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2009-11-08
Remembrance Sunday

In the Uk and Commonwealth today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to the 11th November, when at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice finally brought an end to the First World War. I doubt I can add anything new of profound to the many thoughts expressed about this, but that does not mean that it is not a good thing to join in. As a student, I served in the RA Troop of the OUOTC, and on Remembrance Sunday we would take the 105mm Light Guns into the University Parks and fire off blank charges to mark the beginning and end of the two minutes of silence. There were usually a few former gunners there to watch us, often wearing medals from the Second World War and Korea. They had been much the age we were when they had seen active service, and lost friends and comrades. That sacrifice allowed us to go to University and grow up in a free country.


There are far better words and verses of remembrance than any I could make up, so as usual I shall turn to the Romans. At Adamklissi in Romania, there is a memorial erected by the Legions of Moesia Inferior at the beginning of the second century AD. It is badly corroded, but originally it listed the names of some 3,800 soldiers who had died in the wars on the Danube, chiefly against the Dacians. Some of the names were members of one of the first regiments of Britons raised by the Roman army. The reconstructed inscription read as follows - in memoriam fortissimorum vivorum qui pro re publica morte occuberunt - roughly, 'In memory of the very bravest of men who laid down their lives for their country.'

 
2009-10-06
Lectures in Mississippi and Kansas
Once again it has been far too long since my last posting, and this one will also be brief. Next week I shall be lecturing on the theme of How Rome Fell at Mississippi State University on Wednesday 14th October, and then at Kansas City Library on Thursday 15th October. Here is a link to further information for the Kansas City Library talk.
 
2009-07-26
Supersizers eat ... Ancient Roman
For those in the UK, the episode of the Supersizers about the Romans is on BBC2 at 9pm this Monday (27th July). I have not seen it, so will be interested to take a look. It is all pretty light hearted - and I take no responsibility for the pastry in the final course of the feast.
 
2009-07-22
A couple of novels

Again something a little different, as I am currently a few chapters in to Harry Sidebottom's novel King of Kings, the second in his Warrior of Rome Series set in the AD 250s. I enjoyed the first one, and am finding this just as good.


It seems to be something of a month for historical fiction, because not long ago I finished Christian Cameron's Tyrant set in the fourth century BC, and recounting the adventures of Kineas, an exiled Athenian aristocrat who fights first under Alexander the Great, but then ends up as a mercenary fighting against the Macedonians by the Black Sea.


I am a tough audience for novels set in the ancient world, although I really do like good ones. However, I find that little things can jump out at me and ruin my enjoyment - somehow it breaks the spell and makes it hard to believe what is going on. Sometimes it is because characters act or speak in a way that just does seem real for the ancient world - perhaps too modern, or just false. Military details often cause me to struggle, especially if someone is writing about the Roman army, so that I get bothered by things that wouldn't and shouldn't matter to just about anyone else. It is sometimes easier to read a story set in a period I don't know. I can recommend these two books - both part of a series - because I reckon they get the feel spot-on, as well as being just good yarns. You can always argue about details. After all a novelist does not have the luxury of a historian and can't say, 'well it may have happened this way, or maybe it was like this ... '. In the same way in fiction you can't just leave an episode blank and say no one really knows what happened. So if you enjoy adventures set in the ancient world with a strong military flavour, I think you might enjoy these. For more information on each series see the authors' websites.


Harry Sidebottom's website
Christian Cameron's website
 
2009-07-12
Caesar's birthday

Tomorrow is the 13th July – Julius Caesar’s birthday. For the Romans it was the third day before the Ides of Quinctilis. The Romans had no number zero, so they counted the Ides itself (the 15th) as one, the 14th was two days before the Ides, and the 13th three days before. In Caesar’s honour, Quinctilis was named after him.


I have always found it interesting that an army unit stationed in Dura Europos on the Euphrates in the third century AD was still celebrating Caesar’s birthday with the sacrifice of an ox. A calendar, known as the feriale duranum, lists the festivals celebrated each year. (A few people think the document is civil rather than military, but I can’t say I am convinced by this). Most of the emperors who were deified are mentioned. One of the more surprising inclusions is the birthday of Germanicus (24th May), the father of the Emperor Caligula, and a man who died young and was never emperor himself. This may just be a reflection of his popularity, although if so, it is striking that this lasted for two centuries. Alternatively, it may reflect a military association with his campaigns. If this is the case, then the tradition must originally have come from another unit – perhaps a legion – since the cohort on Dura was formed long after Germanicus’ death.


In the last few years I have gone out with friends to celebrate Caesar’s birthday, and hope to make this a tradition. We always go to an Italian restaurant, simply because it seems appropriate, even if the modern menus have little in common with ancient Roman cuisine. (Apart from that, I just like Italian food). It has been an enjoyable each time. One of the regular guests is a primary school teacher, so there is now a generation of children in a nearby town who know when Caesar’s birthday was. Tomorrow I have to be in London for a meeting, and it looks like I’ll be spending the evening travelling back home. We will probably have to do the Italian meal another night. However, if anyone is of a mind, it is a nice gesture tomorrow to raise a glass or spare a thought for Caesar. He has been good to me!


 

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