Category: nick-gilbert

What To(ga) Wear? Classic Fashions From Rome

Roman Military Research Society - CenturioThe latest looks are in from the long and straight catwalks of Rome. Darlings, for too long we have contented ourselves with the same-old same-old. Celtic looks bereft of new ideas or new materials. All that is about to change: the Romans are on our shores and are here to stay. We are at the start of an exciting period, the conquest will revolutionise the look of Britain. Out with the old and in with the fabulous new!

Romanise, Modernise, Glamorise! Classic fashionadvice for Brittania
by Claudius Campus

Celtic fashions have been limited by the colours and fabrics available on the high street of your local village, and in fact, that’s part of the problem. The lack of urbanisation is like totally limiting the availability of exciting new ideas and sartorial innovation. But before we can innovate, we must cleanse. Let me tell you about what you should definitely be purging from your wardrobe. Those 50AD looks have got to go… .

In terms of fabric, Celtic mainstays such as wool and linen will retain their popularity, spinning wool will remain a favourite activity for you ladies at home, even if you become one of the Romanised. For the exclusive and luxurious classes, you will find that silk is just as desirable amongst the Romans as it is for you now, though of course most clothes are restricted to silk as an accessory to really set off a look, rather than as the main fabric of a garment. The revolution will be in colours.

The Celtic tradition of multicolour combination dyeing, which superstitions say must be done out of sight of all those men-folk, is heading out faster than Julius returned to Rome. Bright colours and vivid patterns stunned the Romans when they first arrived, and who can blame them, I mean, woad, urine and copper-based colouring? Are you serious? The busy swirls and checks of yesteryear do not appeal to the more subtle Mediterranean sensitivity, think less is more when going for that progressive first century AD look.

You can’t fight the trends and you sure as hell don’t want to fight the legions so… Romanise, Modernise, Glamorise!

Take a long hard look at that Celt bling, and toss it out.Golden torcs simply do not feature in the Roman look, the thick bands made of gold, iron and silver might adorn the wealthy of Britain but Claudius wouldn’t be caught dead in those things, girlfriend!

Let me just address the vicious gossip about kilts. They are not part of the Celtic repertoire, despite what you may have heard (the Romanisation of British glamour will bring something closer to those garments to us, more on that later). The truth is the Celtic cuts of choice are the trouser and the sleeved tunic. Yes, they do say fashion is cyclical, but for now you won’t be needing those trousers for quite some time so get that man in your life to dispense with them.

Have you tossed them yet?I hope so,because now we can startthe fun bit: what you need to find to get that Romanised look which will be the height of desirability for the next few hundred seasons. These boys are here to stay (so embrace it!) and the Roman looks will cover soldiers, slavesand citizens alike.

roman priests in toga - Image credit Roman Military Research Society

The Toga, a Must-Have

The Roman trademark is the toga.It isgreat for parties, but won’t be worn by all. Not least because even when you have slaves they still struggle to tie it and doing it alone is just not going to happen. High fashion is not for the lowly, you know.

From the second century BC onwards this classic garment has been restricted to men only, girls get your own thing, it’s the boys time to shine! Not just any men mind you, only a citizen can wear one of these woollen garbs. Remember the Toga is not there for practicality, that’s what makes the toga special. If you have the time to flounce around in a toga made from up to five meters of finely woven wools from Apulia or Tarentum, then people will know you are just too fabulous to set foot in a field, and who wants muddy sandals anyway? The toga look is about letting it all hang out.

The toga is the must-have accessory for many social occasions, but remember to calibrate according to your status. The young men of Rome (I’m blushing just to think of them) look dashing in their toga virilis. Priests have longer togas which double as a hood, which just looks super, and comes in colours or with a go-faster stripe. A general on his triumph might pull out all of the stops and go for a toga picta, the coloured toga, to make him stand out in the crowd.And remember,because you are in mourning, it doesn’t mean you can’t look good. A toga pulla, in dark coloursallows you toshow respect for the dead whilst simultaneously cutting a dash.Is your husband – or lover – running for political office?Hehas to be whiter-than-white, sofind hima toga candida.You’ll see the toga candida – bright wool coated in white chalk – on those running for office. That’s why they are called ‘candidates’ in the first place. Do remember, the Toga worn over a naked torso is just not on nowadays. It’s all about the toga-over-tunic combination.

Can I let you into a secret, darling? If your Toga won’t hang properly,then have your slaves put weights or even wooden struts into it to make sure it looks just right, folds and all.


For the working man the Roman collection features a number of functional, yet fashionable looks. I’ll be honest with you, most of them are tunic based. Tunic and belt, to be precise. The tunic hangs loosely across the shoulders and hasa swooping hem cut above the knee. Simple, stylish: super. Combine this with a leather shoe or sandal for a down-to-earth look.

Senators and equestrian class men in Rome prefer a tunic with two vertical stripes coming down across each side of the chest, thicker stripes for senators, thinner for the equestrian (horse owning) class. Purple stripes are hottest of all. Purple can only be attained through harvesting the secretions of certain marine molluscs,making the colour rare and expensive.This exclusivity is the secret of its enduring appeal.

The current look for the tunic ismid-lengthwith aloose fitting sleeve. Slaves and freedmen will prefer more affordable Spartacan tunics from lower quality wool, thus darker.

Civ Avrelia - Image credit Roman Military Research Society

Ladies, Be Fashionable Without a Sweat

All my Roman ladies, for beauty tips I’ll refer you to the Egyptians, but the must have item for you is the stola, a longer version of the male tunic. The stola hangs low, almost tothe ground. You can set off your stola by wearing undergarments – like the tunica interior – beneath, ensuring that this is longer than the stola.It’s all about layers of clothing as this will show admirers your wealth. Dying hems will add that touch of class to the look. For a more textured style combine with a palla, a lighter weight and feminine version of the toga. The beauty of the palla is its versatility. Wearing it as a hood will even give you… a modest look!

Female clothing is not required to conform to societal rules in terms of colouring, so you can work a blue, yellow or red look with combinations, butremember to avoid busy patterns in the Celtic style.

Women of Rome protect themselves from the heat with parasols and fans, avian inspired designs feature feathers to add natural colours. Glass balls may be held to keep the palms cool, asa fashionable woman of leisure should never be seen to work up a sweat. However, Romanladiesin Britannia may be more concerned with avoiding the rain than moderating the heat.

Roman Coiffure

Talking of rain, showers could really ruin the most important feature of your Romanised style, the hair. Elaborate and time consuming styles are definitely in. Huge curled crests will attract not only nesting birds but also eligible young men. No style is too elaborate. Decorative hairpins of intricately carved precious metals or bone will hold these looks in place and add glamour.

Men’s hair will be much smarter than in Celtic times, the beards, moustaches and long liberated styles that have dominated male coiffures will be replaced by dashing clean shaves and neat trims, although the upcoming Senator Trajan looks set to change thatwith his neat bearded look.

Click To Watch Video
Episode 6: Boudicca, Celtic Warrior Queen
The Romans hated her, the Celts fought for her and now she is immortalised with a statue in Westminster. But who was Boudicca?

Dress to Conquer in Military Chic

Military chic will be big in the new collections, think sword and sandals. Helmets are definitely in, with layered scale armour or chain mail which provides chic and effective protection from missiles and sharp weapon strikes. These are worn over coloured tunics in classic red or blue.

Rank and file soldiers will want to top their outfits by wearing the trademark helmets, with protective back neck guard and attached plates over the cheeks, providing protection without limiting visibility. Standard bearers may want to add a symbolic fur to make them stand out on the battlefield. Higher ranks will be able to personalise, attach horse-hair in horizontal or straight-on crests to draw the attention of the crowd. Let the enemy know they are bested in strength and style.

Sandals have great functionality, yet wearing with socks is a clichd fashion no-no, but I predictthis will be thrown on its head by Roman designers during cold winter seasons.Insert nails into your sandals -pointy side out! -for better grip when standing in the shield wall. Greaves worn on the shins protect from attacks around the shins, but don’t expect this to become popular until later imperial times. In downtime, go with the classic tunic and combine with a leather shoe.

These bold looks are about to revolutionise world fashion. Romanise now to fit in and ingratiate yourself to the conquerors of Britain. Cultural conformity will bring prosperity, for so long as it pleases the governor. Remember, you can’t fight the trends and you sure as hell don’t want to fight the legions so, Romanise, Modernise, Glamorise!

Is Boudicca a Poster Girl For Intolerance and British Nationalism?

Boudicca was reinvented as a symbol of British nationalism, but does she represent the kind of intolerance and nationalism that we should protest?Re-invented by the Victorians, under the name of Boadicea, Boudicca (starring in this Ancient World in London video) was presented as an idol of nationalism, of British warrior tradition and, somewhat incongruently, as a figurehead of imperialism, even though this was the thing she had fought against. Her statue sits directly opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, overlooking the River Thames at the very heart of London. There she stands in her chariot looking over the city like some kind of fierce guardian angel for the British. But what is she doing there? Should we really be touting Boudicca as a hero? Or does she represent the kind of nationalism and xenophobia that we should rail against?

Rebel Woman

In 60 and 61 AD the mighty Roman empire was attacked by a coalition of British rebels, led by a woman, a Celtic Queen who had been tortured, and her daughters raped, by the Romans. Driven by anger and revenge she lead her followers on a rampage through the heartlands of Roman Britain. Her name was Boudicca – in her Celtic language it meant ‘victory’, and she subjected the Roman IX Legion to a defeat that was rare even for the most elite soldiers in the ancient world. Her goal was clear: to get the Romans out of the lands her husband had ruled, and then out of Britain all together. She came close to succeeding, according to some accounts. The Emperor Nero was shaken enough to consider withdrawing from Britain, though ultimately he chose to stay but adopt a more ‘hearts and minds’ approach, as modern terminology might put it.

Kill Boadicea!

Boudicca was an historical figure – Boadicea is a created one, and I say it is time for us to kill off Boadicea, leaving only Boudicca open to historical scrutiny.

Boadicea has corrupted how we view Boudicca, giving Boudicca a heroic sheen that I don’t think she deserves. She was a freedom fighter, we cannot doubt that. The Romans had defiled her (and her young daughters) in the worst way possible and the Roman governor had declared that her kingdom (ruled her late husband) the property of Rome, without thought for the welfare of those within it.

There was a dishonourable descent from a freedom fighting force into a looting mob

She faced a choice between slavery, rebellion, or exile. It was justified, then, to lead an army against the Roman forces in Britain.The Romans were an occupying force, with a presence of less than 20 years on the land which had brought the Britons their livelihood for many generations. Boudicca gathered together rival tribes and formed a liberation army. If the motives of this force were good at first, they did not long remain so, and soon there was a dishonourable descent from a freedom fighting force into a looting mob. This took place ostensibly under her command – we have no reason to think it was not upon her orders that this change of tactic took place.

The city of Camulodunum (Colchester) was set ablaze, but not before widespread plunder, rape and slaughter occurred. The same treatment was given to the populous centres of London and Verulamium (St. Albans). How ironic is it then that in the centre of our houses of parliament, cited as the symbol of civic freedom and welfare, that we have a statue dedicated to the woman who wanted to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the British isles and to raze the burgeoning city that now commemorates her. It is as perverse as having a statue to the leaders of the fourth crusade erected in Constantinople, now Istanbul, or to Slobodan Miloevi in Vukovar. We should also ask ourselves what benefit Boudica brought to Britain. When we weigh that against what the Romans did for us, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have a monument to Suetonius Paulinus, the then governor of Britain, who matched Boadicea in cruelty but at least stimulated the development of civilisation on these shores?

Queen Boudicca

The Romans hated her, the Celts fought for her and now she is immortalised with a statue in Westminster. But who was Boudicca? The latest video in the Ancient World in London series looks at how her name is often misspelt, how her bloodthirsty rage was caused by the death of her husband and raping of her daughters and how the Romans beat her to within an inch of her life. The story of how she sacked three Roman cities in Britain is uncovered, and how she fell at the Battle of Watling Street.

A Sack Too Far?

Boudica’s barbarians, as they entered London, were not the same force which stormed and liberated Camulodunum – London had never been their land. They did not make the distinction between native Briton and Roman immigrant as they looted and plundered. It seems as if we (English or British) have thrown our colours in with the Iceni tribe without stopping to consider the Atrebates or other tribal peoples victimised by Boudicca.

Ultimately Boudicca’s rebellion was brought to halt with a crash by a force of 10,000 Roman troops, even though her force was much larger and fighting ‘on home soil’. The battle is called the Battle of Watling Street, named after the Roman road somewhere along which it is thought to have taken place. Those in her command were a disorganised rabble, ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the tactics of the Romans. Boudica was suddenly out of her depth and her failure on the battlefield ended in disaster for her army. Caught between the Romans and their own wagon train, they died in a bloody, gory crush. Tragically, their families in the wagon train were not spared.

There is, then, no logical reason I can see to celebrate her so much as the English/British do (I’m English, by the way, if you hadn’t guessed). She is presented as our William Wallace, our underdog fighting against the big bad empire and doing that thing we love more than anything else – failing (‘but she ‘ad a bloody good go’).

Is Boadicea a Symbol of British Nationalism?

I suggest the word to explain the love of Boadicea is xenophobia. A red-haired, milk-skinned dame leading an army of men in tweed and woad against Jonnius Foreignus. She represents the now outdated mentality that our island is our castle and those who come here from abroad are to be repelled. She is often dragged out by ill-informed British nationalists as the poster girl for their hostility – amusing given they talk of themselves as Anglo-Saxons. How would Boudicca have reacted to the arrival of the Saxons I wonder?

The Boadicea statue in Westminster was placed in 1902, designed by Thomas Thornycroft, it is a beautiful and thrilling work of art; but it is becoming rapidly out of date against our modern sensibilities. Britain is now a country which welcomes guests from abroad and co-operation with other nations. It would be a tragedy if that statue was lost and little kids no longer asked parents Who is that?. But perhaps now it would be right to move it elsewhere, where it does not cast its shadow of violence and xenophobia onto the home of our government. Perhaps a better place would be back in Boudicca’s native Norwich or on the site of her great final battle, should we ever find it. There it could live solely as a reminder of a compelling historical figure, a wife and mother, who briefly bested the might of Rome.

Is Westminster the only location to worship Boudicca, or are there other locations in London and Britain where her image can be found? Snap a picture, submit it to our ‘Boudicca spotted in London’ photography contest and win some great Thames &Hudson Books!

Philip Crummy on the Future of the Colchester Roman Circus

Proposed Visitor CentreThis week a group of archaeologists and volunteers from Colchester Archaeological Trust and Destination Colchester attained their goal to raise 200,000 to buy a plot of land that covers the remains of part of what was once the only known Roman Circus in Britain. The appeal started as recently as December 2009, and was quickly won, with the help of celebrity endorsements and public goodwill. We spoke to Philip Crummy, Director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust about the achievement.

HK: Congratulations on raising the 200,000 sum you needed, how do you feel?

PC: We feel quite overwhelmed by it all, the response from the public has been fantastic, much better than we expected when we started and we’ve had all sorts of letters of support and donations that have made us think that what we’re doing is something people really want.

HK: And you’ve raised 200,000 so far, but I understand that there’s still a way to go.

PC: Well the 200,000 is roughly about a quarter of what we need to raise. That’s to pay for the public elements of the project. We have to raise around three times as much again. That’s a mixture of private money from investors to pay for other parts of the building and a mortgage for ourselves, the Archaeological Trust, to relocate into another part of the building – that will be about 230,000. We estimate there is another 150,000 worth of repairs required for the Sergeant’s mess building. Then we have two private investors to buy what space’s left in the building and bring in another 350,000 and that gets us pretty close to the total amount. So that’s how we’ll do it. The 200,000 pays for the public part of the project.

I think one of the reasons why it’s been as successful as it has been is because people, and I think it’s not just true of Colchester, feel that not enough is done with the heritage of the place. Colchester’s a very old city – it’s the oldest Roman town in the country and yet you could walk around the town centre and not get any sort of feeling about its Roman history.

HK: What time-frame do you have in mind to complete the repairs and get the circus excavated and the reconstructions completed?

PC: We hope within this year to be ready to move in to the building and then to submit an application, which will take a good year, to the Heritage Lottery Fund, to raise the money to do the displays to kit out the interpretation centre to a high standard because that particular stage of the operation wasn’t included in the current fund-raising. So I guess to get to the end of the process will perhaps take to the end 2011 but if we can get into the building before that we will mount an interim display for the public to visit while all that’s going on – that could be in the autumn of this year.

HK: And how much archaeological work is there to do?

Well the archaeological remains are about a quarter of a mile long and they’re all underground. You can’t see anything at all, the remains are lying about a foot under the modern ground surface, so what we want to do, we want to bring that to the surface by using mounds along the places where the seats were, having the garden where the actual starting gates were, uncovering a small part of the remains and trying to do a three-dimensional reconstruction to show what the original gates looked like.

HK:Have you been to any other sites which would provide a good model for what you’re trying to do?

Well, around what was the Roman Empire you can find around ten circuses where what’s left is substantially exposed, or different parts of them are exposed. All of those are exposed because they’ve got huge chunks of stonework and masonry which, because of the climates in those parts of the world, can withstand exposure. Our climate gives us a different sort of problem and if we exposed the remains they would very quickly disintegrate. So that’s why we’re not proposing to actually attempt to expose the remains for any kind of length of time because they would decay. So what we’re going to do is use in part three-dimensional artwork and in part reconstructions.

If you walk around the footprint of the circus, which is a quarter of a mile long, it’s strange because you might think that there’s not much to go on but if someone explained to you what it all was and just put across the scale of the thing, and the positioning of it on the ground, it’s worth coming to see. But we want to go beyond that and give a three dimensional representation of the starting gates themselves. It’s the job of the interpretation centre to bring the whole thing to life and we’re actually working on a computerised visualisation for that.

HK: What you’ve achieved should really give hope to the next group of people trying to save a heritage project.

I think one of the reasons why it’s been as successful as it has been is because people, and I think it’s not just true of Colchester, feel that not enough is done with the heritage of the place. Colchester’s a very old city – it’s the oldest Roman town in the country and yet you could walk around the town centre and not get any sort of feeling about its Roman history. I think we got this response partly because we found this extraordinary old building but partly I think there’s a sense of frustration that more should be done about it. I think that, because of this appeal, over the next one or two years councillors will start to pay a bit more attention to that aspect and put it a bit higher up on their agenda.

Visit Roman Colchester

Colchester, ne Camulodunon (a Celtic name meaning ‘fortress of the war god Camulos’), was near the summit of our Ancient World in London video hitlist, being just 55 miles from London in Essex. And thankfully we had the perfect guide: Howard Brooks, of the Colchester Archaeological Trust. The trust have been discovering and preserving the city’s history for decades. And it’s clear that Howard has lost none of his passion for archaeology.

HK: Do you feel the council gave you enough help? I understand they donated 30,000.

Well we didn’t actually officially ask them for money – they made it clear there wasn’t any. What we’ve actually agreed to do is to gift to the council the garden around the starting gates, because what actually started this whole thing up was that the area around the starting gates, under the current planning permission, were going to be part of a private garden. We feel very strongly that this isn’t right. Something as important as that should be in the public ownership.

HK: How financially sustainable is the interpretation centre and display going to be?

Well we’re in talks with a major tea room company about leasing them part of the building. That will hopefully provide enough money to pay the running costs of the interpretation centre which actually won’t be very great. If we can get to that stage we feel there’s a really solid long-term business plan there that will allow us to do what we want to do. It’s about 10-15 minutes outside the town centre but the council have this idea that they’re going to develop to create a ‘heritage arc’, which will start at the museum, go up to St. Botolph’s Priory, which is not very far away, up to St John’s Abbey gate and then to the circus. It will tie the circus to the town centre and to the castle.

HK: What does your success tell us about the British public and their interest in heritage?

It tells us what we already know: that many, many people feel the past is of some value, of interest and that it adds to the character of where they live. People feel heritage counts, it’s a part of life, it’s a part of history and that it’s something we need to nurture and look after and I think the success of the appeal just reinforces that.

Boudicca – The Battle-axe of Britain

What did Boudicca do to earn her place in the elusive Westminster? Image Credit - Burc Ozkan.The warrior Queen, the avenging mother, the woman scorned. Ask any English person who led ‘us’ in the fight against Rome and they will tell you about a woman whose fame outweighs her achievements. Called Boadicea, Boudicca or Boudica, she has a legendary status, like Vercingetorix in Gaul, as one of the leaders of the old world who fought with courage against Rome. Hopelessly outmatched in so many ways, they represented tradition, their religions and some would say freedom against foreign oppressors. The logistical capability and military precision of the Empire meant that resistance to Roman dominance was in the most part futile. Those who succeeded were few and far between. Boudicca led a rebellion which, literally and metaphorically, set Roman Britain ablaze, but in doing so guaranteed the destruction of her people and their way of life. I want to look at who she was and why she rebelled, and ask what her legacy really was. How did this woman from almost two millenia ago cement her place in British history? What did she do to warrant a statue in Westminster, just metres from the likes of Churchill, Cromwell and Richard the Lionheart?

Gradual Conquest

In the middle of the first century AD Rome had swallowed up territory from North Africa to the Near East, from Spain to Romania. At its north-western corner was Gaul, and beyond that the wild and untamed expanse of Britain, which Rome would never succeed in fully mastering.

The conquest of Britain was a piecemeal and gradual process over the course of many years. The first attempts were made by Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 BC. However, neither of these were made with much conviction. Both were aborted due to trouble in Gaul, but not before Caesar had established some client states on the British mainland. It took almost a hundred years before another emperor decided to have a bash at a more complete conquest. Claudius, emperor from 41 to 54 AD, sent his general Aulus Plautius to deal with attacks on the Roman clients within Britain. At that time there were two dominant tribal peoples, the Catuvellauni, north of the Thames and the Atrebates, south of it. The Catuvellauni rulers were descended from the leaders who had fought against Julius Caesar and had a tradition of resisting Roman influence. The Atrebates on the other hand enjoyed the benefits of ties to Rome, not least because they saw the advantage of ties to Rome for their rivalry with the Catuvellauni. Verica, the Atrebati Prince, gave Claudius cause to invade when he fled to Rome after Catuvellauni invasion of his lands.

Queen Boudicca

The Romans hated her, the Celts fought for her and now she is immortalised with a statue in Westminster. But who was Boudicca? The latest video in the Ancient World in London series looks at how her name is often misspelt, how her bloodthirsty rage was caused by the death of her husband and raping of her daughters and how the Romans beat her to within an inch of her life. The story of how she sacked three Roman cities in Britain is uncovered, and how she fell at the Battle of Watling Street.

The troops who travelled into Britain under Roman colours needed to be brave, for they were travelling to the very edges of ‘the world’ as they perceived it. Four legions, including terrifying war elephants (so Cassius Dio says) headed for the Catuvellauni capital of Camulodunum (modern Colchester), skirmishing with the Catuvellauni on the way. The native resistance was not strong enough and Claudius was able to join his general to personally lead the procession into the city.

From that point onwards each year saw a gradual opportunistic expansion further and further into Britain, as more Roman forces arrived and as tribes weakened against them. By 60 AD the Romans had invaded Anglesey, an island just off North Western Wales.

The Iceni were based to the North of Camulodunum, in modern Norfolk. They had lived in alliance with the Romans until the death of their leader Prasutagus in AD 60. The Romans saw the opportunity to claim valuable land. The alliance was annulled and the lands claimed as part of Roman governed Britain. The Iceni had a choice: give in to the Roman yoke, or resist behind the new Iceni leader. That leader was Boudicca, and her rebellion won her a prominent position in English history.


Perhaps Prasutagus had been aware of Roman eyes hungrily looking towards his kingdom, perhaps he wanted to ensure the safety of his wife and daughters. For whatever reason, he left half of his Kingdom to the Roman empire upon his death. Whether this was part of a deal with Rome we do not know. But the Romans were not satisfied with half, they wanted the whole thing. Prestagus had unrepayed loans to the Roman governors, and his lands were to be forfeited. Also, Roman law didn’t recognise the right of a woman to inherit the kingdom. From their point of view, the Iceni lands were now entirely the property of Rome, and the Iceni nobles were just slaves. They rubbed salt into the the wounds of the Iceni by whipping Boudicca and, we are told by Tacitus, raping her daughters. This cruel humiliation did not break Boudicca’s will; in fact it drove her to seek revenge. The Iceni Queen met with the leaders of the Trinovanti tribe and together they conspired to rebel, with other smaller tribes joining their coalition. Boudicca was chosen to lead the rebellion, the woman whose name meant ‘Victorious’ in the Celtic language.

Emperor Claudius

Cassius Dio gives us this account of Boudicca’s appearance:

A Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women… In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.”

If his description is accurate, she would have cut a striking figure as she advanced towards Camulodunum. Camulodunum had been Romanised. The army veterans who had settled there had taken native people as slaves and confiscated lands. In the city they built a Temple of Claudius – a symbol of the alien oppression. When the Romans of Camulodunum got news of the rebels coming their way they appealed to the army for help. However, the troops that were sent were no match for Boudicca’s force. The IXth Legion was routed and only a few of the cavalry survived to tell the tale. The Romans took refuge inside the temple, sentencing them to harrowing deaths as the rampant Britons set the city ablaze. The accounts we have, which may well be biased given their Roman point of view, paint a picture of a merciless foe, sparing nothing from destruction. The archaeological record backs this up – a thick layer of ash exists around two metres under the ground of Colchester to this day. Tacitus describes the fury:

The British did not take or sell prisoners, or practice war-time exchanges. They could not wait to cut throats, hang, burn, and crucify – as though avenging, in advance, the retribution that was on its way.

"[She had] a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace"Dio mentions worse still: impalement of noblewomen followed by the cutting off of their breasts, human sacrifice and debauched celebrations after the massacre.

Boudicca’s force pushed on to their next targets, the Roman hubs at Verulamium (now St. Albans) and finally Londinium. With the bulk of the Roman force in Britain far off in Anglesey, all the colonists could do was retreat and watch the burning skies above their adopted home towns. The death toll is estimated at 70-80,000 people in these cities. This included the deaths of many non-Romans who were between the Britons and their plunder.

The Bloody Tide Turns

The Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus had been away with his forces in Angelsey, returning to London in time to flee from the rebel force, which was gathering in size like a rolling snowball. After the sacking of London Paulinus gathered together 10,000 troops and took them to an unknown location where they met the much larger rebel force. Tacitus talks of an army of 230,000, but we can take that claim with a pinch of salt as the population of the entire British mainland is estimated to have been between only 1 and 1.5 million. The Battle, called the ‘Battle of Watling Street’ as it happened somewhere along the route of that particular Roman road, had a predictable outcome.

If we compare the two armies, the differences were in more than just size. The Roman force was made up of professional soldiers equipped with weapons designed specifically to kill humans and dressed in high-tech plated body armour and helmets. The disorganised mob they faced were poorly equipped, in part due to Roman enforced de-armament of the Iceni. Their force was of men and, according to Tacitus, also women, and behind the soldiers was a crescent-shaped wagon train made up of the families who had followed their kin to the battlefield. Chariots – probably without the Persian-style bladed wheels as seen on Boudicca’s statue – circled the warriors, shooting missiles towards the Romans. The chariot has become synonymous with Boudicca.

Suetonius Paulinus chose a location where his two sides were flanked by a gorge, and his rear protected by dense forest. Tacitus’ father-in-law was Agricola, future governor of Britannia, who fought in the battle under Paulinus, and this connection gave Tacitus special insight into what happened next. We are told Paulinus made a speech to his troops:

“Ignore the racket made by these savages. There are more women than men in their ranks. They are not soldiers – they’re not even properly equipped. We’ve beaten them before and when they see our weapons and feel our spirit, they’ll crack. Stick together. Throw the javelins, then push forward: knock them down with your shields and finish them off with your swords. Forget about booty. Once we have one we’ll take everything.”

And then Boudicca’s screaming army rushed forwards. Their first wave was met by two volleys of the Roman pilum javelins, and many of them were killed, wounded or their shields made useless. With no other tactic in her arsenal Boudicca sent wave upon wave against the Roman shield wall. The Roman spirits held against the onslaught and their tactic of shifting places in the ranks ensured the men on the front of the formation were always fresh to continue the butchery. As the Britons tired the Romans formed a tight formation of wedges, advancing into the field slowly and with crushing precision. We can imagine the horror of the onlookers amongst the British wagon train, as they saw the Romans advance and the Britons break against the gnashing teeth of the wedges. Then the cavalry charged into the wavering force. The remnants of Boudicca’s army tried to flee, but were sandwiched between the Romans and baggage train, a horrific killing field was created and the Romans spared no one. Tacitus’ appraisal was of 80,000 Britons dead, compared to only 400 Romans, although historians are sceptical of these figures.

What of Boudicca? Did she die in the battle? We do not know. Tacitus tells us she poisoned herself rather than face the terrible repercussions the Romans would have inflicted. Dio disagrees and says she fell ill and died. There is also no record of her daughters, who may have followed their mother into battle. We can imagine that Boudicca would have done all in her power to prevent them from falling into enemy hands again.

Boudica rallies her troops as they prepare to battle.This did not stop the reprisals. Paulinus led punitive actions against any remaining opposition, and in doing so only exacerbated relations with the populace. By this time Nero was emperor and he was concerned by Paulinus’ approach, ultimately replacing him with a more amicable governor.

Boudicca’s rebellion had cost perhaps as many as 100,000 lives by the time the last strike fell in anger (my own estimate based on more conservative versions of the Roman figures). She had destroyed the lives of many inhabitants of her former kingdom and weakened the other tribes in her coalition. In battle she had been nave and this ultimately seems to have cost her her life and maybe also those of her daughters. Subjected to cruelty herself, in her rage she perpetuated the cycle of violence and it seems did so without a great deal of discrimination between Roman and Briton. As a result she justified Paulinus’ own crackdown.

Her rebellion was absent from history until its rediscovery during the Renaissance. If archaeologists were ever to find her burial place it would be perhaps the greatest find yet in the British isles, as she is intertwined with Victorian nationalism. Queen Victoria was called the (metaphorical) reincarnation of Boudicca, and the romanticised image of the Celtic queen sprung a life of its own. The anti-imperialist became a heroine of a new empire claiming dominion of other far-off lands, a final twist of irony in the tale of Boudicca.

Tracing King Tut’s Family Tree in London

Amenhotep IIITutankhamun has always captured popular imagination, and been a major draw for museums. The British Museum’s 1972 exhibition of artefacts from his tomb smashed all expectations in the box office, drawing over 1.6 million visitors over its nine month duration. The pharaoh nicknamed ‘King Tut‘ has been the source of more speculation, satire and popular culture references than any other male king of Egypt. Last week pathologists announced the results from their studies into the genetic relationship of eleven mummies from the Egyptian New Kingdom (mid 16th to early 11th centuries BC), including those of the legendary pharaoh Tutankhamun.

The genetic testing revealed the identities of three generations before him, his great grandparents (Yuya and Thuya, the two best preserved of the mummies in terms of facial recognition), his grandparents (Amenhotep III and Tiye) and his unidentified father (known for now as KV55) and mother (KV35YL). The study – airing as ‘King Tut Unwrapped’ – did reveal that Tutankhamun’s parents were part of one of the notorious incestuous marriages of Egyptian royalty. There is speculation that this unidentified mother (and Aunt) was Kiya. Kiya was the favourite of one of the most notorious of pharaohs and strongest candidate to be the mummy found in KV55: Akhenaten.

We have come tantalisingly close, through this study, to answering one of the enduring mysteries of Egyptology. Who is the mummy known as ‘KV55’? Before this investigation, KV55 was considered too young to have been Akhenaten. However, this study found that the mummy could have died at around 60 years old. Found amongst the other tombs of the Amarna period, could it be Akhenaten – the king whose successors tried to wipe him from history? Akhenaten forced through religious reform, ending the worship of all other Egyptian gods apart from one: Aten. His status as the ‘heretic’ king may have lead to his reburial in Thebes, after his original tomb had been desecrated.

The British Museum has a fragment of a statue depicting Akhenaten. Even though only the lips and nose are intact, archaeologists can still be confident that the statue depicts Akhenaten due to the unusual artistic style which was trademark of his era. With full lips and long face, it was thought for many years that he suffered from a genetic disorder which had led to a deformed physical appearance; this study has finally been able to put that theory to bed.

Amenhotep III as an old man, BMPerhaps one day the whole family – KV55, Tutankhamun and all – will make the trip to be seen together at the British Museum and the other leading museums of the world. In the meantime, we can still see artefacts relating to some of these ancient rulers within Britain. The British Museum holds in their collection a stela with the image of Akhenaten portrayed in the Amarna style. He sits in a relaxed pose, seated, with a protruding chin and rotund little belly. Curiously, he also has what seem to be developed breasts, leading to speculation he suffered from Gynecomastia – male breast growth which is also now disproven and currently accepted as another stylistic fad. Above him in this picture, the Sun casts down its rays, the gift of Aten. Is this figure themummy KV55? The evidence is mounting.

Unlike Akhenaten, Amenhotep III is well represented in the archaeological record and within British museums. He was cast in a relief dating to after his death in the style preferred in the time of Akhenaten. He sits alongside Queen Tiye, mother of the elusive KV55, in a familial pose characteristic of the Amarna period, where Kings celebrated their marriages and family status.

More impressive perhaps are the two colossal works in the museum’s collection. One is an almost three metre high head, without the full lips that the Amarna kings preferred. Why the inconsistency? It was common practise for pharaohs to usurp monuments to other kings. Rameses II rededicated some of Amenhotep’s sculptures to himself, and in doing so the peculiar physical features were corrected, the lips ‘trimmed’ and the paunch in the gut reduced to conform to what the great propagandist Pharaoh Rameses II believed was the ideal – or perhaps better suited his vanity.

1983,024.jpgThe colossal head wears the crown of both Egyptian kingdoms. Cut from smooth granite it is in superb condition apart from the loss of the goatee beard (and the rest of the body, of course). A different head of Amenhotep III was reunited, in replica, with the accompanying body on the original site in Egypt, just under a year ago. The ruler was one of the pioneers of colossal sculpture. One of the most impressive artefacts from the Amarna period and the ancestors of Tutankhamun within the UK is a limestone bust, around a metre and a half tall. The torso, head, face and headdress featuring a coiled cobra – are very well preserved, and it wears a Mona Lisa type smile of contentment.

Finally, we have a seated black statue of Amenhotep III, 235 centimetres tall, albeit made of fragments and recreated parts. Hundreds of these statues would have been commissioned to commemorate his death, and they would have once watched over the place of his burial complex.

Now that genetics has unravelled the connections between the mummies, the intertwining of these influential lives has been revealed. It is fascinating that after so many eras and generations the mists of time are clearing. The eighteenth dynasty, which stuttered after the death of the ‘Golden King’ Tutankhamun, is now of more interest than ever before. The more complete picture we have before us now would be superbly complimented by an in-depth exhibition to present these people through their monuments together, as they were tied together to each other by blood, a great family remembered millennia after their deaths.

More information on the most recent ‘King Tut family’ research in Discovery Channel’s ‘King Tut Unwrapped’ documentary, which will air on March 3 & 4 in the UK, here’s a photo preview. If we’ve overlooked any of King Tut relatives who have artefacts currently in London or Oxford, !Surprised by so many Amenhotep IIIheads? Yet another one has recently surfaced in Luxor. No King Tut treasures on display in London (as far as we know, feel free to correct) but of course, you can have an up-close look for yourself in King Tut Virtual.

Who Were the Saxons, Jutes, Angles and Vikings? Know Your Dark Age Germanic Peoples

viking 1Fellow residents of our Early-Medieval Britannia! Many of you will have become aware of strange men coming from oversees to our green and pleasant island home.

You may be wondering who these people are, what they have come for and how long they plan to stay. To we Britons, their barbarian and guttural languages all sound very much the same… but let me inform you that in fact these visitors actually come from different places and each have different cultures- though they share many traits, they will be offended if you should accidentally confuse them for one another. So how do you tell your Jute from your Angle, for example?

This ye olde Heritage-key guide should clarify all for you.


If you should see them around, BEWARE, early indications are that they are not just here for a spot of sightseeing and may be dangerous!

The Angles

When might they arrive?

The Angles are scheduled to arrive in the 5th century AD.

We can expect them to be very powerful, until someone else comes to knock them from their perch… perhaps the Vikings in around 867 AD, for example… (a wild stab in the dark).

Where are they from?

The Roman historian Tacitus mentioned the Anglii in his Germania, a book about Germany (obviously) written back in around 98 AD and their name is believed to derived from their homeland of Angeln, as it is called in Old English. It is situated on the narrow peninsula between the North and Baltic seas, in the central part of the peninsula which will later be called ‘Schleswig-Holstein’. This territory is so littered by marshes, rivers and inlets that even the Romans never could get to grips with it. It all sounds a bit bleak over there, so it’s not surprising they want a look at our verdant and foresty pastures.

Where are they headed?

The Angles are coming in large numbers! So many in fact that it seems they may be abandoning their homeland and all but a few of them will be turning up on our eastern and southern coasts. There’ll be so many we may as well start calling our homeland ‘Angleland’ if we aren’t careful (but that would be a ridiculous name)! We forecast particularly strong presences in the North and East, in places they call ‘Northumberland’ and ‘East Anglia’ in their language. We may also see them as far inland as ‘Mercia’, slap bang in the middle of our fine Celtic land.

Do they worship a god?

Tacitus had them down as one of several peoples who venerated the goddess Nerthus, along with other pagan gods. Pope Gregory may have other plans for them… it is said after seeing some sweet little slave children of this people he asked Where are they from?.

When told they were from Angeln he punned Well that is well, for they have angel faces, and such people should share with the angels in heaven.

At that moment it is said he swore to convert them from their pagan ways.

Until that happens the Angles will retain their pantheon of gods, which they share with all the Germanic peoples. Most prominent among these is Woden, the leader of ‘the wild hunt‘. Secondary to him is Thunor, the thunder god. Some others from the pantheon include Ingui, Tiw and Helith (fertility, war, and marriage gods). They use these gods to identify their weekdays: Tiw’s day, Woden’s day, Thunor’s day, Frige’s day (Frige is believed to be Woden’s wife).

See AnglesJutesSaxonsVikings

The Jutes

When might they arrive?

Expect them in around the 5th and 6th centuries AD – much like theAngles.

Where are they from?

The Jutes (or Iuti or Iutae) come from a land that will one day be called Jutland in their honour, and the venerable Bede tells me they are from the northern part of that peninsula, to be specific, further north than the Saxons or Angles.

Where are they headed?

The Jutes are headed a bit more southwards than the Angles. Their proverbial towels have been thrown in reservation over the Southern areas of our island. So get prepared if you are in Kent, Hampshire or the Isle of Wight and of Celtic descent, as we don’t expect them to leave any time soon – there is a moderate to high risk that you will be absorbed, displaced or – worse – destroyed! So pack an umbrella! (whatever an umbrella is.)

Take comfort from the fact that the same thing may well happen to them one day, once the West Saxons arrive.

Anything else?

The Jutes are a bit more suave and debonair than their Germanic cousins. They’ll probably try and adopt some aspects of Roman and Christian culture, knowing them. They will also be ahead of their peers in adopting funerary burial, instead of cremation. They use ‘Partible Inheritance’ (dividing between heirs as opposed to primogeniture), which should be helpful for people in the future to set them apart from the other German peoples whilst digging around into history.

See AnglesJutesSaxonsVikings

The Saxons

When might they arrive?

It’s going to busy in the North Sea for a while – the Saxons will, like the Jutes and Angles, be heading over for much of the 5th and 6th centuries AD. East coast fishermen look out, you won’t be able to move for boat loads of colonisers. The name of this lot may be related to a type of distinctive knife they use, the Seax. Look out for those in future on the emblems of Essex and Middlesex.

Where are they from?

They are from Southern Jutland, on the Baltic coast, and as such have plenty of room to expand further southwards and westwards into Europe, though in doing so they’ll be treading on the toes of Charlemagne and his Franks, so there’s likely to be a clash there one day.

Where are they headed?

Expansive is their middle name. The Saxons are expected to lay claim to lands all along the East Coast. They’re a bit sex mad this lot, they like the word ‘Sex’ so much that they are liable to set up kingdoms with names like West Sex, East Sex, and South Sex (or Wessex, Essex and Sussex for short).

Any distinguishing features?

The languages of the Jutes, Angles and Saxons are very similar, as is that of the Fresians on the coast of the lowland European countries, so there’s not much to separate them there. You may be able to tell a Saxon from his brooch; whilst the Angles and Jutes prefer cross shaped brooches, the Saxon will often wear a round one. Look for his pottery too – the Saxons are fans of curvilinearly decorated pottery.

See AnglesJutesSaxonsVikings

The Vikings

When might they arrive?

Sensibly the Vikings are going to avoid the rush in the 5th and 6th centuries and join us between the 9th and 11th centuries, by which time the other Germanic peoples will have been able to establish themselves on our shores. The Vikings have a reputation for being more warlike than the others and they will come here with no good intentions! By raiding the by then established and flourishing Anglo-Saxons they will be be able to acquire tremendous wealth to take back to Scandinavia.

Where are they from?

They’re frrom the Danish Peninsula and the coastal areas of Sweden and Norway. The word ‘Viking‘ is from the word ‘wicing’, our own Old English word meaning pirate. In their homelands the Vikings use primogeniture to determine inheritance (the eldest son is bequeathed everything), and when birth rates are high that means there are many men who do not inherit. Those men must choose between working on their brothers’ land or joining one of the many raiding parties which set off across the known world and even into the unknown world. When they see the riches with which their countrymen return from such expeditions, it is not surprising they find so many men to join their raiding parties, if only on a season-on, season-off basis for many.

What do they look like?

There is no particularly obvious look to set them apart from the other northern Germanic peoples. When raiding they may wear round leather skull caps and the successful soldier may even have a round metal helmet with a nose guard, but this is rare. Leather body armour is a possibility, but many raiders are just on expeditions during the summer – they are not career raiders who have acquired all the most modern accoutrements of armour. Look out for their distinctive large round shields. These Vikings have a curious custom: they bathe as often as once a week and comb their hair regularly; most unusual behaviour and most unhealthy!

Where are they headed?

Everywhere. If it has a coast, the Vikings will raid it eventually, from Scandinavia, round Europe, to as far as Constantinople, to the interior of the black sea and even down the rivers of Russia to the Caspian, they have no limits to their range. It is even said they have stumbled across a whole new landmass far, far away across the Western Ocean. Nowhere in Britain is to be safe from their raiding, though settlement will be confined to some extent. Northumbria can expect settlement from the ninth century onwards, but it will come as late as the 11th for much of southern and central zones. If you live in those areas then you’d best lock up your daughters.

Given half a chance they’ll try and establish their own settlements, with names ending in things like ‘-by’ (homestead), -thorpe (an outlying settlement), ‘-borg’ (castle) or ‘-wick’ (bay). Once these settlements are in place, they will instate their laws and create a separate Scandinavian territory. The ‘Danelaw’ would be a nice name for this Viking state on our island. If this should happen, it would take a great leader to unite the Saxons and rid us of the Vikings!

See AnglesJutesSaxonsVikings

Now you know how to differentiate these newcomers, find out who were London’s most influential invaders (you might be surprised!) or follow us following the Vikings in our ‘Ancient World in London‘ video series. Feel like dressing up as a Viking? Take up one of the challenges to join us at the live event and win the Grand Prize:a lovely one-week break in Turkey.

Georgiana Aitken from Christie’s on Auctioneering Antiquities

The Jenkins VenusGeorgiana Aitken, Head of Sale, Antiquities at Christies South Kensington, was kind enough to answer my questions about auctioneering.

HK:Is it possible for an ordinary person to acquire items from antiquity? If you had, say, a few thousand pounds to spend?

GA:Yes absolutely, antiquities are much more affordable and accessible than people would think. Estimates in our sales start at 500.

HK:How healthy is the antiquity market at the moment from the point of view of the vendor and auctioneer? Has it been hit by the global economic downturn?

GA: The Antiquities market has remained buoyant with strong results in 2009 and higher demand than ever for material with good provenance. In October 2009 (Christies most recent sale) the top lot sold for 169,250 tripling the low estimate. Antiquities offer a tangible store of value that can be cherished and enjoyed, and that can also provide significant financial returns in the medium to long term.

HK: What kinds of people are buying antiquities? Is it mostly inter-museum trading? Could you give a rough estimate as to the percentage of sales going to museums or collectors?

GA: In Christies October 2009 sale private buyers bought 73% of the sale by lot, continuing the trend seen in the previous sale in April 2009 with a shift away from trade buyers.

HK: How does the process work to get things to auction? If I came to you with a statue and claimed it to be from classical Greece, for example, what is done to assess its authenticity and then value?

GA: Our team of specialists have many years’ experience assessing objects and would be able to tell in some cases instantly if a piece is wrong or right. There are specific tests we can perform on terracotta and wood, and in a case of doubt we would call upon the British Museum or a specialist in a particular field for a second opinion. Value is determined by rarity and quality. We bear in mind market trends and where possible take into account prices that similar pieces have realized at auction.

Learn more about the most famous, fascinating and – expensive – ancient artefacts Christie’s has auctioned:
Top 10 Antiquity Sales at Christies.

HK: I would imagine it’s pretty rare to see new and previously unknown artefacts come to sales, or can experts be surprised by the objects which arise from private collections?

GA: Due to the nature of the industry (we do not sell recently excavated or newly discovered material) it is true that completely new discoveries are rare as many important pieces in private collections are known from catalogues and publications, like for example Michaelis’s Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, pub. 1882, or have been exhibited. Occasionally undiscovered pieces do come to light from private collections where the owner was unaware of what was in their possession, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

HK: Aside from at auction, what are the best places to shop for genuine antiquities?

GA: Auctions tend to be the safest way to buy antiquities as you can be certain the auction house has performed full background research for each object. However, other options include registered dealers, Portobello market in London and the internet but it is always important to make sure the seller is reputable before making a purchase.

Antiquities sales at Christie’s are held four times a year; twice in New York and twice in London. The next sale at Christie’s South Kensington, London will take place on Thursday the 29th of April 2010.

A History of Love – Romance and Relationships in Ancient Societies

A History of Love - Balloon Heart Floating Roman (Realy!)We’ve come a long way from the time when Ugg would mutter inanities to Uggetta in the cave, present her with a wad of crushed up flowers and move in for the kiss- and if she resisted he would reach for his club, gives it the old ‘knock on the head and drag away’ routine. Nowadays, for example, we do all the inanities on dating websites or in noisy bars. The rules of romance and courting have been shifting rapidly in the last 50 years and now many people are so clueless as to what they are supposed to do that they’re paying experts to teach them how to make that connection. Our expectations from marriage and our relationships are also different. How much has the nature of what is perceived as ‘romantic’ changed from the past? How much do we even know about what brought people together thousands of years ago? Is the modern relationship of mutual attraction to bring mutual happiness one which existed in the past, and how do archaic relationships sit with our modern morals?

Going waaay back – Neolithic love

Neolithic culture is first seen in the Levant from around 9500 BC and was replaced by the Chalcolithic (Copper tools) and then bronze ages. Neolithic, meaning ‘new stone age’ societies had knowledge of sedentary agriculture and had domesticated some species of animals, they used pottery and often lived in mud-brick type simple houses. People lived amongst their tribes and social hierarchies were making their first appearances, in simple forms, but mainly egalitarianism was order of the day (due to ignorance of anything else). Neolithic tools made it possible for farmers to harvest a surplus, but the aim of Neolithic life was still survival- so what does that mean for neolithic love? It stands to reason that a farmer with progressive technology would have a better harvest than his rival, stand a better chance of survival and be more attractive to women.

It is strange that the freedom to be with whom we like, and are attracted to, is something we in the west view as inherently more civilised than arranged marriages. However it was the birth of society and civilisation which actually diminished the care-free love matches of pre-history and made marriage a form of trade or obligation.

The neolithic period saw the start of ritualised and official marriage and brings us the earliest joint burials. In 2007 a pair of late Neolithic skeletons were found in Mantua, in Italy, the male skeleton locked in an embrace with the female- two lovers with eternal affection.

Neolithic marriage would take place at holy sites, such as stone circles. The magic powers of the stones could bless a marriage and oaths sworn to each other on the stones were held as sacred. Phallic stones could bring fertility to the marriage.

Agriculture changed the frequency of childbirth amongst women, who no longer had to carry the single child as in nomadic or hunter gather societies. Therefore second and third children came sooner. This would have helped to forge closer bonds between the husband and wife, who had shared property and could sleep together in the same place night after night surrounded by their belongings. As the concept of property ownership developed so too did awareness that others had more – we can speculate then that the first arranged marriages between a man who wanted a wife and the ability to exchange something with her kin took place. The concept of the dowry came into existence as compensation to the family for the loss of an able worker.

It is strange that the freedom to be with whom we like, and are attracted to, is something we in the west view as inherently more civilised than arranged marriages. However it was the birth of society and civilisation which actually diminished the care-free love matches of pre-history and made marriage a form of trade or obligation.

Into Civilisation: The Near East

Thanks to the code of laws left by Hammurabi of Babylonia we have a good idea of marriage in Babylon. The laws are extensive and cover many possible situations which might arise. Babylonian marriages took place after the signing of contracts, some of the laws elaborate on this business like form of relationship:

If a man marry a woman and she bear him no sons; if then this woman die, if the “purchase price” which he had paid into the house of his father-in-law is repaid to him, her husband shall have no claim upon the dowry of this woman; it belongs to her father’s house.

The obligations are two way, the husband must fulfil his supportive duties:

If a man take a wife, and she be seized by disease, if he then desire to take a second wife he shall not put away his wife, who has been attacked by disease, but he shall keep her in the house which he has built and support her so long as she lives.

The Babylonian system seems to be all about procreation and marriage as a duty, free from Romance. However, this particular law uses emotive language which tells us there was more to it:

If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children… She may then marry the man of her heart.

It is that last phrase man of her heart which tells us women’s desires were of importance.

In 1880 (AD) a Sumerian tablet dating from around 2000 BC was discovered. On it was written a racy message full of lust and desire:

You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you; Bridegroom, I would be taken to the bedchamber.”

It is the oldest love poem yet discovered, although it is more likely to have been written by a man recreating a mythical or legendary story of love than by a woman telling her own story or fantasy. Other similar poems from Sumeria were used as part of a fertility ritual where the King would have sex with a priestess and recreate the erotic encounter between a Shepherd and goddess in Sumerian myth. The goddess was the initiator, which suggests women were not necessarily passive in finding a partner. The pro-actively sexual female also features in the Epic of Gilgamesh,known as the oldest story ever written (circa 2700 BC). The hero Gilgamesh rejects the advances of the love goddess Ishtar, and she takes revenge by sending a great bull to terrorise the earth – which Gilgamesh later slays.

Egypt – Not just about Pharaohs

We often perceive Egyptian relationships through the prism of the Pharaohs and Gods. The Pharaohs, such as Rameses, had hundreds of wives, some more important than others. If we take the examples of Nefertiti and Akhenaten; or Rameses II and Nefertari, there are what we consider ‘normal’ marriages from amongst the Pharaohs. Both of these couples are depicted in portraits together and the men and women are drawn at the same size- an indicator of shared importance in by those who commissioned the work and therefore of genuine affection.

Tutankhamun and his wife

The Pharaohs were well known to be inbred and marry from within their own immediate families, this is obviously odd and we shouldn’t allow it to distort the bigger picture of what was normal. Egyptian records do not tell us a great deal about their sex lives – and when it is mentioned is just as often about homosexual as heterosexual relationships. Although we find little record of sex in Egyptian art, unlike for example amongst Greek material culture, we have been left some revealing love poetry. The following poem was found on the site of a worker’s village, and dates back to the New Kingdom (1539-1075), so it was likely written by, though not necessarily composed by, an ordinary Egyptian (an artisan or scribe).

To hear your voice is pomegranate wine to me:
I draw life from hearing it.
Could I see you with every glance,
It would be better for me
Than to eat or to drink.

(Translated by M.V. Fox)

Most likely this poem was part of an oral tradition passed down through generations and only recorded around this time.

So seize the day! hold holiday!
Be unwearied, unceasing, alive
you and your own true love;
Let not the heart be troubled during your
sojourn on Earth,
but seize the day as it passes!

(Translated by J.L. Foster)

What is interesting about the above poem is that it is contrary to the mainstream perception of Egypt as a society obsessed with the afterlife. Ancient Egypt was in fact infused with romantic ideals and earthly pleasures. As in Babylonia, marriage was more contract than crush. Archaeologists have found contracts between spouses and they are more like intineraries of property, who owns what and who keeps it in the event of divorce, than they are like romantic vows. Unlike for the Pharaohs, monogamy was expected, though divorce was possible.

L'Enlvement de Proserpine par PlutonHere is a marriage contract from 219 BC:

The Blemmyann, born in Egypt, son of Horpais,
whose mother is Wenis, has said to the woman
Tais, daughter of the Khahor, whose mother is
Tairerdjeret: I have made you a married woman.
As your womans portion, I give you two pieces of
silverIf I dismiss you as wife and dislike you and
prefer another woman to you as wife, I will give you
two pieces of silver in addition to the two pieces of
silver mentioned above

A lot like the modern prenuptial agreement a Hollywood couple might sign – if they have the sense.

Ancient Greece – Heroic Sacrifice for Love

If any single society has influenced later romantic ideals and love it is Ancient Greece. The heroes in Greek myth and legend were idealised versions of humanity, the models which were aspired to then and indeed ever since. The two great epic poems attributed to Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, are both love stories. In the Iliad two kingdoms fight for the love of a beautiful woman and in the Odyssey the hero is (via a very circuitous route, it must be said) trying to get back from Troy to Ithaca to return to his wife and child – before another suitor can replace him. Odysseus’ wife Penelope, who waits for her husband for twenty years, comes across as the ideal Greek wife, as loyal as she is beautiful, waiting inside her house so as not to compromise her honour. In contrast, if we take Theseus as an example, men were not duty bound to this long lasting romantic loyalty. When he met Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, fell in love with her and took her away with him it sparked a war. Despite all that effort he had no scruples about abandoning her once he met Phaedra. Zeus, as he appears in legend, was also faddish, to say the least, in his admirations, and although he sometimes resorted to rape. He appeared to Europa, as a bull, seduced Io and then turned her into a cow (only for 11 years), was bewitched by Semele, took the boy Ganymede to be his lover, tricked Callisto to take her chastity and impregnated Leto prior to his marriage to long-suffering Hera.

Zeus’ thuggish promiscuity could not be called romantic, but then as King of the God’s he was cast in the mould of the ultimate alpha-male, not the romantic lover seen elsewhere in Greek myth.

Zeus is an emblem of the Greek acceptance and celebration (in reality) of sudden and passionate love- without paying heed to the consequences.


Out of myth

Sappho was a female poet from Lesbos, and wrote many romantic poems about women, though we do not know if Sappho was writing them autobiographically it is from her that we have the terms ‘Sapphic’ and ‘Lesbian’:

As a wind in the mountains
assaults an oak,
Love shook my breast.
You came, Atthis, you did so good
You refreshed my heart that was burned by desire
Whiter than milk
Fresher than water

Softer than the finest veil.

Sappho and the other Greek love lyricists wrote around the 6th century BC. There was a shift away from the grandiose epics to songs of a more intimate and less divine nature. Sung at social gatherings with a bowl if wine, they fell out of fashion to be revived around the time of Alexander (3rd century BC) and again by Roman poets such as Catullus. These songs were about wild and unrestrainable emotion and the resulting heartbreak.

That embarrassing other thing

Modern morality cannot be comfortable around a certain aspect of Greek sexuality, today it would, frankly, be called paedophilia. They did not share our stigma. It was accepted that an older man could be attracted sexually to a younger boy, and would enjoy engaging in intercourse with him. Attraction to boys was considered stronger than to women. We should remember that this was not seen as destructive or harmful to the boy, in fact it was seen as a step closer to manhood. The intercourse was always in one direction, as it were, and homosexuality between two grown men was stigmatised. The Greeks would lampoon the Persians as effeminate and camp, depicting them as recipients in the homosexual relationship and this was shameful. Unfortunately deliberate destruction of artefacts pertaining to pederasty have reduced our potential to fully understand the form it took. It was a feature of ancient Roman life too, though to a lesser extent.

Romans – From idealist to realist

If you look at a Roman sculpture, once Rome had superceded Greece as the mediterranean power, there is a shift from Hellenic idealised portrait to ‘veristic’ (truthful) depictions. This mirrored tastes in poetry/songs from the epic tales to the autobiographical and realistic.

The poet Catullus wrote very personal poems about his own life, attacking his enemies, criticising himself and praising the women he desired:

Brothel Directions

Give me a thousand kisses, a hundred more,
another thousand, and another hundred,
and, when weve counted up the many thousands,
confuse them so as not to know them all,
so that no enemy may cast an evil eye,
by knowing that there were so many kisses.

Catullus suffered for his love, and the pain inspired his poetry:

Goodbye girl, now Catullus is firm,
he doesnt search for you, wontask unwillingly.
But youll grieve, when nobody asks.
Woe to you, wicked girl, what lifes left for you?

‘Don’t turn around now, you’re not welcome any more’, he might have written. Catullus at times uses warfare imagery in his poems, and we see the contrast between epic and love poetry: The heroic epic is about love and war, Roman love poetry uses war as a tool to describe love in passionate, visceral terms.

The fascination with Rome and Greece during the Renaissance reconnected medieval chivalric love and the epic tales of romantic quests from antiquity, the amalgamation can be seen in the likes of Shakespeare and classical opera. This context became mainstream in the arts, drilled into us in fiction, in stories and nowadays in film and television. Interestingly, this has very much influenced our own concept of a relationship, and the fact that we should be with the ones we love.

I’m going to venture a sweeping conclusion here, it took thousands of years, but the circle has been completed and the kind of love seen in pre-historic societies, love for loves sake, not due to arranged marriage or financially motivated marriage, has become the western ideal and norm over the last hundred or so years, and across all the classes of society, for the first time since our Neolithic days.

The Temple of Mithras at the Heart of Roman London

temple of mithras

Like any major western city, modern London encourages its residents to live a lifestyle focussed upon the secular. On the surface, finance, business, fashion, the career and socialising outwardly seem to be the major concerns of Londoners as they rush around town. However, one does not need to look far to be reminded of the fact London is very much a religious centre, on top of being the hub for so many other preoccupations of British lives.

St. Paul’s Cathedral has been dominant in the city skyline, in one form or another, for nearly a thousand years. Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey both dwell within the city centre, as do literally hundreds of other churches from many offshoots of Christianity.

In contemporary multicultural London we also find the largest Sikh and Hindu temples outside of India, the UK’s primary mosque and places of worship of every other sort, even Shaolin. The sacred sits alongside the temples of finance and commerce, much the same can be said for Roman London (find out all about ‘Londinium’ in this video).

In 1954 a major Roman temple dating back to the third century was discovered in the heart of London’s financial district, the temple belonged to a cult which had spread from as far east as India, all the way west to London and Spain. This set of beliefs had many parallels to what we recognise as Christianity today, and some say this cult, known as Mithraism, heavily influenced the formation of Christianity.

Mithras shown killing the bull in this statue at the British Museum. Image credit to Tallis Keeton.

Who was Mithras?

Mithras, or Mithra, is thought to have been the most important god from an Iranian religion first recorded in the sixth century BC, in an era before Zoroastrianism. He was god of many things, the god of contracts and law to whom oaths were sworn; a deity who stood for loyalty to the ruler; the god of good relations between men and thus peace; god of the sun and source of light; he was the God of warriors and so also war; and also a deity who provided justice and demanded it from the actions his devotees. Mithras, in human form, fought and killed a mythical bull, an embodiment of the moon god Soma, which was then sacrificed. The Sacrifice of Soma and shedding of his potent blood brought light to the world and made life possible for mankind.

The Iranian form of the Mithraic religion slowly died over the centuries of Achaemenid imperial hegemony as the emperors’ Zoroastrian faith whittled away and then swallowed-up the followers of Mithras. On the western fringes of the Persian empire however, the Mithraic cult lived on, although it never spread to Greece, which is unsurprising given the Greek animosity to all things Persian. It may have reached Rome at some point, as from 136AD onwards archaeological records begin to record a resurgence in the religion as attested to by the discovery of inscriptions and dedications to the god Mithras. Over generations, much as with Christianity, ownership of this religion from a far off eastern land shifted and it became recognised as Roman. It is a subject of debate amongst historians as to whether the Roman Mithraism was truly born of its Iranian counterpart or can be considered to have a separate identity. The Mithras seen as a bearded figure, set against bright light emanating from behind his head, on Persian relief sculpture morphed into the idealised and cloaked man, with a Phrygian cap on his youthful face, as seen in Hellenistic Roman sculpture. This Mithras appears most commonly astride the bull as he seemingly effortlessly plunges his dagger home in sacrifice at the moment known as the Mithraic epiphany.

Why Did Mithraism Spread so Far?

Given Mithraism’s veneration of loyalty to authority, civil order and the warrior, it is unsurprising that the emperors had no complaints about the growth of this cult and some, such as Diocletian and Lucius adopted it themselves. Combine this reverence for worldly authority and bravery with Mithras’ status as a God of warriors, forged in the ilk of the masculine, Greco-Roman, beast killing heroes such as Hercules and we can see why Mithraism appealed to soldiers in particular. Roman soldiers were likely to find themselves posted right across the empire and so, as they took the adoration of Mithras with them, the religion spread virally to the outer reaches of Roman dominion. Indeed many of the Mithraic dedications and representations known to archaeologists were found on the extremities of the Roman empire, where soldiers were most abundant, with fewer found in peaceful provinces.

No better example of this can be found than the ruined Mithraeum at the Carrawburgh garrison next to Hadrian’s Wall, the wall built right across modern England which served in Roman times as the frontier at the North-Western edge of the Roman Empire.

Mithraism retained favour amongst emperors until the conversion of Constantine in the early fourth century AD, but prior to that it had comfortably fit into the prevailing religious shift towards monotheism and away from pantheistic religions. Looking back now, it could perhaps have been Mithraism which grew to become the world’s largest religion, had history deviated just a little at this point.

Watch the Ancient World in London Video – Londinium, Basilica Forum, Walbrook and the Temple of Mithras

In the second part of their adventure across Roman London, Ian Smith takes Nicole Favish to the centre of the city to Cornhill. Taking a trip to the basilica forum and St Stephen Walbrook, Ian explains how the Londinium forum was akin to the city centre such as modern day’s Oxford Street and Leicester Square. They attempt to visit the Temple of Mithras but it is currently in the process of being moved.

Ian discusses the importance of the River Walbrook to the development of Londinium in ancient times, before the pair go to the London Guildhall, and see the original site of the Roman Amphitheatre.

Where was the London Mithraeum?

Fast-forward to 1954AD, where workers are excavating the proposed site of the Bucklersbury House skyscraper, on Walbrook Street, in London’s ‘square mile’ financial district, better known as ‘The City’. Inadvertently, they unearth perhaps the capitals greatest Roman treasure. A Mithraic Sanctuary, including many of the original sculptures.

Sanctuaries to Mithras were built into the ground, to mimic the cave in which Mithras killed the cosmic bull, and by spilling this blood life was given and the world made fertile. The subterranean temples created an environment of darkness into which light was cast as if by the presence of the light god alone.

If we imagine descending into London’s Mithraeum, perhaps we would find ourselves amongst other followers masked or dressed in the appropriate masks according to their standing in the cult. Through the flickering candlelight frescoes and reliefs would be visible on the walls depicting Mithras, along with representations of other deities favoured by soldiers. Statues to Minerva, Mercury and Serapis gaze down, sculpted of such fine quality that they must have been imported from Italy. They are placed alongside less artful representations of Venus, combing her long hair. Kneeling or prostrating themselves in worship, the devotees are positioned around a central aisle, at one end of which is the centrepiece of the temple, a relief commemorating the moment Mithras delivered the sacrificial blow into the bulls side. On special ritual occasions perhaps you might see a live bull dragged noisily in, to be sacrificed within the temple. This would followed by a ceremonial meal where initiates ate together as Mithras did with the Sun God after he had killed the beast.

The Head of Mithras, at the Museum of London. Image Credit - Prad Patel.After ascending the stairs to leave the underground temple, with its impressive ground level faade, worshippers would find themselves within the Roman wall and surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Roman London, with its 60,000-plus residents, barracks of soldiers and traders from around the empire. Next to the Mithraeum runs the River Walbrook, which has since been covered over. Later on, the temple was rededicated to Bacchus and the divine statues of the Mithraeum were buried carefully within the site, where they were to remain for centuries.

Today the site can still be visited, although what is left the temple sits above the ground, and is currently not on its original site, but at Temple Court on Queen Victoria Street. It is, however, to be moved back to the original Mithraeum location later this year. The statues found buried at the site of the Temple of Mithras are now on display in the Museum of London, where they have been placed amongst the atmospheric Roman Britain gallery.

What Form Did the Worship of Mithras Take?

Mithraism had a very masculine appeal in its imagery and belief system, which is reflected by the fact that it excluded women from membership. Like other secret society religions or cults, it required initiation ceremonies, seven in total, which protected deeper knowledge or secrets, and lured worshippers into greater dedication.

We do not know what forms the initiation ceremonies took, though it is thought simulations of death and resurrection took place, as well as tests of physical strength in ceremonial combat.

The number seven, significant in many different religious contexts, was also of importance to the Mithraist devotees. This was the number of stages to which initiates could attain membership. Namely: Corax (the Raven), Nymphus (the bridegroom), Miles (the soldier), Leo (the lion), Perses (the Persian), Heliodromus (courier of the sun), pater (the father). Each of the ranks had a corresponding mask to wear in ceremonies, excluding the bridegroom, who wore special items of clothing. The seven ranks were set against the seven steps on a ladder which were climbed and seven gates through which initiates had to pass.

What are the Similarities Between Mithras and Christ?

The parallels between Mithras and Jesus Christ warrant discussion. Without making any suggestions of religious plagiarism, there is at the very least much common ground, such as:

  • A form of liquid baptism marks entry into both beliefs, although for Mithras it was blood rather than water.
  • Some Mithraists are said to have believed their god’s virgin birth, though other sources state he was born from the earth itself.
  • Saint Peter's Basillica in the Vatican City. Image Credit to CX15.They have a shared supposed birthday, on the 25th of December, followed by a visit from wise men on the 6th of January.
  • Both are gods of light and truth, called King of Kings by their followers.
  • Both are creator gods and both brought redemption through blood sacrifice.
  • Mithras and Christ both took part in symbolically important meals where bread and wine were shared and consumed.
  • They each lived celibate lives.
  • Both gods were commemorated on Sundays.
  • Each of the two ended their worldly existence by an ascension into heaven.

Intriguingly Mithraism’s holiest site, thought to be the cave where Mithras defeated the bull, just happens to share its location with the Vatican basilica; the hierarchy of Mithraism ordained that the highest positioned initiates were to be called ‘Pater’- father.

Because they were subterranean or built in caves, many Mithraea have been much better preserved than their above-ground counterparts. This must also be true for London’s Mithraeum.

It is fantastic for the British capital that the Temple of Mithras was preserved and discovered, and right that it should be on view to the public. The Mithraeum is a physical representation of the capital’s Roman history to be valued as much as the remains of the Roman wall. It was Roman planning and engineering, backed by the presence of the Roman soldiers, which the Mithraeum represents more than anything. This is what started London’s growth, and which culminated in the great capital and world city, with all the resultant heritage, that London is today.