horses. Dirt can be made from cocoa powder or coffee grounds or maybe a mocha combo of both – choose your scent. The fire is most ingenious. The flames are made from life savers that have been melted into thin sheets, then fractured. The whole scene creates that nice campfire glow and a hankering for s’mores.

For other delectable lessons in gingerbread architecture, visit the posts:

Gingerbread Pantheon

Gingerbread Greek Theater

Gingerbread Circus Maximus

Click on image for a magnified view so as to better see details.

 

Resources:

Ancient Vine: Hadrian’s Wall

Following Hadrian: Hiking Hadrian’s Wall

English Heritage: Hadrian’s Wall

 

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