Top 5 weird eating habits from Ancient Rome

As the hero of my children’s time-travelling adventure series finds out, the Romans had a very different approach to eating compared to us modern types. Here are five of their strangest eating habits.

1. Oi! Use your fingers!

Did your mum ever tell you off for slouching at the dinner table or using your fingers? Well, she’d have hated dinner at a wealthy Roman house. Everyone lay on couches to eat and were quite happy to share a couch if guests turned up. They would lay one their sides propped up on one elbow while using their free hand to feed themselves.

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Reconstruction of a Roman dining room (triclinium) in Munich Archaeological Museum

Image credit: Mattes (Own work), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Stop eating like an animal.

If you didn’t have a lot of money (which meant the vast majority of people back then), your diet would be not much better than that of animals. Many Romans main food was millet, which was also fed to farm animals. This would often be boiled into a kind of porridge. If you were lucky it might be flavoured with a vegetable or two.

3. Fish pudding anyone?

The Romans used to flavour a lot of their cooking with a kind of fish sauce called ‘garum’. They loved it so much, they would even put it in sweet dishes, including fruit tarts.

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Ruins of a garum factory in Southern Spain - bet it smelt lovely!

Image credit: Anual (Own work), Creative Commons BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Pancakes for breakfast?

You may be forgiven for thinking our American cousins invented breakfast pancakes. Wealthy Romans would often eat a wheat pancake filled with dates and honey for breakfast (I might try that myself).

5. How do you want your dormice done?

One of the top culinary delights of ancient Rome was honey-coated dormice. The tiny rodents were a popular snack in many wealthy households and would often be kept alive in little dormouse warrens called a ‘glirarium’ to provide a fresh supply. The warm confined space would encourage the dormice to hibernate and fatten up!

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A 'glirarium' at the Archaeological Museum of Chiusi - poor dormouse!

Image credit: Marco Daniele (Own work), Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to find out more about life in Roman times, be sure to sign up for my mailing list to get your free 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' ebook.

Pete’s History Picks: 14th – 20th November 2016

It gives me great pleasure to welcome back the hero of my ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ adventures and Guildford’s premier historical scholar, Master Peter Tollywash, to fill us in on some of the interesting and exciting things that happened this week in history. Take it away Pete. Hello again! Thanks for coming back for more of my history picks (or welcome if it’s your first time). Auntie Cheryl says lots of stuff’s been going on recently that’s probably going to be important in the future. I think she might be right. Until I started doing this time travelling (I hope you haven’t told my mum about that), I thought that history stuff didn’t actually have anything to do with what’s going on now. In fact, I thought it was just stuff that history teachers probably made up so they could make children’s lives misery. But, yeah, it seems this stuff actually explains a lot about why things are like they are today. Anyway, here’s my picks for this week.

14th November, 1380

King Charles the Sixth crowned King of France aged 11

King Charles the Sixth of France was crowned on this day at the age of 11! If he can be king at 11, I don’t know why Mum won’t let me go to the corner shop at night on my own at 13. Charles became king right in the middle of the Hundred Years War, which might have been why he later became known as Charles the Mad, ‘cause he had some mental health issues (this seems a bit harsh). He really annoyed his son, also called Charles (bit confusing), by agreeing to the King of England, Henry the Fifth, being the French king after him. This other Charles got so cross he got some teenage girl called ‘Joan of Arc’ to help him fight against the English. Anyway, that’s enough on crazy King Charles the Sixth and his angry son.

16th November, 1532

Pizarro defeats the Incan Emperor Atahualpa

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Apparently some of those Inca guys lived here. Wow!
I always wondered why they speak Spanish in places like Mexico and Argentina. Apparently it’s because some Spanish guys called the ‘conquistadors’ (the conquerors) conquered those places. One of them was a guy called Pizarro (I thought he was a striker for AC Milan, but Wikipedia says not). He fought against these people called the Incas, who were the people living in Peru when the Spanish arrived there. Seems a bit odd, because I don’t think the Incas were much of a threat to Spain, what with being on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and having no idea Spain existed and all. Auntie Cheryl says that someone had told Pizarro the Incas had loads of gold and that’s why he went after them. Anyway, on this day almost five hundred years ago, this Pizarro bloke captured the Incan Emperor Atahualpa after defeating him at the battle of Cajamarca. And that was the end of Atahualpa’s empire.

17th November, 1558

Queen Elizabeth the First crowned Queen of England

This is her - doesn't look too happy.
This is her - doesn't look too happy.
You may have heard that I’ve just come back from an adventure in the time of King Henry the Eighth. Well on this day in 1558, his daughter Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England. She’d had a bit of a hard time of it as her sister, Mary, who was queen before her, had put her in prison and wanted to chop her head off. What is with that family and wanting to chop people’s heads off? Actually, come to think of it, I’d quite like to chop my brother Jim’s head off, but Mum might not be very impressed. Anyway, Mary died before she could cut her little sister's head off, so then Elizabeth became queen instead. Apparently she also liked to chop people’s heads off and do other nasty things to them if they didn’t agree with her. Shame I don’t have that power.

18th November, 1916

The Somme Offensive comes to an end

As you probably know, we’ve just had this thing called Remembrance Day where we are meant to pay our respects to people who died in wars trying to keep us safe. Apparently it started after the First World War. On this day one hundred years ago one of the biggest battles of the war called the 'Somme offensive’ ended. It’s one of the worst battles ever because of the number of men who were killed. It was meant to make a big breakthrough and end the war. It didn’t. Anyway, I was thinking the other day that it seems a long time ago, but I guess it wasn’t really - my mate Kev’s great grandma is almost 100 years-old!

19th November, 1863

Abraham Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address

He's the one on the right.
He's the one on the right.
Apparently the Gettysburg Address is a speech and not a building. Auntie Cheryl says it’s an important event to talk about with what’s going on in America at the moment. The Republican President of America, Abraham Lincoln (who I had actually heard of before this, but I thought he was Bart Simpson’s grandad) gave a speech to some soldiers called Unionists at the opening of a cemetery for dead soldiers in Gettysburg. The Unionists were fighting in the American Civil War against soldiers called Confederates (who wanted to break away from America among lots of other complicated things I don’t really understand). This speech he gave is meant to be one of the most famous ever (not that I can think of many, if any, famous speeches). It spoke about the importance of democracy and the things that the people who declared independence from Great Britain believed in. I’ve had a look. It’s actually quite good. I hope you’ve found my history picks interesting. If you want to find out more about my adventures, you can do that here. My next adventure, ‘Tudor Trouble’, is out later this month!

Why I wrote ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’

Rule- Britannia-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundLast week I released the first in my new series of children’s books entitled ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’. The first book, “Rule Britannia”, is set in Roman Britain in the first century AD. It’s a humorous story (you may have guessed so from the title) aimed at getting children interested in history and learning historical facts in an engaging way. I stopped the other day and asked myself why I wrote it and here is what I responded.

I love history

Anyone who knows me knows that saying ‘I love history’ is a ginormous understatement. I adore the stuff and have done ever since my visits to castles around the North West of England and North Wales in my plastic knights’ armour as a small child. Writing ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ was therefore an indulgence of sorts. It allowed me to go back and explore one of my favourite periods of history - the Roman period. It was a great deal of fun as a result.

I never really stopped being a teacher

blackboard-1185042_960_720Many years ago I was a teacher and my favourite part of the job was sharing knowledge and seeing that moment when I really piqued a child’s interest. I still regularly go on to friends and family about interesting facts, theories and other things I find interesting with the hope that it stimulates their interest too (with mixed results). So, it seemed natural to me to write a children’s book that entertained while passing on lots of interesting and often gross facts about living in Roman Britain.

I was a fan of ‘Horrible Histories’ as a child

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Image copyright: Scholastic
Many of you will be aware of the highly-successful children’s non-fiction series ‘Horrible Histories’, which has even become a television programme. I loved these books as a kid for two main reasons:
 
  1. They were funny and disgusting.
  2. They were packed full of facts about a particular period - ‘Vile Victorians’, ‘Terrible Tudors’, etc.

 

These books made distant peoples seem more human than other history books that focussed on the grandeur of Ancient Rome or the industrial might of the Victorians. In short, they made you realise that the people in these times were essentially the same as us, which made them all the more interesting. I hope with ‘Pete’s Time-Travelling Underpants’ to create a similar understanding in young readers.

It gave me a chance to try out humorous writing

My first book, “Holly Watson and the furry thieves”, was a children’s detective mystery story. Although I included some humour in it, this was not the over-riding tone of the book. I’d always enjoyed trying to write more humorous stuff in my spare time (though rarely sharing it) and also reading humorous children’s books. It seemed natural to try out something humorous and ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ was the result. 
 
From the response to the book so far, I realise it’s not only a good book for kids - adults are really enjoying it too. You can check it out now on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Introducing Pete (and his time-travelling underpants)

I'm really excited to introduce you to the characters of my new book, the first in the 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' series. Titled 'Rule Britannia', it sees the hero, Pete Tollywash, transported back to Roman Britain by a dirty, old pair of underpants which his godmother gives him for his thirteenth birthday.  The cast are a motley crew who range from the insane to the downright despicable. Fortunately, there are exceptions, including Julius, a friendly young slaveboy with an incredible secret. Through his hilarious and exciting adventures, Pete learns that Roman Britain was not all it was cracked up to be and, in fact, could be pretty disgusting - think Horrible Histories meets Quantum Leap. So, let's meet the cast.

21st century AD cast

Pete Tollywash

13-year-old schoolboy and resident of Guildford, a large town outside London. Pete is pretty lazy and, when it comes to history, completely clueless. Fortunately
(or should that be unfortunately?) for him he’s about to get a much-needed history lesson. He is convinced that his Auntie Cheryl is just being her usual insane self when she gives him underpants for his birthday. When he finds himself thrown into a disgusting, smelly prison in Roman Britain, he starts to think she may have been right about these ’time-travelling underpants’. 

Auntie Cheryl

Though officially ‘out of her tree’, Pete’s godmother, Cheryl Snarlborough, is also a very respectable History teacher at a local secondary school. Her love of history stems from the fact that she too once time-travelled in the famous underpants. She has now passed the duty on to the next generation, but that doesn’t stop her interfering and getting Pete into lots of trouble. 

Pete’s family 

Pete is hindered along the way by his loving family. His mother, Linda, hasn’t yet quite come to terms with having two teenage sons and his father, Harry, is just generally pretty baffled. The bane of Pete’s life is Jim, his older brother and the star of his school. Pete can’t quite compete with Jim academically (well it’s probably fairer to say he doesn’t even try). The only person who doesn’t cause Pete trouble is his big sister Susie, but that’s mainly because she’s away at university most of the time.

1st century AD cast

Julius

13-year-old slaveboy from East Anglia working for the same master as Pete. Julius is a bright young boy, but for some reason he takes a shine to Pete. So much so, that he lets Pete in on his secret. This propels both of them into an adventure that will put their friendship to the test and bring them up against the evil Noxius Maximus.

Snottius

The chief slave. Snottius looks down on all the other slaves. He claims this is because he is a Gaul (sadly not the good kind, like Asterix) and they are Britons. In actual fact, it’s because he’s a rather unpleasant little toad. Suffice to say, he is not impressed when his master, Probus, comes home from the slave market with Pete in tow.

Noxius Maximus 

The local prefect, that is to say the head of the local government in East Anglia, Noxius lives up to his name. His favourite pastime is torturing the local Britons in his prison. Noxius is a thoroughly nasty piece of work who sells our hero into slavery. But can Pete and Julius stop his evil plans?

 

 

Superbus 

Superbus by name, Superbus by nature (‘superbus’, among other things, means ‘arrogant’ in Latin). The son of Pete's master, Probus,  he is lovingly called ‘snot-for-brains’ by Julius and Pete quickly learns why. What Superbus lacks in intelligence, he more than makes up for in downright unpleasantness. Even so, he does provide plenty of amusement for Pete and Julius who find it just too hard not to play practical jokes on him.
 
You will be able to meet these characters and more in 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' - available on Amazon from 22nd June.

 

 

 

 

Great days out in ‘Roman Britain’ part 3 – the North

Barbarian country

Imagine yourself in a windswept, freezing cold fortress, over a thousand miles from home and surrounded by hostile natives. No, you are not a young British soldier in the days of the Raj. You are a Croatian conscript in the Roman Army, garrisoning a fort on the Hardknott Pass in the Lake District, circa 140AD. Civilisation is a very hard march away over desolate country (it’s difficult enough getting up there in a car in the twenty-first century) and there are definitely no cosy tea rooms or picturesque steam cruises. So we have arrived in the North of Roman Britain, our last stop on my tour. Though you are as far north as you could be in the Roman Empire and almost as far from Rome as you are from our poor Croatian conscripts’ Mediterranean home, there is a surprising wealth of Roman remains in the North. Gone, though, are the fine villas we saw in Kent and Wiltshire. Instead, unsurprisingly, given the locals’ distaste for Roman rule and love of raiding, we find perhaps the most famous of all Roman military constructions - Hadrian’s Wall. We also find the fine city where my love of all things Roman began - Chester or Deva. But this is not all you will find in Northern Britannia.

Hadrian’s Wall, Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne Wear

Built as a way of confirming and strengthening the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s wall is an embodiment of the Emperor Hadrian’s desire to maintain what he had rather than expand the Empire. It is phenomenally well intact and remains of varying quality are visible for much of its 80 mile stretch. It is littered with forts, the most famous of which are almost certainly Housesteads and Vindolanda. However, there are also remains worth seeing at Chesters (which also has a great museum) in Northumberland, Birdoswald in Cumbria and Segedunum in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear.

Housesteads Roman Fort, Northumberland

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Image credit: Philip Corke
Though Chester was the birthplace of my love of the Romans, Housesteads Roman Fort played a vital part in nurturing this love. There is still a picture of me somewhere in my parents’ house ‘excavating’ a stone in the fort at the age of 9 or so (please don’t tell Historic England). I still remember the latrines at Housesteads, which my 9-year-old imagination found it quite amusing and interesting to reconstruct. It had such an impact on me that latrines play a crucial part in my soon-to-be-released children’s time-travelling adventure set in Roman Britain. In fact, I understand English Heritage awarded Housesteads the much-coveted best Roman loos in Britain award. Latrines aside, it is the stunning setting of Housesteads that makes it a must-see on Hadrian’s Wall.

Vindolanda Roman Fort, Northumberland

Not far from Housesteads lies another fantastic Roman fort with a great Roman Army Museum. Though less impressively located than Housesteads, Vindolanda boasts a well-preserved bathhouse (it wasn’t all bleak discomfort far from home on Hadrian’s Wall) and thanks to the wetness of the surrounding land, its museum holds a number of impressive and rare finds, including the only Roman wooden toilet seat found to date (I promise the rest of the post will not be about toilets). The most incredible of these finds are the Vindolanda Tablets (the rest being at the British Museum). These are a fascinating record of the lives of soldiers on the Wall and those of their families and slaves. One of the tablets found included a birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa, the wife of the commander of a nearby camp, to Sulpicia Lepidina, the wife of the prefect of the cohort based at Vindolanda. For me it is a fascinating and touching appearance of two women in what is normally an almost exclusively male history.

Chester, Cheshire 

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Image credit: English Heritage
We now head quite a way south to the important Roman city and port of Deva Victrix. Chester as we Britons now call it was such a vital pace as it began life as a base for waging war on the Brigantes of Roman Britain. It grew into a thriving city as the remains of a bathhouse, amphitheatre and parts of its wall (now incorporated as the foundations of the medieval city wall) now testify. Two museums I loved as a child were the Grosvenor Museum and the Dewa Roman Experience. The former is a treasure-trove of artefacts from Roman Chester including tombstones, coins, pottery and other day-to-day items. The Dewa Roman Experience is an interactive museum which recreates what life in the city would have been like. My abiding memories are of the men dressed as Roman legionaries, which was all a ten-year-old boy could ask for, and the gallery where you actually get to walk through the layers of Medieval, Saxon and Roman Chester.

York, North Yorkshire

The Roman city of Eboracum was another vitally important location in the Northern Roman Empire which rose to prominence because of its military importance but became a thriving civilian settlement as well. In fact, two Roman emperors died here - Septimius Severus in 211 AD and Constantius Chlorus (father of Constantine the Great) in 306 AD - and Septimius Severus took up residence here during his campaigns in Scotland. There are few visible remains left in York, but they include remains of the basilica in the undercroft of York Minster, parts of the Roman city wall incorporated in the medieval wall and the Roman bathhouse within the aptly named Roman Bath pub. As in Chester, many finds from the Roman city can be viewed in the main museum - the Yorkshire Museum.

Leicester, Leicestershire 

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Image credit: English Heritage
Not really in the north, I appreciate, but I feel Leicester is worthy of a mention because of the surprisingly good, if limited, Roman remains the city has. Long before the locals were burying English kings under car parks, Leicester was another bustling Roman city (as the suffix ‘-cester’ a corruption of the Latin ‘castra’ or fort signifies). At the Jewry Wall Museum you will find the Jewry Wall itself, a substantial Roman wall that was once part of the Roman bathhouse and impressive Roman artefacts, including a mosaic of a Peacock. I was very pleasantly surprised by how good this museum is.

The end

So, here I will leave you. I hope you have enjoyed reading my tour of Roman Britain as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Please do let me know your favourite Roman sites in Britain in the comments below and your thoughts on my selections.
 
My children’s book set in Roman Britain, ‘Rule Britannia’, book one of the ‘Pete’s Time-travelling Underpants’ series will be released shortly.

 

Great days out in ‘Roman Britain’ part 2 – Wales and the West

What must it have been like as a Roman soldier on the coast of Wales or the West Country? Staring out over the Atlantic Ocean towards what you probably thought were the ends of the world. Though it was almost certainly not number one on a list of Roman legionary's dream postings, archaeological finds in Western Britannia suggest life wasn't as bleak as we'd imagine.
 
As I continue my tour of Roman Britain (inspired by my upcoming children's time-travelling adventure ‘Pete’s time-travelling underpants’), we now travel to the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire (Wales, the West Country and West Midlands to you and me).  It might surprise you to know that these far-flung Roman possessions still have a number of fantastically well-preserved sites to visit. From the splendour of Bath to the military might of Caerleon, the western edge of the Roman Empire is rich with its own great monuments. To be honest, I’ve been a little surprised myself as my research has turned up many wonderful sites I’d never even heard of. But I will begin with one of the most famous Roman sites in Britain.

Bath, Somerset

Image credit: romanbaths.co.uk
Although extensively and tastefully redeveloped by the Georgians to become the ‘modern’ spa town we see today, Roman Bath is still very much visible. It was named Aquae Sulis after the local Celtic goddess Sulis, whom the Romans incorporated into their own worship as Sulis Minerva, in an attempt to win local ‘hearts and minds’. Walking into the Roman baths is very much one of those ‘going back in time’ moments. Entering the Great Bath is perhaps the moment that sticks with me most, as, although much of it has been reconstructed, you are struck by how much of the original bath is still there. What I also love about the baths is that these are a piece of important day-to-day life in the Roman age. As you go through the remains of the changing rooms and the different pools (from the sauna to the cold plunge pool), you are following in the footsteps of everyday Roman subjects as they enjoyed a fundamental part of Roman life.

Caerleon, Gwent 

We now cross the modern-day border into Wales, which, of course, would have meant nothing to a Roman traveller who would simply have been continuing their journey in the Roman province of Britannia. At Caerleon we find extensive remains of a Roman fort, baths and an amphitheatre. This really dispels the image of the poor, unfortunate Roman legionary packed off to Britain with none of the creature comforts of home. Isca Augusta, as the Romans knew it, named for the nearby River Usk, really was an important town in Roman Britain. The well-preserved amphitheatre and the barracks (supposedly the best preserved Roman barracks in Europe) are perhaps the highlights of a visit. There are also a Roman Baths Museum and a Roman Legion Museum and everything is free entry. Proving that Isca Augusta was not an isolated example of a well-developed Roman town in the far west, you can also visit the smaller remains of Venta Silurum nearby, which include those of a marketplace, town wall and temple.

Wroxeter, Shropshire 

Image credit: photographers-resource.co.uk
A surprisingly well-preserved town which started life as a military base for the Roman invasion of what is now Wales. The Roman town of 'Viroconium' boasts the largest piece of free-standing Roman wall in Britain, a large bathhouse and even a reconstructed Roman townhouse. It also includes well-preserved public latrines where the men of Viroconium would have talked business while they did their business! 

Littlecote Roman Villa, Wiltshire 

Not a bad find to dig up in your back garden. The owner of nearby Littlecote House discovered Littlecote Roman Villa in his grounds in the eighteenth century. Not much remains of the villa, but what does remain is perhaps one of the finest mosaics in Roman Britain still in situ. The 'Orpheus Mosaic' is remarkable for its quality and its state of preservation. In amongst various animals and elaborate designs you will find the great figure of classical myth Orpheus, of course, but also the gods Bacchus and Apollo. 
Image credit: archaeologydataservice.ac.uk

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Cirencester or 'Corinium' was fortified by the Romans from very early on in their occupation of Britain. Though some remains are visible of the amphitheatre and walls, Cirencester’s significance is in its Corinium Museum. It is well-known for its collection of mosaics from sites around the Cirencester area. Highlights of the collection include a tombstone for a lady called Bodicacia - a name not seen before and believed to be derived from that of the rebel British Queen Boudicca - and jewellery including an exquisite bronze cockerel from a child’s grave.

Honourable mentions 

I hope you have enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of western Roman Britain, but before we leave it behind, I’d like to make honourable mentions of a few sites. Lunt Roman Fort in Warwickshire is a large-scale reconstruction on the excavated remains of an original fort. It deserves particularly honourable mention as it was built in the aftermath of Boudicca's rebellion - the same period as that in which my book is set. The site will give you a good impression of what a Roman fort would probably have been like and is also the scene of fun-looking re-enactments.
 
And finally I will leave you on the far western shores of the Roman Empire, in Anglesey. I loved reading the Roman historian Tacitus’s tales of the Roman invasion of Anglesey (complete with terrifying British women brandishing flaming torches and awe-inspiring Druids chanting prayers) and I remember being flabbergasted that the Romans made it this far. Further evidence of the Romans' conquest of this island, which must have seemed a world away from Rome, can be found at Segontium Roman Fort, just outside Caernarfon and at Holyhead Roman fort, a stone’s throw from the ferry to Ireland.
 
You will be able to find out more about Roman Britain in the first book of the 'Pete's time-travelling underpants' series, which is out later this month.
 
So, have your favourite sites in 'Western Britannia' made it into the list? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

Great days out in ‘Roman Britain’: Part 1 – London and the South East

The Romans: the reason I love history

I’m not going to lie. I love history. Absolutely adore the stuff. This will be no surprise to friends and family whom I've regularly bored over the years. It all started among the Roman ruins of Chester as a child. I just found it all fascinated me (much to the annoyance of my brothers who wanted to go home and play football or Nintendo) and I was hooked from that point on.
 
Though my love of history has led me to explore many different periods, thanks to those early days in Chester, the Romans still hold a special place for me. So, it’s probably no surprise that my next book (a kids' time-travel adventure) is set in Roman Britain. To celebrate this, I thought I’d share with you my suggestions for the top days out in ‘Roman Britain’ to inspire you and any little budding historians you may know.
 
I was going to write one blog post about this, but realised I just wouldn’t do it justice. I’m going to start this week in the South East of England (as the Romans themselves did) and then cover the other parts of Roman Britain (i.e. broadly speaking modern England and, although often tenuously held, Wales) in subsequent posts.

All roads lead to the British Museum 

What have the Romans ever done for us? A visit to the British Museum will more than answer that question for you (hint: it wasn't just the aqueducts and sanitation). This is THE place to start your exploration of Roman Britain. There is so much else to see here, of course, such as the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the astonishing Assyrian gallery (I love the colossal winged lion statues with human heads) and Anglo-Saxon treasure like the Sutton Hoo hoard. Oh, did I mention it's free too?
 
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The Ribchester helmet - Image credit: British Museum
But we are talking about Roman Britain, so, to start your tour, go to the Weston Gallery. You'll find artefacts from all over Roman Britain like mosaics from Kent, silver treasure hoards from East Anglia and Roman armour and helmets from Lancashire. I particularly love the incredibly ornate cavalry helmet (pictured) which was found by a clogmaker's son in the eighteenth-century in Ribchester, Lancashire. It's hard to think of anything like this surviving, let alone in the North West of England. I find it so captivating as it makes you think of the wearer, who must have been an elite soldier. Was he an Italian who had been sent to the cold, barbarian lands of Northern Britain? What did he think of it all? Probably not much going by the complaints of soldiers found in the Vindolanda tablets found at Hadrian's Wall.

Hidden Londinium

It may surprise you, but there is still plenty of other Roman stuff to see in what was once Londinium. The Museum of London (which is great for kids by the way) has to be the next stop. Their Roman London gallery is chock-full of brilliant stuff which surprised even me, a battle-hardened veteran of Roman sites across Italy, France, Germany and Spain. There are statues, mosaics, reconstructions and you can even see a stretch of Londinium’s Roman wall! The star attraction, though, is probably the recently found Roman eagle sculpture - an extremely rare find. The museum also has a great app for kids called ‘Streetmuseum Londinium’ which is free to download (particularly great if you’re not based in the South East). It includes a virtual archaeological dig game where you can (re)unearth Roman artefacts found around London. If you have kids and a tablet or smartphone, I’d recommend you download it - it’s really good.
 
Roman Wall, London - Image credit: PastLondon
Like the Roman wall at the Museum of London, Roman sites pop up where you least expect them. Perhaps the weirdest of these is the temple of Mithras. It is located in amongst modern office blocks in the middle of the City and is incredibly easy to miss (took me a while to find it myself). Unfortunately, you can’t see it today as it is currently in storage due to building works in the area, but you’ll soon be able to see it again just a stone’s throw from Cannon Street station. For now, you can still see finds from the excavation of the temple at the Museum of London. Another odd little bit of Roman Britain hiding in the middle of the City is the remains of the amphitheatre which lie beneath the medieval Guildhall. It’s an odd experience to descend beneath the city to these eery ruins. I will just mention one more of the odd, little Roman sites that just pop up around London (though it is by no means the last): a Roman villa in the leafy South London suburbs. Crofton Roman Villa in Orpington (which would, of course, have been in the middle of countryside in Roman times) is a great, kid-friendly culmination to a tour of Roman Londinium. Not as extensive as the villas I mention below, but still worth a visit, especially for its proximity to central London.

Beyond Londinium 

The Romans are known for their villas and the South East has some notable ones. Favourites of mine are Lullingstone in Kent, which even has a Christian chapel, Fishbourne Palace near Chichester, with its outstanding mosaics and Bignor Roman Villa in West Sussex. I love Bignor in particular due to its stunning location in the middle of the South Downs. Standing amongst the ruins and looking up at the multi-coloured slopes around you on a summer’s day is a real privilege.
 
Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Roman Palace
 It wasn’t all luxury in Roman Britain, though. In fact, it mostly wasn’t luxury, and for a reminder of the terrifying brute force which built the Roman Empire, you only need to go to Richborough, near Sandwich in Kent. Though obviously now a collection of ruins, it isn’t hard to imagine how impressive Richborough Fort would have been to the local Celtic tribes. You could even say this is where Roman Britain began and ended as it started life as a bridgehead for the Roman invasion of Britain and finished as a heavily fortified defence against the Saxons who would soon replace the Romans as the occupying force. Standing in amongst the ruins beside the Kentish marshes seems a good place to leave our exploration of Roman Britain for this week. Next week I will head west to the West Country, South Wales and West Midlands.
Richborough Roman Fort - Image credit: English Heritage
 
So, what do you think? Have I missed any of your favourite Roman sites in London and the South East? Let me know in the comments below.
 
My new children's time-travelling adventure set in Roman Britain, 'Rule Britannia’, book one of the ‘Pete’s time-travelling underpants’ series, will be out in mid-June.

 

 

Introducing Holly Watson (and friends)

Holly-Watson-and-the-furry-thieves-3D-BookCover-transparent_backgroundWith the upcoming release of my new book ‘Holly Watson and the furry thieves’, I thought I’d better introduce you to some of the characters you’ll shortly meet. It seems like I’ve known them for a long time, but you will, of course, have no idea who they are. I’m very excited to be sharing them with you.

The premise

As you may have guessed, the star of the show is a 10-year-old girl called Holly Watson. The book centres around her attempts to prove her best friend’s innocence when he is accused of stealing a mobile phone in the local park and her investigation to find the real culprit. She cannot do it all alone and is surrounded by a supporting cast of friends and family. But not everyone wishes to see Holly succeed.

The origin of the story

Kelsey Park in the snow
Kelsey Park in the snow
I was inspired to write this book while watching the outrageous behaviour of the incredibly bold squirrels in my own local park, Kelsey Park in Beckenham, South London. If you do plan to go down to Kelsey Park, do just watch out for the squirrels. They have no fear of human beings and think nothing of intimidating grown men and women (or at least the more timid grown-ups like me) into handing over whatever edible items they might have on them.
Anyway, Kelsey Park, in fictionalised form, is the setting for this first book in the appropriately named ‘Kelsey Park Detective Agency’ series. So, who are the main characters?

The main characters

Holly Watson

imageedit_3_7509140796Holly is a highly confident, curious and intelligent girl who likes to play the detective. She is sometimes a bit too gung-ho in her enthusiasm to help others and this often gets her into scrapes. Holly is fiercely loyal and is a very good friend. She is the goalkeeper of her school’s football team, a dab hand at puzzles and she hates bullies.

Charlie Dunn

thumb_imageedit_4_6876444064_1024Charlie Dunn is the polar opposite of Holly. He is a rather plump, shy and unpopular ten-year-old boy who doesn’t have a sporting bone in his body. In spite of this , or perhaps because of it, he is Holly’s best friend. Like Holly, he is a faithful friend and kind, but in the first book he finds himself the number one suspect in a local crime.

Raluca Ionesco

thumb_imageedit_5_5322092078_1024Raluca is the calm, contemplative balance to Holly’s gung-ho attitude. She joins Holly’s school mid-way through the first term of year 6, having moved to South London with her family from Birmingham. She is very proud of her Romanian heritage, but very quickly adapts to South London life.

The Watson family

Holly is the eldest of the Watson family’s three daughters. Her two sisters are Sarah, a rather surly seven-year-old who is far too ‘cool for school’, and three-year-old Daisy, who is as mad as a hatter. Sarah is jealous of her big sister (though she wouldn’t admit it) and the relationship she has with their dad. Daisy is too busy in her own little world to notice either of her sisters. Holly’s parents, Debbie and Paul, adore their three daughters, but even they will not believe Holly when she protests poor Charlie’s innocence. We cannot forget the Watson’s very fat and very lazy cat, Duchess, who, despite the unpromising outward appearance, has a surprise or two up her sleeve.

Over to you

Which of these characters do you like the sound of most? Let me know in the comments below. You will be able to meet them all very shortly in ‘Holly Watson and the furry thieves’, out soon. To be the first to find out about the book’s release, sign up to my mailing list. You can also find me on Facebook.