Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Living and dying in Roman Britain

As so often happens in the blogosphere having posted yesterday about Hadrian and his Villa Adriana at Tivoli alongside his continuing place in British history two more articles turned up online about Roman Britain that attracted my attention. Both are from the Mail Online, which shows a consistent interest in archaeological and historical discoveries.

The first is about a portion of a fourth century mosaic of high quality discovered in Dorset in 1974 has been saved from being sold abroad and will be joining the other two surving portions of the floor in the County Museum in Dorchester. This is clearly very good news. 

What is now Dorset was evidently a prosperous area to live in late Roman Britannia with a Villa economy and fine houses. The local Durnovarian school of mosaic artists worked to a high quality as shown by the dramatic scene of a leopard attacking an antelope on the new acquisition, and were clearly in contact with artistic traditions in the Mediterranean. 

What is rather shocking is that the three portions did not all go to the Museum in the first place and that the recent owners sought to sell it with no regard to its local and cultural significance. That has happily been prevented. 

I am very pleased not just that it will join the other two portions in the Dorchester Museum but that it will add to the collection there. I see that there has been a major upgrade of the building, which is one of my favourite museums. It is many years since I visited it but walking round its charmingly old fashioned galleries was to immerse oneself in the wonderful collection of artifacts from the heyday of Maiden Castle through the Roman era, the middle ages and the later social history of this especially lovely county and of Hardy’s Wessex.

At the end of the piece is a note about a new book on the fate of the IX Legion Hispana, while were last heard of in York at the beginning of the second century and then simply disappeared between 108 and 122. This is expanded further in a separate review article which outlines the evidence for the various explanations that have been put forward for this loss of a whole legion. The author has come down on the side of the long-held view of them disappearing in Caledonia rather than some of the alternatives put forward in the last generation or so. It is a well known and intriguing mystery. 

Given that only in recent years in 1987 the site at Kalkreise of the catastrophic defeat in the year 9 of Varus and his legionary army in the Teutoburg forest had been identified in Germany who knows if a similar discovery might yet yield an answer as to the fate of the IX Legion. However something as dramatic as destruction in a single battle would surely have been remembered as was that a century earlier.

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