A Persian Odyssey: Slight Return

The Netherlands is home to some cracking museums; the Rijkesmuseum, Rijkesmuseum van Oudheden, Allard Pierson, the museum at Castellum Hoge Woerd and many more.

But I’ve never been to the north of the country, so I had no idea what was up there. That is, until, a Twitter post by @FollowingHadrian about an exhibition of Iranian (Persian) archaeology and artefacts at the Drents Museum in Assen. As I’m always on the lookout for exciting things of an archaeological bent to do and see, and as I was actually due to be in the Netherlands (albeit much further south) over the August Bank Holiday, I immediately set about working out how I could fit in a very quick trip north to have a look.

Artefacts in the exhibition were on loan from the excellent National Museum of Iran, which I visited when I was in Tehran in 2015, so I was very keen to get another look at them. As well as artefacts that I remember seeing, there were ones that were either not on display, or which I just didn’t see or notice, so there were plenty of ‘new to me’ things to see.

  

The Drents Museum was purpose-built as a museum in 1854, but the exhibition was in the newer extension, opened in 2011. The exhibition space, downstairs, is quite large, although not huge, open and nicely lit and there seemed to be a good number of people visiting the exhibition, including groups, although it was not packed (this was a Monday* lunchtime, so I wouldn’t have expected it to be really packed).

The exhibition, Iran: Cradle of Civilisation, takes in a really broad sweep of Iranian/Persian history, including prehistoric artefacts dating from as early as 7000BCE right into the Islamic period, ending in about 1700CE.

Prehistoric culture is represented by some really beautiful and delicate pieces. I was particularly struck by this small stone bowl (it’s about 4-5 cm in diameter). It’s carved out of a piece of the darker-coloured stone in which there are lighter bush-coral inclusions.

2600-2400BCE, Shahdad, National Museum of Iran, Tehran

This terracotta bowl is decorated with a painted frieze of dancing figures. Perhaps commemorating a particular occasion or a festival of some sort.

I was particularly fascinated by this clay ball, as it brought to mind the stone balls seen in collections in the north of Britain (have a look at the Huntarian Collection in Glasgow for some examples).

Clay Bulla, 3200BC, Susa, National Museum of Iran, Tehran.

It isn’t really known what the balls found in Britain were for but the accompanying film explained this Persian ball. It’s a seal!

The ball is covered with figures of human and animals.

I stood in front of the screen filming the whole video because it really explained this artefact very well. You can see the video here: Clay Bulla (message to anyone from the Drents Museum: If you would prefer it if I took this video down, please let me know and I’ll do so).

The two objects below, although not particularly fancy looking, are evidence for the technological development of the region. The first a rather mucky-looking footed-dish, is actually a crucible in which copper was smelted.

Clay crucible 4000-3700BC, Tappeh Qabrestan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran. When copper ore is heated to a temperature above 1084c it will melt and can then be poured into moulds. At first only pure copper was melted, but the coppersmiths gradually started to mix it with other metals. One of those experiments lead to the discovery of bronze (copper and tin).

The second, a mould for casting a copper axe-head. Found at the site of Tappeh Ghabrestan, northwest of Tehran, which is known for its finds associated with copper-working, with furnaces and moulds dug into the ground as well as these smaller, terracotta moulds.

Terracotta mould, 3500-310BCE, Tappeh Ghabrestan, National Museum of Iran, Tehran

Although these not the fanciest exhibits in the exhibition, they are hard evidence of technological development and expertise in the region.

So what are the fanciest artefacts?

From the third millennium BCE, comes a gorgeous selection of carved soapstone vases, pots, cups and bowls. Soapstone is soft and relatively easy to carve, so it lends itself to these kinds of intricate, detailed designs. The imagery include real and imagined creatures, demons, deities, scroll-work and complex, interlocking geometric designs. I spent a long time admiring these wonderful artefacts and wanting so badly to be able to touch them.

From the 6th until the 3rd centuries BCE, the first Persian empire, the Achaemenids, founded by Cyrus the Great, dominated this part of the world. This dynasty, which included the other Persian ‘Greats’, Darius, and Xerxes, is notable for, among other things, its fine gold work. Examples in the exhibition also include beautiful vases and drinking horns (rhyton).

And one of the many highlights of this exhibition, this wonderfully weird pottery jug. Fashioned in the form of a man tending his bird-beaked pot-beast 😀

Pottery jug 850-550BCE, Kaluraz, National Museum of Iran, Tehran. This jug appears to have a spout in the shape of some kind of beak. Such beaked jugs were used for special wine ceremonies at burials. The Kaluraz cemetery is well known for its beautiful pottery vessels. This is the finest example – functional and yet artistic.

And there were even some reliefs from the imperial city of Persepolis.

Many reliefs at Persepolis show representatives of the 23 peoples of the empire, who came to the imperial city to pay tribute to King Darius. on the left, a gift-bearer climbing the stairs and on the right, a ma presenting a gift of arms to the King.

A whole wall of the exhibition space was transformed into a famous and spectacular monument, the original of which is situated at the World heritage Site of Behistun in north-west Iran (there are several spellings of this: Bisotun, Bistun or Bisutun).

The life-sized figure holding a bow, as a sign of kingship, is Darius the Great, beneath his foot is a figure, possibly the pretender to the throne, Gaumata. Behind him are two attendants and facing him are bound captives representing the conquered peoples. The symbol above the scene is the Faravahar the central symbol of the Zoroastrian religion.

The text, is written in three ancient languages; written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (an Akkadian dialect) and it provided the key to the decipherment of cuneiform, in much the same way the The Rosetta Stone was the key that unlocked Egyptian hieroglyphs. The inscription begins with the biography of Darius the Great, for whom the monument was created, and the history of the empire following the death of its founder Cyrus the Great. It describes the battles fought and won, and the rebellions put down by Darius and the generals subjugated.

This life-sized replica, measuring 15 x 6 metres, was created especially for this exhibition and installed at the same height as the original would be viewed. This gives a good idea of how the original in-situ would be seen, although, obviously, in a very different location.

When I was looking at visiting this exhibition, one of my burning questions was how on earth it had come about. I assumed that there must be some professional connections between curators in Assen and Tehran that had enabled the Drents Museum to secure such an amazing array of loans. Handily, the exhibition included a film answering this, and other questions, and the curatorial connections between the museum services has resulted in this exhibition and a return exhibition of Dutch art and archaeology now on display in Tehran. You can watch a mini-doc about the exhibition here:  https://drentsmuseum.nl/en/exhibitions/iran

This is certainly one of my exhibitions of the year and I would love to visit again, but I doubt that I’ll be able to get to Assen again before the exhibition closes on 18th November.  However, I think I’m going to have to plan a return visit to the Drents Museum in the not-too-distant future, for the next exhibition, ‘Nubia – Land of the Black Pharaohs‘ I just wish that exhibition catalogue was available in English. If it had been, I would have snapped it up.

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*I should say that the Drents Museum, just like pretty well every other museum in the Netherlands, isn’t generally open on Mondays. I was lucky in that I was visiting at the end of the school holidays and it happened to be open on the day that I was able to get there.

The road to Roadburn

Roadburn festival has been on my radar for a few years now but for one reason an another, I haven’t actually made it over there to join the festivities. 2018 was the year it finally happened so this is, in no particular order, my Roadburn.

A fairly early flight (via Eindhoven) meant that I was in Tilburg by lunchtime, checked into the hostel where I was staying and at the festival venue in no time. Strolling down ‘Weirdo Canyon’ I immediately spotted my pal Simon. In some contexts, Simon’s looks might make him stand out; bald head, great big bushy beard, extensive ink-age; but at Roadburn he rather blends in, so I was quite impressed that I managed to spot him so easily.

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A cold drink and a catch up was followed by a stroll around to the main 013 venue  to see what was what and as the Het Patronaat venue opposite had no queue, we went in and managed to catch a bit of a Q&A session with members of the Norwegian collaborative project, Hugsjá.

They talked about the development of an extended work exploring the origins, people, nature and folklore of Norway, and it’s relationships with the land and the sea and I ended up the next day seeing some of this work performed.

It consisted of songs or ‘movements’ in an extended storytelling of the first people to populate the land that became Norway, the importance of the sea, the ancient shipping routes and the harbours. The performers used familiar instruments like drums, guitar and violin, but also animal horns and a lyre. This work was very absorbing and I was glad to have caught at least some of it, although the lure of other artists (more of which later) proved too strong for me to remain for the entire piece.

This year’s festival had an ‘east meets west’ theme with the Artists in Residence, Earthless, from San Diego, colliding with Japanese bands on the Guruguru Brain record label, and with Damo Suzuki. I was very keen to see the ‘Japanese Psych Experience’ bands; Minami Deutsch, Kikagaku Moyo and Dhidalah, and also the incomparable Damo,  so I made a particular point of getting to the venues where they were playing well in advance. I was very glad that I did because it meant that I was able to get great views of the performances and not be squashed into a corner or totally unable to get into the venue. The Green Room, in particular, is one of those venues that looks empty for ages and then, all of a sudden, you can’t get in the door. It looked like plenty of my fellow festival-goers were as keen as I was to see these bands so the venues were very full.

So, Minami Deutsch, a great favourite of mine. I’ve seen them a few times, the first time at Liverpool Psych Fest, but don’t tire of their rather louche krautrock rhythms. They’re a great demonstration of how good it can be when you play exactly the same musical motif over and over again for about 5-10 minutes straight. If the motif is good to start with, 10 minutes of it is awesome. Judging by the crowd’s reaction to this, I was not the only one who approved. And you can actually dance to them 😀

  

Kikagaku Moyo, who I’d only previously seen at PXYK, also channel some of the kraut-y grooves, but in, perhaps a less single minded fashion. They mix up the rhythms more often and have a strong Indian slant to their psych music, including a sitar, played guitar-style. Their upbeat set built to quite a party party big-finish. A lot of fun.

 

Dhidalah struck  me at first as a bit more prog. Now, my prog tolerance is pretty low so I was pretty glad that they didn’t drift off too far down the noodle path but pulled out a strong, driven  psych set, a bit darker and harder-edged than the other two bands and definitely got me onside. I’d like to see them again soon.

 

Damo Suzuki, famously an ex-member of Can, was the lure that tore me away from Hugsjá. Damo played two sets over the festival, the first in the Koepelhal with Earthless, and the sitar player from Kikagaku Moyo and the second in the Green Room with Minami Deutsch. Both of these sets pleased me greatly. With Earthless, the set began rather slowly, meandering and building, with Damo’s familiar  ‘Waken to the Night’ refrain, basically a long long extended psych work-out, gradually growing into an absolute bit of a beast. The long run out had me actually thinking that someone was going to have to come on stage with a big long comedy hook and drag the drummer off-stage physically. The audience loved it.

Damo‘s second audience, in the packed Green Room , was equally thrilled with his ultra-krautrock set with Minami Deutsch. I’d gone into the room and adopted the position on the balcony super-early in order to get a good spot because this was one of my absolute dream  pairings. I wasn’t disappointed. Again the set started out quite mellow, with a long lead in, but ended in krautrock wig-out heaven. Damo and the guys from Minami Deutsch seemed made to be together. My dying wish is for these two Damo sets to be released as ‘Live at Roadburn’ records so that I can own them forever.

There was more east meets west action later on with an actual ‘East Meets West’ psych jam featuring Earthless and Kikagaku Moyo. Beginning with just two players on stage, Earthless’ Isaiah Mitchell on guitar and Kikagaku Moyo’s Ryu Kurosawa, who were joined by other players, one by one, two by two until the stage was filled with musicians and the main hall at 013 was filled with the sounds of (what appeared to be) a semi-improvised jam involving guitars, basses, various kinds of drums, sitar, shaky-tappy-things and a gong! A big gong!

Who else? The Heads! There was me, down the front, bopping away to loud heavy psych whilst nudie sex films played in the background. Aye me! In any case, this largely instrumental set was good and heavy and a lot of fun, even if the background blow-jobs were a little distracting at times. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look!

 

I remarked afterwards that one of the things that I kinda like about The Heads is the way they get on, RRRRROOOOCCCCCKKKK!!!!! and get off. No messing. There was some proper happy-bopping during this set (Simon was up on the balcony and remarked that it was one of the sets that didn’t just involve the audience in ‘head nodding’ but in full on dancing).

With Godflesh I had a bit of a dilemma because of schedule clashes so I only saw a bit of the set. It sounded pretty typically Godflesh; loud, intense, crushing but also quite sparse. No frills. In fact the only frill on stage was Justin’s new (to me) long-ish hair!

My disappointment at missing most of their Roadburn set was offset by the fact that they’re playing at Raw Power next month, so I won’t be going without for long.

Godspeed you! Black Emperor played in the main room of 013 and I went in after The Heads had finished. This is a big room but it was packed to the gills, especially so after The Heads’ packed crowd piled in. I managed to find a spot high up on the top balcony where I could see and also, eventually, sit down on the step. From my eyrie I was able to allow Godspeed’s somewhat melancholic winds swirl around me. Dark music in a dark room to people dressed almost exclusively in black.

Dark.

I was only able to see a bit of Boris‘ set because of their proximity to The Heads, but I do enjoy their sense of theatre and the intensity of their performance. They use silence to put their audience on edge because we know what’s coming after. Noise.

So, there were some specific bands that I was very keen to see but in between those I was quite happy to meander into this venue or that and just see what I could see. It’s a fairly relaxed sort of a festival so it’s pretty easy to chill out in between bursts of frantic activity. One of the gigs I wandered into was Sólveig Matthildur.

Playing solo with electronic music and vocals, this felt like quite an intimate show; a lone performer, a small venue with a low stage and the personal revelations between songs – a song written as a piece of coursework, judged critically and given a low grade but nevertheless feeling special to the writer. I’d be happy to see more of this artist.

Thaw are Polish black metal. I’m not particularly a black metal fan but I don’t mind a bit here and there and I did quite enjoy this. All that darkness in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon. One of the songs was even a sort of black metal duet, with the different voices expressing different parts of the song. Lovely. Talking of black metal, I also caught a bit of מזמור :: MIZMOR which was fun.

 

More generally, I just really enjoyed the festival. The venues are very nice, although sometimes a bit difficult to get into if there’s a popular band playing. Strategic planning is the key if there’s a band you particularly want to see. The new venues a short distance from the main 013 site were good, and I really liked the little warehouse/railway-sidings area they were in.

It’s a bit of a mare to find accommodation and it’s not particularly cheap, you can basically wave your money goodbye, but it’s pretty easy to have a good time and Tilburg is  a nice town with decent shops and cafes, and a lovely ice cream shop. The Roadburn crowd is generally pretty chill so it’s not a stressy or aggressive festival and, although there is all day drinking, it doesn’t descend into the kind of  rollocking, drunken vomit-fest that we see with so many festivals.

So that’s pretty much my Roadburn. Not very doom-y, not very black metal-y and just two days this year before I went off looking for Roman stuff, but there are already plans afoot for next year, together with an expanded crew. There’s even talk of camping :/

Oh yeah, Roadburn socks 😀

2017 and all that

Some of you, if you are Facebookies, may have been inundated with ‘Year in Review’ videos which are, frankly, rubbish. Facebook is crap at picking the images that tell the story of your year and always end up with old, reposted pictures, your ex who just dumped you or that one from where you saw an old mattress dumped in the street. The only way to do it is to chose your own images and tell it your own way. So here’s mine.

Around the world

In 2017 I’ve mostly been interested in Northern Europe. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it was. So, here’s a whistlestop tour through my whistlestop tours.

Boom!! Cologne

Bang!! Paris

Wowee!! Rome, with The Couple Formerly Known As Trowelsworthy (TCFKAT).

Kablammo!! Orvieto

  

Crash!! Mainz

 

Kapow!! Bad Durkheim

Badabing!! Frankfurt

Bazinga!! Bavay

Wow!! Paris (again). Thanks for the cheapo tickets Eurostar.

Bang!! Senlis

Crash!! Leiden

 

Whoopee!! Amsterdam

Other places are available.

Tourists at home

It’s fantastic to visit far, or not so far away places, but home is best and being a tourist in your own home is great fun. On many of my touristic days out, Craig has been my travelling companion but I started the year, in traditional style, at the Twelfth Night celebrations on Bankside.

Then nose-hunting with Craig

And I also visited the London Lumiere with Pete and Dayna.

Me and Craig went to Freemason’s Hall.

And to the ‘Glad to be Gay: the struggle for legal equality’ exhibition at LSE. This celebrated 50 year since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain.

The City of London Police Museum.

 

We went to Banqueting House for ‘Long Live Queen James’, an evening exploring LGBT stories from the court of King James I/VI.

And we had a poke around the restoration works at Ally Pally.

 

The Supreme Court, with Jeremy

I went to Highgate Cemetery with Sacha and Stuart.

And with Craig and Jeremy to the London Transport Museum.

(“Exchange stations shewn thus”)

Plus loads more. Seriously, London is very cool. Go and look at it.

Moosic, moosic, moosic

There have been some stonking gigs this year. This isn’t all of them, but it is some of them. How many can you name?*

 

Random Romans

There are always more Romans about, so I went to have a look for some. I popped up for a quick visit to Newcastle and Carlisle to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions.

 

I went to Hull! I’ve never been to Hull before but they have a fantastic Roman mosaic collection so I decided to make the effort and go and have a look. Well worth it.

I managed a couple of short trips up to Glasgow and Edinburgh, taking in Bothwellhaugh Roman bathhouse in Strathclyde Country Park with Ellen and Simon,

 

the bathouse and Antonine Wall remains at Bearsden,

and finally made it to Eagle Rock at Cramond.

 

Back in town, the eagerly awaited opening of the London Mithraeum didn’t disappoint.

When I was in Germany, I popped down to Speyer to see the Roman Collection at  Das Historische Museum der Pfalz (The Historical Museum of the Palatinate).

What else? What else? Volunteering on a schools’ project at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive (Me! Working with children!!), and I spent half the year working at Tower Bridge (actual paid employment!). This is surely enough to pack into 12 short months.

So that’s 2017 from me, and from my boys, Archie and Bertie. I hope you’ve had a good year and roll on 2018.

 

Oh, and here’s that one from where I saw an old mattress dumped in the street.

Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city*

Much as I’d love to go to Nineveh, that great city, the security situation in Iraq at present does not allow it so I’ve had to make do with the wonderful exhibition at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

In its heyday, of all the cities in the ancient Neo-Assyrian empire, Nineveh was the greatest and the most populous. It has had a lasting impact on western consciousness, particularly on account of Biblical references, especially relating to Jonah, and its semi-mythical status.

Etching of Jonah made by Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert between 1548 and 1552, Rijksmuseum.

Situated on the east bank of the Tigris River and encircled by the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was located at the intersection of importants trade routes crossing the Tigris on their way between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It was the capital city of Assyria’s most powerful kings and the hub of the Neo-Assyrian Empire at its height.

The area of Nineveh has been settled since the late neolithic period, around 6,000BCE and there has been a city there since at least 3000BCE. During the Old Assyrian period (around 1800BCE), the city was known as an important centre for the worship of Ishtar, the ancient goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, war and power.

The expansion and embellishment of Nineveh as a royal city began in 705BCE on the accession of King Sennacherib, after the death on the battlefield of King Sargon II – ‘The Unfortunate’. This is when Nineveh turned from a primarily religious centre into a royal capital.

The walls of the palaces were clad in limestone panels with reliefs depicting kings and other important men, battle scenes, gory scenes of the execution of prisoners and, less gorily, daily life.

Much of what we know about the rulers and events in the history of Nineveh, the names of kings, information about great battles, building projects and religious life, comes from the contemporary texts, written on clay and stone in cuneiform. Many texts are yet to be deciphered, but the epigraphic habit of the Assyrian courts has yielded important information.

Clay cylinder describing the construction of the palace of Sennacherib, 704-681 BCE, Nineveh.

Mud brick from the ziggurat of Nimrud, inscribed with the name of King Shalmaneser III, 859-824BCE, Nimrud.

Even the limestone floor tiles from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (9th c. BCE) were covered with text, here, an ode to the king.

The exhibition at the RVO has sections on different aspects of Nineveh; its wider historical and cultural context, biblical references, it rediscovery by western explorers (although it was long known about by Arab scholars), the construction and expansion of the city, trade, religion and daily life.

There is also an extensive section on Nineveh’s more recent history. When daesh invaded the city of Mosul in 2014, one of their stated aims was to destroy the ancient city. In early 2015, the group began posting films of artefacts, sculptures and even parts of the city wall begin destroyed. The two Iamasi below are similar to those featured in one particular destruction video posted by the terrorists.

Replicas of two Iamasi from Nimrud (the originals are in the British Museum).

This part of the exhibition examines the evidence for recent destruction and the response of the international community of archaeologists, heritage experts, scientists and digital imaging experts in their efforts to record and retain as much information about the city as possible, even in the face of its destruction.

Mosul and Nineveh

This has included the use of satellite imaging, 3d printing, digital photography, CGI and even the use of small drones, used to investigate, among other things, a series of underground tunnels dug by daesh fighters, which unwittingly uncovered new discoveries of antiquities.

I’ve posted a little film about this last initiative on youtube but don’t expect too much quality-wise. It was just me pointing my camera at the projection on the wall. It’s an interesting watch nevertheless.

 

The exhibition ‘Ninevah – Heart of an ancient empire‘  is on at the Rijksmusem van Oudheden in Leiden until 25th March 2018.

*Jonah 1:2

Roman walls in car parks. This is actually a ‘thing’.

In 2012, archaeology in car parks hit the headlines. The perfect mix of the prosaic and the sensational; the ancient and modern, seemed to excite the interest of people who usually had no interest at all in archaeology. Of course, you throw in a king and an ‘odd feeling’ and that gets the tabloids going. But I am a Romanist and we don’t do kings. We do, however, do car parks.

On my wanderings I have found myself in many a car park, squeezing between Vauxhall Astras and Ford Focuses, tramping about the place to look at…what? Walls. There’s loads of them. So many that I’ve decided that ‘Roman walls in car parks’ is an actual ‘thing’. So here are a few.

York (Eboracum).

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Ok, that doesn’t look like much but York was an extremely important and powerful city in the Roman period. Founded by the soldiers of the ninth legion in 71CE;  the seat of Roman power under Septimius Severus’ from 208-11 (and the site of his death in 211), the capital of Britannia Inferior under Caracalla; the location for Constantine’s accession to the purple in 306.

This is all big stuff. Seriously.

It’s ok. Those bits of wall in the car park aren’t the only surviving Roman walls. There are some quite impressive sections still surviving to full height. With bastions.

york-6

There is also Roman wall in other British car parks. Here in London (Londinium), you have to go underground. Under the aptly-named London Wall is the London Wall Car Park and if you go along to the motorcycle bays (around Bay 52), you can find… the London wall.

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london-5

I like this because you can see the construction methods clearly, the inner core made from rubble with tile courses for stabilization, faced with nicely worked  stones on the exterior, all on a beautifully chamfered  plinth.

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Nearby, hidden behind a nondescript door by the side of the ramp down to the bit of the London Wall Car Park that’s under the Museum of London…

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This is what remains of the west gate of the fort and it’s associated guardroom, which stood in the north-west corner of Londinium. Built in about 120CE, the fort predates the city wall and was utilized to form the north-western corner of the enclosed city when the wall was built  in the third-century.

map-londinium

london-8

This isn’t always accessible but the Museum does do regular tours/talks so look out on their website for those.

And here’s Colchester (Camulodunum).

In Colchester you can see a mixture of original and recreated Roman wall. Here’s a bit of the recreated.

colchester-1

Basically you can just see what the Roman wall looked like when it was pretty new, and you can, again, see the way that the wall is built using courses of stone blocks with layers of terracotta tile for stabilization.

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Round the corner is a decent stretch of the real thing.

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It’s looking a bit less pristine but then, it is pushing 2000 years old. The city was fortified with walls when it was rebuilt after its destruction during the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61.

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The walls were built fairly rapidly and utilised whatever building material they could find. Within the wall structure you can see bits and bobs, like this piece of roof tile (tegula), some of which show signs of burning.

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Again, there are other, pretty extensive, Roman walls surviving in the city. And they are easy to follow round, taking in some of the city gates on the way

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I’ve observed that this is not just a British thing.

Arlon (Orolaunum)

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Further afield, in the Belgian city of Arlon, is this magnificent section of wall, complete with a bastion.

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The foundations were built using old bits of worked stone, inscriptions and tomb stones, and it’s possible to still see some of those in-situ.

arlon-3 arlon-4

An earlier blog post has a few more pictures of the delights of Roman Arlon and some more of the many many carved stone monuments found there.

Paris (Lutetia)

There is a rather sorry little section of the Roman city wall in Paris. The door here was locked so I could only see it through the glass but it’s not that impressive in any case. Still, here it is.

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It’s in the stairwell of an underground carpark on Boulevard Saint-Michel.

As far as I’m aware, that’s about it for the Roman city wall of Paris but I discovered that there are some other Roman walls in a car park in Paris. The brilliant Crypt Archeologique at Notre Dame is one of the best places to see the remains of Roman Paris (see also the amphitheatre, the ‘arènes de Lutèce’; and the great big bathhouse at Musee Cluny). I had thought that Crypt Archeologique was just next to the Notre Dame carpark…

paris-crypt-3

…but a display about the discovery of the remains shows that the site is actually inside the carpark, albeit separated from the vehicles, so I’m claiming this one too.

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The crypt contains, among other things, Roman houses, a bathhouse, a bit of a bridge abutment and part of a quay on  the River Seine.

Nimes (Colonia Nemausus )

Nimes is another city where it is possible to follow the circuit of the old Roman walls, happening upon gateways, decent sections of standing wall and sorry little scraps along the way.

Here’s one of the sorry little scraps.

nimes-1

On the Rue Armand-Barbès, just by the side of the pavement, are these hardly-noticeable remains of the city wall.  It’s a bit more obvious when you look at the run of the wall that leads into the nearby car park.

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It’s not much to look at but it’s just a small element of the, quite extensive, remains of Roman Nimes and so, for a Romanist like me, worth looking out for on my way round town.

Angers (Juliomagus Andecavorum)

In Angers, in terms of Roman remains, there is, frankly, not much. In the Roman period there were the usual houses, bath-houses, bridges and temples, including a Temple of Mithras. All of this has been built over,  plundered for later building work, and swept away for the construction of the castle and later ramparts.

So what is left?

Apart from some artefacts, now in the local museum, there is only this stretch of wall on Rue Toussaint.

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It’s a chunky stretch of wall made mostly of petit appareil but also looks like it has been altered, built on and up against, and knocked through so that it contains elements of Roman and later construction. It’s actually by the side of a road but there are designated parking spaces all along this stretch, so I’m calling it a car park.

A few kilometres away, there’s more.

Tours (Civitas Turonum)

Enclosing the carpark behind the Studio Cinema on Rur des Ursulines is this stretch of the Roman city wall.

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The wall has clearly been built from reused material with a mixture of petit and grand appareil

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There’s another stretch in the Jardin de St Pierre le Puellier. This area has actually been set out as a public garden with signage about the walls and the bastion.

Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)

And, lastly, I was just in Cologne, a city with some quite decent stretches of its city wall still standing, on my latest car park-related jolly. So here it is, the Roman wall of Cologne, in a car park.

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And another car parky-bit.

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These are in an underground car park right underneath the Cathedral. The remains of the north gate of the city have been reconstructed up at ground level but down here we can see the in-situ remains. This being a rather historical car park, there’s also a medieval well!

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And down the road is another section of the wall bordering another car park.

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Ok, this doesn’t look very Roman, does it? But, trust me, it is. The Roman wall core has subsequently been faced with brick so it all looks much later but, at its core this is still in-situ Roman wall. You can see this better at the exposed end of the wall.

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In the making of this post I gatecrashed a tour being run by one of the Curators of The Museum of London. He raised an interesting point about how the decision to preserve the particular bit of wall we were looking was taken. As a car park is, essentially, a big empty space, I started to wonder about the discussions that preceded the decision to preserve or not preserve, and how that discussion might differ if it was, say, a row of houses rather than a big empty space that was being built. How many chunks of Roman wall have been swept away, demolished to make way for new homes and shops? Probably loads. Maybe it’s easier to argue for the preservation of ancient monuments in car parks specifically because a car park is big empty space. That might explain why there are so many bits of Roman wall in car parks.

And so I rest my case. Roman walls in car parks are clearly a ‘thing’. The evidence speaks for itself.

Oh, and if you’re planning to seek out random archaeology in random places people will, inevitably, wonder why on earth you’re taking photos of a crappy bit of old wall in a car park, so be prepared for funny looks.

2016 – annus horribilis

Where to start with 2016.

What an absolute shower. Brexit, Trump, our heroes dropping like flies, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. This is all, all awful.

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Which is why I’m not going to write another word about any of it and focus on all the cool things about 2016.

2015 ended like this…

And 2016 started like this…

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I spent the New Year in Jordan, at Petra and also a few other places like Madaba and Amman, over the course of a week or so. This was pretty cool, although it was quite cold and there was something going on at Petra which meant that the army was called out. This was, initially, slightly alarming, but it was all fine and I was able to spend some quality time looking at archaeology and cats. Two of my favourite things.

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By the end of January, I’d handed in my notice at work and was looking forward to some freedom. As I had to work quite a long notice period, freedom had to wait, but at least it was on the horizon.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be…

I’ve been travelling a fair bit this year, mostly, but not exclusively, in northern Europe and mostly chasing Romans, so here’s a little round-up (with links where I’ve already blogged my travels).

At Easter I popped off to Morocco for a bit. Friends had warned me to be careful because some people have had negative experiences, especially in Tangier, getting a lot of hassle from pushy touts and over-eager shopkeepers. I had no problems at all (except for one grumpy taxi driver). No, I had a great time visiting some of the Roman sites in northern Morocco, including Volubilis

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Lixus

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Chellah

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and Tamouda.

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I think that most people don’t really think of Morocco as a Roman area and, it’s true, the Romans only really settled the north, away from the main tourist areas of Fez, Marrakesh and the desert. Still, Romans were what I wanted and Romans were what I got.

Once I’d done with work and was free (FREE!!) I was off to Paris.

While there, I visited the last resting place of millions of humans (Les Catacombes de Paris) and hundreds of animals (Le Cimetière des Chiens). It’s rather telling that it was only the latter of these that reduced me to a sobbing wreck.

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Then up to Northumberland to meet up with some digging pals; Tim and Laura, AKA Lord and Lady Trowelsworthy; Pete; Pierre; Scott; Jeff…the gang.

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It’s not often that I get a welcoming committee and a banner!

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And then down to Marseille for a week of sun, ships and … Romans 😀

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And now I must mention ATP.

In the spring, ATP was holding two festivals at a holiday camp in north Wales. I wasn’t going to go because I find the whole holiday camp schtick a bit trying, but a number of friends were at the first of the two. These festivals didn’t exactly go as planned (cue: divers alarums) and the fall out left a rather bitter taste in many mouths.

There had been another ATP festival due to take place in Iceland  at the end of June, which I was going to. To be honest, I was already well prepared for this to go pear-shaped and, as I’d been able to book flights and accommodation for good prices, I had already decided that Iceland was on, whatever happened with ATP. Obviously, as it turned out, ATP went west but I still went north, and had a great time.

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Boats, beaches, puffins, architecture, spelunking, and football 😀

And even…Romans!!

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Seriously, these are the only four Roman coins in Iceland.

In August, I spent some time in Belgium, again looking for Romans. Based in Liege, I made several trips to sites in the surrounding area.

Heerlan

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Tongeren

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Arlon

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and in Liege itself

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At the end, I popped over to Berlin for a few days (the flight from Brussels was £9! £9!!) and hit the museums and hot-spots like a total tourist.

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I was actually back in Berlin again in November, as my friend Katherine was going over and that seemed like a great excuse to join her.

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Levitation France was on in Angers in September, so I went over for that and…Romans (obviously).

Starting off in Nantes

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Then moving on to Angers for the festival with side visits to Jublains

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Le Mans

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and Tours

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Life is good

The dark dreary wintery end of January was brightened up with groovy lights at Lumiere London.

Summer saw a visit to excavations at the Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch

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And I started working on a research project for the Petrie Museum. This is the museum of Egyptian archaeology at UCL and the project was looking at archaeology in the middle east during, and around, the First World War.

Summer also saw me doing a bit of digging with Hendon & District Archaeological Society at a site in north London.

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The society has been investigating Clitterhouse Farm for a while and my friend Roger suggested that I come along for a bit of a dig. We had a lot of fun and found 6 courses of a wall that wasn’t supposed to be there!

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September started off with a horrendous dental nightmare (root canal is hell) which I managed to get sorted, eventually. To cheer me up, the Dice People, John, Guy and me, went on a jolly to Richborough Roman Fort.

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The Dice People also became Lamp People as we spent a few days at the Archive (LAARC) seeking out all the Roman pottery lamps for the next Volunteers’ project. We found some cracking lamps, some of them complete.

London also commemorated the 350th anniversary of The Great Fire of London, by building a huge model of the City on a barge on the Thames and torching it!

This was actually ridiculously exciting.

Luck was on my side when I entered a draw for tickets to attend a lecture by Stephen Hawking at Imperial College. The lecture was on recent developments in the science of black holes. Apparently, 25,000 people applied for tickets so this was a bit of a coup for me.

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Now, I’m a scientific ignoramus so most of the sciencey stuff went whizzing way over my head but Prof Hawking is actually quite an accessible speaker. He tries to make it comprehensible even to thickies like me so the opportunity to attend one of his lectures was a treat.

Also, he’s on Big Bang.

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2016 was also the year that I, rather unexpectedly, became a great-aunt when my nephew and his girlfriend popped out a surprise baby. None of this was planned of course but, hey ho, these things happen. I’m delighted to report that all is well and his name is Roman…ROMAN!! 😀 😀

Music makes me lose control

There has been no Loop in 2016. This is a source of great sorrow to me and the implosion of ATP caused me to assume that there would be no more in the future. I’m pleased to say that there is now the promise of more Soundhead action in 2017, so I live in hope.

Nevertheless, I have been to some cracking gigs this year and here’s a little round-up of some of the best.

Cavern of Anti-Matter at The Moth Club, Patterns in Brighton, Dingwalls (for my birthday), and at Liverpool psych Fest. I like Cavern of Anti-Matter. The band features Tim Gane and Joe Dilworth of Stereolab  fame and sounds pretty well as you’d expect them to sound. This is a good thing. Plenty of bounce, groovy drums and some cool squelchy electro- synths. Nice.

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The Vacant Lots at the Shacklewell Arms, the Prince Albert in Brighton and The Moth Club. The Vacant Lots are definitely too cool for school, but Jared really should be more careful. He actually ended up in stitches (at Homerton Hospital) after the Shacklewell Arms gig.

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My focus in the first quarter of the year was to drag myself to the end of my notice period and escape work with my sanity, and I was helped along by two cracking, and very loud gigs by The Heads.

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I also got to see The Coathangers at The Moth Club and Follakzoid, playing at the Raw Power Festival. I was also treated to a brilliant gig by Sonic Boom with a new find (for me) in support; Happy Meals.

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And Sonic also played at Levitation France, and with Etienne Jaumet (of Zombie Zombie)  at a gig with James Holden at St. Luke’s.

There have also been lots of very good gigs by (in no particular order) Camera, Michael Rother, Damo Suzuki, Xaviers, Silver Apples, Minny Pops and Ulrika Spacek. Girl Band, Big Naturals, Spiritualized, Spectres, K-X-P, Anthroprophh, Zombie Zombie, Traams, and Tomaga.

And a spooky Christmas gig from Low.

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However, the latter part of the year has undoubtedly been owned by Teenage Fanclub.

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I’d had to miss the Teenage Fanclub gig in Islington in September because of the aforementioned dental issue and the resulting facial deformity (seriously, it was baaaad 😦 ) but I was recovered sufficiently to see the Fannies at Rough Trade the following week, with Dave and Adam.

That album I’m holding was their first new album for 6 years and I have been crushing on it, HARD, ever since the second listen (the second listen, mind).

To support the new album, the Fannies had embarked on a pretty extensive tour, first in the US/Canada then the UK. Initially, I only had a ticket for the Cambridge gig but that would just not do, and I was fortunate enough to bag a ticket for the London gig just a couple of days before the gig.

Good move 😀 I haven’t seen TFC in ages but seeing them again filled me with all the same good feelings of old.

After the fun of the London and Cambridge gigs I was eager for more so, having a pal up in Scotland who I knew was going to the Barrowland gig, I set about investigating the possibility of getting up to Glasgow without being utterly ridiculous. This worked out pretty well (despite the initial hiccup of my train being cancelled!!) and I was able to go to a top night out in the East End with Simon, Andy, Rob and Donna. I wished that I could have stayed for the second night (at the ABC O2) but, really, there are limits and I had to get back for the cats.

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So,  2016 has been, nationally and internationally, as dodgy as flip, but, personally, I’ve had a blast. Clearly, I’ve had a pretty self-indulgent year so I’m ending it working some shifts at a Crisis centre. I haven’t done this in a couple of years because I’ve been out of the country but now I’m back in my usual chair with the sewing team. We do repairs and alterations for guests, on items that need a bit of TLC; clothing, bags and rucksacks, sleeping bags, that sort of thing.

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It’s fun and we always have  a good time but housing insecurity and rough sleeping are on the increase and, clearly, it would be far better if this wasn’t necessary at all. It can feel a bit overwhelming and I certainly can’t fix anyone’s problems. I can, however, fix the seam on their trousers, or the zip on their bag, so that’s what I’m doing.

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Of course, I’ll have to go back to work now. I’ve had my fun but, not being independently wealthy, I do actually have to earn a living (my friend thinks that I’ve won the lottery. I haven’t). Still, it was great while it lasted.

So goodbye 2016 and hello 2017. Love to you all from me, and from my own little Beastie Boys, Archie and Bertie.

The barnet formula

ndany European museums have large collections of Roman material, reflecting the relative prevalence of material culture in the Roman period compared to the periods before and after it. Many visitors looking at the Roman material are interested in things like coins, jewellery and luxury goods, but I also often see people standing in front of the portrait busts, staring into the faces of those depicted, person to person across two thousand years.

Looking at these busts as sources of evidence, one things that strikes is the wide range of hairstyles on view, and the changes to hairstyles over time. Changing fashions in hairstyles may seem like a rather frivolous topic but as with clothing and other ‘fashions’ they do reflect wider changes in political, economic and cultural landscapes.

So looking at one of the really key figures in the Roman empire, the first de facto emperor himself, his image became his calling card throughout the empire. His short neat hairstyle reflected the severe hairstyles of the Republican era from which Octavian/Augustus emerged*.

This bust of Augustus, in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln, shows this short neat hairstyle. What is interesting about this particular example of the Octavian/Augustus portrait is that some time later, probably in the fourth century, a beard and moustache were added to the face. This reflects the mores and fashions of the fourth century, as this was just not the done thing in Augustus’ time.

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The nods to the Republican style subliminally associated Augustus with the values of the Republic, values that must have seemed to have been fast disappearing. And the severity of the hairstyle sent out the message that Augustus was a serious young man, bringing stability to the empire after the period of chaos and division that accompanied the decline of the Republic. Almost as if Augustus was re-establishing the high Republic, although in fact he was actually ending it once and for all.

There was an exhibition examining Augustus’ use of this image at the Grand Palais in Paris last year. You can find my little write up and a few pictures here.

In the main, the Julio-Claudian Emperors adopted a variation on this theme. Hair was short and neat, chin was beardless. Here’s Claudius (in the Praetorium, Cologne) looking rather butch and manly, as befits an Emperor of Rome. Not quite the Clau- Clau- Claudius of Derek Jacobi.

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But the hairstyles of later male busts reflected the changing fashions of the Empire.  Emperors began to hail from places other than Rome, or (Latium), and they wore their hair in styles that were less dictated by upper-class Rome and the Republic. Different looks became fashionable as high status families adopted the styles of those leaders of fashion, the Imperial Family.

A step change in fashions came with the Emperor Hadrian, a Spaniard by birth. Not only did Hadrian wear his hair a little longer, curly and a bit more flowing, he also wore a beard, reflecting his love of Greek culture (in Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln).

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Septimius Severus, the North African Emperor of the third century, has quite a different look again. His African roots are played up in his style, with a very thick and curly hairstyle and full beard (Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln).

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For women hairstyles were explicitly associated with age and marital status, wealth and social status. The style-setters were often, again, the Imperial family with many well-off women adopting the styles of the Emperor’s wife or daughters.

This cameo (from the Rijksmuseum van Oudehen) shows Livia, Augustus’ wife with the typical hairstyle of the first centuries BCE/CE. Called the nodus style it involved parting the hair into three sections, gathering up the two on the sides to make a bun at the back of the head and looping the central section into a sort of puffy fringe in the middle.

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Later on, Flavian styles became increasingly elaborate, particularly for the elite with high arching crowns of hair, often curled and built up using hairpieces. This tomb-bust of a lady, from the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, shows a relatively restrained version. They could get really quite over the top.

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These hairstyles demonstrated a woman’s status, that she had time to devote to her appearance and personal servants (slaves). An ordinary lower status woman would have been less able to devote her time and energy to this level of personal grooming, particularly if she was obliged to work for a living.

This (below, from Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln) is Julia Domna, the Syrian wife of Septimius Severus. You can always recognize her by her distinctive ‘helmet hair’ hairstyle. Although she was the wife of the Emperor, I don’t know how widely this one ever caught on in Rome as, as a foreigner, her hairstyle is quite different to the elite Roman women from Italian families. Again, this hairstyle must have taken quite some time to construct.

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And alongside the ‘Roman’ hairstyles and Roman lifestyles, the older tribal traditions remained strong throughout the Roman period, and some people still chose to be depicted as members of their tribes. As these images are often found on tombstones or in funerary contexts, the choice may have been made by the surviving loved-ones of the departed, but in any case, tribal identity remained strong.

These ladies, members of the Germanic Ubii Tribe, are shown wearing these large traditional headdresses (worn only by married ladies) (l-r, Praetorium, Cologne; Römisch-Germanisches Museum KölnRömisch-Germanisches Museum Köln).

This is despite the fact that the Ubii were long-time allies of Rome, fought with Rome against the Batavians and other enemies, and may be considered thoroughly Romanized. In death, if not in life, tradition, history and ancestors won out over bath-houses, plumbing and paved roads!

Just to end, I’ll show my Roman allegiances with this badly altered photo of me with a massive Flavian ‘do’. It’s pretty awful, but it amused the chums and demonstrates wot a laydeee I am. Pip pip.

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*Incidentally, Augustus’ Republican hairstyle is the sort of hairstyle currently being rocked by George Osborne. “I’m very serious, but a bit funky”, says his hairstyle, whilst the state of him at PMQs suggests late nights and an expensively-maintained coke habit. I’ll leave you to decide the truth of the matter.