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.
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."