ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 33, April 1998


Hadrian, architect and speech-maker
by Paul Bidwell

Anthony Birley
Routledge, £40.00
ISBN 0-415-16544-X hb

This is a historical work that must rank amongst the most important biographies of the Roman emperors; it deserves to be read as much for its account of Hadrian's restless travelling through the provinces as for its analysis of policies and matters of state.

One of the provinces he visited was Britain, and Anthony Birley's study does much to help understand the origins of Hadrian's Wall, which is unique amongst the frontier works of the Roman Empire in the grandeur of its design. Hadrian emerges as a complex man. A polymath, he included architecture amongst his many accomplishments; although falsely accused by later writers of murdering the great architect Apollodorus, from other accounts it is clear that he would not tolerate much contradiction from the intellectuals whose company he sought. The rhetorician Favorinus, when ridiculed for yielding to Hadrian in debate, asked to be allowed `to regard as the most learned of men the one who has 30 legions'.

An experienced and intelligent soldier, he did not expand the Empire and even abandoned some territory. He had a passion for hunting, and thus was happy amongst hills and mountains. That Hadrian travelled the line of his Wall and had a hand in its design has always been thought probable but now must be judged certain. Preoccupied with architecture and military security, with a liking for rugged terrain, the emperor would surely have examined the country with great care, and nobody would have dared oppose his novel ideas about how to fortify the frontier.

Anthony Birley's analysis of Hadrian's life includes many new insights about his activities: for example, altars to Neptune and Ocean from the bridge at Newcastle recall the sacrifice to the same deities by Alexander at the end of the campaign that brought him to India (Hadrian's friend Arrian wrote a history of Alexander's life). Similarly, Hadrian's fondness for reviewing and addressing the army makes it likely that fragments of the large inscription from Jarrow near the mouth of the Tyne were part of a monument recording a speech by the emperor.

Paul Bidwell is Head of Archaeology for Tyne and Wear Museums

Looting and crimes against humanity
by Neil Brodie

Patrick O'Keefe
Archetype/UNESCO, £16.50
ISBN 1-873132-31-X pb

The trade in antiquities is directly responsible for the destruction and despoliation of archaeological sites and museums around the world. Illegally excavated and exported antiquities with no indication of provenance flood the market, and end up in the hands of private collectors, occasionally thereafter to be seen on the pages of an exhibition catalogue. Patrick O'Keefe, an Australian consultant in heritage law, formerly of the University of Sidney, provides a balanced view of this problem and makes some considered suggestions on how to solve it.

The positions of the various interested groups are discussed, and the legal and ethical aspects of the trade are spelled out - not an easy job, in the absence of a comprehensive international agreement. O'Keefe's own position is made clear towards the end, when he argues that the primary value of an antiquity lies in the information it can impart on the history of humanity, which in turn depends upon the integrity of its archaeological context. Any commercial and aesthetic considerations are of secondary importance, and cannot justify the destruction of this context by unrecorded and illegal excavation. He goes on to say that `any deliberate destruction of the historical value of an antiquity is, . . . at least morally, a crime against humanity'. We must surely concur.

The book is one of the more constructive treatments of the problem currently available, as it develops a strategy aimed at reducing the destruction. This depends in the short term upon increasing the flow of legitimate, properly documented antiquities onto the market, while at the same time embarking upon a long-term campaign of public education designed to reduce the demand for looted material. Full and informed discussion of all that this strategy entails is provided, and it deserves the attention of archaeologists and dealers alike.

Dr Neil Brodie is the Co-ordinator of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at Cambridge University's McDonald Institute

A disappointing study of Roman art
by Martin Henig

Jennifer Laing
Sutton, £l9.99
ISBN 0-7509-0895-5 hb

The subject of this book is a fascinating one, dealing as it does with the reception, adaptation and use of Roman art in Britain. Jennifer Laing's often sensitive insight into the art of later periods provides her with one excellent qualification for the task, and her short introduction on the study of Romano-British art since the Renaissance demonstrates a capacity to think historically, a virtue all too rare nowadays.

However, as can be seen from the titles of the various chapters, she has not really decided whether she is writing an art history (The Development of Romano-British Art, Jewellery) or a social history (Religion, Personal Possessions, The Countryside, Towns, The Army, The Post- Roman Period), and for the most part the latter is paramount. Indeed throughout the book she is more descriptive than analytical, showering the reader with facts about objects but with little attempt to understand them as works of art. In the event she does no more for the subject than does Joan Alcock in her recent Life in Roman Britain (Batsford, 1996). Indeed, Alcock gains over Laing in a number of respects. Her literary style is certainly more harmonious, her text is freer from the minor blemishes that disfigure this book, and the technical quality of her illustrations is far higher.

The last defect is a serious one for a book on art and it cannot be blamed solely on the author. One must have sympathy with her when she saw two platters from the Mildenhall Treasure reproduced back to front on a colour plate (one of them also on the front cover), and indeed the false tone colours of the plates in general; but some of the other photos are very poor, and many of the drawings give a very crude approximation of the beauty of the original object. There is room for many more books about art in Roman Britain but it has to be said that this one is rather a disappointment.

Dr Martin Henig is a Visiting Lecturer in Roman Art at the University of Oxford

How medieval changed to post-medieval
by Lawrence Butler

Eds David Gaimster and Paul Stamper
Oxbow, £37.50
ISBN 1-900188-55-4 hb

An Age of Transition may describe a historical period when it is clear that things are different at the end of it from what they were at the beginning. This volume's authors seek to discover what aspects of English culture changed during the period 1400 - 1600, and why.

Was change brought about by improved technology, or introduced by contact with new continental ideas or even impelled by fashion? More difficult to determine is whether novelty was instituted by the feeling of a need for change. What were the underlying dynamics that forced or assisted such changes?

This book is the product of a stimulating conference held in 1996. Of the 17 chapters varying in length and depth, the first four tackle the main uses of material culture as an indicator of change, suggesting ways in which period and artefact studies can be refined to identify `transition' more accessibly. The remaining chapters serve to show the rapidity of change in some areas but the resistance to it elsewhere. Rural society and its landscapes showed how subtle the undercurrents of change were and how long they took to reach visible fruition. The improved purchasing power of the urban artisan could encourage change in fashion, indicated by the supply of buckles and silver gilt jewellery. The influence of immigrant communities might make an immediate impact on food habits and tableware.

Housing is a notable indicator of change and five contributors explore the theme at a variety of income levels. How was space organised and how firmly does it hold a mirror for us to perceive social change?

Among the more traditional concerns with artefacts there is a welcome newcomer: the use of botanical evidence to show the generally conservative nature of London's diet. Despite some obvious omissions (fauna, heavy industry, religious buildings) this collection of papers should give an important stimulus to new directions of thought and will serve as a valuable marker of what scholars once saw as their priorities and possibilities.

Dr Lawrence Butler is a Senior Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York

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