Monday, 6 December 2010

No Romans in China

The Lost Ninth Legion has been a recurring theme on this blog since 2007 (revisited in 2008 and 2009). And, with the new Eagle movie about to hit the big screen, there will no doubt be further revisiting.

But, from all of my previous posts, one which I never imagined revisiting was last year's Rome and China offering. But it seems that the theme of Romans in China is, again, in the headlines.

Daily Mail's picture

Chinese villagers 'descended from Roman soldiers'

This was the headline trumpeted on 23 November by no less an authority than The Daily Telegraph. Tests apparently showing 56% Caucasian DNA amongst the inhabitants of the Chinese village of Liqian, coupled with the fact that "many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair", was enough to start the speculation that these people were "descended from the lost legion". (Don't panic -- it's not the Lost Ninth Legion, but a different one.)

The story was quickly picked up by the other newspapers (e.g. The Daily Mail) and, naturally, the bizarre theory of the village's Roman origins popped up. This was the brainchild of the late Homer H. Dubs in 1957 (in a book and article entitled A Roman City in Ancient China).

(I am surprised to see that I have not blogged on this before. It is a fascinating lesson in misguided scholarship, but must wait for another occasion.)

But, now -- thank the Olympian Gods for Discover magazine! Sanity has been restored. In an article from 29 November entitled No Romans needed to explain Chinese blondes, genetics commentator Razib Khan explains that the neighbouring Uyghur population were a Turkic ethnic group with a physical European appearance. It is quite likely that the Han Chinese, expanding their influence to the north-west, came into contact with these people. It's far more likely, at any rate, than Homer Dubs' theory of a colony of Romans!

Well, there goes another plank in the "Romans in China" theory. But, like our Lost Ninth Legion, I suspect that this story will run and run.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Roman twitter

Tullie House iTweetus imageThe Romans are tweeting. Whatever next?

Apparently, Roman experts at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle have decided to post a daily message on Twitter, purporting to be one of the "thousands of Roman soldiers marching in to occupy Cumbria in the winter of 72/73 AD". They call it iTweetus.

What a marvellous idea. The name "is a play on words of the celebrated novel I, Claudius, written in the form of an autobiography of a real Roman Emperor, Claudius I". (It's a sad day when we have to have I, Claudius explained to us. And only people who don't need it explained would know that the emperor Claudius was technically "the first", since a second, more obscure emperor of the same name reigned over 200 years later.)

Unfortunately, iTweetus doesn't have the wit and wisdom of Robert Graves, which is surely needed to pull off a stunt like this.

Daily Diary of a Roman Soldier

Our Roman soldier, Marcus Julius Latinus, takes his name from a fragment of a writing tablet dredged from a latrine deposit at Roman Carlisle. Probably dumped there in around AD 103/5, when the first fort was demolished, it must have lain in the latrine for quite some time if it was delivered to iTweetus "in the winter of 72/73 AD". He really ought to have taken better care of his correspondence.

The whole enterprise is evidently intended to be educational: the kind of thing that our American friends call info-tainment. But, as the daily diary of a Roman soldier, it comes across as rather a contrivance. The museum's Keeper of Archaeology, Tim Padley, evidently hopes that primary school children will follow iTweetus (Westmorland Gazette report). Hence the casual mention of Marcus' height ("At 5ft10” I used to tower over my siblings, in the Roman army my height is standard. I strain to see past others in to the distance") or his age ("At 26, I am not a stranger to the daily routine of a Roman Legionary, being stationed in Deva in the second legion for the past two years"). But who would note such banalities in their wartime diary?

If the exercise is an educational one, quite apart from avoiding factual error ("Our legion, named ‘Aditrix Pia Fidelis’ is full of good, brave men." It was actually called the Second Adiutrix legion), this old emperor wishes that the Tullie House "Roman experts" would spend a little more time on their grammar (Note: a comma is not a conjunction). And it would be nice if they placed "AD" in its grammatically correct position, before the numeral ("I am Marcus Julius Latinus, a Roman soldier marching on Northern Britannia by order of Emperor Vespasian in the winter of 72AD")

In particular, this old emperor hopes that none of the Cumbrian school children are sharp enough to realise that their Roman friend is using a dating system that wasn't devised until the Sixth Century!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Three-million-dollar Helmet

Crosby Garrett HelmetYou know that a story is important when the folks at National Geographic pick it up.

And so, this old emperor comes, somewhat belatedly, to the sorry tale of the Crosby Garrett helmet. By now, you've probably read all about it elsewhere.

And if there were any justice in the land, you would be able to view it, right now, in Tullie House Museum.

But it seems that there isn't. And you can't. But, if nothing else, the whole sorry affair should prompt English law-makers to revise their Treasure Act (1996), which considers only precious gold and silver to be worthy of note, and failed to protect this exquisite helmet because it is made of base metal.

Some press coverage:


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Romans in Germany

Germania BookThis old emperor rarely ventures outside of Rome, and usually confines himself to the new lingua franca of English. But he couldn't ignore the publication of an exciting new study by German publisher WBG, which traces Roman knowledge of deepest Germany.

It is well known that the Roman advance stalled on the Rhine, more or less. After a couple of punitive expeditions had reached as far as the River Elbe, the Roman frontier settled down along the line now known as the Obergermanisch-Raetischer Limes, which runs through the modern west German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Baden-W├╝rttemberg and Bavaria. It is generally agreed that the Romans had few dealings farther east.

Ptolemy's map

But the second century AD Geography of Ptolemy contains lists of placenames purporting to exist in Roman-era Germany. These have never raised much interest in the English-speaking world, which has been more intrigued by Ptolemy's Scottish placenames. So the new book promises to renew much overdue interest.

German magazine Der Spiegel has hailed the new book as the Google Earth of Antiquity! "Now a team of researchers have cracked the code, revealing that half of Germany's cities are 1,000 years older than previously thought." They may be a little premature in their claims -- only the book reviews will reveal how successful the authors have been in assigning Ptolemy's placenames to actual settlements.

WBG Article here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Why History should not be written by Journalists

Last week, the UK newspapers were full of an amazing new revelation. The Romans wore socks! The newsmen arrived at this earth-shattering conclusion via a convoluted path -- they were supposed to be reporting the excavation of an exciting Roman industrial complex -- and chose to spin their revelation as a new take on the tired stereotype of the "socks and sandals" fashion crime.

There are a number of points that should have caused any reasonably well-educated newspaper editor to rein in his over-enthusiastic minions. After all, the news was the discovery of Roman industrial activity near the site of a known fort at Healam Bridge, North Yorkshire. The opportunity could have been taken to inform the public that many forts are known to have had such manufacturing activity located nearby.

Instead, such venerable newssheets as The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and The Independent chose to emphasize the fact that "rust on a nail from a Roman sandal appears to contain fibres". (How do we know the nail was from a sandal and not a shoe? How do we know the fibres were from inside the putative sandal? What kind of fibres were they, anyway?)

Of course, newspapers are in the business of selling copies, not (necessarily) crafting a well-balanced report. The Independent mis-informs us that this "latest evidence corroborates the socks and sandal theory which first emerged when a Roman copper razor handle was recovered from the Tees near Darlington". No, it was well-known long before that. The Telegraph mistakenly assumes that the find shows "that legionnaires wore socks with sandals". No, legionnaires belong in Algeria, not in a North Yorkshire fort. Best of all, The Guardian's offering shamelessly centers on a reference to the Lost Ninth Legion and their (supposed) military outpost in Yorkshire. But pride of place must be shared with The Mail, speculatively describing the unexcavated Healam Bridge as "ruins which may once have been home to the famous Roman Ninth Hispanic Legion".

It all goes to show that History should not be written by journalists.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Why History should only be written by Historians

History is written by the victors. To anyone who finds this an unpalatable truth, I have one piece of advice: get over it. The history of Roman Britain will always be the history of the Romans in Britain. Archaeology can show us vignettes from the lives of ancient Britons, but it cannot give us a History of the Ancient Britons. All we can hope to do is to observe how the history of the Romans in Britain touched the lives of the native population.

One individual who has not realised this truth, or who has chosen to ignore it, is the owner of the Roman Scotland web site, one Euan Lindsay by name. I'm sure I have been here before, refuting false or misguided statements. A favorite topic of his seems to be how the academic establishment has conspired to falsify Romano-British history, particularly where the "Lost Roman Legion" is concerned. I believe that it is always bad form to begin with an agenda, but let us leave that aside.

Now Mr Lindsay is entitled to his own opinion. Indeed, he is positively encouraged to voice that opinion, as long as he sticks to the Rules of Historical Enquiry, because history is an academic discipline like any other. A physicist is not permitted to invent the results of falsified experiments. A statistician cannot arbitrarily skew the results of a survey to satisfy some personal belief. A mathematician cannot assume that a theorem is true without demonstrating the proof. Likewise, the historian is not allowed to make stuff up.

Mr Lindsay, unfortunately, is guilty of making stuff up. This simply will not do. He begins well enough, by listing the sources of evidence that he intends to utilise in tracking down the Lost Legion: namely,

  1. "the primary written sources from antiquity";
  2. "the archaeological source in the shape of marching camp remains" (I presume he does not literally mean the "shape" of the camps);
  3. "the tribes known to have been in conflict with Rome" (and here he begins to stray from "evidence" into "interpretation", if not wishful thinking); and
  4. "casting a canny eye over the landscapes that these factors point towards" (scientific analysis has now left the room)
His argument goes rapidly downhill, because he has not followed the Rules of Historical Enquiry. In category (1), his "ancient sound-bites" (a truly toe-curling phrase in this old emperor's opinion) are very woolly indeed. He claims that "when taken with the archaeological body of evidence of destruction in southern Scotland and along the Stanegate in 105 AD ..." (er, exactly what evidence is this?) "... it assists in painting a tantalising picture of the troubled years immediately preceding Hadrian’s ascension to power in 117 AD". Tantalising is, of course, the wrong word; vague, is more accurate.

Category (2), "the fragmentary remains of the once-mighty chains of camps which marked the progress of many Roman armies on campaign in Scotland" (once mighty? shudder), leads precisely nowhere. So it remains unclear how this can be "an incredibly fruitful – if speculative - line of enquiry".

Category (3), where Lindsay hopes to "glean a fair understanding of which tribes were frequently at odds with Rome", actually relies upon category (2), allegedly permitting us "to focus on marching camps which sit in the problematic lands of those notably intractable tribes". Which notably intractable tribes? On the one hand, Lindsay is arguing that marching camp = intractable tribe, but on the other hand, intractable tribe = marching camp; we could dance around this circle all day.

Finally, in category (4), "it is absolutely imperative that a quest like this is undertaken out in the countryside" ... where the truth will leap up and slap us in the face? What about all that careful sifting of (1) literary evidence, however tantalising, and (2) archaeological evidence, allegedly incredibly fruitful, and (3) tribal, er, evidence ...?

Any case based on these vague factors would (and should) be laughed out of Historical court. There's a reason why History should only be written by Historians.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Pictish Nationalism

Theodor de Bry's PictAs an outsider looking in -- I am, after all, a Roman emperor -- I am always bemused by the rampant Pictish nationalism on the internet. Whenever the subject of the Romans in Scotland arises, you can be sure that a Pictish sympathiser will pop up to berate us for our interest in an alien imperialist power. In any discussion of Caledonia, it seems that we should be rooting for the underdog, the downtrodden native.

The resurgence of interest in the Ninth Legion (see previous posts here and here) seems to have touched a Pictish nerve. And an earlier post on Roman Nonsense on the internet attracted a rash of argumentative comments from individuals with suspiciously Pictish names like Thormod and Calag.

It is one thing to be enthusiastically interested in a past culture, and steeping yourself in the evidence for that culture. After all, re-enactors do that, and occasionally come up with a surprisingly new slant on the ancient evidence. But it is quite another thing to be fanatically obsessed to the point that evidence no longer matters, and a blinkered anti-Roman, anti-imperialist view colors your judgment.

Still, at least the AlbaWest web site (which started that particular line of discussion) is now extinct. Just like the Picts.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Untold Invasion of Britain?

Readers in the UK recently had the opportunity to view a TV documentary entitled The Untold Invasion of Britain. Now, as a grizzled old Roman emperor, I know that there were two Roman invasions of Britain: Caesar's visits in 55 and 54 BC, and Claudius' invasion in AD 43. Readers of Wikipedia are even offered a third instance, when the province was recaptured from Carausius in AD 296 by Constantius Chlorus, on behalf of the western emperor, Maximian.

Channel 4 have now defined a fourth "invasion of Britain", when the emperor Septimius Severus visited the province in AD 208.

Channel 4 Bloody Foreigners

A Fourth Invasion?

They helpfully explain that their documentary is about "Rome's African Emperor who fought a brutal campaign in Britain, crossing Hadrian's Wall and helping to forge the English-Scottish divide familiar to us today".

I'm not certain that the modern Anglo-Scottish divide owes anything to Hadrian's Wall. Notice, for example, that nowhere does it mark the border between the two countries. Nor am I sure that the visit of a Roman emperor 1800 years ago could have had any influence on dividing two nations (the Scots and the English) which did not exist at the time. But I suppose Channel 4 had to somehow drum up interest in their documentary. (Although the fact that they couldn't simply tell the truth speaks volumes about the audience they expect to attract.)

Counter-insurgency, Roman-style

Interestingly, the documentary had another selling point. "In a mountainous land, at the limit of its influence, ..." [Afghanistan, anyone?] "... the world's only superpower ..." [America, anyone?] "... gets bogged down in an asymmetric war against a deadly insurgency ..." [Taliban, anyone?]

As I said, Channel 4 have to boost their documentary somehow. But there were far more serious flaws than this rather simplistic comparison with modern history. First, the dodgy CGI footage: "Brought to life with animated sequences based on contemporary Roman sources ..." Clearly an attempt to entertain the UK's youth, with their notoriously short attention span; but, in this grumpy old emperor's opinion, poorly (and repetitively) done.

To distinguish the historical scenes from the modern day live action we degraded the footage and bled the colours into each other, before adding a flicker and grain to replicate the appearance of old archive reels. The effect is designed ... to give the impression that archaeologists had unearthed an eighteen-hundred-year-old year old (sic) film, documenting Septimius Severus and his attempt to conquer the whole of the British Isles for his empire.
Who did they think would fall for this conceit? Or even enjoy it?

Channel 4 Bloody ForeignerSecond, the unfulfilled promises: "This programme follows Severus's trail from the magnificent remains at Lepcis Magna in the Libyan Desert, to the military hardware left by his campaign in Britain." I don't recall following any trail, but it was difficult to tell, with all the grainy, repetitive CGI scenes. I think we saw Leptis Magna. That was probably the place where Tom Holland, renowned Septimius Severus expert, gave us the benefit of his hard-won knowledge. (After all, it can't be easy for a novelist to suddenly become a Roman historian.) But what was this "military hardware left by his campaign in Britain"? I half-expected to see burnt-out tanks with Praetorian insignia, lying forgotten in the Tweeddale heathland.

Extraordinary documentary?

Channel 4 claim that they have told "the extraordinary story of a very bloody foreigner: the little-known Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, an African who seized Rome's Imperial throne in a vicious civil war and then fought a brutal campaign in Britain, transforming the country in his wake." Little-known emperor? Mehercle, if Channel 4 have heard of him, then he can't be little-known. An African? This, of course, was another major selling point: a foreigner, not only in Britain, but at Rome. However, as Channel 4 were forced to concede, North Africa was simply another region of the Roman empire: Septimius Severus was a Roman, not an African. brutal campaign in Britain? Okay, all Roman campaigns were, by definition, brutal. But transforming the country in his wake? What on earth were Channel 4 thinking of?

This old emperor's verdict? Must do better.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Battle at the Edge of the World

Mons Graupius AD83It seems that there is a new book about Mons Graupius, the famous battle in Scotland where the Roman army of Agricola defeated the Caledonian tribes and brought Britain into the Roman empire.

The battlefield is notoriously unlocated, with many candidates proposed over the years, and there are still those who cling to the previously-fashionable date of AD 84. But it looks as if we now have a firm date, at least.

All of this is good news. The last book about Mons Graupius appeared twenty years ago, and has long been out-of-print: if you can find a copy, you'll discover that Gordon Maxwell's A Battle Lost is a wonderful little book, beautifully written and meticulously researched by an acknowledged expert in Romano-Scottish archaeology. But Maxwell was unwilling to commit to one or other of the date ranges then current for Agricola's governorship (consequently dating the battle to AD 83/84), and favoured a southerly location for the battlefield. On the contrary, Tacitus' description would lead us to place the battle as far north as possible. And Tacitus is currently our only guide, until some metal-detectorists attempt to rectify the situation.

If Mons Graupius AD 83 delivers half as much as some other recent Osprey Campaign volumes (I have seen a particularly readable Pharsalus 48 BC, for example), then we are all in for a treat!

The book is available directly from Osprey Publishing.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

World-class Ephesus

EphesusI was amazed to discover that Ephesus is not yet a World Heritage Site.

In fact, the ancient town of Ephesus has been on UNESCO's tentative list since 1994 but seems never to have been formally nominated for recognition as a World Heritage Site.

This is odd. Ephesus seems to be an archaeological site of outstanding value, the primary qualification for recognition. It is also an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement which is representative of Graeco-Roman culture. This site should be at the top of the list.

Of course, a successful nomination brings expensive responsibilities, and Turkey already has nine other World Heritage Sites to look after.

But, at last, it seems that Ephesus is to be nominated (Balkan News report). Good luck, Turkey!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Lost Legion Lunacy

I have often heard people say: "I don't know anything about Art, but I know what I like." Such people enjoy art. But they would never dream of pontificating on the relative artistic merits of the Breughel family, for example. Nor would they presume to hold authoritative views on, say, the influences on Giacometti. For there is an unspoken acknowledgement that Fine Art is an academic discipline, in which scholars have worked for years to develop an individual expertise. Not so, archaeology.

Centurion movie still

The imminent release of Neil Marshall's Centurion movie is about to pour more fuel on one of this old emperor's favourite chestnuts: The Disappearance of the Ninth Legion.

This particular topic (on which I've written before, here and here) is a stark example of what I might call the Fine Art vs. Archaeology dichotomy. For, while most Fine Art enthusiasts draw the line at art appreciation, Archaeology enthusiasts feel quite at liberty to dream up their own theories, particularly when these fly in the face of accepted wisdom.

The Disappearance of the Ninth legion is one of these theories.

Ninth Legion Nonsense

This peculiar "have-a-go" attitude to Archaeology is (for this old emperor) typified by the Roman Scotland web site. There, the author (one Euan Lindsay) has the cheek to "make no guarantees as to the currency, accuracy, or quality of information stored here". And yet he is quite happy to trumpet the fact that "he takes a pride in getting the facts right" (why the disclaimer, then?) "and is passionate about real Scottish history, not fashionable myth or fable." Sadly, it seems that one man's "real Scottish history" is, in fact, archaeological myth and fable.

Mr Lindsay's irritating brand of historical fiction relies on half-truths and innuendo in order to disprove that "the legion was lost out-with of Scotland" (sic). His readers will come away imagining, erroneously, that scholars have located the disappearance of the Ninth Legion elsewhere, "as there is no evidence of the Ninth Legion being lost in Scotland". This is not the reason for locating the event elsewhere.

Nor is the scholarly argument "an anomaly attributable to the persuasive power of constant repetition by a vocal minority". (What vocal minority? The research is firmly based on a small corpus of academic articles, available for anyone to peruse, and conveniently listed here.)

Quite simply, Mr Lindsay's chosen career as a tour guide in Perthshire requires him to locate the disappearance of the Ninth legion in his back yard, so that he can entertain parties of paying tourists. Now, why doesn't he just admit that, instead of twisting the Archaeology to suit his own purposes? "I don't know much about Archaeology", he could say, "but I know that I'd really like the Ninth Legion to have been lost in Scotland."

Friday, 2 April 2010

Pontius McPilate

Pontius Pilate inscriptionIt is Easter again, so (following the tradition set in previous years) it is time for an Easter post, and what better subject for a Roman emperor to select than the infamous governor of Judaea himself, Pontius Pilate.

Prefect of Judaea

The only inscription to name Pilate (pictured on left) was discovered during Italian excavations at Caesarea-on-Sea in 1961.* It was of immediate interest, not only for its rarity, but also because it confirmed Pilate's title as Praefectus Judaeae, "Prefect of Judaea". (Owing to ancient damage, only ECTVS IVDAE can be read on line 3.) This was exciting news, because the later historians Tacitus and Josephus had named him "Procurator of Judaea", a title that only came in with Claudius, whereas Pilate was governor under Tiberius. (Wisely, the New Testament writers simply called him "governor".)

The Scottish Connection

Long before 1961, Scottish antiquarians had laid claim to Pontius Pilate. The story is an amusing one, originating in a nineteenth century book entitled Historic Scenes in Perthshire. Its author, William Marshall, writes:

Fortingall was the birthplace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea in the days of our Saviour! It is said that, a short time before our Saviour's birth, Caesar Augustus sent an embassy to Scotland, as he did to other countries ...; that his ambassadors found Metellanus, the Scottish king, in this Grampian region; that one of those ambassadors was the father of Pontius Pilate, whose famous son was born as he and his associates sojourned there fulfilling their mission; and that it was at Fortingall that the son first saw the light.

The prehistoric homestead of Dun Geal was even suggested as Pilate's retirement home!

The obviously fictitious story was further reinforced by the reported discovery, during the construction of the church in 1900, of a slab incised with the letters P P. Besides the famous yew tree, thought to be 2,000 years old, the area is known for its prehistoric cup-marked stones and Christian cross slabs. But there is currently no sign of the P P stone.

Pontius McPilate

His surname, often a descriptive knickname adopted by a Roman family, perhaps means "thick-haired", which is ironic given the predilection for crew-cut individuals (e.g. James Nesbitt in The Passion) to play the part in movies.

In reality, Pilate probably hailed from Italy, specifically from Campania where several other individuals named Pontius are known. But wherever he was born, it certainly wasn't Scotland.

* A. Frova, "L'inscrizione di Ponzio Pilato a Cesarea", Rendiconti 95 (1961), 419-434 (whence AE 1963,104).

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Out Of Date?

Old BooksWhen does a book become out-of-date?

I recently followed an amusing exchange of views on the Roman Army Talk forum. A lurker can often turn up gems of information there, in amongst the usual silly questions and horseplay that make up the bulk of any online forum. There are some familiar names -- the novelist Ben Kane and the ancient world blogger Jona Lendering pop in and out -- but RAT has not yet attracted the big guns.

The thread that I was following began innocuously enough -- as many forum threads do -- but in the course of page 3, a new debate emerged, such is the beauty of our dynamic medium. From a rather dull discussion of mules in the Roman army, I was suddenly plunged into a debate about an out-of-date book. Or -- as one of the writers belatedly concedes -- an "allegedly" out-of-date book!

How outdated is out-of-date?

This got me thinking. When does a book become outdated? As an old Roman emperor, I have enjoyed many classic books over the years. My shelves still proudly display Henry Parker's Roman Legions, a book written in the 1920s, and Leonard Cheesman's Auxilia of the Roman Imperial Army, an even older book. They still have their value, perhaps because they did not claim to be comprehensive. And they still read like classics.

The main protagonist on the RAT thread (easily identifiable by his lengthy posts, liberally spattered with flashing icons that proclaim "I laugh in your face!") was feverishly championing a book from 1983. Quite recent, in the grand scheme of things. (I wasn't even 1900 years old then.) The book, Roman Forts of the first and second centuries AD in Britain and the German Provinces, although long out of print, can still be acquired from second-hand dealers. But, as other postings on the thread pointed out, much has changed since 1983. What began life as a comprehensive guidebook can no longer be considered as such. Other guidebooks have been fortunate in achieving updated second and third editions. Because, as one posting pointed out: "archaeology marches on".

I think a book is out-of-date only when it is superseded, when a new batch of information makes the old batch no longer representative of the subject. It's probably time for a new Roman Forts book.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Richard Hook Remembered

Richard Hook at OspreyNo sooner have we celebrated the career of the wonderful Jean Simmons, than news arrives of the passing of talented historical illustrator Richard Hook.

Contributor to Look and Learn magazine and art editor of Finding Out magazine during the 1960s, he is probably best known for his work on Osprey Publishing's military history titles. He passed on his artistic talent to son, Adam, and daughter, Christa.

A specialist in Native American culture, he illustrated a series of American Civil War and War of Independence titles, as well as The American Plains Indians, American Woodland Indians, American Indians of the South-east and The Apaches.

He will be best known to ancient history enthusiasts as the illustrator of The Spartan Army, Early Roman armies, Armies of the Carthaginian Wars, The Praetorian Guard, and the battles of Marathon and Granicus.

Obituary: Osprey web site

Friday, 29 January 2010

Jean Simmons Remembered

The Robe cinema posterJean Simmons has died at the age of 80.

The wonderful English actress, who came to Hollywood in the 1950s, starred in such memorable epics as The Robe (1953, with Richard Burton and Victor Mature), The Egyptian (1954, with Victor Mature), and Spartacus (1960, with Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier).

Reduced to television work in the 1970s and 1980s, redeemed only by her role in The Thorn Birds, she made a triumphant return to the big screen with How To Make An American Quilt (1995).

Obituaries: BBC | Daily Telegraph | Daily Telegraph (culture) | New York Times |

Monday, 4 January 2010

Roman Holiday

Happy New Year! During the holiday break, I came across a report in The Largs & Millport Weekly News, a major source of information for Cunninghame residents. The article was entitled "Was Largs a Roman Holiday Resort?". I'm pretty sure the answer is "No".

Romans on the Clyde Coast

Map of Roman Clyde Coast

As a venerable old emperor, I took the liberty of consulting the relevant OS map (pictured left, with modifications so as not to contravene the Crown Copyright). Here, you can see (top right) the very end of the Antonine Wall, as it runs down to the Clyde at Old Kilpatrick. You can also see the forts of Old Bishopton (on the grounds of Whitemoss Farm) and Barochan (on Barochan Hill). At Bishopton, no traces remain above ground, but finds of pottery excavated in the 1950s demonstrate that the fort belonged to the Antonine frontier system. By contrast, excavation in the 1980s at Barochan, where humps and bumps can be seen in some scrubby woodland, showed that the fort was from an earlier period (usually termed "Agricolan"), some 50 years before the Antonine Wall.

Moving left, you can see the fortlet at Lurg Moor, which was probably associated with the Bishopton fort. (Fragments of Antonine pottery were found during excavation in the 1950s.) And then, moving round the coast, we come to Outerwards, where another Antonine fortlet was excavated in 1970. And that's it. The Roman army left no further traces in Largs district.

The Largs newspaper report mentions "the days when the Romans resided by its shores", but sadly this is probably fantasy. The "old Roman coins and paving underneath the Post Office in Main Street", allegedly found in 1820, were never substantiated. Enquiries in the 1970s failed to turn up any sign of the coins, and it is anybody's guess what the paving tiles were. The "Roman well found in Nelson Street" is probably a half-remembered recollection of a roughly circular Bronze Age burial cist excavated there in the 1950s in advance of construction work. And the final piece of evidence, that "Knock Hill was a Roman fort", is -- unfortunately -- mistaken. Knockside Hill (or Knock Hill), just above Largs, has produced two small cairns, which are presumably prehistoric. There were no associated finds.

It is quite likely that Romans traversed the river valleys down to Irvine Bay, but we are a long way from imagining Romans promenading along the front at Largs.