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!


  1. Some school children may be sharp enough, but those are the ones that read books and don't spend hours on Twitter. ;)

    Oops, I got the AD thing wrong myself. I've seen yearAD so often that use it that way.

  2. You are not alone, Gabriele. In USA, they seem to have given up, and just accept "72 AD", instead of the grammatically correct "AD 72". (The word anno means "in the year", so it has to come first, otherwise it makes no sense ... to an old, grumpy emperor, at any rate.)

  3. This is standard in Canada as well.

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  5. Well, thank you, Ranganath. (Actually, I gave up following iTweetus. It wasn't very interesting.)