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Tag Archives: Ancient history

  • Norfolk's Military Heritage by Neil R. Storey

    September 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and after  five years of special events, exhibitions and projects to commemorate the First World War this book looks at the long military history of the county of Norfolk from its early fortifications and conflicts between the Iceni and the Roman occupiers right up to the end of the Second World War, hopefully there will be many stories and images that will be new to the reader, even if they have enjoyed studying local military history for many years. That's the enduring grip such a subject has on a historian, there is always something new to discover, even if you think you know a subject well.

    Iron Age fort at Warham, near Wells. (C. John Fielding, Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Norfolk is one of England's largest counties, it still has thousands of acres of rich, fertile agricultural land and has had human settlements since the earliest times, along with their resulting conflicts. Add to this a coastline stretching nearly 100 miles from The Wash to Hopton-on-Sea with a number of natural harbours and navigable waterways and dear old Norfolk has been a target for raids and invasions down the centuries too. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why Norfolk people have a natural propensity for standing up for themselves and what they believe is right. Famously, in ancient history the Iceni were led in battle by Queen Boudica in a campaign that almost drove the Roman occupiers out of the British Isles and that fighting spirit remains in the blood, mingled with that of the Saxons, Vikings and Normans.



    Castle Rising, built more as a symbol of power and status than a fortification, is surrounded by some of the most impressive earthworks in Britain. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    I wanted to show a variety of perspectives of the earliest fortifications, not just those visible at ground level and John Stevens kindly allowed me to use some of his brilliant aerial photographs of Norfolk's remarkable early fortifications such as the Warham 'Ring,' Burgh Castle and Castle Acre, and even took a few more especially for the book. Notably, during our exceptionally dry summer of 2018 the marks of the ancient roads buildings and walls of Venta Icenorum the Roman administrative centre that was established over the old Iceni settlement at Caister St Edmunds, had not been quite so clearly seen for years and having seen many of the old images of the site in black and white from when it was first discovered it was great to see them in colour at last.

    Norfolk people have risen in rebellion on numerous occasions against oppression and to defend their way of life, notably during the Peasant's Revolt in 1381 and Kett's Rebellion of 1549. Ultimately they faced forces that were larger and far better armed than them but rise they did and made their point.


    Members of the Norfolk Riflr Volunteers striking camp 1872. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    During the English Civil War despite being predominantly in favour of the Parliamentary cause both Royalists and Parliamentarians made their stands in the county and many Norfolk men joined Regiments that fought in some of the notable actions of the war around the country. Captain Robert Swallow raised the 'Maiden Troop'of Cromwell's Ironside cavalry in Norwich and ultimately Norfolk formed part of the Eastern Association which proved to be the backbone of the Parliamentarian forces by late 1644.

    Norfolk fighting men have demonstrated their steadfastness and courage in battle again and again, notably through two World Wars. Lieut-General Sir Brian Horrocks summed this up in his special introduction to the volume on The Royal Norfolk Regiment in the Famous Regiments series in which he said:

    'The Royal Norfolk Regiment has always been renowned for its steadfastness and reliability in difficult situations. In fact it is the sort of Regiment which all commanders like to have available in order to plug a difficult gap. This staunchness has been developed over the years, for wherever the fighting was fiercest, climatic conditions most vile and the odds against victory most daunting, the 9th Foot was sure to be there.'

    The unveiling of the Thetford War Memorial by Major General Sir Charles Townshend on 4 December 1921. (Norfolk's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    This spirit is also reflected through the service of Norfolk personnel in the Royal Navy, in the Royal Air Force and even among those on the home front through dark times, danger and disaster.  The veterans many of us knew from the First World War are now all gone and sadly those who answered the call on both the home front and on active service during the Second World War are fading away too. I hope, in some small way, this book will encourage new generations to appreciate their experiences and sacrifices and will provide inspiration and a good starting point for future research.

    Norfolk has been the scene of riots, rebellions, sieges and military actions over past centuries and the landscape is dotted with earthworks, defences, moats, fortified manor houses and latterly pillboxes and other fixed defences from the First and the Second World Wars. Some of these are now long gone, others are ruins and some remain remarkable bastions to this day. This book does not attempt to be encyclopaedic but I hope it will highlight some of the most interesting places and inspire a visit to those open to the public. Above all I hope it will introduce the story of our local regiments and our military past to anyone with a budding interest in the subject be they Norfolk born and bred, resident or visitor and deepen their appreciation of Norfolk's rich military heritage.

    Neil R. Storey's new book Norfolk's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Cave Canem: Animals and Roman Society by Iain Ferris

    The Nile Mosaic, Praeneste/Palestrina. First quarter of the second century AD. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Palestrina. (Author's phote, Cave Canem: Animals and Roman Society, Amberley Publishing)

    My newly-published Amberley book presents a broad analysis of the place and role of animals in ancient Roman society and their meaning and significance is interpreted in cultural terms. Animals were highly significant and important in the Roman world and in the Roman imagination. Most obviously, there would have been working animals on the majority of Roman farms and animals were often kept as household pets. Meat and fish were highly important ingredients in Roman cookery and supplies had to be located and maintained. Animals were also commonly employed in warfare in the Roman period. The story of the extraordinary slaughter of animals in the Roman arena for entertainment and by organised hunting inevitably hangs heavily over this study. Animal sacrifice was considered as central to the practice and rites of Roman religion according to many authorities. Less obvious, but no less important, was the widespread appearance of images of animals as attributes of various Roman gods and goddesses, the creation and acceptance of the idea of mythological animals and beasts, and the meaning of the symbolism of animals in the ancient world. Finally, consideration has been given in the book to the concept of Nature and the natural world as filtered through the Roman cultural gaze and how this may have impacted on various manifestations of apparent cruelty to animals in Roman society. Along the way readers will also learn about some more esoteric topics. Did the Romans keep domesticated weasels in their homes to combat mice, rats, and snakes, for instance? And did they really eat dormice?

    Dolphin grave marker. First half of first century AD. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Aquileia. (Author's photo, Cave Canem: Animals and Roman Society, Amberley Publishing)

    As has been the case with all my previous books there is a great deal of reliance here on visual evidence, that is representations of animals in Roman art and particularly in the form of sculptures, and as images on coins, mosaics, wall paintings, and decorated everyday items. The book is also a story of how art depicting animals became as much a part of Roman culture as real animals played in Roman society. There can be no doubt that image and imagination together helped shape the Romans' understanding of Nature.

    This study is not in any way a natural history of any particular species of animal, but rather of humans at a certain point in time and of the way they behaved towards animals, as far as we can gauge and understand such a set of relationships. Readers of books on so-called Celtic religion will often have come across the thesis that Celtic people were somehow more attuned to Nature than their Roman and Romanised counterparts and that their religious beliefs and practices reflected a symbiotic link between Nature and Celtic culture that simply did not exist in the Roman world or was not as well developed. However, this would appear to be somewhat of an academic straw man, and it is difficult to see that this was in fact true when it can be demonstrated without doubt that Roman culture and religion were equally in touch with the natural world, as readers will see throughout the course of my book.

    Of course, there were animals in the Roman countryside, both wild and farmed. But one might deduce from many modern studies of the Roman world that there was a complete split between town and country and that city life was antipathetic if not exactly opposite to Nature and to most extents free of animal life in general. From nits in their hair and intestinal worms, from mosquitoes in the marshes in and around Rome, from thrips in their milled grain to mice in their kitchens, from passerine birds in their gardens to scavenging, opportunistic foxes in the back alleys of houses and on the fringes of the cities animals were indeed ever present, providing a kind of murmuring undercurrent and susurration to Roman urban life. Throw consideration of guard dogs and other working animals and pets into the mix and then suddenly the Roman city seems to have been a natural host to animal life.

    Guard dog with Cave Canem (Beware of the Dog) inscription. House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii. 63-79 BC. (c. Eufrosine, Wikimedia Commons, Cave Canem: Animals and Roman Society, Amberley Publishing)

    The most disturbing and distressing aspect of this study is undoubtedly consideration of the astonishing cruelty of animal spectacles in the arena that appear to have begun in Rome in the third century B.C., and perhaps whose origins lay in the triumphal displays of captured African elephants staged by Marius Curius Dentatus in 275 B.C. and Lucius Caecilius Metellus in 250. Many early arena shows were simply displays of exotic animals for the general public, allowing them access to the sight of creatures that otherwise at the time might have been only seen by their elite contemporaries and those Roman aristocrats who had used their wealth and connections to stock their own vivaria or animal enclosures in Rome and its environs. Exotic animals like elephants were sometimes trained to dance, walk on a tightrope, or pick up items, according to Pliny the Elder and other ancient writers. Animal shows involving violence and combat, known to the Romans as venationes or hunts, possibly began in 186 B.C. when lions and leopards featured in a show sponsored by Marcus Fulvus Nobilior. Whether the animals fought each other on this occasion or fought against human performers is unknown. Certainly, it would appear that bloody venatio shows developed out of the culture of gladiatorial spectacles. The last recorded venationes in Rome took place as late as A.D. 523. While acknowledging the cruelty and human suffering associated with the gladiatorial shows, discussion in the book is restricted to the animal games and the arena executions involving animals.

    A captured elephant in transit. Detail of the Great Hunt Mosaic. Piazza Armerina, Sicily. After AD 320. (Photo c. Professor R.J.A. Wilson (Vancouver), Cave Canem: Animals and Roman Society, Amberley Publishing)

    The sponsorship of public gladiatorial and animal shows became a way for the rich and powerful of Rome to display their wealth and enhance their status, influence and power. Sponsorship itself became a locus of political competition in the late Republic and was to become a facet of Roman imperial largesse. In his Res Gestae, a quantified justification of his reign and achievements, the first emperor Augustus proudly claimed that at twenty six venationes held during his reign a total of three thousand five hundred African animals had been slain, setting a high bar for those emperors that followed. When the Roman poet Juvenal complained about the political apathy of his fellow citizens of the late first and early second century A.D. and their failing to react against the unreasonable or eccentric behaviour of autocratic emperors he coined a famous phrase that would resonate down the years. These citizens craved and were satisfied with panem et circenses, that is bread and circuses, he wrote. Many emperors too found that the provision of mass entertainment and the occasional public distribution of free grain easily diverted critical attention away from the more negative aspects of their reigns. The provision of such spectacles was a necessary strategy for making imperial power visible in Rome.

    Once the Romans started to think of exotic animals as commodities for their use and amusement it validated and indeed institutionalised the ill treatment that certain kinds of animals experienced in public spectacles. There had never been such a marked instance of this circumstance before: violence towards animals was part of a wider progression towards greater violence of human towards human. The market for exotic animals thankfully collapsed after the end of the Roman Empire in the west and this must have allowed damaged ecosystems to start recovering and depleted animal populations to start to grow again. Irreversible regional extinctions though had taken place.

    A history of animals in Roman times such as that presented in my book is not parallel to the history of Roman imperialism or of Roman culture; rather, it is part of the same study, and certainly should be. The book proposes a way to understand ancient Roman culture through analysing the society's relationship with animals. If negative Roman and animal relationships resulted in some form of psychic damage, at least my account hopefully takes something from the discussion of its once living subjects, almost their very flesh, skin, and breath, and looks at how they were woven into the complex tissue of historical memory that constituted Roman culture, so that these animals may live again conceptually for us through consideration of their existence.

    Iain Ferris' new book Cave Canem: Animals and Roman Society is available for purchase now.

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