[HNW] (OT) Romano-British Interlacing (long)

Eowyn Amberdrake eowyna at sca-caid.org
Wed Apr 30 10:14:16 PDT 2003

Hello all, again, from Eowyn Amberdrake!

I am not proposing that the artists of the Roman empire
 were directly responsible for the distinctly Insular
interlacing style of the 7th century and later.  But it is
clear that interlacing / plaitwork / knotwork appears in
one particular context the British Isles long before the
6th century.  That context is floor mosaics.  The  Roman
knotwork characteristics are not fully similar to the
later Insular knotwork  (no breaks, coloring style is
different), but they still may have used a dots method for
layout, and enclosed it all within boxes.

But here is some of the Romano-British information:

Note that the various scholars discussing interlace
designs in Britain seem to ignore the Romans. Perhaps this
is because the interlace designs they used apparently did
not get picked up by the native Britons at that time.  For
the sake of completeness on the topic of the history of
interlacing in Britain, I will summarize their examples

Roman floor mosaics often used both key and interlace
designs.  The most common "interlace" is the simplest: a
twist. This is represented by two strands going over and
under, like interlocking sine waves.  In  the Roman
mosaics, there is a dot of another color separating the
top of one loop from the bottom of the other. The center
dots are often white.  The strands are colored along their
length, in three or four colors. The darkest color
outlines the strand on each side, then one side is shaded
with the dark tone (or sometimes a slightly lighter one),
then a medium tone down the center, with light on the
other side.  The strands are of an even width throughout,
and are not interrupted by any breaks in the pattern.

In Burke?s book, p. 50, are some pictures of Roman mosaics
in Britain, but there are many books in which British
examples of Roman mosaics can be seen.  The mosaic
pavement at Woodchester, Gloucestershire is the largest
one found north of the Alps.  It is unclear whether the
photo in Burke is of this original, or of the modern copy
created for public viewing that is located in the
Tabernacle Church in Wotton-under-Edge.

This pavement has a continuous three-strand plait around
the edge and around the outside of interior circles.
 Various inset areas have square knots (in what I would
call a 4-dot x 4-dot grid), as well as smaller twists.
 All have a dot of white between the plaits, and all are
colored continuously along the strands in the shaded
manner explained above.  This is but a single example of
many that could have been chosen, though few are as large
and complete.

The Romans under Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC,
and stayed until about 410 AD.  While Britain was part of
the Roman Empire, there was a military presence. I have
read (though cannot cite it specifically)  that many of
the soldiers stationed in Britain were in fact from other
Roman provinces in Northern Europe, rather than all from
Italy, and that when these soldiers retired, they tended
to stay in Britain. Thus, we have a slow migration of
Germanic people into England, in addition to the native
Celtic tribes.

Just adding another strand to the tangle.

Eowyn Amberdrake
(OL, O Pel, Baroness of Lyondemere)

aka Melinda Sherbring, Los Angeles
aerospace engineer

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