March 2015 promises to be a good time for a conference this year for all interested in the Roman world in Britain. The Roman Finds Group is holding a 2-day annular conference in Newcastle, looking at the North of the Country. The Theoretrical Roman Archaeology Conference will be based in Leicester for 3 days at the end of the month (the content is theoretical, not the conference!), and we – the advocates of Roman Army and Frontier studies – will be holding an annual conference in Durha on the 28th-31st March 2015.
The Topic this year is ‘The Role of Towers and Fortlets in the Operation of the Frontiers of the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire’.
Speakers will include Erik Graafstal from Utrecht, Andreas Thiel from Germany, Lindsay Allason-Jones, Matthew Symonds, Adrian Goldsworthy and David Breeze.
For more details click here.
Last month, a Scottish herald article reported on one Mike Haseler’s suggestion that he has useful evidence to pinpoint the location of the Battle of Mons Graupius. Check out the the full article for the whole pitch.
Mr.Haseler is only the latest in a long line of British archaeologists to put a pin in a map, gradually heading further and further North into Scotland.
According to Tacitus’s Agricola, mons graupius is the supposed ‘final battle’ in the Roman invasion of Britain; the decisive victory that crushed the barbarian hordes. For the uninitiated, the as yet unknown exact locality of this battle is something of a conspiracy-theory hotbed for those involved in the study of Roman frontiers. Let me be clear – I have absolutely no problem in people coming up with new and interesting theories that attempt to rid us of our historical ignorance. My problem with this comes from a quote of Mr.Haseler’s: “Historians have been gradually moving the assumed locations of tribes further north, so a lot of the potential sites are now located too far south, but we simply don’t know what is there until we start digging”.
What would we possibly have to gain from a mass-excavation of a battle site? Bearing in mind that, unless the dead were piled into mass graves, this is a research area of several hundred acres. The Varian disaster was pretty firmly located to Kalkreise in Germany so we already have a fairly contemporary mass-battle site in Europe. Other than a gruesome story what could be gained from a few thousand skeletons? And more, importantly what could be done with them??
What would become of the site if we actually found it? It wouldn’t be a tourist attraction on the scale of Pompeii or Troy, or even the Aquae Sulis Baths, in Bath itself. Exposed skeletal material would be, as they are when found by chance, studied, boxed and left on a shelf for the rest of time. The site would become a Scheduled Ancient Monument to protect it from development, but the true scale would be difficult to pinpoint because an open-field battle is a fluid beast, often moving around a landscape, leaving potential pockets of unprotected archaeological material within reach.
Mons Graupius battle site has succumbed to the mists of time. The remains of the dead are secure, safe from night-hawks, respectfully left for time to deal with in the traditional manner. Excavations of this kind of material, in the suggested quantities of individuals involved, is grossly cavalier to the point of ridiculousness. We have a solid archaeological record for the Roman military, especially in Britain. Ongoing projects continue to establish more Roman sites in not-well-understood Scottish highlands using non-evasive geophysical techniques, and small scale sampling, for the vast majority of the research.
I am not against research, nor am I against theoretical discussion. I am against any guns-blazing attitude promoting expensive, unnecessary and destructive research based on evidence that can only be described as ‘circumstantial’ at its best. Please folks, lets just be sensible and leave this one alone for now…
“The World Has Been Empty Since The Romans”, is the philosophy identified by an installation at the Tate Modern . Weighing in at 1600kg, the fragmentary limestone image replicates the epigraphic habit of the Roman World. I mentioned the image in a recent edition of the Hadrianic Society newsletter, but to see it in all of its high-resolution beauty, check it out here at the Tate Modern website.
Totally unbiased, but I certainly agree…
The Roman Gask Project, intimately affiliated with us here at the Hadrianic Society, as off in search of new forts once more. The article, as described in the Press Release on the BBC website outlines the new research: a ‘missing’ Roman fort laying somewhere between Angus and Aberdeenshire would form part of the Gask Ridge Frontier if located.
If there is a team out there who can find the mysteriously missing fort, the Roman Gask folks will deliver. Again.
Further details on the Roman Gask Project can be found here.