Rhiannon Ash Meets... Tacitus

Rhiannon Ash Meets... Tacitus

The perfect companion for dinner? Ninety nine peop...

Claudius: An Unlikely Conqueror

Claudius: An Unlikely Conqueror

When asked to name the great conquerors of history...

New Eyes on Combat Trauma

New Eyes on Combat Trauma

Trying to study ancient history without discussing...

Tacitus, Agricola and Britain

Tacitus, Agricola and Britain

The Roman historian Tacitus’ brief biography of hi...

Edith Hall Meets... Aristophanes

Edith Hall Meets... Aristophanes

If I could bring one figure from the ancient world...

An Iris lesson filmed by Classics Confidential


Excavating a Roman Town: the Silchester Town Life Project

Silchester aerial view from west

The Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum at Silchester, Hampshire in southern England is, perhaps, the best known of the towns of Roman Britain.  The reason for this is that, over 20 years around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, early archaeologists gradually, block by block, uncovered the remains of all the buildings within the town walls.  By 1908, and for the first time anywhere in the Roman Empire, a complete plan of a Roman town, with its regular street grid, public and private buildings, had been recovered.  Hundreds of finds representative of the life of the town had been made and these were displayed in Reading Museum as an enduring record of the excavation.  As for the town itself, the interior was returned to arable cultivation and only the impressive and well preserved defensive walls and the amphitheatre remained for the visitor to see. 

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Claudius: An Unlikely Conqueror

When asked to name the great conquerors of history, chances are you’ll think of a younger man.  Alexander the Great was just twenty-five when he defeated the great King of Persia.  Scipio Africanus – the Roman general who finished off Hannibal – was also twenty-five when appointed directly by the People’s Assembly to his command.  Napoleon was twenty-six when he was made commander of the French armies in Italy, and he returned to France the following year a hero.

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A Romp Through I, Claudius

One Christmas (too many years ago), my trembling, puerile hands grasped the wrapping paper as I ripped off the colour to reveal editions of both I, Claudius and its sequel Claudius the God. My joy at this discovery far out-reached (no doubt to some embarrassment) the excitement with which I opened my main present. That night, I went to bed and opened the volume to read lines now committed to memory: “I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus this-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles), who was once, and not so long ago, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot", or "That Claudius", or Claudius the Stammerer", or Clau-Clau-Claudius", or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius", am now about to write this strange history of my life.…”

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Tacitus, Agricola and Britain

The Roman historian Tacitus’ brief biography of his esteemed father-in-law Cn. Julius Agricola, which he wrote in late 97 / early 98 CE, is acknowledged to be one of our most important literary sources on ancient Britain.  It is not, of course, the earliest: Julius Caesar, who invaded Britain two years in a row (55 and 54 BCE) when he was in the process of conquering Gaul, provided accounts of his actions there in his Gallic War (4.20-36 and 5.8-23) and even a brief description of the inhabitants.  Thereafter a number of Roman and Greek writers included information on Britain in a variety of historical and geographical works.  Tacitus duly notes this abundance of earlier material, but justifies providing yet another account by asserting that it was only in his day that the island was ‘thoroughly conquered’; whereas earlier writers had to compensate for their ignorance with a lot of fancy language, he himself will relay reliable fact (Agricola 10.1).

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When Did Roman Britain Start?

Once upon a time there were some simple answers to that simple question. Julius Caesar spent much of the 50s BC making war in what is now France in an effort to acquire the money, fame and loyal soldiers he would need to win the next round of political competition in Rome. Each year at the end of the campaigning season he would send despatches back to Rome reporting on his successes. We no longer have the original versions read out the senate and people of Rome (SPQR) but we do have a polished account usually entitled On the Gallic War (de bello Gallico or DBG for short). What DBG reports to SPQR is that towards the end of the campaigning season in 55 BC Caesar built a fleet on the Channel Coast, sailed it to Dover and so became the first Roman general to cross the stream of Ocean, the great circular sea that ancient geographers believed encircled the inhabited world. Next year Caesar returned, won further victories and then resumed his continental campaigns. No Roman army visited the island again for nearly a century until the emperor Claudius launched an invasion from a now fully pacified Gaul. Britain was now the new frontier. From AD 43 on that frontier was gradually extended ever northwards to the mouths of the Glens. Between Caesar and Claudius the surviving Greek and Latin texts preserve just a few of the PR announcements on Britain. “Britain was effectively subjected” was one line. Another ran “Britain was so poor it would not repay the cost of occupation”. More than one court poet predicted an imminent resumption of conquest. Perhaps that was what wore Claudius down in the end. But take your pick, Roman Britain starts with Caesar or it starts with Claudius, 55 BC or AD 43.

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The Stanegate Frontier: Life in Roman Britain Before Hadrian's Wall

Vindolanda site showing the fort and vicus. The Stanegate road is the linear feature just to the north of the site.

During the Roman Army’s push into the north of the British Isle (AD 60-84) a road was established which connected the narrow part of northern England between the Tyne and Irthing Valleys. Although the Romans would have had a name for this road which is lost to us we now know it by its old English name as the Stanegate Road (meaning ‘stone road’). The road ran from the Roman fort at Corbridge (Corstopitum or Coria) in the east to the Roman fort at Carlisle (Luguvalium) in the west. It traversed through natural gaps formed by the valleys and was different from most Roman roads as it followed the easiest gradient instead of a straight path as most Roman roads do.

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Whose Empire Is It Anyway?

Was the Roman Empire a beacon of civilisation or a mechanism of exploitation? Did it exist to spread peace, prosperity, and enlightenment? Or was it a ruthless system of robbery with violence to enrich the 1%?

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