Vale, Britannia!

You might enjoy Mary Beard on the proposed disappearance of Britannia from a coin.

Did the weather cause the decline and fall of the Roman Empire?

At first glance this article by Tim Case looks well argued and worth the attention of anyone interested in the causes of the fall of Rome. An extract:

If we look at history we find some very interesting events surrounding temperature change and agriculture during the last years of the Roman Empire.

For much of the history of the Roman Empire, ca. 500 BC until the Empire fell apart just prior to 500 AD the Roman Empire (including England) flourished owing to mild weather conditions. Warm weather allowed grapes and olives to be grown further north, and good rains allowed the Romans to buy abundant crops of grain from across the Mediterranean and in North Africa.

The three most important agricultural products traded in the Roman world – grain, wine and olive oil – were abundant and they created a very wealthy class of merchants. Great care was also taken to secure the routes needed to maintain a constant supply of corn from Egypt and Africa to feed the population of Rome.

However, by the close of the second century AD and early part of the third century, the Empire’s monetary policies were playing havoc with the Empire’s agriculture production. These monetary problems were nothing compared to what transpired when weather became a factor after 235 AD and the end of Severan dynasty.

The period from 235 AD to 284 AD was a half-century of unmatched calamity which nearly brought the Roman Empire crashing down on itself and was the result of constant unrepressed statism which had matured on the corpse of individualism and self-reliance with the passing of the Roman Republic.

The rigidity of the Roman psyche at this time, would not allow anything to exist in Roman territory that didn’t fit the Roman ideal of the Empire’s status quo. So when the Franks, Jutes, and Germanic Alemanni crossed the Rhine River and began to move back onto their ancient lands, and the Vandals, with the Goths, crossed the Danube River settling in the empire’s northeastern providences, there was nothing the Roman State could do but “suppress the uprisings.” The question is; were these migrations really uprisings against a failing Roman Empire or was something else the cause of these migrations?

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the third century AD was the beginning of one of the coldest periods in European history. If the data is correct then it would go a long way toward explaining those migrations from the north that the Romans ineptly called uprisings.

Rome and Jerusalem by Martin Goodman

Rome and Jerusalem by Martin Goodman
Tuesday, 29 Jan 2008 17:04
From In the News

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman. Penguin, published January 31, £9.99.

In a nutshell…

An epic telling of the original clash of civilizations

What's it all about?

As the People's Front of Judea concluded after asking “What have the Romans ever done for us?”, the city of Jerusalem blossomed under the Roman Empire, benefiting from strong trade links and centuries of peace and religious tolerance.

Such a happy coexistence was not to last however, with the fabled Temple of Jerusalem completely destroyed in 70AD by the future Emperor Titus and the Jewish people subjected to increased taxation and discrimination, culminating in the renaming of Judea to Palestina in a final push for political and religious hegemony.

Rome and Jerusalem therefore asks the question whether such a deterioration of relations between the two great cities was inevitable, or even deliberate, or whether it was an unintended consequence of political intrigues.

As such, the book not only addresses the issues of Roman imperialism and the place of religion within the state but also touches upon the origins of 2,000 years of Western anti-Semitism.

Who's it by?

Though he currently holds the prestigious title of Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford University and is a Fellow of the British Academy, Martin Goodman has gained admiration both among his peers and within the popular media for his ability to present rigorous scholarship in a compelling and accessible style. With this work, Professor Goodman engages with his principal area of expertise and interest, namely the relationship of the Jews to the wider Roman world, and his passion for and knowledge of the subject is evident throughout.

As an example

“Was there anything intrinsic in Jewish and Roman society that made it impossible for Jerusalem and Rome to coexist? Were the tensions which had so dramatic an effect in August 70 already apparent in 30 when Jesus preached in Jerusalem and died there on the order of a Roman governor? And, as early Christians began to carry their faith out from Jerusalem to the wider Roman empire, what was the effect of the conflict between Jews and Romans on the relations between Jews and Christians in a Roman world?”

Likelihood of becoming a Hollywood blockbuster

Certainly there are sufficient stand-out characters gracing the pages of this book to fill up several movies or thinking-man's TV series, from the scheming yet ultimately bumbling Emperor Vespasian to the Judean leader Agrippa, as the well-meaning people's hero who died tragically and unexpectedly before his time.

However, the sheer scope of the book, spanning centuries and dozens of separate wars and political intrigues, makes the story better suited to a grand narrative documentary series and, with the popular media increasingly attracted to themes such as the 'clash of civilisations' and the folly of stumbling into an unpopular war in a distant land, such a series could feasibly be forthcoming.

So is it any good?

Goodman's great skill lies in his vivid portrayal of the vanities and ambitions of the leaders of both sides and, as such, his overriding argument that the calamitous deterioration of relations between the two cities was almost a tragic accident caused by a series of decisions taken by Emperors interested solely domestic politics and glory, becomes highly plausible.

However, Rome and Jerusalem is not simply another 'Great Man' account of historical shifts, but rather the author cites contemporary accounts from observers such as Josephus and Pliny the Elder to give an equally vivid account of day-to-day life among the ordinary citizens of the two cities. Thus, readers benefit from a fuller context to the clash of the two cities, from daily religious observations to the differing trade and cultural priorities of the pair.

Given that the narrative rests so firmly upon contemporary observations, perhaps the book's only shortcoming is its use of endnotes rather than footnotes for referencing sources, though this is a tiny flaw in what is already being seen by many as the definitive account of the fate of Judaism in the Roman Empire.


David Hewitt

See also Telegraph review

Pompeii the Panto

This sounds like a Friday night at the ArLT Summer School.

Friends and Romans at city panto

Catherine Phillips from The Worcester Standard
30 January 2008

NAUGHTY goings-on in the Roman Empire are the subject of a pantomime by a popular local amateur group at Claines Church Hall, Cornmeadow Lane from Monday, February 11.

Claines Amatuer Theatre Society (CATS) present Pompeii the Panto – their eleventh pantomime and the fourth directed by Chris Hooper.

It is a story of simple folk during the time of the Roman Empire.

Nero the fiddlin’ Emperor comes to town to find Bilius, an evil Senator, trying to poison him.

A saucy Dame tries to give Nero a love potion, and Amnesia the Soothsayer tries to use a potion to make Bilius forget about the money she owes him!

Meanwhile poor Gladioli, Vanilla’s hapless son, just tries to avoid being eaten by the lions.

Pity the potions get mixed up though.

Can love conquer all and win through in the end?

CATS has created a wonderful, traditional Roman-panto-land storyline full to the brim of opportunities for the audience to cheer and boo.

The pantomime is running through half term providing good family entertainment to little children and older people alike.

Pompeii the Panto runs until Saturday, February 16 and tickets, costing £6, are available by calling 01905 458429.

• Tickets have sold out for Friday and Saturday showings.

Roman fort found in Cornwall

My uncle lived in Nanstallon, just outside Bodmin, and told me that the Roman fort there was the southernmost in the country. Now apparently there are two more. This is from This is Plymouth. The site has a nice slide show.


A previously unknown Roman fort has been found at Calstock in Cornwall, one of only a handful of sites giving evidence of Roman presence in the county, and the first found close to a silver mine.

Archaeologists from the University of Exeter say the site may be evidence the Romans mined tin in the county.

The hill-top site where the first-century fort is in an area known to have been involved with medieval silver mining in the 13th and 14th centuries.

University archaeologists became interested in the site when they found references in medieval documents to the smelting of silver at the old castle and next to the church in Calstock.

A geophysical survey – similar to an underground X-ray – clearly showed the outline of a feature that is a very similar shape to another Roman fort recently found near Lostwithiel, also in Cornwall.

The team started digging and uncovered the unique and instantly recognisable shape of a Roman military ditch, confirming their find as a Roman fort.

The fort, which measures about 80 square metres, was probably used as soldiers' barracks, workshops and stables, and is very well preserved.

It stands just a couple of miles away from a silver mine and has the remains of furnaces – indicating smelting activity.

University of Exeter archaeologist Dr Stephen Rippon said it was an exciting find, which could yield important information in piecing together more about the Romans, who invaded Britain in 43 AD.

“When I first saw the results from the geophysical survey, suggesting the outline of a Roman fort, I could hardly believe my eyes,” he said.

“As an archaeologist it is so rare to find something so significant, which was previously entirely unknown.

“It's a very exciting discovery.”

“It's possibly a coincidence that the Roman fort and army were located so close to this mine but we do know elsewhere in Roman Britain that the Roman army were involved in mining minerals.

“Romans knew about Britain's rich mineral wealth and there's even evidence of tin being exported to Europe even before the Roman invasion.”

However, it is not known whether the Romans mined silver in the country, but radiocarbon dating tests on the fortress are being carried out to allow the team to date the industrial workings at the fort to discover whether the Romans were smelting silver.

Results are expected within the next few months.

“If we find this to be the case it could possibly be the first example of Romans silver mining in Britain,” Dr Rippon said.

“They would have dug up the ore, transported it back to camp and that's where they would have done the smelting.”

It is thought that the precious metal would then have been transported back to Italy where it would have been minted into coins for use within the empire.

“The Roman army only stayed in the South West for a few decades after the Conquest before moving on to Wales,” Dr Rippon said.

“This find could help us to understand whether they were merely keeping watch over the locals or were actually interested in exploiting commercial opportunities in the region.

“The discovery could therefore further our understanding of the rich history of mining in the county.

“It's only the third Roman fort in Cornwall.

“We know very little about what the Roman Army was doing down here.

“It could go some way to further explaining what attracted the Romans to Britain.”

The team of excavators, led by University of Exeter research fellow Chris Smart, has also dug up pottery, believed to be from the first century AD.

The research project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust with additional support from the University of Exeter.

The two other known sites of Roman forts in Cornwall are also in the South East of the county.

One was discovered last year near Restormel Castle, Lostwithiel, and the other is at Nanstallon, near Bodmin.

Both sites are close to mineral deposits in areas which are associated with tin mining.

The Hadrian's Wall cycle track.

I knew about the footpath that has been made for walkers of the Wall – too late for my own epic walk. That was opened in 2003, apparently. But I didn't realise that a track for cyclists was opened in 2006 (sorry, Trevor).

Anyway, there's a lively account from Diane Daniel (also in the Boston Globe) about the experience of cycling the Wall. Several pictures.

Premiere of new Asterix film

AFP has a sort of review of the new Asterix film. Not gushing.

PARIS (AFP) — Michael Schumacher racing a Roman chariot, Zinedine Zidane in unlikely Egyptian garb kicking a ball — “Asterix at the Olympic Games”, France's biggest-budget movie ever, was designed with a bit of magic Gallic potion to please any audience.

Whether the slapstick comic-book routine will work this time is a million-dollar question.

Produced at a record cost of 78 million euros (114 million dollars), its star cast and massive release on 5,000 screens in 40 European countries this week and next, is timed to benefit from the 2008 Olympic spirit, and its financial spin-off.

In terms of budget, it beats Luc Besson's two blockbusters “The Fifth Element” and “Arthur And The Minimoys” (1997 and 2006), but to get a payback on investment, the film will need to beat the two first Asterix films at the box office.


A pushy parent confesses: I turned my boys into Latin lovers

From the Sunday Times.

A pushy parent confesses: I turned my boys into Latin lovers

Deirdre Fernand finds that her young sons are enthralled by an educational trip to Pompeii — even if they do go somewhat adrift

Pushy parents. Along with social x-rays and stage mothers, we are one of the most maligned groups in our society. More than ever, we helicoptering parents, who hover over our offspring’s every move, need a political voice. With holidays doubling as field trips and all that private tutoring, it’s a costly business.

Where are our tax breaks? If we didn’t keep our children at home learning Greek and doing Grade 8 flute, they would be part of our Asbo nation. This year, with Common Entrance looming, the task was to provide an incentive to learn Latin. We were on our way to Pompeii (above).

Visiting the world’s most popular archeological site in the height of the summer holidays should have been sheer lunacy. But we went late in the afternoon. The site closes at 8pm and by six the crowds were dispersing and the evening cool was descending. We tramped its stony streets, seeing where the shop fronts and the finest villas had been and where fast food was sold to first-century Romans. To the delight of the guides, whose enthusiasm never falters, the red-light district has been restored. Here citizens could rent rooms by the hour, and gaze upon wall paintings of priapic scenes to get in the mood.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento. Owned by the Fiorentino family since 1834, the hotel was built on the site of one of the villas of Emperor Augustus. When the swimming pool was being refurbished, workmen uncovered the emperor’s own pool, and part of its remains are now covered under glass. The view from the Excelsior takes in the bay of Naples and the island of Capri and sweeps round to take in Vesuvius. It’s hard to tear yourself away. In fact, it takes all your willpower to go out for the day. The staff will pack you a picnic and direct you to the Circumvesuviana — a private railway that goes to the gates of Pompeii. That way you avoid the madness of the summer traffic and the annoyance of the Vespas. Pompeii succeeded in enthralling two proto-teenagers. It’s a good idea to look at a few websites before you go (try and the BBC’s history site). And hiring an English-speaking guide is essential for answering all those questions that obsess small boys. Did the victims suffocate or incinerate? (Both.) What were the toxic fumes? (Sulphur.)

As a reward for paying attention, we left the crowds of the Amalfi coast and drove two hours south to the Cilento for bucket-and-spade time. This little- known area is where the Italians, mostly Neapolitans, holiday. Most of it is a national park and its sandy coastline is deserted even in mid- August. We stayed at Hotel L’Approdo in the resort of Santa Maria di Castellabate, which has a seductive beach. On the first day we were so busy admiring the bay that within five minutes our boys had been swept out and had to be rescued by lifeguards. Red with embarrassment, we could only mumble our thanks. We were unlucky — only a small part of the bay has this dangerous current.

This is a small, friendly resort with a good choice of hotels. The Palazzo Belmonte, built 400 years ago as a royal hunting lodge, is luxurious. L’Approdo offers value for families. And the more secluded Hermitage above the village has mesmerising views.

The next day, our boys tiptoed into the water. Shamefaced and fearful after the rescue, we borrowed binoculars and told the lifeguards when and where they were swimming. That day, and the next, we would hover. For ever.

"The Latin Mass Explained"

Whether this book, The Latin Mass Explained, explains the Latin or just the ritual I don't know.

Turkey and the Classics – the argument continues

American Chronicle on Turkey as a birthplace of European civilisation.

By Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
January 26, 2008

Due to an article published 2 weeks ago under the title “Turkey as Birthplace of the European Identity, and Mr. Markus Soeder's Historical Ignorance”

(, I had the opportunity to receive extensive feedback from various readers; one comment was published online ( and is truly enlightening; not in the sense that it supports my analysis but due to the fanatic defense of a false version of pseudo-History, which – discriminatory and absolutely inaccurate – is totally detrimental for those who believe it.

I will republish the comment integrally, and then refute the historical inaccuracies and misconceptions therein attested; numbers inserted in the text correspond to the points of my commentary.

Read the whole article