Bare Bones


When I wrote about the latest finds from Pompeii earlier this week, I focused on the stories told about the revelations of new material extracted from the debris of Vesuvius. There is, however, another huge issue that must be grappled with, both as archaeologists and as people, and that is the fact that we are dealing with human remains. How we do that as Classical Archaeologists is, for historic reasons I cannot fully identify, very different from how such remains are handled in other parts of the world, and in other fields of archaeological science.

Five years ago, at the time my doctoral dissertation on tombs was being published as a book, my dad managed to get me invited to give a talk about my research at the local public library in Illinois when I was home for the holidays. After the talk (surprisingly, even attended by people I’m not related to), I was asked a question regarding what happened to the human remains found in Pompeii after excavation. The audience member who asked made specific reference to NAGPRA, which is something that I was well schooled in from my undergraduate days, but had never considered in the context of my work in Italy.  For those not from North America, this law requires the dignified treatment and eventual return of any human remains found on federal or tribal lands to their descendants. This has sometimes caused drawn out legal battles between tribes, in part because the length of time that has passed (multiple thousands of years) can make finding direct lineage difficult, or in many instances, allows claims from more than one group. This is, of course, very much tied up with the historic mis-treatment of Native Americans, their displacement from ancestral lands, and the genocidal level reduction of their population over the last six hundred years. What is intriguing to me, is that this same reverence is not necessarily shown for the remains that are found in the Vesuvian sites. Unlike some of the issues caused by forced migration and genocide of Native American peoples, there should be no doubt that modern Italians are the descendants of ancient Romans (as are numerous other European and North African peoples). All you need to do is listen to a Neapolitan or a Sicilian speak Italian and you can hear faint remnants of your school Latin. Even amongst Americans whose ancestors came from Italy there is still a vague association with the Rome of the past (consider Tony Soprano’s (sweary) response when asked by a Jewish business associate waxing lyrically about the braveness of those at Masada holding out against Roman soldiers.) So what’s the difference, and more to the point, why is there one?

Since excavations in Pompeii began in 1748, approximately 1200 sets of human remains have been found. Initially, these were categorised as the old, the infirm, and children who were physically unable to escape the cataclysm of the eruption in AD 79. This determination, however, was made with no examination of the bones themselves. Since the late nineteenth century, slightly more than one hundred plaster casts have been made of human and animal remains. It is only recently that the skeletons contained in the casts have begun to be studied by Estelle Lazar. Her team has discovered that the previous ideas about who died in the eruption is wrong, and the remains actually represent a broad spectrum of the population of the ancient city. What makes the two recently made casts unique is that the skeletons themselves were examined prior to casting. Skeletal remains from an archaeological site of any context can provide information about age at death, sex, health, diet, occupation, and migration. Mix in a documented cause of death by volcanic eruption, and there is more information to be found about stages of the eruption, cause of death (suffocation from ash, pyroclastic flow gases, blunt trauma, etc.), and the behaviour and reaction to those attempting to escape (consider, for example, the hundreds found on the beach in Herculaneum).

This is, in part, why the skeletons and casts from Pompeii and Herculaneum are, in my view, treated on some level as artefacts rather than as human remains. This can be taken one step further when you consider that a large number of casts were first made in late 1800s. In a sense, they have become artefacts in their own right in relation to the development of the technique and of the evolution of archaeology as a scientific discipline. Many of these have been on display within the archaeological park, in museums, or simply kept gathering dust in storage in various facilities around Pompeii. The casts of the victims have always been a draw for visitors to the site – I can’t tell you how many times a tourist has asked me for directions to ‘the bodies’ – and indeed have featured on postcards and other memorabilia. I suspect – based in part on the reaction I’ve had from some students over the years – that there is some confusion as to what they actually are (and I would guess this may arise from referring to them as ‘casts’). Yes, the process of making a cast preserves the shape of the whole person, including details such as clothing, anything that the individual may have been holding or carrying, and in the case of animals, harnesses or leads. But the outer plaster shell does contain human remains: skulls, teeth, long bones, fingers, and toes. They are not models of what once existed, they are skeletons. They are people. As Mary Beard has said, ‘Pompeii is not just an archaeological site, it’s a site of human tragedy.’  It surprises me that there isn’t more reverence for them, not just by scientists and tourists, but by the people of Italy themselves. Why isn’t there a call to re-bury those we have dug up? Every once in awhile, a meme circulates asking the question how much time has to pass before grave robbing becomes archaeology. It pokes fun at an incredibly awkward question about how we treat those whose resting places (whether intended or tragic) we disturb. I, for one, would rather be an archaeologist.


The Stories We Tell

Over the weekend, there was a small explosion of news stories and photos coming out of Pompeii, where it was announced that the remains of two victims of the AD79 eruption of Vesuvius had been discovered. Found in a villa of Civita Guiliana, an area 700 metres to the north of the city walls, these excavations are part of the ongoing work that has been carried out in the area since 2017, when Italian police discovered illegal tunnels black marketeers had dug into the structure. Upon discovery, the skeletons and the cavities around their bodies were explored with cameras before casts were made, using techinques first developed in the nineteenth century by Giuseppe Fiorelli. Video of this process can be found on the Pompeii site’s Instagram.

Whilst fundamentally, this is exciting news for anyone that works on any of the Vesuvian sites, there is a seemingly inevitable downside to every new discovery. There is always a story, an immediate explanation for the who or what that is, if not completely wrong, then at least exagerated or inconclusive based on the evidence that is currently available. In this latest instance, the social status (and therefore relationship) between the two sets of human remains of slave and wealthy master is based solely on a wool cloak and some crushed vertabrae. I am certainly not the only person who finds this conclusion pre-mature, at the very least (for further discussion see Miko Flohr’s excellent thread), but it did make me start thinking about why this happens. Why do we insist on a story, evidence be damned?

This has been true for many of the finds from the last several years, including the tantalising story of the man killed in the eruption by a large stone block, later dismissed as a complete fallacy. But it isn’t only a recent trend: these stories have been circulating since the re-discovery of Pompeii. Consider, for example, the oft told story of the noble soldier maintaining his post at the Herculaneum Gate throughout the eruption of Vesuvius. This story was supposedly born from the discovery of a skeleton with armaments in a small structure with a bench next to the city gate. It was immortalised in a painting ‘Faithful Unto Death’ by Edward John Poynter (1865), who got the idea from Edward Bulwar-Lytton’s novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Mark Twain wrote about it in his travelogue The Innocents Abroad (1869). In 2007, Lee Behlman finally dispelled this myth. Not only was the benched structure actually the tomb of a freedman named Marcus Cerrinius Restitutus – not a sentry box – but the daily excavation records showed that no skeleton was found anywhere near it. It’s not true, it is simply a good story.

Faithful Unto Death

This desire for a story, a way perhaps to make a human connection, brings to mind the impressions of another novelist – Mary Shelley. She published the accounts of her travels in two volumes in 1844 as Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843. She first visited Pompeii in 1818, finding the site largely unimpressive and depressing. But in 1843, when she returned to the city after reading Bulwer-Lytton’s novel, she wrote:

‘We have visited Pompeii. A greater extent of the city has been dug out and laid open since I was there before, so that it has now much more the appearance of a town of the dead. You may ramble about and lose yourself in the many streets. Bulwer, too, has peopled its silence. I have been reading his book, and I have felt on visiting the place much more as if really it had been once full of stirring life, now that he has attributed names and possessors to its houses, passengers to its streets. Such is the power of the imagination. It can not only give ‘a local habitation and a name’ to the airy creations of the fancy and the abstract ideas of the mind, but it can put a soul into stones, and hang the vivid interest of our passions and our hopes upon objects otherwise vacant of name or sympathy.  Not indeed that Pompeii could be such, but the account of its ‘Last Days’ has cast over it a more familiar garb, and peopled its desert streets with associations that greatly add to their interest.’

In other words, Shelley’s experience of visiting Pompeii was transformed by a story. Her idea that the story created by Bulwer-Lytton ‘peopled its silence’ is an important concept: she is evidence that we connect more with people who have some sort of form, an ordered place in the world, that can be identified in some manner, than we do with an ambiguous set of remains (whether architectual or human). For her, it was imagining the characters of Glaucus and Ione passing time in the House of the Tragic Poet. For us, it is concocting status and relationships for newly discovered skeletons, determining a fantastical cause of death, or imagining the final circumstances of both the animal and human remains uncovered. The desire to create a narrative around new finds without substantiated evidence, I suspect, is far more about a condition of the human psyche that desires a means for establishing a connection or understanding than it is about the truth. Regardless of the harm it may cause (try dispelling students of the ideas they gain from news reports and documentaries on telly), it seems that the truth is for the scholars and scientists to work out later to no great fanfare, and should never get in the way of telling a good story.

My Latin Teacher, My Life

I grew up in New York, in a (relatively) small town on eastern Long Island. It was generally a mixed bag socially, economically, and racially, as far as small towns go. The schools were good, but had some issues from time to time. But there were some exceptional teachers, and one of them ran the Latin programme.

One of the options in our state mandated high school degree programme was three years of a foreign language (taught over four – two in middle school and two in high school with the option to carry on to advanced classes). When I was twelve and had the chance to pick, I went with German. This was a huge mistake because of the teacher (to give you an idea I was once thrown out of class for asking if we were going to actually learn anything that day), and so at the first opportunity to change languages in the transition to high school, I switched to French. So there I am (and to be honest, so was half my German class) starting French I on the first day of high school, walking into a classroom expecting to find posters of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, maybe a teacher in a jaunty beret, and instead found… the Latin teacher.

Quelle surprise!

The reality though, is that the gods of languages knew exactly what they were doing.

I spent a year learning rudimentary French, along with the Latin roots of words (or Greek, and I have vague memories of the odd bits of Sanskrit), I heard words like Indo-European for the first time, and most importantly, I had a teacher who made me desperately want to learn things. Even Latin. So I did. The year I began Latin was the first time it had been taught ab initio in our high school, at the request of students. The majority of us were lured there in part because of the language, but mostly because of the Latin teacher.

Dr. Greenberger was unlike any teacher I had ever encountered before, or to be honest, since. He was dynamic, and fun, and so incredibly smart. Fourteen year old me was in awe of all the things he knew, and of the things he talked about that I had only the vaguest impressions of – things like having a Ph.D. or studying in Oxford or going to Rome. He was a magnet. There was a reason he was the only teacher in school with a sofa in his classroom: because Latinist or not, we wanted to hang with Doc. We waited in anticipation for the nicknames he bestowed upon his students (I still feel slightly hard done by that it was a classmate who gave me my moniker that was later shortened by Dr. Greenberger. That didn’t seem very original to me.) We kept our special Latin pencils safe (extra points on quizzes!), and we really tried to remember all those endings, some of us with more success than others.

But our classes were more than Latin. Time was dedicated each day to a bit of mythology, history, or other trivia in a segment called ‘What Every Latinist Should Know.’ I loved that more than the language, but it was all part of a greater learning experience that has had such a profound impact on who I am and what my life has become. I was one of the students who went on the first study trip organised by the Latin teacher and his wife (also a Latinist!). It was on that trip I saw the grandeur of Rome, but more importantly, saw Pompeii for the first time. I have such a clear memory, standing in the Forum in Pompeii, on a grey and blustery February day, and feeling something sort of click into place. I am well aware of how trite that sounds, but I have never known how else to describe it.

Many years, a vaguely related undergraduate degree, and a few odd jobs later, I moved to the U.K. to begin a MA in classics and archaeology. This led to a Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellowship, books and articles published, and jobs teaching various sub-disciplines in Classics at seven universities across the UK (including Oxford!). Ironically, I have never really taught Latin. But that’s not really my point…. My point is this: the one person (outside of my family, obviously) who has had the greatest impact on the trajectory of my life was my high school Latin teacher. Not just for the material he taught, but for the way he taught it. I know from former classmates that I am not the only one who has spent their professional life striving to be the kind of teacher he was for us. In fact, the other night a friend told me she used much of how we were taught Latin in her application for tenure – and that’s in a STEM subject.

My Latin teacher retired earlier this year, and the school district spoke of replacement. I am not privy to all of the ins and outs of what has happened, but it is clear there have been behind the scenes machinations that have culminated in the recent announcement that the Latin programme will be abolished (despite having had suitable candidates, and until now, substantial interest from students). Whilst I fully recognise the impossibility of replacing a teacher like Doc, I am devastated by the loss of the Latin programme in and of itself. It has existed in that school for more than a hundred years, and was, when I was a student, the only Latin programme on the East End (I have memories of distance learning Latin classes with other schools in the area). At a time when there are so many concerted efforts to increase the study of Latin in schools here in the UK through organisations such as Classics for All, ACE, and regional groups like the Birmingham and West Midlands Classics Network, I cannot help but think this decision is incredibly short-sighted, and to the detriment of the current and future students of my hometown. There are a myriad of reasons why studying Latin (and Classics more generally) is a Good Idea, and they have been elucidated by people far more eloquent and respected in the field than myself. But I have my own reasons, because for better or worse, walking into that Latin classroom for the first time became part of who I am, what I do, and why I have pursued the life that I have.

I have already sent a letter of outrage and condemnation to the relevant decision makers in the school district, but in doing so, I did wonder how many of us – Classicists or not, educators more generally – had that one teacher that made the difference. More importantly, does the area of study that influenced what you do now still exist in your school? We all bemoan the reduction of subjects in schools and universities, the ever shrinking available funding and constraints on what a department can do. Many work in those areas of outreach and widening participation I mentioned above to promote their subject more widely, but many also pay lip service to it, or do it because the department head says they must. The sudden prospect of my old school losing the very thing that led me to where I am made me realise, in a new way, just how valuable this kind of work is, and how important it is for all of us to work to keep our subjects viable, at every level of education, and in every place we can.




Remembering to Forget

If you’ve been on any form of social media in the last twenty-four hours, you have probably encountered images of the statue of Edward Colston being torn down and thrown into Bristol Harbour by Black Lives Matter protestors. The statue, first erected in 1895, has been the centre of massive debate in Bristol for many years. Petitions and protests surrounding its removal have been unsuccessful, so it is not in the least bit surprising to me that it should have been targeted over the weekend. Attempts to mitigate anger over the statue by the Bristol Council resulted in the  decision to add a second plaque to the base, which was to clarify Colston’s role in the Atlantic slave trade. Even this garnered controversy, as the council and residents debated the words to be inscribed.  What strikes me particularly about the text of the proposed plaque is the inclusion of 19,000 Africans who died whilst being transported across the ocean. Common practice in the slave trade was to dump not only the dead, but also the ill, overboard and later claim for those lost on insurance. As abhorant as it sounds, insurance payouts were more profitable than the sale of weak or infirm human beings. With that in mind, dumping the statue of Colston in the harbour seems a most fitting place for him.

UK Black Lives Matter protesters tip statue of slave trader Edward ...

I will leave aside the debate about public disorder and whether or not removing the statue in the way it has been done is legal or right. What I am more interested in is the ongoing debate about the removal of statues and how this constitutes an erasure of history. It doesn’t.

The Ancient Romans, of course, removed and defaced statues. Known to historians as the practice of damnatio memoriae (which I have written about previously), this was something typically used by emperors in order to disassociate themselves from previous regimes that were deemed bad. But those were not the only instances, and it was also used to deface statues and tombstones of cheating husbands and wives, former friends who committed an act of betrayal, and others. But, these acts of erasure were not meant to obliterate the memory of the person (even if it did successfully eliminate their likeness). Statue heads re-carved are disproportinate to the body, lines of text in lapidary inscriptions are crossed out, and coins have faces rubbed out. In other words, the act of removing the name or image is not meant to make one forget they existed, but rather to remind viewers that the person no longer deserves to be remembered. It is a deliberate attempt not to forget the memory of the person, but to alter it: to render that memory negatively.

After all, we know who Geta was. We know what Caligula looked like despite the fact that the majority of statue heads we have of him were found at the bottom of the Tiber River (a fact that makes the treatment of Coulston’s statue quite apt). In the instances of defacement of inscriptions (whether for members of the imperial family or common Romans), names have been reconstructed. This illustrates that if forgetting was truly intended, the Romans were massively unsuccessful.

Now, when there have been an increasing number of voices calling for the removal of statues and place names of those who instigated and perpetuated the practice of enslavement on both sides of the Atlantic, I think the lesson of the Romans is an important one. This is not an attempt to erase history. But rather, rightfully, there is an attempt to dishonour those who stand for oppression and bigotry, racism and profiteering off the backs of other human beings. We don’t want to erase these people, but to remember that they deserve to be forgotten.


Edited to add: Since writing this yesterday I have discovered more about the history of the statue of Edward Colston. Like many of the monuments to soldiers and leaders of the Confederacy venerated in the U.S., Colston’s life and legacy were largely created at a much later date. Whilst I cannot ascribe the same motive of advancing white supremecy tied to the late nineteenth / early twentieth century construction of Confederate monuments, this does serve as yet another example of current attempts to preserve a believed history, that for all intents and purposes, is a false narrative.

The French Phallus

About a week ago I came across a post on Twitter of some phallic images that were produced in the eighteenth century in France. They immediately reminded me of the many anthropomorphised phalli that have been recovered from the ancient Vesuvian sites, and that got me to thinking about their use in French political propaganda, but also about the influence the artefacts of genitalia from Pompeii and Herculaneum had on the illustrators responsible for the images.

Small pamphlets known as libelles were used to spread rumour and invective against Marie Antoinette in the lead up to the French Revolution. From the mid 1780s onwards, these increasingly contained implications and accusations of her sexual misconduct, whether it be lesbian relationships or affairs with political supporters and members of the court. Regardless of whether or not any of these accusations were true was beside the point: the aim was to degrade the queen, her associates, and other members of the French aristocracy.

One particular means of depicting the perceived immoral nature of Marie Antoinette was via a phallic ostrich. The ostrich was thought to be a reference to her Austrian background, as the French words were similar (autrichienne f. / autruche). The cartoon below depicts her sometimes political supporter, the Marquis de La Fayette, riding the phallic bird with the queen in attendance. 


More explicit examples of this type include a similar depiction of a man (in this case,  unidentified) riding a phallic ostrich, only this time Marie Antoinette is exposing her lower half, as if awaiting penetration.



These avian sex organs are, of course, not at all that dissimilar from the bronze winged phalli that were used as tintinnabulum in the ancient Roman world. The difference, however, is that where the eighteenth century cartoons were meant to demean the French queen and were circulated in an effort to destory her and supporters of the monarchy, the Pompeian versions were apotropaic in nature, and meant to provoke laughter, offering protection from the evil eye or other nefarious spirits.



The same comparison could be made to cartoons of the queen in the middle of sexual acts. These illustrations often depicted lesbian or multi-person encounters, not for titilation or the purposes of erotica, but again, to demonstrate the licentious and undesierable behaviour of the monarch. Here, she is depicted with one of her (supposed) lesbian lovers as well as another man.



Whilst normalised sex acts (i.e. a heterosexual couple) were often depicted in the ancient world in wall paintings, or on objects such as lamps, mirrors, and vases in an allusion to intercourse, the more (for lack of a better term) deviant acts were also apotropaic. These could include reversals such as men performing cunnilingus, women acting as the aggressor, or multiple participants. Meant to provoke laughter and titilate in a non-sexual, but rather protection inducing manner, images such as the one below are found in locations such as the changing rooms of the Suburban Baths. This foursome (two men, two women) includes both hetero- and homo- acts simutaneously taking place. It is not erotic or derogatory; it is (to the Roman viewer) ridiculous.

Of course, what I find most compelling about these is the similarity between the French cartoons and the so-called erotica of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The initial exploration of Herculaneum via that now infamouus well shaft begain in 1709 – long before the first libelles appeared denouncing Marie Antoinette. Statuary and other objects were already being circulated by the nobility of Europe when Charles VII, the Bourbon king, took possession of the area in 1738. Although there were restrictions on recording or publishing any of the finds from the Vesuvian sites (except, of course, officially and produced as a gift of the king) most visitors endeavoured to contravene this embargo. A group of French nobles, begining in 1750, began a campagin of what they deemed ‘conscious archaeological espionage’ in order to view and record as much of what they saw as possible. The group was led by the Marquis de Marigny, who was travelling in Italy before he took up an appointment as the director general of the royal academy of the arts in Paris. With him was one Jerome-Charles Bellicard, an architect and engraver who had previously worked for Giovanni Piranesi in Rome. They would visit Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the royal museum at Portici by day, and spend the nights recording their observations. One of Bellicard’s notebooks from these evenings of work survives today, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Initially, short pamphlets and various images were published, but in 1753, the group simultaneously published a three volume set of books in both French and English: Observations upon the antiquities of the town of Herculaneum discovered at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Although none of the more phallic centred images of the ancient cities were reproduced in this work, I find it difficult to believe that drawings of those items weren’t also winging their way out of the protection of the court at Portici. After all, it was only about a decade after Marie Antoinette’s death that the practice of hiding away so-called pornographic objects began when a director of the museum, Michele Arditi, moved more than one hundred objects into the collection of the Gabinetto Segreto. In view of this, the visual similarities between the French cartoons and the phalli of Pompeii seem more than mere coincidence. In other words, the authors of French political satire were not as creative – or indeed as original – as they would appear. Wherever you go in time or place – ancient Pompeii or revolutionary France – dick jokes remain.


Rule, Britannia?


Earlier this week I came across the Sky production of Britannia. Originally aired in 2018, this series depicts the conquering of Britain by Rome in AD 43. Whilst the historical accuracy may be a wee bit on the sketchy side (and was clearly never the aim), it does contain the elements one would expect from such a dramatization. Brutal Roman soldiers? Check. Sympathetic Britons? Check. Crazy, drugged out Druids? Double check. Part way through the first episode, after the Romans have interrupted the coming of age ceremony held by the Cantiaci tribe on the solstice, killing or enslaving most of the settlement, a conversation takes place between one young escapee from the slaughter and her reluctant saviour, an outcast of the Druids whose prophetic abilities warning of the invasion were ignored.

Cait: What’s a Roman?
Outcast: The Romans are devils. They are the foot soldiers of Locher, the great earth demon. He started a place called Rome.
Cait: What’s Rome?
Outcast: Rome is one of the seven mouths of hell. Basically, it was just some god-forsaken shit hole in the middle of nowhere but Locher came up from the underworld and made it his home on earth. And he filled it with his power and it grew and grew and grew, and now Rome spreads all the way across the whole world. Even here.

In a week when the ongoing disaster that is Brexit and the current government here in the UK has been ramped up to a point that is beyond the ridiculous, the above exchange made me think that in the minds of many in this country, the EU could replace Rome and the sentiment would remain true. But this disregards the benefits that came with both the Romans and the EU, and whilst there is little point re-iterating the ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ speech of Monty Python fame here (although….), it does illustrate something about how the British conceive of their own mythology and origins.

Take for example, Boudicca, the Iceni woman who led a revolt against the Romans about fifteen years after the invasion. She is, to this day, held as a paragon of British spirit and pride. Her image, mounted on a chariot with her daughters, sits on the corner of Westminster Bridge, only meters from the Houses of Parliament. More than once in the three years since the Brexit referendum vote, I have heard or read her name as an example to aspire to, her fight against the Romans equated to the fight against the EU. And yet, historically, she was a blip. This is something that always surprises my (British) students. Tacitus, the first century AD historian and only near contemporary source for the British conquest, deigns to give Boudicca three whole paragraphs in his Annals. Three. He says:

XIV.31 The Icenian king Prasutagus, celebrated for his long prosperity, had named the emperor his heir, together with his two daughters; an act of deference which he thought would place his kingdom and household beyond the risk of injury. The result was contrary—so much so that his kingdom was pillaged by centurions, his household by slaves; as though they had been prizes of war. As a beginning, his wife Boudicca was subjected to the lash and his daughters violated: all the chief men of the Icenians were stripped of their family estates, and the relatives of the king were treated as slaves. Impelled by this outrage and the dread of worse to come—for they had now been reduced to the status of a province—they flew to arms, and incited to rebellion the Trinobantes and others, who, not yet broken by servitude, had entered into a secret and treasonable compact to resume their independence. The bitterest animosity was felt against the veterans; who, fresh from their settlement in the colony of Camulodunum, were acting as though they had received a free gift of the entire country, driving the natives from their homes, ejecting them from their lands,—they styled them “captives” and “slaves,”—and abetted in their fury by the troops, with their similar mode of life and their hopes of equal indulgence. More than this, the temple raised to the deified Claudius continually met the view, like the citadel of an eternal tyranny; while the priests, chosen for its service, were bound under the pretext of religion to pour out their fortunes like water. Nor did there seem any great difficulty in the demolition of a colony unprotected by fortifications—a point too little regarded by our commanders, whose thoughts had run more on the agreeable than on the useful.

XIV.35 Boudicca, mounted in a chariot with her daughters before her, rode up to clan after clan and delivered her protest:—“It was customary, she knew, with Britons to fight under female captaincy; but now she was avenging, not, as a queen of glorious ancestry, her ravished realm and power, but, as a woman of the people, her liberty lost, her body tortured by the lash, the tarnished honour of her daughters. Roman cupidity had progressed so far that not their very persons, not age itself, nor maidenhood, were left unpolluted. Yet Heaven was on the side of their just revenge: one legion, which ventured battle, had perished; the rest were skulking in their camps, or looking around them for a way of escape. They would never face even the din and roar of those many thousands, far less their onslaught and their swords I—If they considered in their own hearts the forces under arms and the motives of the war, on that field they must conquer or fall. Such was the settled purpose of a woman—the men might live and be slaves!”

XIV.37 At first, the legionaries stood motionless, keeping to the defile as a natural protection: then, when the closer advance of the enemy had enabled them to exhaust their missiles with certitude of aim, they dashed forward in a wedge-like formation. The auxiliaries charged in the same style; and the cavalry, with lances extended, broke a way through any parties of resolute men whom they encountered. The remainder took to flight, though escape was difficult, as the cordon of wagons had blocked the outlets. The troops gave no quarter even to the women: the baggage animals themselves had been speared and added to the pile of bodies. The glory won in the course of the day was remarkable, and equal to that of our older victories: for, by some accounts, little less than eighty thousand Britons fell, at a cost of some four hundred Romans killed and a not much greater number of wounded. Boudicca ended her days by poison; while Poenius Postumus, camp-prefect of the second legion, informed of the exploits of the men of the fourteenth and twentieth, and conscious that he had cheated his own corps of a share in the honours and had violated the rules of the service by ignoring the orders of his commander, ran his sword through his body.

That is it. Her rebellion quashed with some eighty thousand dead Britons, her suicide by poison, and very little damage to Rome or Roman soldiers. Of course, this is the history written by the victorious, and there is always that element to take into consideration in assessing its validity. But the fact remains that Rome was successful in conquering Britain, and more or less peacefully ruling here for hundreds of years. If this is the model for British independence from the EU, (or in any other international political sphere) I cannot help but feel a better example is warranted. This is not a David and Goliath underdog is surprisingly victorious story. Boudicca was a failure, and largely an insignificant one, historically speaking. Using her as an example, as part of the mythology of a nation’s identity, implies resistance, but also failure. Much like the defense to the onset of Roman rule being organised by Cantiaci tribesmen at the end of the first episode of Britannia, the end result will be defeat.

New Dipinti, Old Connections

I am sure I am not the only one who has been watching the progress of the new excavations in Regio V of Pompeii with great interest (and a wee bit of envy for not being a part of them). Finds have included some fine examples of wall painting, the remains of a number of horses, and the now infamous man crushed by a large stone block as he fled the eruption of Vesuvius in addition to some stunning architectural features. A few hours ago, the soprintendenza published additional photos of the excavation, which reveal new electoral dipinti. (Photos from the Pompeii Facebook page).


Both of these men, running for the office of aedile in the Flavian period, are already well known to us from other electoral notices. Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus and Lucius Albucius Celsus are well documented candidates. Interestingly, I have looked extensively at them before, in the context that they both appear in electoral advertisements with other candidates. Traditionally, it is believed that the Romans did not campaign in the form of parties or work together, but evidence from Pompeii demonstrates otherwise. Helvius Sabinus campaigns with another candidate for aedile, as well as joining forces with two of the duovir candidates running at the same time.

AE 1902: 192 = CIL IV 6616
Cn(aeum) Helvium Sabinum et / M(arcum) Samellium Modestum aed(iles) d(ignos) r(ei) p(ublicae) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis).
‘I beg you to elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus and Marcus Samellius Modestus aediles, worthy of public office.’

CIL IV 843
Calventium IIv(i)r(um) i(ure) d(icundo) / Cn(aeum) Helvium Sabinum aed(ilem) o(ro) [v(os) f(aciatis)].
‘I beg you to elect Calventius duovir with judicial powers and Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus aedile.

CIL IV 1083
Cn(aeum) Helvium / Sabinum aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / L() Ceium Secundum IIvir(um) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / Recepta nec sine thalamo.
‘I beg you to elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus aedile and Lucius Ceius Secundus duovir, Recepta also with Thalamus.

I have previously written about Albucius Celsus in the context of women sponsoring electoral notices, but he also appears with other candidates.

CIL IV 1169
Samellium / aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) iuvenem p(robum) / L(ucium) Albucium aed(ilem).
‘I beg you to elect Samellius aedile, first amongst youth, and Lucius Albucius aedile.

CIL IV 3294 = CIL IV 3678
M(arcum) Casellium et L(ucium) Albucium aed(iles) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / Statia et Petronia rog(ant) tales cives in colonia in perpetuo.
‘Statia and Petronia beg you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius, excellent citizens for the perpetuity of the colony, aediles.’

What is particularly interesting here is that Albucius Celsus has notices for aedile with two different candidates, Marcus Casellius Marcellus and Marcus Samellius Modestus. This suggests he ran for this particular magistracy twice. From what we know of Roman political practices, it seems that one of Albucius Celsus’ campaigns for aedile was unsuccessful, causing him to run a second time with a different partner. These new inscriptions, naming Helvius Sabinus and Albucius Celsus, both of whom are also linked to Samellius Modestus, potentially in different electoral years, demonstrates the close knit nature of Pompeian politics in the later years of the city as well as the tendency for candidates to work together in campaigning for election. I was aware that there was a common link in Samellius Modestus, but the placement of these dipinti may indicate that there was a closer alliance than previously thought.



When in Melbourne

Back in September I had the great pleasure to go to Melbourne as the keynote speaker for the National Archaeology Student Conference (NASC). Whilst I was in town, I also spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking to Matt Smith of La Trobe University, who has produces podcasts on the ancient world. The first of our conversations, on the graffiti of Pompeii, is now available as Episode XXX of the When in Rome series. If you’ve got an hour to spare and want to learn a bit about the writing on the walls of an ancient city, you can find the podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud.



CFP: Reading and Writing for Rome



Call for Papers: Reading and Writing for Rome: Literacies of Administration

We invite proposals for papers for the panel ‘Reading and Writing for Rome: Literacies of Administration’ at the 11th Celtic Conference in Classics at the University of St. Andrews taking place July 11th-14th 2018.

This session aims to explore literacy, understanding, and perception of inscriptions with particular attention to administrative aspects, taking a contextual, multidisciplinary approach, and raising issues from the spread of Latin to the visual impact of inscriptions. We intend to produce an edited volume of the papers presented, aiming for publication by 2020.

Literacy in the Roman World has been debated for more than twenty‐five years since the publication of the first landmark study on the subject. Despite the knowledge that Roman cities (and the countryside as well) were full of things to read it is still commonly accepted that literacy was relatively low. This places question marks at the perception and understanding of text, especially those texts publically displayed and essential for the structure of the empire, such as legal inscriptions, road signs, boundary marking, taxes and the sale of goods. The epigraphic culture of the late Republic and early Empire is much studied, although often with a focus on religious or funerary commemoration and dedication. Through a focus on the administrative elements in milestones, fasti, election graffiti and dipinti, and other inscriptions related to regulation and commerce, this panel aims to discuss implied levels of literacy and/or general understanding as well as civic participation, touching on issues of globalisation, imperialism, agency and identity. This also raises questions about the spread and importance of Latin, multilingualism and translations, and the perception and understanding of Latin in relation to local languages.

We are inviting a range of scholars from different disciplines and backgrounds to connect issues of administration, taxation, civic duty, identity and community building, as represented in the public writing in the Roman world and to discuss implied levels of literacy and/or general understanding as well as civic participation, touching on issues of globalisation, multilingualism, imperialism, agency and identity. We particularly would like to encourage PhD students and early career researchers, and with that objective we are accepting abstracts for papers both 20 and 40 minutes in length. Please specify the desired paper length on your abstract.

Prof. William Johnson (Duke) will act as discussant for the panel, and confirmed speakers include Dr A. Mullen (Nottingham) Dr J. Howley (Columbia), Dr S. Stevens (Utrecht), Dr O. Olesti-Vila (Barcelona) and Dr A. Graham (Warwick), amongst others.

Please submit an abstract of max. 200 words by Friday 16 February 2018 to either of the organisers, and we will inform speakers as soon as possible after that. Finally, please note papers can be presented in English or French, traditionally the two official languages of the Celtic Conference.

Dr. Anouk Vermeulen (
Dr. Virginia L. Campbell (