A conference on the Rise of Parthia taking place in April 2020
The Parthian empire is by far the least understood of the great empires of antiquity. Until recently our knowledge has been both hazy and Euro-centric. In recent decades, however, new approaches have been adopted and these, together with new archaeological discoveries, are changing our preconceptions. Recognising this, in April 2020 the British Musuem will host leading international scholars presenting their most recent research on the history, culture and archaeology of the early Parthian Empire. Set against the complex political scenario of Iran, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor in the 2nd-1st centuries BC, speakers will address a wide range of issues on the rise of the empire and the relationship of the early Arsacids with their neighbours. Contributions will include re-evaluations of historical sources, analyses of material datasets, numismatics and reports on new work in the field. Specific themes addressed will include diplomacy, religion, sculpture, painting, chronology, ideological motifs, warfare and trade. This will lead to the promulgation of new models and a new understanding of the social, economic and political systems leading to the emergence of the Empire.
The conference will run in conjunction with two British Museum exhibitions – Rivalling Rome: Parthian coins and culture (April – September 2020) in the Museum itself; and the touring exhibition Ancient Iraq: New Discoveries, travelling to Nottingham and Newcastle (March-November 2020).
For details about the conference, including how to register, please visit the page on the British Museum website:
Caroline Mackenzie introduces the research behind her new publication
Background to the book
2019 is a rather special year for Lullingstone Roman Villa – it marks the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the excavations. The first clues as to the existence of a Roman site in the vicinity of Lullingstone in the Darent Valley, Kent had been recorded in about 1750 when the fence around Lullingstone deer park was being renewed and diggers of the post holes struck a mosaic. However, it was not until 1939 that an archaeological survey undertaken by Ernest Greenfield and Edwyn Birchenough of the Darent Valley Archaeological Research Group concentrated on the Roman finds and that the remarkable story of the discovery of Lullingstone Roman Villa properly began.
The Second World War halted the 1939 survey which had to be put on hold until 1947 when the archaeological team was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Meates, recently retired from the Royal Artillery and by this time resident in the gatehouse at Lullingstone Castle. Excavations formally commenced in 1949 and these revealed the remains of a Roman villa which boasted much evidence of a luxurious lifestyle: mosaics, sculpture, wall-painting, a hypocaust and baths. By 1955, Meates had become leader of the excavations and he oversaw them until their completion in 1961, documenting the finds in a series of publications.
The excavation team included numerous volunteers, some of them still schoolchildren, who dedicated much time and effort to uncovering the site. Many of these volunteers, now in their 70s and 80s, returned to the villa in July this year to celebrate the anniversary at a special reunion. I was fortunate to be invited to meet them and their families and it was fascinating hearing their stories.
I, too, visited the villa as a schoolchild. By this time the excavations had been completed and the site was being managed (as it is today) by English Heritage. I was inspired by the beauty of the mosaics and enthralled by the thought that this had been someone’s home over 1,500 years ago. I became fascinated by the Greeks and Romans and went on to study Classics at university. Many years later, and after a career as a solicitor, I visited Lullingstone again. Within months I had become a Classics teacher at a local school in Sevenoaks. I believe Lullingstone may have had some influence on this decision!
A few years later, when I began studying for an MA in Classical Art and Archaeology at King’s College London, the choice of topic for my dissertation was obvious. I lived near Lullingstone and visited it often, and I wanted to learn more about its history. I decided to focus on two main aspects: first, the villa within its landscape setting and the role of topography in the owner’s self-representation; second, the choice and use of mosaics in the fourth century villa and how the patron presented his cultural identity and status through pavements. Two modern television programmes sprung to mind: Location, Location, Location and Grand Designs! I started to wonder whether modern criteria for choosing a home have changed much from Roman times.
In assessing the landscape setting, I realised I would need to explore the vicinity of the villa on foot. This was an approach first adopted by Tilley in his innovative 1994 book. I also wanted to research the ancillary buildings which included a circular shrine, a temple-mausoleum and a granary. I used the experience of exploring the area to examine the relative prominence of the villa and its ancillary buildings; for example, were they highly visible in the landscape? I also considered how the architects combined the setting with the layout of the villa to create a conspicuous display of the owner’s standing and worth.
By way of comparison, I decided to examine some other Romano-British villas. I had recently visited the Isle of Wight and the magnificent site of Brading Roman Villa. Themes such as the four seasons in Brading’s stunning mosaic provided direct comparisons for Lullingstone and helped me to answer questions such as what might have been represented in the part of Lullingstone’s mosaic which had been accidentally dug up in the 1700s. Chedworth Roman Villa, now managed by the National Trust, provided a particularly interesting case study in the context of its landscape setting.
In addition to Lullingstone’s central room which boasts the seasons mosaic framing Bellerophon killing the Chimaera, the adjacent apsidal dining room is celebrated for its mosaic of Europa riding the bull. The Europa mosaic is accompanied by a Latin inscription and, in this context, I studied Classical literature in other Romano-British villas to see if Lullingstone is what we would expect or whether it is exceptional.
I was fortunate to be supervised in my research by Dr John Pearce at King’s College London. I learned a huge amount from him and he made the project of researching and writing up rewarding, challenging and enjoyable. After my dissertation was complete and as preparations for the anniversary celebrations at the villa began to get underway, I started to work with Dr David Davison, Director at Archaeopress Publishing, on what would become my first book, Culture and Society at Lullingstone Roman Villa. David and all the team at Archaeopress made the process as smooth as possible and were such a pleasure to work with.
In the remainder of this blog, I shall set out the main themes of the book and hope you will be inspired to learn more!
Wall-paintings from Lullingstone and now on display at the British Museum indicated that Christian worship had taken place in the villa. The evidence of religion has been exploited and applied to the mosaics in the adjacent rooms. However, I interpreted the evidence in other ways and asked questions based instead on the use of space, landscape setting and architectural context of the mosaics. Wallace-Hadrill’s work in Pompeii and Herculaneum focused on the use of domestic space and the public and private spheres of a home. Scott subsequently applied a similar concept to the interior space of Romano-British villas and extended it by placing more emphasis on the landscape setting. In my research, I applied Scott’s methods to examine how Lullingstone’s inhabitants used domestic space to assert their status and cultural identity. A key example for Scott was that, by alluding to knowledge of Graeco-Roman culture, owners expressed their paideia: their appreciation of literature, philosophy and mythology enjoyed by the Roman élite. In my research, I examined the practices of the inhabitants primarily during the late third and fourth centuries AD and how they adopted Roman culture in their domestic space.
Lullingstone Roman villa is in the Darent Valley in west Kent. It sits on a terrace cut into the hillside 55m west of the west bank of the river Darent, whose valley cuts through the North Downs, and was around 20 miles from Londinium (London). Lullingstone was a favourable site because of its access to varied resources and agricultural riches.
In total there are around sixty known/suspected villas in Kent, most of which are in north Kent. Lullingstone was therefore part of an intensively exploited and agriculturally rich landscape. The Darent Valley villas probably supplied food and other agricultural produce to London and provided residences for the London elites.
A symbolic dimension of the owner’s appropriation of the landscape and its resources was the establishment of a cult room apparently relating to water deities complete with a niched wall-painting of three water-nymphs. This was created c. AD 180, contemporaneous with the baths, and demonstrated the owners’ reverence for water. It was located at the northeast of the villa, where the slope had been excavated to create what is known as the ‘Deep Room’. The niche was later blocked up and could have easily escaped the excavators’ notice but, in a twist of fate, the site flooded mid-excavations and dislodged the plaster concealing the water-nymphs. The villa-owner who created the water cult room might have seen this as a sign!
Visitors today may appreciate the tranquil setting and the view from the villa. While modern subjective assessments of ‘a lovely setting’ must be qualified, we know from Roman authors that observers then were sensitive to the aesthetics of views and this is not just a modern phenomenon (Ausonius: Moselle; Pliny the Younger: Epistulae 2.17).
In c. AD 100 a circular building was constructed on a prepared terrace 24.4.m northwest of the villa. A flint and mortar construction with a thatched roof but no windows, it is thought to have been used for cult purposes until c. AD 180. The slope is steep and the elevated shrine must have made an imposing statement.
It is believed to have fallen into ruin following disuse in the third century. However, the terrace on which it stood was extended to receive a temple-mausoleum in AD 300. This stood prominently around 6m above the ground to the west of the villa and exemplifies skilful use of the hill-slope to create monumentality and visibility. The building took the form of a 12.2m square Romano-Celtic temple. Beneath this was a tomb chamber with two lead coffins and various grave goods. We do not know the identity of the couple buried but it may be the villa-owner and his wife, and the temple-mausoleum seems to have been created for this double burial.
The date of construction of the temple-mausoleum coincides with a major refurbishment to the villa and its surroundings, all of which demonstrated the wealth and aspirations of the owner. The bath complex had been rebuilt and extended in around AD 280 and in AD 293-297 a large granary was constructed to the northeast of the villa, a statement of agricultural prowess. The temple-mausoleum was a necessary part of the refurbishment for a villa-owner who wanted to make his mark on the landscape, in death as in life.
This illustration shows both the temple-mausoleum (top centre) and the circular shrine (top right). However, the circular shrine is believed to have fallen into ruin following disuse in the third century and before construction of the temple-mausoleum.
The large granary would have complemented the architecture and positioning of the villa. The granary may also exemplify ‘the conspicuous display of agricultural production, processing and storage’. Taylor argues convincingly for more detailed studies of entire rural settlements and not just domestic buildings, the latter which attract scholarly analysis due to the existence of their mosaics, hypocausts and baths.
The use of landscape to create immediate impact on visitors was used to similar effect in the villa at Great Witcombe in the Coln Valley, which was built into a steep hillside with the main part of the complex highest up ensuring that the most important visitors and household members were, quite literally, placed above everyone else.
Chedworth villa merited a more detailed discussion in the context of its landscape setting and display of wealth and status. It was constructed in a small steep-sided valley of the river Coln, Gloucestershire. Visitors to the late fourth century villa would have been struck by its impressive stature in its landscape setting.
The central room was a part of the villa which had been in use in every phase of its occupation but in c. AD 330-60 it was given a facelift with the instalment of a lavish mosaic. It depicted Bellerophon mounted on the winged horse Pegasus and killing the Chimaera. Surrounded by a cushion shaped guilloche, this part of the mosaic also contained four dolphins and two shell-type objects. Around the guilloche was a plain, square border, the four corners of which each contained a roundel depicting one of the four seasons, represented by female busts.
The location and size of this room suggest that it served as an audience chamber, like the atrium in Italian villas, where the aristocrat held his morning salutatio (greeting) by his clients. The British equivalent might have been the farmworkers coming to the villa to receive instructions for the day, or tenants coming to pay their rent.
Seasons were a popular mosaic choice in Roman Britain (c.f. Brading and Littlecote) and the rest of empire. In my book, I discuss several possible interpretations of the seasons including them reflecting the liberality of the owner; this might be exactly the message the Lullingstone patron had in mind, at a time when he was investing finances in his property.
Bellerophon could represent a heroic model for the patron’s own hunting exploits and an allusion to power. It was comprehensible to most viewers familiar with Homer’s Iliad in which the story was first told (6.155-202). The Homeric reference therefore reflects Lullingstone’s owner’s classical learning, a message consistently conveyed in all the mosaics he chose.
The apsidal room at Lullingstone was added as part of the overall embellishment of the villa c. AD 330-60. A 23cm high step led from the audience chamber to the apse’s entrance, providing a natural extension to the space used for receiving clients and entertaining guests.
The figure scene in the apse portrays Europa riding on a bull (Jupiter in disguise) over the sea, accompanied by two cupids with an inscription above. The allusion is to Book 1 (50) of Virgil’s Aeneid and plays on the story of Juno’s anger at her husband Jupiter’s infidelity. Ovid’s Metamorphoses 2.846-75 recounts Jupiter’s transformation into a bull to trick and seduce Europa. As with Bellerophon, the overriding message that the owner wanted to convey was his paideia, his wealth and, by the inscription, his wit.
My book sets out to demonstrate how the ensemble of the architecture, the mosaics and the exterior space worked to persuade visitors of the owner’s wealth and status. This included his right and ability to tame the landscape. The choices of mosaics provide compelling evidence of a traditional Classical education and sophisticated knowledge of Virgil and Ovid. The inscription is a remarkable paradigm of paideia. The Lullingstone owner acted out his role as a powerful and influential individual, displaying his cultural identity and status. We are fortunate that the landscape which served the owner’s purposes in Roman times has also performed a service for us in the years since, by washing soil and debris downhill and thus preserving much of the villa and its mosaics for us to explore 1,600 years later.
I should like to thank a number of people who helped me during my research. I was fortunate to meet the team at DROP (Discover Roman Otford Project). Kevin Fromings (Project Leader) and Gary Bennett (Membership Secretary) welcomed me to their dig, just a few miles from Lullingstone. Rod Shelton kindly provided a copy of his own research on Lullingstone and images of his scale model of the villa. Rob Sherratt helpfully shared his thoughts as to the construction of the villa and provided images of his 3D reconstruction. I should like to thank Dr John Pearce at King’s College London for his invaluable help and guidance during my research and writing of my dissertation. Last but not least, I should like to reiterate my thanks to everyone at Archaeopress and in particular to Dr David Davison, Ben Heaney, Patrick Harris and Dan Stott. I am very grateful to them all for their hard work and commitment, from reading the first draft of the manuscript to all their work and support post publication.
An excellent study of a remarkable Roman villa.Mackenzie walks us through the estate, from the fields and granary to the temple-mausoleum and extravagant dining room… There are nicely produced photographs of the art (especially the incredible Bellerophon/Pegasus and the seasons mosaic), location, and comparable sites, and charming illustrations showing how the villa and its rooms might have looked in their heyday.
Malcolm Levitt suggests a generic multi-causal and dynamic framework to explain the collapse of ancient states
Ancient states collapsed because they could not fulfil their core functions. This was because they failed to meet the conditions necessary to perform those functions. All this raises the questions of what those functions and necessary conditions were, and why they failed to meet them. Some readers might infer uncomfortable parallels with today’s societies or states but that theme is beyond the scope of this blog.
There is a considerable literature on the collapse of particular ancient states, much of it emphasising the role of a specific explanation for collapse. But mono-causal explanations are rarely sufficient and where multi-causal explanations are offered it is essential to analyse their dynamic interactions but relatively few studies do this. The aim here is to attempt a generic multi causal and dynamic framework to explain collapse.
We need to emphasise the importance of distinguishing between states and societies, a matter often bypassed by those who question the existence of collapse. States are institutionalised, centralised government structures whereas societies are the context of social structure, culture and common values in which states are moored. States can collapse as political entities while elements of their culture and values continue. To deny the collapse of the Western Roman Empire because elements of Roman culture thrived in Byzantium misses the point: states are political entities.
Ancient states were rooted in agriculture, sedentism and population growth. No state emerged without the presence of farming but farming is not a sufficient explanation of state formation: Mesopotamian crop management and animal husbandry long predated states. But grain especially was key to state formation, being taxable and useful paying soldiers and workmen. Growing population, enabled by improved diets, female energy and fertility, was the catalyst for state formation: meeting the demands for rising food production and distribution was beyond the management capacity of chieftains: assurance of food supplies was the founding core function of the bureaucratic state.
Nonetheless two routes to statehood were possible: consensus and egalitarianism or coercion and inequality; the latter tended to dominate or to supplant the former. They were fragile and prone to collapse.
Sometimes explanations of collapse are seen as competing alternatives (such as intra-elite rivalry, invasion, popular uprisings) whereas they are not mutually exclusive in reality. Explanations of collapse in terms of competing mono-causal factors are inferior to those incorporating dynamic, interactive systems. In particular simultaneity is often ignored: where a factor is both determined by another and helps to determine the latter. Invasion might be induced by perceived military weakness in the invaded state but such weakness might be explained by loss of territory and part of the tax base to invaders and a vicious circle of fiscal depletion and dismemberment sets in. Natural catastrophe like drought, causing famine and popular unrest, might be exacerbated by neglect and mismanagement of key water infrastructures such as irrigation, flood control and grain and water storage. Diagram A illustrates such a model.
Diagram A. Collapse Explanations
Collapse should be explained as failure to fulfil the ancient state’s core functions: assurance of food supplies, defence against external attack, maintenance of internal peace, imposition of its will throughout its territory, maintenance of key civil and military infrastructures, enforcement of state-wide laws, and promotion of an ideology to legitimise the political and social status quo.
To fulfil these functions certain necessary conditions must be met. The legitimacy of the political and social status quo, including the distribution of political power and wealth, needs to be accepted; the state should be able to extract sufficient resources to fulfil its functions such as defence; it must be able to enforce its decisions; the ruling elite should share a common purpose and actions; the society needs to reflect a shared spirit (asibaya) and purpose across elites and commoners who believe it is worthy of defence.
Weaknesses and failure to meet any condition can interact to exacerbate the situation: maladministration, corruption and elite preoccupation with self-aggrandisement can induce fiscal weakness, reduced military budgets and further invasion; it can induce neglect of key infrastructures (especially water management). Inequality, a commonly neglected factor despite ancient texts, can erode asibaya and legitimacy and alienate commoners from defence of the state.
These themes are explored in relation to the Egyptian Old Kingdom, Mycenae, the Western Roman Empire (WRE), and the Maya. They all exhibit, to varying degrees, weaknesses in meeting the above conditions necessary for stability.
Although political collapse of the Old Kingdom is definite there is no consensus on the scope and severity of economic and cultural collapse. Drought, famine and intra-elite strife have been suggested as explanations for political collapse. Mass alienation and violence against the ruling elites has been suggested in ancient texts but their credibility is contentious. The evidence suggests systems failure and dysfunctionality including the incompetence and collapse of central authority and intra-elite strife (not least centre-provincial conflict); failure to finance and maintain key water management infrastructures by elites focussed on self enrichment; drought, the effects of which were exacerbated by that failure; loss of asibaya induced by huge inequality and the behaviour of selfish elites; and social conflict, possibly violent; loss of royal legitimacy in the face of drought despite the king’s supposed divine ability to guarantee rainfall and Nile flooding.
The political collapse of the Mycenaean palace states is beyond dispute. Some but not all aspects of their civilisation vanished. However, explanations of their political collapse (internal social strife including a Dorian peasant uprising, drought, invasion by Sea Peoples, earthquakes, intra-elite and interstate violent competition, and barbarian military technological advance) are particularly speculative because the very existence of possible explanatory factors is poorly demonstrated in the archaeological and written record, Homeric myth notwithstanding. Elements of the culture survived (religion, spoken language, some luxury artefact production) but others vanished, especially Linear B writing.
The WRE was dismantled by successive “Barbarian” invasions which should be regarded as factors in a dynamic systems collapse: unstable, ineffectual, corrupt governments, dynastic rivalry, intra-elite strife, economic and fiscal weakness and reduced military budgets induced barbarian invasion which further reduced the tax base and military funding. Aggressive imperial expansion itself had induced Germanic tribal coalescence which then exploited emerging Roman weakness and dismembered the WRE. The collapse graphically illustrates failure to meet the conditions needed for stability: effective defence against external attack, robust public finances, intra-elite cohesion, a society-wide spirit of asibaya – whereas the peasantry were impoverished and some collaborated with barbarian invaders or participated in Bacaudae armed rebellion ( the significance of which is disputed), commoner and elite acceptance of the legitimacy of the ruling regime, including willingness to support the state in the face of external attack.
The collapse of classic Maya states embraced the end of a political system and material culture but at different times in different places. Violent dynastic and intra-elite strife are probably sufficient to explain collapse; but they would have contributed to ineffectual responses to climate change, especially drought. Great inequality and peasant grievance, illustrated in ancient texts and by defacement of elite structures might suggest uprisings but such attacks on rich buildings and monuments might have followed collapse attributable to other reasons. Droughts arose at different times in different locations, although agriculture seems to have continued in some arid areas and evidence of drought in one place cannot explain collapse elsewhere. In short, ineffective government associated with internal strife along with droughts induced collapse but their relative contributions probably varied across the Maya states.
Despite assertions by Aristotle and De Tocqueville that inequality is a factor in collapse, no analysis of inequality as an explanation of ancient collapse has been attempted or even suggested in recent publications on either ancient inequality or collapse. Evidence of inequality exists: house and skeletal size, and grave goods demonstrate ancient inequality. But grievance induced by inequality alone is insufficient to provoke successful challenge to authority; leadership, organisation and resources are also needed. They were conceivably provided by the WRE Bacaudae but their role in WRE collapse is disputed although written evidence suggests discontented peasants sometime welcomed and assisted barbarian invaders. Violence by the poor is suggested as a factor in Old Kingdom and Mycenaean collapse but the evidence is disputed in both cases. Minoan and Mayan evidence of damage to elite property exists but it is not known whether this preceded or followed collapse of authority. One Pueblo study demonstrates lagged correlation between peak inequality and peak violence but no examination of possible socially differentiated skeletal trauma was undertaken. Such research could produce useful evidence of possible social strife as a factor in collapse. Lack of such evidence could indicate lack of interest in inequality’s contribution to collapse or its genuine unavailability.
The distinction between states and societies or cultures is essential: the former, political entities can collapse but not necessarily the latter so to deny state collapse because of the continuation of cultural elements misses the point.
Mono- causal explanations of collapse are inadequate but to acknowledge multi-causality is insufficient unless a dynamic interaction between various explanatory factors is recognised.
States collapsed when they failed to fulfil their core functions because they did not meet the conditions necessary for a functioning stable state. Such pre-conditions include legitimacy, a common spirit of asibaya, ability to extract sufficient resources to maintain key infrastructures and services, intra-elite cohesion, and the ability to enforce decisions across its territory.
David J. Breeze shares some thoughts on his recent delivery of the 2019 Rhind Lectures and their simultaneous publication.
There are no doubt many reasons why people write books. For me, it is the end point of a piece of research. Some may be content to undertake research and file the results in a drawer; that is not for me. But publishing the Rhind lectures was different. I had been asked two years ago to deliver the six lectures to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, to be given over the weekend of 10-12 May 2019. As I started to prepare the lectures, I realised that the decennial Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall would be just 2 months after the Rhinds and there would be much to be said for having them published in time for that event. Archaeopress agreed that the lectures could be published in time for the Pilgrimage, indeed in time for the lectures themselves. As a result, I switched my mind to writing the book first and subsequently tweaking the text to fit more the style of lectures, though maintaining as much conformity as possible, as David Davison requested. The book was duly completed, submitted and published the weekend of the lectures. There was no problem in tweaking the lectures, but what I had not bargained for was the fact that the pursuit of knowledge continues, be it in one’s own head or through further reading. In the weeks between the submission of the text to Archaeopress and the lectures I came across Kyle Harper’s work on a plague in the 250s and 260s which affected the inhabitants of the Roman empire. Could this be the reason for the abandonment of civil settlements outside many forts on the northern fringes of the empire? Too late to include this thought in the book, but it was embraced by the lectures, and is now an interesting line of research to pursue.
This book stems from the invitation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to deliver the Rhind lectures in 2019, sponsored by AOC Archaeology Group. The lectures were endowed by Alexander Henry Rhind, the first being held in 1874, and with rare exceptions they have been held every year since. His legacy stipulates that six lectures have to be delivered. Until 1986 these were held over the course of one week from Wednesday to Wednesday, but in 1987 the pattern was changed and the lectures are now held over a weekend from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. The first lecture of the series sets the scene and, as it is followed by a reception, is something of an occasion. The last lecture tends to be shorter than normal as it may be followed by questions. The subject of the lectures should relate to ‘some branch of archaeology, ethnology, ethnography, or allied topic, in order to assist in the general advancement of knowledge’. I was asked to speak on an aspect of my research on Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Limes and army, and ‘its wider international, practical and theoretical implications’.
The first two lectures – chapters in this book – provide the historiographical background to our present understanding of Hadrian’s Wall. They start with John Collingwood Bruce, the leading authority on the Wall, from 1848 until his death in 1892, who gave the Rhind lectures in 1883 and whose influence continues to this day. Research on the Wall in the field and in the study from 1892 to the present day are covered in the second lecture. The third and fourth lectures consider the purpose(s) and operation of Hadrian’s Wall from the first plan drawn up soon after Hadrian became emperor in 117 through to the final days of its existence as a frontier shortly after 400. Five distinct ‘plans’ for the Wall are promulgated. The fifth lecture examines the impact of the frontier on the people living in its shadow and beyond. The last lecture reviews the processes which have brought us to an understanding of Hadrian’s Wall and considers the value of research strategies, with some suggestions for the way forward. The chapters in this book reflect closely the lectures themselves with the main change being the addition of references. I am grateful to the Society for its agreement to publish this book to coincide with the lectures and for its support in its preparation.
In order to try to retain a relationship with the lectures I have restricted the number of references in the text. Quotations are always referenced. Detailed references to structures on the Wall may be found in the Handbook to the Roman Wall (Breeze 2006) while work during the last decade is reported in the handbook prepared for the 2019 Pilgrimage of Hadrian’s Wall (Collins and Symonds 2019).
Hadrian’s Wall has acquired its own terminology. At every mile there was a small enclosure called a milecastle (MC), similar to a fortlet (a small fort), which contained a small barrack-block and protected a gate through the Wall. In between each pair of milecastles there were two towers known as turrets (T) after the Latin for a tower, turris. On the Cumbrian coast, the equivalent terminology is milefortlet (MF) and tower (T). These structures on the Wall are numbered westwards from Wallsend and on the Cumbria coast westwards from Bowness-on-Solway. Behind the Wall is an earthwork known as the Vallum. It consists of a central ditch with a mound set back equidistant on each side. As the essential feature is the ditch, it should be termed the Fossa, but it was named the Vallum over a thousand years ago and it is too late to change the name. One issue is to differentiate easily between the Wall, meaning the whole of the frontier complex, and the linear barrier, here called the curtain wall.
Bearsden: The Story of a Roman Fortby David J. Breeze. Archaeopress, 2018. Paperback, ISBN 9781784914905, £20.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784914912, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).
Roman Frontier Studies 2009 Proceedings of the XXI International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies (Limes Congress) held at Newcastle upon Tyne in August 2009 edited by Nick Hodgson, Paul Bidwell and Judith Schachtmann. Archaeopress Roman Archaeology Series #25, 2017. Paperback, ISBN 9781784915902, £90.00; PDF eBook, ISBN 9781784915919, from £16.00 +VAT (if applicable).
Anthony Comfort and Michal Marciak have written a study of the upper Tigris in antiquity, published in August as How Did the Persian King of Kings Get his Wine? (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018). This monograph examines an area which has been mostly inaccessible to scholars and looks likely to remain so – despite its great interest and strategic importance during the conflict between Rome and Persia.
The publication follows completion of the Ilısu dam, not far from the point at which the modern borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet. When filled the reservoir created by the dam will do serious damage to the environment but also to the cultural heritage of the region; it is obliterating various sites along the river Tigris which are crucial to our understanding of the region’s history and archaeology.
Apart from the importance of the valley for river and road transport, there are also many rock reliefs which are described in the monograph. It is very sad that the current security situation in South-East Turkey makes many of these reliefs, as well as the sites along the river itself, inaccessible. In Iraqi Kurdistan the situation is better but the Tigris valley there is still difficult to visit for researchers and visitors.
At least now the world can have some idea of what is being lost as a result of the Ilısu dam and of what has already disappeared under the waters of the Eski Mosul dam in Iraq. But much of importance remains and needs to be studied further; The monograph provides an introduction to the region’s history and archaeology. The authors intend that it also promote further research in a notoriously difficult part of the world.
Header image: The old bridge at Hasankeyf in May 2006 (photo by Anthony Comfort)
About the Authors
Anthony Comfort is an independent scholar associated with the Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. After a career in the secretariat of the European Parliament, he completed a doctoral dissertation dealing with the roads on the frontier between Rome and Persia at Exeter University under the supervision of Stephen Mitchell. He is a specialist in the use of satellite imagery for archaeology in the Middle East but is now responsible for a project concerning the Roman roads of south-west France, where he lives.
Michał Marciak, PhD (2012), Leiden University, is an Assistant Professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland). He has published extensively on Northern Mesopotamia, including two monographs Izates, Helena, and Monobazos of Adiabene (Harrassowitz, 2014) and Sophene, Gordyene, and Adiabene: Three Regna Minora of Northern Mesopotamia Between East and West (Brill, 2017). He is currently also the Principal Investigator of the Gaugamela Project (in cooperation with the Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project of the University of Udine, Italy) which is dedicated to the identification of the site of the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).
Sincerest thanks to Anthony and Michał for preparing this post for the Archaeopress Blog. Their new book is available now in paperback and PDF eBook editions:
Alka Starac describes the surprise discovery of a Roman temple in Pula, Croatia
The rescue excavations during 2005-2009 in the northern part of the ancient centre of Pula, Hrvatska, conducted over an area of 4000 square meters and at an average depth of 6 meters, revealed at first the foundations of St Theodore’s Church along with a female Benedictine monastery built in the 15th century. The church was pulled down during the construction of Austro-Hungarian barracks at the end of the 19th century. It was the only building complex which had definitely been expected to be revealed during the excavations, as it was the only one recorded in historical sources. It was considered likely that there might be Roman city ramparts as well, but it turned out that the assumed ramparts were in fact the wall of a Domus and a sewer situated inside the adjacent Public Thermae, destroyed in Late Antiquity and completely forgotten since then. In addition to the rich and well-preserved Domus and Public Thermae, the remains of an Early Christian and pre-Romanesque church were found below and inside St Theodore’s Church.
The biggest surprise, however, was the discovery of the foundations of a Roman temple surrounded by portico, containing the deposit of more than 2000 almost fully preserved amphorae of Lamboglia 2 type, placed for drainage and levelling of the temple terrace. Excavations at the end of the 19th century only just reached the rear temple foundation wall without entering the sacred enclosed area, so no one could assume the existence of a temple located within the barracks yard and hidden beneath the foundations of the monastery. Also, no one could know that the southern foundation wall of the 15th-century church, reaching five meters in depth, in its lower parts was the southern wall of the Early Christian church and the outer foundation wall of the northern portico wing surrounding the Roman temple, dividing the sacred terrace from the adjacent Thermae located at a lower level. At this point, the continuous sacred verticale measuring five metres in depth was documented, comprising the historical period of 2000 years since the Roman colony of Pola was founded.
But this exciting archaeological story did not end there. Descending into the lower stratigraphical layers in the sacred temple yard, the pre-Roman continuity of the cult place worshipped by the ancient Histri during the Hellenistic period was documented. It turned out that the Histrian cult place, active throughout three centuries until the foundation of the Roman colony, was placed next to a water spring in the karst terrain. A well, four meters deep, was built at the spring during the construction of the temple terrace, appearing above the ground beside the entrance to the temple. A limestone square building block with a club in relief is the only clear link with a certain deity found in the excavations, and this is obviously Hercules. Hercules is well known for having a strong ties with the Roman colony of Pola, honoured as a divine patron of the colony that carried his name among other titles, and a protector of the city Gate of Hercules decorated with his head and club in relief.
My new book, dedicated to the sanctuary of Hercules, deals with the urban history of the Roman temple with portico, the role of Hercules in local tradition and gives an interpretation of the archeological remains. It offers a hypothetical reconstruction of the temple and portico based on the excavated foundations, scarce fragments of architectural decoration and Vitruvian rules. The inscriptions possibly related to the sanctuary are discussed, and finally the hypothetical calculations of the building period duration and construction costs are added.
The discovery of a completely-unknown Roman temple with temenos and portico rarely happens. The entire structure was demolished to the ground and replaced by much more modest buildings in Late Antiquity, so the lack of historical information is unsurprising. This sequence of events resulted in the loss of elements of the architectural decoration; only a few fragments secondarily used in later buildings survived. Instead of a typical Late Republican sanctuary enclosed by a three-winged portico with open front side, Hercules’ sanctuary shows an inverse plan with a portico wing closing the front side of the temple. The foundations of two portico wings were identified, while the third wing remains an assumption. The temple was a tetrastyle prostyle, only a little smaller than the Temple of Rome and Augustus at the forum of Pola. Following the collection of data of the cult of Hercules in Pola, Hercules emerges as the central figure of the sanctuary, which is also related to the presence of a spring as well as an ancestor, hero and founder cult.
I am grateful to David Davison and Rajka Makjanić, who gave me the opportunity to publish the results of my work concerning Hercules’ sanctuary.
Archaeological Museum of Istria
PhD, Senior Museum Counselor, Head of excavations email@example.com
Sincerest thanks to Dr Starac for providing this blog. Her book, Hercules’ Sanctuary in the Quarter of St Theodore, Pula (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018), is available now in paperback (£32.00) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT).
David J. Breeze introduces his latest book on the Roman fort at Maryport, Cumbria, where the collection of Roman inscribed stones and sculpture, together with other Roman objects, remains the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands
On the west coast of Cumbria lies the 18th century planned town of Maryport. On its northern edge, sitting on the seaward side of a whaleback ridge rests a Roman fort, its earthworks still visible. To its north, but not visible, is an extensive extra-mural settlement, larger than the fort. Here probably lived the families of soldiers, merchants, priests, innkeepers, prostitutes and other people eager to relieve the soldiers of their pay. In the 16th century the owners of the estate, the Senhouse family, started collecting the inscriptions and sculpture found on their land. Today, their collection is on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum located just beside the fort.
It is unique in that it is the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands, though it has been placed in the care of the Senhouse Museum Trust. It is also of international importance. The museum contains many altars dedicated by the commanding officers at the fort. These were probably dedicated annually, on the day that all soldiers swore allegiance to the emperor and the Roman state, or on the birthday of the emperor. Many date to the reign of Hadrian and it would appear that we have one for each year of his reign. From this we can determine that each commander served about 3 years. The altars dedicated by the commanding officers of 3 regiments stationed at Maryport in the second century had interesting careers. Although many originally came from the western provinces of the Empire, including North Africa, their military service took them on to the Danubian provinces and to Judaea. Several rose many grades up the hierarchy, one becoming the chief financial officer of the province of Britain – and played host to the Emperor Hadrian, probably at his home in Italy.
The altars dedicated by the commanding officers and their families were to the gods of Rome, Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and so on. Local gods are represented, including Belatucadrus, the deity of the local tribe. There are also many items of sculpture which provide insights into religious life on the northern frontier. These include depictures of the horned god found elsewhere in northern Britain as well as the unique Serpent Stone, a large phallic stone standing 1.3m high. There is also information on burial practices at the site within the 5 cemeteries which have been identified.
The new book brings together all the known evidence from the fort, its extra-mural settlement, older and more recent excavations and the artefacts, as well as using evidence by analogy, to provide a view of life at a fort on the very edge of the Roman Empire.