Two thousand years ago the newly formed Roman Empire was in expansion mode. The next century would see the Romans create the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. They would conquer France (Gaul), Germania, Britannia, Egypt, the whole Middle East and North Africa. At this point they were invincible.
Was it superior military tactics? Was it advanced weaponry? Or was it the blood of ancient warriors? The story of how hematite helped the Romans conquer Northern Europe.
Invincibility, Succes and Fortune
Plautius was one of the favorite Generals of Emperor Claudius. After sweeping through Northern Europe, they decided to invade Britannia, to protect their alliances.
They first landed on British shores in 43 AD, and each night before a battle, the Roman Legions would set up camp on the highest land they could find. If the earth beneath them was red, then this was a promising sign for the next battle.
They believed that red earth was the bloodshed over an ancient battlefield. This was a positive omen that Mars, the God of War, was by their side. This red clay was named hematite, from the Latin word haima (blood).
Mixed into the soil, Hematite appears blood red due to oxidization. On the morning of a battle, Plautius would order Roman soldiers to smear this ‘blood’ all over their bodies. This gave them the protection and invincibility of Mars.
Luckily for them, they found a lot of red earth Earth in Britannia.
Upon victory, Roman Generals would take a piece of earth from the battlefield, and they would carry this into the next battle for luck. Soldiers knew that if polished, this red Hematite rock would turn into a shining dark silver.
As a show of military prowess, these rocks would be inset into signet rings, cameos or other decorative jewelry when they returned to Rome. After his time conquering the hematite-rich soils of Northern Europe, Plautius was famed for his multitude of dark silver adornments. A symbol of his invincibility, success and fortune.