Category: bija-knowles

Time Team Excavates One of Roman Britain’s Largest Buildings at Castor

Channel 4’s Time Team has been excavating in the graveyard of a church in the village of Castor, Cambridgeshire and has come up with some compelling evidence that confirms the presence of a large Roman building. Known as the praetorium, the third century building is thought to have been the second largest Roman building in Britain.

While the Time Team have not yet reached their conclusions, they have found a Roman mosaic pavement, the foundations of a very large building or set of buildings, which include Roman baths, as well as signs of Saxon occupation after the Romans withdrew from Britain.

Peterborough Today reported that the Time Team had uncovered a Roman mosaic pavement underneath some 17th century graves. Time’s Team’s presenter Tony Robinson was quoted as saying: The mosaic does seem to back up previous suggestions that there was a grand Roman building or set of buildings. The problem with Castor is that a lot of its history is a bit foggy and nobody knows the complete picture, but were hoping we will be able to contribute to a greater understanding about its past.

Tapping Local History Experts

Time Team’s development producer, Jim Mower, told me there had been several factors that led the team to that location, including conversations with a local expert on Roman history, Stephen Upex, author of The Romans in the East of England, as well as the drawings by the 19th century antiquarian Edmund Artis.

They learned about the mosaic floor by reading church records, which reported that grave diggers in the 17th century had had difficulty in digging down past a Roman floor (they had to bury a woman on top of the Roman floor). This happened again more recently when Peterborough City archaeologist Dr Ben Robinson was called to the church by grave diggers who had persevered for several hours in hacking through a Roman pavement in order to dig a trench, probably much to the disgruntlement of both the diggers and the archaeologist.

Time Team used modern techniques to test the theories of Mr Upex and also the drawings of Edmund Artis. Their aim was to try and establish the size and boundaries, if not the actual purpose, of the large Roman ‘praetorium’. Jim Mower said: “One of the challenges we faced was telling what was Roman and what was re-used Roman material. We had to get through the post-Roman layers, including burials from later centuries. It was very challenging because the archaeology was so complex.”

At the moment the archaeologists working on Time Team believe that the mosaic floor – an elaborate and well made mosaic – would have been the grand entrance to the building. The building, which has walls 1m thick, would have stood two or three storeys high. The team has not yet reached a conclusion on whether the praetorium was one large building/palace, or whether it could have been a complex of buildings.

Antiquarians at Castor

People have always been aware of the presence of the Roman building at Castor, hence the name of the town today. The Saxons used the site to build a monastery and later the Normans used a large amount of stone from the Roman building to construct the church

These findings confirm what archaeologists and local experts already knew. According to the Rev. William Burke, rector of the church of St Kyneburgha at Castor and also a member of the research committee of the Nene Valley Archaeological Trust, the Roman ruins at Castor have been described by several antiquarians including William Camden in 1612, William Stukeley in the 18th century and Morton.

Edmund Artis (buried in the church’s graveyard) was an agent of the local Fitzwilliam estate and he excavated the site in the 1820s in a methodical and, for that time, relatively scientific way. He came across the site while building roads and subsequently made several detailed drawings of the site.

The Rev. William Burke told me: People have always been aware of the presence of the Roman building at Castor, hence the name of the town today. The Saxons used the site to build a monastery and later the Normans used a large amount of stone from the Roman building to construct the church.

The Norman church, which contains Roman stone, is the one still on the site to this day. It is named after Saint Kyneburgha, who was the daughter of King Penda of Mercia and who founded a Saxon convent at the site in 650 AD. The Saxons named the site Castor after the Latin word Castrum, meaning a fortified Roman camp.

A Governor’s Headquarters?

The Rev. William Burke explained that the use of the so-called ‘praetorium’ (in this case meaning the governor of a Roman province’s residence or headquarters) at Castor is still not clear, although there have been several theories and suggestions over the years.

One supposition is that it was the residence of a Roman provincial governor during the third century AD. Castor would have been in Britannia Superior for most of the third century, then in the province of Maxima Caesariensis for most of the fourth century.

Another possibility is that the building was the headquarters of the Count of the Saxon Shore, a Roman military commander post possibly created by Constantine I during the fourth century AD, whose job it was to govern the military defences of the southern and eastern coasts of Britain from barbarian (Saxon) attacks. However, this is conjecture and there have not yet been any conclusive clues as to the identity of the building’s occupants and its purpose.

The Disappearing Roman Ruins

Little can be seen today of the Roman ruins in St Kyneburgha’s graveyard, but when the 17th and 18th century antiquarians visited the site, the Roman building was plainly visible above ground. Stukeley reports in the 18th century that 14 feet (about 4 metres) of the building stood above ground level. The stones from the building would have been ‘robbed out’, or removed, and reused as spolia in other local structures, including the present Norman-built St Kyneburgha church.

In fact, the presence of the Roman praetorium may well have been a contributing factor to St Kyneburgha’s impressive Norman tower. In a chapter on the history of the church published by the CAMUS project on local history, the Rev. William Burke suggests that the availability and proximity of a large quantity of worked stone may explain why a church in such a relatively small parish at that time (just 40 adult males recorded in the Domesday Book) should have one of Britain’s most impressive Norman towers.

A Prosperous Roman Community

St Kyneburgha church and its Roman structure are just a mile away from Durobrivae, a Roman fortified garrison at the village of Water Newton. Castor (not to be confused with Caistor) was in a prosperous Roman district connected by Ermine Street – Roman Britain’s artery road connecting York, Lincoln and London – and it was an area well known for the pottery it produced, which was known as Castor Ware.

The large Roman praetorium dates from 250 AD. However, there is a smaller, earlier structure thought to be a Roman villa, which dates from 60 AD. This would have been built at just around the time of Boudica’s revolt against the emperor Nero and governor of Britannia, Paulinus. In 250 AD, the Roman empire was in the midst of its ‘third century crisis’, during which it faced economic depression, disease and political conflict and fragmentation.

Time Team worked at the site from the 7th to the 11th of June. Their research project is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been drawn viewers will have to wait until the programme is screened (scheduled for Spring 2011) to hear their findings in full.

Photos courtesy of Time Team and the Rev. William Burke of St Kyneburgha Church of Castor.

i-MiBAC: Free iPhone App Guide for Italy’s Archaeological Sites and Museums

An iPhone application that will provide information, ticketing and itineraries for the 40 most visited museums and sites in Italy is to be launched on 1 July.

Released by Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (known in Italy as MiBAC), ‘i-MiBAC Top 40’ is the first of a series of free apps produced by the Italian ministry dedicated to Italy’s heritage sites and museums.

In both English and Italian, it will initially be available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, but will soon be made available for smartphones too.

According to MiBAC’s press release, the application will available on the AppStore as well as from the MiBAC website. It presents the historical and cultural background of 40 sites, accompanied by a photo gallery and an expert’s introduction of the collection or site. The app also includes maps of the museums and monuments, suggested itineraries and related cultural attractions, while also using GPS to suggest a list of nearby cultural attractions.

The opening times, access information, contact details and websites, as well as ticketing information is given. Other features include being able to share information on Facebook, receiving news directly from MiBAC and the possibility of buying tickets straight from your phone. This is probably good news for anyone who’s seen the huge queues for the Roman Forum, Palatine and Colosseum in June and July!

While this is the first iPhone app to be released by an Italian ministry, there are plenty already out there for avid fans of ancient history, including the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum app and one of the more popular apps so far of 2010, MEanderthal, which shows you how you would have looked as a caveman.

The i-MiBAC project plans to release other similar apps for cinema, music events, less-visited cultural sites, heritage sites in Abruzzo, UNESCO sites in Italy and looted art recovered by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, a branch of Italy’s special police dedicated to chasing down illegally looted or illegally exported cultural objects.

I haven’t got an iPhone myself, but I’m sure I’ll be able to get my hands on one by 1 July so I can try out this app and see for myself if it really does all it says on the press release!

Colosseum to Open its Underground Corridors to the Public

The Colosseum may be almost 2,000 years old, but it’s certainly not letting the grass grow under its feet. New initiatives are continuing to draw tourists to the Flavian Amphitheatre, the most recent of which is the restoration of the corridors beneath the amphitheatre, where wild animals, slaves and gladiators would have waited prior to being lifted onto the the arena floor.

According to this BBC report, the sum of 23 million euros is being spent on restoring the Colosseum and preparing the network of underground tunnels, which will be opened to the public later this year.

The network of tunnels under the main arena floor consisted of several corridors with varying functions. One tunnel is thought to have led straight to the Ludus Magnus, the gladiatorial training school next to the Colosseum. Other passageways would have stored animals, some of which would have been imported from northern Africa, while others were designated as exit routes for disposing of dead bodies after the shows.

About six million tourists visit the Colosseum each year and, despite the standard entrance price of 12 euros (which includes entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill) the monument is still underfunded.

Other initiatives that have recently attracted attention to Rome’s most famous monument include an exhibition on authentic replica gladiator weapons and armour, as well as a visit from Russell Crowe, who played the title role in Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator, who was accompanied another famous Roman Francesco Totti, captain of AS Roma.

Last month (9 May) a piece of the Colosseum fell off, but no one was hurt. The news would have come as a worrying development for Rome’s archaeological authorities, following the collapse of part of the structural complex of the Domus Aurea in March.

Earliest Known Mesoamerican Pyramid Tomb Discovered in Mexico

Archaeologists in Mexico have uncovered a tomb inside a pyramid belonging to a king or high priest who died as many as 2,700 years ago. Three other bodies a woman also of high social status, a baby and young male adult were also found in the tomb inside the pyramid in the Chiapa de Corzo archaeological site in Chiapas district in southern Mexico.

It is the earliest evidence of a Mesoamerican pyramid used as a tomb, rather than as a temple.

The remains of the man, thought to be aged about 50 years and decorated in precious stones, were found with the body of a one-year old child lying on his chest. Nearby were the remains of a younger male adult about 20-years-old.

Human Sacrifices?

The team of anthropologists and archaeologists, led by Professor Bruce Bachand, from Brigham Young University’s department of anthropology, believe that the younger male and the baby were human sacrifices. Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta, the project’s co-director from the National Institute of Anthropology and History Chiapa, said that the lack of precious material associated with these two bodies suggests that it was a sacrificial death. The 20-year-old male’s body was set in an unconventional position, suggesting it had been thrown into the burial chamber.

“The significance of this discovery is twofold: the location of this tomb on top of the pyramid and the unparralleled rarity, splendor and intricacy of the associated objects.”

The remains of a fourth person were found outside the central tomb chamber a woman, who would also have been an important member of her society, judging by the precious stones, bracelets, anklets and necklaces embellishing her body.

The tell-tale signs of these two VIPs are that the bodies are coated with red pigment and are decorated with carved jade stones. The teeth are inlaid with white jade or sea shells. Obsidian, a naturally occurring green-black mineral similar to glass, was used in the eyes of white stucco masks, while the female was also decorated with amber, pearls and pyrite.

Professor Bachand said: “The significance of this discovery is twofold: the location of this tomb on top of the pyramid and the unparralleled rarity, splendor and intricacy of the associated objects.It’s the most elaborate tomb I know of for this time period that actually contained bodies. The so-called La Venta tombs did not. Thus, we can now learn something about the occupants from their bones.” He believes it is a possibility that other pyramids at Chiapa de Corzo may also contain tombs.

Indigenous Zoque Culture

Several different cultures lived in the region 2,700 years ago some of which would have interacted with each other, making it difficult to establish which culture the four individuals in the pyramid tomb represent although the team believe they are Zoque, an indigenous culture still living in Mexico today.

The discovery was made last month by the team of experts inside Mound 11, as the pyramid in question is known. Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta said: The main aim was to test the interior of Mound 11. We wanted to know when it was first constructed and to understand how it grew over time.

Mesoamerican pyramids were often built in layers much like onions or Russian dolls: a new outer layer would be built over an old pyramid and this process continued over many centuries. The team set out in January this year to excavate Mound 11 from top to soil. The tomb was found between the fourth and fifth ‘layers’ of the structure.

The reason for choosing Mound 11 was that, apart from being one of the largest remaining pyramids at Chiapa de Corzo, together with Mound 12 it forms an interesting architectural formation well-known in Mesoamerican archaeology as the ‘E-Group’ formation. E-Group complexes are associated with astronomy and ceremony in Maya culture. The current project aimed to compare this E-Group complex with another similar complex of pyramids at nearby La Venta, an archaeological site of the Olmec people in the Mexican state of Tabasco.

The Disappearing Pyramids of Chiapa de Corzo

There are more than 60 pyramids at Chiapa de Corzo, although about 30 per cent of them have been destroyed since the 1950s by local businesses. This was another factor that added some urgency to the excavation.

Mesoamerican pyramids were built primarily as temples which makes them fundamentally different to Egyptian pyramids, whose main function was a royal tomb where the mummified remains of ancient Egypt’s elite were preserved. In Mesoamerica, the pyramids were built as temples and were used for astronomy and ceremonies.

The pyramid at Palenque is an unusual exception and Mound 11 also seems to be bucking the trend. Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta explained that its function would have changed with time and, having been used as a tomb early on, layers of stone would have been added to the structure and it would have been converted into a temple.

Complex Society

Very little information is available about what Chiapa de Corzo would have been like in 700 BC. Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta told me: The huge construction tells us this was a complex society and an important community. It occupied a geographically strategic path to the coast and would have had commercial and cultural interaction with central Mexico and Guatamala (as shown by the presence of jade in the pyramid).

Non-elite people during that time would have had earth burials in cemeteries, laid out in a straight position, with pots and a plate often placed above the head.

DNA and C14 tests need to be carried out see if the four individuals were local or not. These tests and analyses will take some time it could take a year for the results to become available.

Experts from Brigham Young University, The National Institute of Anthropology and History Chiapa and the Nationaly Autonomous University of Mexico are working on the project, which is funded by National Geographic.

What’s Under London’s Cathedrals?

Ever wondered what lies beneath some of London’s biggest religious buildings? Cathedrals and other religious structures are often built on ancient sites that have had temples or churches built on them time and time again since early Roman times. They are urban landmarks, similar to roads and boundaries, which tend to retain their position throughout the ages, with modern town planners rebuilding on the same spot.

They have been focal points for many major historical events, such as the invading Vikings burning down an early church at the site of St Paul’s, or in epoch-making events such as London’s Great Fire. The history of what lies beneath London’s cathedrals (and Westminster Abbey) is also the history of the city.

It was the churchmen who reclaimed some of the water-logged land around Westminster after the Romans left, while it’s known that St Paul’s and Southwark (home to Southwark Cathedral and St George’s Cathedral) were settled and built upon during the Roman sojourn in London.

The Roman House and Industry Under St Paul’s Cathedral

Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral was built following the 1666 Great Fire of London and was officially completed in 1710. It replaced the old St Paul’s, which had stood there since the 11th century, although it underwent various stages of work and expansion. The current St Paul’s Cathedral is the fourth cathedral, according to the cathedral’s own web site, to stand on that spot on top of Ludgate Hill.

The current St Paul's Cathedral is the fourth cathedral to stand on top of Ludgate Hill. Image Credit - Joe Dunckley. The first cathedral dedicated to St Paul was built on Ludgate Hill in 604 AD for the bishop of the East Saxons, Mellitus. Made of wood, the structure burned down in 675. It was then rebuilt only to be destroyed again by the Viking invaders in the 10th century, and a third cathedral made of stone was then erected.

The first known bishop of London was Restitutus, who was named among the attendees of the Council of Arles in 314 AD. However, it’s not known where his cathedral would have been located but on top of Ludgate Hill may have been a possibility, with its position overlooking the City of London, to the west of the established Roman trading town of Londinium that existed in the fourth century.

According to the cathedral’s website, there have been religious monuments and churches at the site of St Paul’s since Roman times. When Sir Christopher Wren was preparing the foundations for the current St Paul’s, he recording finding several archaeological layers and objects. He wrote: We discovered quantities of urns, broken vessels and pottery ware. Graves of several ages and fashions in strata, or layers of Earth, one above another… manifestly shew’d a great antiquity from the British and Roman times.

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During building and restoration works at St Paul’s Cathedral in recent years, evidence of Roman archaeological layers have been found. In 1999, building work in Paternoster Square uncovered some Roman remains, which turned out to be signs of a Roman home, dating from 70-160 AD. The house would at that time have been situated a few hundred metres inside the city walls and would have existed at a time when Londinium was rebuilding itself after Boudicca’s attack. The mid first century AD was a time of prosperity for the Roman town, when the population peaked at between 45,000 and 60,000.

The archaeologists also found iron slag in a pit beneath the square, suggesting that there was some industry going as well at that point. A map of Roman London from the University of Denver shows that just to the north of St Paul’s there were some kilns, while to the south there were Roman temples, and baths to the east.

During Roman times the river Fleet an important tributary to the Thames, which now runs underground from Hampstead Heath reaching the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge would have been a major river and clearly visible from the top of Ludgate Hill.

Southwark: From Roman Army Camp to Cathedral Site

An archaeological excavation at the site of<br /> Southwark Cathedral between 1998 and 2001 found evidence dating back to<br /> the neolithic period. Image Credit - Matthias Rhomberg.

There are two cathedrals in Southwark one is the famous Southwark Cathedral, and the other is dedicated to St George. Both are in an historic part of London that was first made habitable by the Romans, where Shakespeare’s original globe theatre would have once stood, as well as the Tabard Inn, made famous by Chaucer, and two notorious medieval prisons the Clink and the Marshalsea. The site was also named in the Domesday Book, which mentions a church there in 1086.

Before Claudius‘s conquest of 43 AD, the area was a marshy salt flat, which the Romans bridged, reclaimed and developed. They constructed the southern river bank and made the area, which would have been flooded at each high tide, inhabitable.

The South Bank area became a Roman army camp and a flourishing community grew up around the camp to cater for all the soldiers’ needs, including a number of brothels.

From that point on, the trading town on the north bank of Londinium sprung up, but the south bank would also have been a bustling scene of Roman traders and citizens making a life for themselves near the Thames.

It’s believed that a Roman villa once stood on the site of Southwark Cathedral, while a fourth century pagan statue was discovered in a well underneath the cathedral during an excavation in 1977.

An archaeological excavation at the site of Southwark Cathedral between 1998 and 2001 found evidence dating back to the neolithic period. The findings are published in the book Millennium Excavations at Southwark Cathedral by Divers, Mayo and Cohen.

The Historic Island of Westminster?

The London Borough of Westminster is far outside the old city walls of Roman London, but it too has plenty of pre-medieval history. The piece of land where Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament now stand was once known as Thorney Island and, as the name suggests, during Saxon times (seventh to ninth centuries) the area was riddled with water channels.

It would have been marshy, rural and far more difficult to get around than the large open squares and wide roads that characterise the area today. The first known church was built there in the seventh century AD. The area grew in importance when Edward the Confessor moved his royal palace there in the eleventh century.

Westminster Cathedral (near Victoria station) is a beautiful building often overlooked by visitors to London, as well as Londoners themselves. It was built between 1895 and 1903, and its white and pink layered brickwork wouldn’t look out of place in a Tuscan piazza. Like Westminster Abbey just up the road, the cathedral is also built on land that once formed part of the boggy hinterland outside Roman Londinium. The area was once known as Bulinga Fen and was developed by the Benedictine monks who owned Westminster Abbey.

During the 19th century, the land was used to build a prison for minors (below 17 years old). Another prison Tothill Fields Bridewell existed near the site from the 17th century. Part of the land was also wasteland, where a ring used for bull-baiting once stood.

Westminster Abbey stands on what was known during the 10th century as Thorney Island. It was during 960 AD that a group of Benedictine monks first settled there, led by St Dunstan the Bishop of London. In the 11th century, Edward the Confessor moved his royal palace to the site of Westminster Abbey and he built a church dedicated to St Peter there in 1065. The present day building was begun by Henry III in 1245 and has been added to throughout the centuries.

A small Roman settlement may have existed in the area around today’s Marylebone Lane. The River Tyburn (now covered over) runs through this area, lending its name to the Tyburn Settlement, which as well as its possible Roman roots, was certainly populated in Saxon and Medieval times. The famous Tyburn Tree (the public gallows from the 14th to the 18th centuries) was just west of Tyburn, near today’s Marble Arch.

To summarise, we may not know what lies under London’s cathedrals, and archaeologists may never be allowed to find out. But given the tendency for churchmen throughout history to build monuments over monuments, we can bet that these handsome structures have fascinating secrets hidden beneath them.

Study Ancient History at Yale or Berkeley Free Online

Library visitor

As a wise man once said, “Education costs money, but then so does ignorance.” The first part of the maxim isn’t so true any more as online resources and information proliferate, making it free and easy for everyone to learn online if they want to. There are now a number of courses online on Roman history and architecture too and they’re from respected universities, given by well known experts in their field.

Brought to my attention by the Free Technology for Teachers blog, Yale offers its online course Roman Architecture 252, a series of 24 lectures available to download to your computer or viewable on youtube and iTunes.

Yale professor and expert on the art and architecture of the ancient Romans Diana Kleiner, lectures on architecture and urban spaces in the Roman world, with the political history of the empire inevitably covered as well. Her lectures are clear and engaging with a series of visual aids from Google Earth and reconstructions, as well as Kleiner’s own photos. She discusses Roman town planning, Greek architectural influences, Roman architectural art and some of the finest Roman structures surviving today, such as the aqueduct at Segovia in Spain and the Pont du Gard at Nimes and the amphitheatre at Pompeii (the model for the Yale Bowl).

Other universities are also offering free learning online. Berkeley’s series of about 40 lectures are audio only but cover a wide range of topics between Augustus and Constantine, including slavery, the status of women and inflation during the Roman empire.

There is also education material available for younger learners as well as those who want a more general introduction to Roman history. The Open University’s online educational material The Roman Empire: introducing some key terms gives an introduction to the subject and includes a short video, discussion points and an essay on Roman identity and culture. Perhaps for a younger range of learners, the BBC also has material on the Roman Empire including Roman online battle games, 3D reconstructions and reading material and collections of images such as Roman mosaics produced by Roman military historian Dr Mike Ibeji.

HK Fantasy Election Policy Roundup: Augustus’ Manifesto

Augustus.Augustus may have been a political genius but he was far from being a swaggering military hero like other famous leaders from history. He was a sickly, pale youth, yet he had the staying power and resilience to enable him to outlive his rivals and found the Roman empire. Read on to find out why Augustus was the best leader of all times and deserves to win the Heritage Key Fantasy General Election 2010!

He reigned for 41 years and is best remembered as a ruler with extraordinary vision but also as a moderate man committed to peace and family values.

Part of Augustus’s staying power was his genius for re-invention (he changed his name several times) and his ability to turn a situation to his own political advantage. As Octavius, he was adopted by the immensely popular Julius Caesar. This backing was crucial to his bid for leadership and he made the most of the connection by taking on Caesar’s name. Later known as Octavian, he reinvented his political role several times from son of Caesar, to one of the three co-leaders of the Roman world, ruler of the western empire and, after the Battle of Actium, he became sole ruler but a ruler as they’d never seen before.

His one-man authority and influence, or ‘auctoritas’, stemmed from his wide support throughout the Roman army, his large personal fortune and the various public offices he held. He was handsome (blond curly hair, blue eyes, a bit short with bad teeth) but he didn’t have the charisma of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony or later rulers Hadrian or Vespasian.

What Augustus did have was a vision for the future of how the provinces of the fragile republic could be united under one-man rule. He was a social as well as a political reformer and tried to improve Rome’s moral code. He more or less succeeded in establishing peace the Augustan age is synonymous with the golden age of ancient Rome.

So what’s on Augustus‘s election manifesto? Political reform tops his agenda, with family values a close second. He’s keen on security without being hell-bent on war and he’s committed to public spending, but not people power. Plus, there’s corn on the agenda.

Augustus’s Manifesto

Political Reform

If your political system sucks, then what you need is a leader with vision, someone who can make it all better without causing another civil war or a hung parliament. Augustus had this vision in copious quantities and could see that there was no way the old Roman republican system could be reinstated following the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, the tumultuous second triumvirate (Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus) and then the Battle of Actium.

Most of all it’s a vote for family values, for banishing adulterers and for one big happy empire

He could see that the best hope for peace was for one man to control the senate and govern autocratically, while also seeming to uphold Roman traditions. Convenient for Augustus of course that that one man should be him, but he introduced his powers almost by stealth and was careful to present a public front of someone who just wanted the best for Rome, whilst at the same time gradually becoming a brand new type of world ruler an emperor. He established a new political order and founded a system of succession that enabled the empire to continue (with a few rough patches admittedly) for about four centuries.

Family Values

Augustus has a fantastic track record in instilling moral decency in a nation. Your wife’s playing away, or your son’s a bit of a commitment-phobe? Not a problem Augustus is a fervent supporter of traditional family values, having reformed the moral code of the Roman people in 18-17 BC, which up to that point had been rather slap-dash to say the least.

Adultery and hedonism had been rife in the late republic and it was looking like the ruling class might not be able to propagate itself. The solution: Augustus’s Julian Laws made adultery a crime punishable with banishment. Husbands who caught their wives in the act were allowed to kill her lover and then had to divorce the wife, while women and men of a marriageable age who refused to marry were banned from inheriting and, worse still, they were also banned from attending public games.

There were incentives for couples who produced three male children. Augustus was a man of his word and stuck by his law when he discovered that his daughter Julia had had hundreds of lovers, he banished her to the island of Ventotene. You can’t argue with someone who’s willing to banish their own daughter to prove a point, now can you?

Homeland Security

Image of the Ara PacisWith his experience as head of a fledgling empire, security is one issue that Augustus takes very seriously. As emperor, instead of continuing the quest for expansion, Augustus reigned in the army, treated them well and ensured they were on his side. He recruited the Praetorian Guard from legions throughout the provinces ensuring widespread support.

Augustus was committed to strengthening borders rather than conquering new lands and he was dedicated to peace. His rule and the two centuries following it came to be known as the Pax Romana, an era of unprecedented (relative) peace. Augustus made his feelings about peace quite plain when he commissioned the Ara Pacis, his Altar to Peace.

Investing in Infrastructure

Augustus seems to have been a master of appearances, who was able to put a good bit of spin onto almost any situation so that he could come out as the political top-dog. He knew that public perception was all-important, so to make the Roman public feel good about him and about themselves, he is said to have transformed Rome from a shabby ramshackle place into a city with the white marble temples, porticoes and monuments that we imagine when we see the ruins today. He is quoted as having said: “I found Rome a city of brick and left her a city of marble.” Among his public works are the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis, the Theatre of Marcellus, the baths of Agrippa and the Forum of Augustus.

Public Services

Trajan's Market

Augustus may not have been big on people power, but he also knew on which side his bread was buttered. When it came to keeping the plebs happy, he made sure they had enough to eat by distributing corn to the people of Rome as soon as he came to power.

A corn dole for each citizen of Rome had been introduced earlier and under Julius Caesar free corn was given out. In his typical measured fashion, Augustus limited the number of people eligible for the free grain, but nevertheless it was enough to sustain his popularity. Augustus also invested in Rome’s aqueducts.

His other public sector improvements included setting up a fire brigade and reforming the police. He was also a patron of the arts and some of ancient Rome’s most famous poets and writers lived during his rule, including Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Livy.

Why Vote for Augustus?

So why vote for Augustus? The leader with political vision, who seemed to genuinely care for the people and who was even given the title Pater Patriae (father of the country). He built ceaselessly for the Roman public theatres, aqueducts, forums and an altar and was a man with integrity and a strict personal moral code Augustus wasn’t one to indulge in lavish banquets like other leaders and he did all he could to promote good moral behaviour.

In short, a vote for Augustus is a vote for peace, for marble monuments, for investment in infrastructure. It’s a vote for literature, for security and corn. Most of all it’s a vote for family values, for banishing adulterers and for one big happy empire.

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Roman Makeovers, Sword Fighting and Horse Show at Leeds Royal Armouries this Bank Holiday Weekend

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is holding a series of Roman events this bank holiday weekend and, with the emphasis on arms, there is plenty of action for children and adults. The activities to get involved with include workshops on gladiatorial sword fighting, a chance to meet two Roman legionaries (Stilicho and Quintus) as well as arts and crafts sessions on how to make Roman swords and helmets.

The aim of the events is to teach children of all ages about life (and particular the army) in Roman times as well as to showcase some of the Royal Armouries’ huge collection of arms and armour. The museum’s collection of weapons throughout the ages boasts 8,500 pieces altogether.

How to Look 2000 Years Younger

For anyone who’s a fan of make-over programmes on TV (Ten Years Younger and such like I love to hate them, but they are compulsive viewing) there is also the chance to watch a Roman-style makeover with an archaeologist and specialist in ancient cosmetics, Sally Pointer. She will be using historically authentic products to see if she can transform one of the museum’s staff into a fashionable Roman lady. Nicky Hambleton-Jones eat your heart out. Sally, if you need any more models, I’ll happily offer myself to be transformed into a Roman lady for a day… maybe Galla Placidia or Livia?

Also on offer this bank holiday (1-3 May) is a display of birds of prey and a special themed Roman horse show. There will also be an opportunity to handle replica artefacts. Events will run each of the three days between 11am and 4 pm.

Entry to the Royal Armouries in Leeds will be free, but there are some small fees for each of the events. The timetable of events is listed below and for more information about the event click here, or visit the museum’s website.

The Leeds Royal Armouries takes an active role in the community and holds events like this one on a regular basis with the aim of educating people about the use of arms through the ages. They also work on knife and gun crime prevention and seek to provide a special insight into how and why people use weapons.

Timetable of Events

  • Roman Themed horseshow: Daily at 2pm, 2.50 adults, 1.50 con, approx 20 min – Tiltyard
  • Falconry: Daily at 12 noon, 1.50 adult, 1.00 con, approx 20 mins Tiltyard
  • Interpretations: Daily 11am-4pm, Free
  • Have a go sessions (Sword fighting): Daily 12.45, 3 per child, 12 children per session, 8years minimum or above 4 foot Dojo/Oriental Gallery
  • Tours: Daily 11am, meet at Hall of Steel – Free
  • Arts & Crafts: Daily 11am 4pm, make Roman swords and helmets, 1 Oriental gallery (teahouse area).
  • Handling: Daily 12noon to 4pm, free Oriental Gallery Gallery
  • Roman Makeover: Join archaeologist and specialist in ancient cosmetics Sally Pointer as we transform a member of the Armouries staff from a 21st Century woman into a fashionable Roman using accurately reconstructed perfumes and cosmetics. Between the makeover sessions, look out for Sally in the war gallery and have a closer look at the equipment and ingredients found on the Roman dressing table. 12.45 & 3pm War Gallery (Fireplace)
  • Meet 4th Century Roman legionaries Stilicho and Quintus: A chance to handle replica Roman items and find out about what life was like on the northern frontier of the empire, 1,650 years ago 11am 4pm (Sat & Sun only) The Street

Bonhams Withdraws Roman Sculptures with Possible Medici Link from Auction

A collection of Roman sculptures that was due to be sold at Bonhams auction house in London yesterday has been withdrawn amid concerns that the statues may have originally been illegally excavated.

The concerns were raised by Cambridge researcher and archaeologist, Christos Tsirogiannis and Dr David Gill, reader in ancient history at Swansea University. Bonhams’s lot 137 a first or second century AD Roman marble figure of a youth was sold at Sotheby’s in 1986, as stated by Bonhams in the object’s collecting history.

In his Looting Matters blog, Dr Gill compares a polaroid photo taken of one of the statues illegally trafficked by the antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici, with the marble figure withdrawn from Bonhams’s sale. It appears – almost beyond reasonable doubt – that the statue sold in 1986 as lot 287, lot 137 withdrawn from Bonhams this week, and the looted statue that passed through Medici’s hands, are all one and the same.

As Dr Gill puts it: “The issue is why didn’t Bonhams suspect this sale?”

Dalya Alberge in the Guardian reports that police have seized photos of four sculptures, which include the marble statue of the youth and three Roman busts, and that Bonhams is now conducting an internal investigation into the history of the items.

The paper also quotes Lord Renfrew, a noted British archaeologist who is vociferous on the subject of looted antiquities as saying: Such sales are maintaining London’s reputation as a clearing house for looted antiquities.

“Such sales are maintaining London’s reputation as a clearing house for looted antiquities.” – Lord Renfrew quoted in the Guardian.

While objects up for sale at Bonhams are checked against the Art Loss Register (a database of stolen artworks including antiquities), this register does not provide information on antiquities that have been illegally excavated and removed from the ground.

In 2008 Bonhams withdrew 10 lots from an auction 24 hours before the sale was to go ahead when the Italian government raised questions over the provenance of the Roman artefacts.

Question marks remains over the due diligence carried out by Bonhams if looted antiquities are able slip through the net and onto its catalogues. The other three sculptures that were withdrawn from yesterday’s sale are three Roman funerary busts that, according to Looting Matters, were once part of the archive of well known art dealer Robin Symes, who was jailed in 2005 and whose name has been linked to Giacomo Medici..

Giacomo Medici’s fall from grace has been documented in the book The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini.

Just not Cricket: Two Roman Altars Stop Play at Musselburgh

Two Roman altar stones have been found in the Scottish town of Musselburgh, six miles east of Edinburgh. They are thought to date back almost 2,000 years and were uncovered during renovation work at a cricket pavilion.

The archaeological excavation took place before building work could start on Musselburgh Cricket Club‘s new pavilion. That could face a delay now that the Roman altar stones and, according to the cricket club, an Iron Age house were found on the first day of the dig.

One of the altar stones has been identified as dating from the second century AD and is believed to be dedicated to Jupiter.

According to the East Lothian Courier, the cricket club gained permission for its building works on condition that the archaeological dig was carried out first. Historic Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Government, added this requirement because the cricket club is based within a Scheduled Ancient Monument area in fact there is a known second-century Roman fort in the vicinity.

A spokesman from Historic Scotland told the paper: The discovery of two almost intact carved Roman altars in Lewisvale Park is the most significant find of its type in the last 100 years of investigation and discoveries at Inveresk.

The discovery of two almost intact carved Roman altars in Lewisvale Park is the most significant find of its type in the last 100 years of investigation and discoveries at Inveresk

The Roman fort at Inveresk, Musselburgh, is known to date from the Antonine period pottery found at the site show that the fort was inhabited for a period roughly corresponding to the rule of Antoninus Pius (from 138 161 AD). Excavations during the 20th century have found evidence of a civilian settlement surrounding the fort, but the extent of it is not yet known. Lewisvale Park, Musselburgh Cricket Club’s grounds, is a few hundred metres east of the site of the Roman fort at Inveresk.

An amphitheatre and baths have been found near to the Roman fort.

The Romans settled in Musselburgh/Inveresk shortly after the invasion of Scotland in 80s AD. The governor of Britain between 78-84 AD, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, led troops deep into Scotland and built an extensive network of road and forts to try and keep the tribes of northern Britain under control. But when his governorship of Britain ended in 84 AD, the Romans stopped their attempts to subdue most of modern-day Scotland and maintained their military camps nearer to the area where they subsequently built Hadrian’s Wall in the 120s.

In the summer of 2009, a stone altar dedicated to an eastern version of the Roman god Jupiter (Jupiter Dolichenus) was found at the military fort at Vindolanda.