Leamington Spa Museum exhibition and talk

As the nights draw in and the blue skies of Greece and Warwickshire in September now are preserved only in my photos, my Lord Rootes-Walking the Roman Provinces project has been rounded off with an exhibition and talk at the Leamington Spa Museum.  I tried to give the talk a bit of an agenda, moved by all I saw on my walks, as you will see here. The speech and exhibition were both favourably received by the audience at the time, and I hope they can be as contentious and thought-provoking here:

Speech for Leamington Spa museum:

This talk is focussed on thinking about the legacy and history of landscapes in several countries, and how they can be preserved and interpreted in the present. The information and experiences which lie behind the talk were gathered from a walking tour in Greece and England that I completed this summer. The project was sponsored by the Lord Rootes Fund at my University, Warwick, as an addition to my degree programme in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology.

For this summer’s tour, I walked as closely as possible next to or near to the Fosse Way (a Roman road which stretches from Exeter to Lincoln, and is now a major A-road when it crosses through Warwickshire). I then compared my impressions of the legacy that that ancient past had left along the Fosse Way route to the thoughts that came to me as I walked in the footsteps of Pausanias, a 2nd century CE Greek travel writer who described sites, routes, and peculiarities of regions in the Roman Greece of his day. I travelled largely the paths Pausanias travelled and then described in Phokia: a journey starting from Delphi and circumnavigating Parnassos (the god Apollo’s holy mountain). Throughout most my travels I reflected that walking was the best way to understand how peoples- past and present- have adapted to the landscapes around them. Peoples are also, in subtle and surprising ways, adapted by those landscapes. I felt and still do believe that walking, as the most ancient form of transport, does not give that sense of disconnection that the car, for example, does. In walking I was able to have a close if changing perspective on the survival of the ancient past, and so engage more deeply in a place’s history.

In investigating more closely here the legacy that the past has, I would like to share my experiences of – and also compare – two places, one from Britain and one from Greece, which I encountered during my journeys. The first comes on the first day of my walking along (or more rightly near to) the Fosse Way. Having started from Cirencester, I took a slight detour to probe something of the hinterland of a road which was, and which remains, one of the main arteries of transport and communication in England. I think that we need to remember at this juncture that Roman roads were built to accelerate the movement of the military, and so aid the spread of what the Romans considered to be civilisation. This military expedient often shifted the emphasis of human habitation around Roman roads away from older ancient British settlements to particular kinds of dedicated new-builds on the road itself.

In exploring the hinterland around the Fosse Way, and I hoped to see how Roman culture spread out from the initial focused purpose of the road itself. Turning back to my detour on that first day in England: I followed several minor roads to Chedworth Roman villa. To get to the villa on foot is itself something of a struggle: there is a forest and, more shockingly, to the unwary traveller, a pheasant farm between the modern village and the villa. But once I had arrived at the villa I wanted to find an ancient Roman shrine that lay close by. The villa, with its legacy so obviously intact and trumpeted, held less attraction to me. I wished to explore its environs, in order to recover some of the original experience of a Roman arriving in this specific environment. A bit unsure of where this shrine happened to be, I was engaged in conversation by an older man about its location. He told me three things that I think throw something of a light onto the British attitude to its more obscure ancient past. Firstly, he said (and this was slightly worrying to the footsore traveller), that he had little clue where the shrine might be. Secondly, that the shrine I thought was Roman was actually Iron Age. And thirdly, that it might lie on private land where others had tried to find it but had been deterred. I do not wish to cast any aspersions on this genial man who took the trouble to engage a rather wild-eyed and even more wild-headed apparition, but armed with his information I too failed to find any trace of this shrine. Chedworth villa is one of the most famous and important in terms of its artistic quality in the British Isles. But that Chedworth villa’s surrounding structures and support sites are barely known about, possibly not maintained, and probably inaccessible is something I find hard to stomach. In England, it seems, we are concerned to preserve a few rare landmarks that might attract visitors and finance for restoration, but we are not interested in recovering the full original context for those sites, especially where to do so would mean confronting private ownership of land. We are unable, in other words, to see our heritage sites in the full surroundings which would be walked and experienced by their original builders. We don’t fully experience or understand how and why our heritage sites came to exist in the first place. There was no equivalent to Pausanias in Roman Britain narrating journeys across and through that landscape, so that we could now envisage it as they did. Yet we are negligent in obscuring what traces of that civilisation that do survive, hidden in thickets and hedgerows and cut off from the public. This means that we have lost our links to that past, forgotten our debt to the Romans who initially shaped our landscape.

In Greece, in contrast, everyone I met and dealt with in Athens and Phokia had an idea of who Pausanias, the travel writer whose route I followed, was. From the taxi-driver in Athens, to the daughter of a hotel owner in Amfikleia (a provincial town in the region), and through to the young owners of a hotel in Eptalafos (another small provincial town in the mountains above Delphi), who picked me up in the middle of the night when I was lost on an obscure road and deemed me mad. All had heard of Pausanias and knew something about who he was, what he was writing about, how it related to them. They gave me advice about how to enjoy the sites and paths he described. Pausanias’ routes around Phokia had to be reconstructed, as he usually only gives quite bland statements quantifying distances, and some of the trodden ways have faded back into the landscape. Yet this reconstruction of the routes themselves does not detract from the fact that all but one of the sites I visited in Greece were still largely intact, even if slightly uncared for (Greece does not seem to need the active preservation by charities that England does to make its past real and live) . The Greeks would readily point me to archaeological sites, which have also been incorporated into modern local landscapes. Settlements may have altered from military to civilian use there, as various local wars receded, but the ancient cities of the region were still very much as Pausanias had described the, and seen by modern people as very much their own.

For example, one of the most successful of the Greek legs of this project was the uncovering and chance discovery of the shrine of Athena at Elateia, and the holy spring near it. The spring was no longer providing water for ritual purification, and the site had lost its original religious meaning and purpose. But the same spring was providing water for drinking of farm animals, whilst also being readily accessible to walkers. Ancient Greece has been incorporated into the modern – and the origins of particular sites are remembered and a current part of everyday life. The knowledge of the Greeks about their ancient sites, in addition to the openness of these same sites—there were few barbed wire fences, keep-out signs, or pheasant farms here—stands in marked contrast to Britain.

If I may also take a direct contrast (albeit a slightly extreme one) with Chedworth’s Roman villa: the temple of Apollo at Delphi is fully excavated, and its surrounding features and structures can be fully explored- from the nearby shrine of Athena Pronoia, to the sacred spring, to the holy Korykian cave from where (so mythology puts it), worshippers of the wild and untamed god Dionysus go raving up to Parnassos: Apollo’s holy mountain. The whole site is open for display, and visited by many Greeks. It can still be experienced as far as we can engage with the continuing presence of the ancient world into our own. The histories of the margins are not left to be painstakingly reconstructed or resurrected from very limited possibilities, but have a place in modern Greece.

So my project ‘Roman Walks in the Provinces’ was largely an exploration of how much has survived, and the degree of its preservation and incorporation. Pausanias gave me a very vivid sense of the Greek landscape which, miraculously, I could recover as I moved along his routes. In contrast, I found that the Fosse Way and its related sites has lost almost everything except for the odd feature, the in-depth archaeological record of the famous Cirencester and Chedworth, and the road’s actual straightness (which incidentally is very dangerous for the modern motorist). Much of the original context for the sites is not recovered or maybe not recoverable. The physical remains from the sites, such as they are, are largely concentrated in museums not at the site, but in adjacent towns or in national collections in London. This is not a criticism of museums themselves, they stand largely alone in preserving Roman Britain, but it is a criticism of British attitudes to these things. The Romans were in Britain for longer than the British Empire held India. However, the sites that remain to us are sadly dilapidated. Preservation is key for ancient sites, and though some might argue that the greater ‘development’ of towns and cities in Britain over Greece, or that Greek sites are of greater historical value, as the reason for this, it remains a fact that the preservation in Greece is stronger, and that the idea of preserving landscape and context for the ancient remains is current and a full part of normal peoples’ sense of themselves and of their country. It was almost, from my experience, as if the Greeks simply care more.

I do not see the Greeks carting round their capital such a building of cultural and historical significance as is being proposed for the largely intact temple of Mithras in London. This is one of the most remarkable temples (due to it being founded for a military cult and being placed in a largely civic sphere), that remains from Roman Britain. I feel that more education about the local historical landscape and the public ownership of sites would do much to help us understand our past and place with regards to it. This is no Michael Gove-esk statement asking for a British or English-centric view of history—a strange notion: how can you think of a place’s history in isolation to others’ and only from its own viewpoint? No, what I would like to see is a greater interest in local points of history from which a wider understanding of that history’s spaces, places, and context can be garnered. Roman Britain was not only about Hadrian’s Wall, the traces of other walls in surviving fortifications, or the big sites like Silchester or Chedworth. It was also (and mainly for the people living their lives in a specific place and landscape) the other smaller by-ways and tiny villages half-civilised and half-unknown nestled around the landscape. In re-finding this landscape I think much can be re-interpreted about our own culture. And so I would like to finish this talk with a question: Britain, with all its current nationalist vigour, is a nation which was partially shaped by the trained classicists who served in various governments into the 20th century, classicist who certainly governed by making comparisons with ancient Rome. Why do we continue to go further down the path of destruction with regards to its only live connection to Rome and its civilisation, the full sites and routes which lie around us, and which we can still walk to and through?

Walking in the Roman Provinces Leamington Spa Museum

Rootes Project exhibition close up on one panel 157 Rootes project exhibition close up on title Rootes Project exhibition on one printed image

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Leamington Spa Museum talk and exhibition

Apologies for my recent lack of activity: the start of my university term has thrown up almost as many challenges as the walks themselves! However, I am pleased to announce that a small exhibition about this project and my experiences will go up tomorrow in the Leamington Museum (located in the Royal Pump Rooms Leamington Spa). This will be complemented by a short talk also tomorrow (Friday 7th November), entitled ‘Roman Walks in the Provinces’ which will muse on some of my findings. This talk is taking place also in the museum at 13.00-13.30. If anyone happens to be in the region of Leamington Spa at that point please drop by, but for those who miss it I shall put a full copy of my talk along with photos of the exhibition up on line. Hope to see some people there- I will post again soon.

Bishops Tachbrook-Chesterton-on-Fosse-Venonis-Lutterworth-Croft-Leicester

With Mother Goddesses and slaughtered goats galore I have come to the post which will encompass the last two days of the physical section of this project. The project is by no means finished after this; the exhibition, article, and related activities will all need documenting posts, but a part of it (the walking and sightseeing), has ended.
I have decided to include two days in one post due to the fact that both share a common thread. This is, namely, that over the last two days I have attempted to not only get as close to actually walking the real modern Fosse Way as possible, but also to think about the nature of the Roman occupation.
My path over the last two days was firstly stamping over to Chesterton-on-Fosse near Bishops Tachbrook, and then zooming up the Fosse by car to Venonis (where the Fosse and Watling Street (another Roman road) cross). And secondly, village hopping towards Leicester, and walking a small mile of the Fosse myself.
But before my own thoughts here, of course, is Pausanias-Thomas:
1. Passing northwards for 8 miles on the ‘Fosse Way’ from Ettington one comes to ‘Chesterton-on-Fosse’, a small enclosed settlement. It is an extremely strange shape with one side of its rather large ramparts being much smaller than the others. This may be because one side is bounded by a small stream, and that theory appears to be borne out as this is a crossing-point for the Fosse over this river. There seems to be a toll collecting here, and soldiers living behind the ramparts enforce it. The proximity of soldiers has led to villas appearing only a few miles away. What makes Chesterton a worthwhile visit however, is the major use of curse tablets (some written in barbaric tongues), within the walls of the fort. The Britons have really taken to this custom, and in most more civilised areas one can see great numbers of these tablets hung up or at the bottom of wells. This might be because their ancestors were used to throwing metals into water in honour of their animal-headed gods, and with some injection of culture the present-day British continue this custom, although in a different form.
2. The next settlement is around 20 miles, or a summer day’s walk, away and is called Venonis. It is an important place as it straddles both the ‘Fosse Way’ and ‘Watling Street’. Venonis’ houses run along both roads, and it grants travellers bed and board. It has no major buildings, and relies on the trade of those passing in both directions. There is of course a shrine to Hecate there, but the most interesting point to comment on is the name it possesses. Venonis could be named after the poison plants, nightshade and the like, that grow in the region. The original inhabitants had quite a difficult time controlling these until they prayed to Hecate. In return for their worship of her she would remove the most malignant and hardy plants for her potions. This alliance with her has benefited the occupants greatly.
3. It is 12 miles on from Venonis to Ratae Coritanorum (‘Leicester’), this is the tribal capital of the Coritani, though of course they are now largely civilised. It was originally a legionary fortress, but with that abandoned it developed a very civic aspect. There are several interestingly dedicated columns to Mercury here, and there is also an amphitheatre. The violent sports practised in these arenas have drawn British crowds to an extremely large extent. They appear to have sated their lust for war with the blood sports practised on the sand before the crowd.
4. From here it is………
The first day was the route between Chesterton-on-Fosse and Venonis, and some of the memories that I will hold least dear to me occurred on this day. To get from where I slept to Chesterton was either a march along a roaring country lane or either through ploughed fields (with an eye on the sky-line if farmers appeared). By 12, when I finally completed the few miles to Chesterton, I had done both, and very nearly come close to death on the so-called lane. I do not know which I am troubled by more, in hindsight, attempting to avoid farmers by occasionally flinging myself down on the mud when I saw a figure appear in the same field (so that I was not convicted for trespass). Or else when walking past Leamington Football Club (quite a professional outfit really), I had to cling to the hedgerow, trying at the same time to be as big and as small as possible (big enough so the cars could see me, and small so that they wouldn’t hit me). I must apologise for the footprints in the fields I made, but I will not to some of those drivers who came mighty close to taking my life.
When I reached the general location of Chesterton I realised that yet again it was site on private land. With a rush of blood to the head I decided that this was not going to stop me, and leapt the fence. I was well rewarded when I did. Chesterton’s ramparts are something to behold, and its shape is very very odd (whether for the Pausanian reason I gave above I do not know). When you stand knee-height in the long grass at the foot of the ditch Rome literally towers around you. Part of Rome’s ‘fear-factor’ must have been because they built so many large structures that they overawed their conquered subjects. This site was relatively new in the 2nd century, and was occupied till the 4th. It could have been a cause to the mini-explosion in villas in the region as soldiers were stationed there, but it also had its own extramural settlement which has been little studied. An extramural settlement which may have produced the curse tablet (the most significant find from this region). Curse tablets were the objects (usually in Britain metal) with which someone could directly speak to the god against another mortal. They could be compared to a text message or letter—they were a living ordinary person’s own words. Unfortunately the one found here was largely broken.
Pondering all this I moved crabwise across fields searching for routes towards the Grand Union Canal which could take me quickly towards Rugby where my family would fortunately drive me along the Fosse to High Cross, a distance of 21 miles. I eventually, and fortuitously, stumbled upon the canal and began quick marching along it. By the time I reached my welcoming party I had been informed by two different canal boaters that I looked depressed: this was not great for my morale.
But I had finally reached transport and well-known faces, it being also the first car in a while that I had not been slightly fearful of, we moved north from Long Itchington. On this journey the Fosse took on a different aspect as a place of injury and death. The number of signs warning of the dangers of going too fast on this straight road and listing the number of fatalities was sobering to say the least. Whether this would have been same in the Roman period it is almost too awful to ask but I doubt that the fast galloping horse can cause the amount of carnage that a 80 mile-an-hour moving car. The legacy of the Fosse here is not a good one. The ruler-like form of its route allows both for quick travel, but also acceleration which cause accidents.
With this on our minds we reached Venonis which is still an extremely major junction in Britain’s modern road network. Venonis (or modern High Cross (Venonis sounds better though)) is one of the settlements mentioned Antonine Itinerary, a 2nd century compendium of the empire’s roads, this above all points to its significance. Its junction is still important, but the modern village plus campsite (adorned with English flag), is not. The only surviving historical object that I could see (no Roman materials to report), was a 19th century grave marker which interestingly referred to High Cross by the Latin Venonis. In the account of it above I talked of Hecate, goddess of crossroads and witchcraft (the two seem to have gone together for the ancients), and though I doubt the natives would have called a deity here this (if they had one), a Roman traveller could easily make a link between their Hecate and the British god of the same kind of character. The Romans were good at this and often combined native gods with their own. Venonis’ supposed meaning—‘place of the poison plants’- is also of interest, and so I decided to combine Hecate with it to spice the area up somewhat.
After an overnight stop in Lutterworth (not the most beautiful place around there), I, alone, began jumping between villages around the Fosse to discover what I could make of its location here. It was on this hilly section that I saw that the Romans had placed the Fosse in a valley to save the trouble of building over or digging through hills. The road was ever-so-slightly turning so as to continue on the flattest path. The highlight of this day was the actual part I walked of the Fosse (it became a footpath for a moment). I was, as I had been in Greece, actually stepping on the ancient footprints of our ancestors (though probably a metre higher than them due to the build-up of soil). This was simply a very enjoyable experience and the blackberries on the bushes (which were probably cleared in Roman times), were very much in season. By 1 I had reached the little village of Croft and starting to reach the grey concrete of Leicester’s suburbs, and there I decided to call the journey complete. Outside a fast-food outlet (I wonder whether there would have been fast-food places along major roads in the Roman road), I was picked up by taxi taking me to the station for a more modern form of transport.
I did not get to explore Leicester, and in the time I had would not have done it justice, but I do have these few notes about it. What Pausanias-Thomas reported is generally true; though nevertheless we should pause to take in the tribal capital nature of Leicester or ‘Ratae’ (for short). The tribe that moved here was forced to go to the southernmost region of their lands to settle around an abandoned legionary fortress. Their former heartlands were now dominated by the legionary stronghold of Lincoln (where, incidentally, the Fosse terminates), and by state-owned (or emperor-owned—no difference) lands. The suffering and misery of their set-up there must have been extraordinary, and the Fosse bringing them more soldiers and tax officials must have added to this. With the 2nd-century the hardship must have been mostly over, although Leicester’s finds have never equalled those uncovered at other better placed tribal centres (such as Cirencester).
My travels have moved me through many different regions and landscapes, and have been certainly enjoyable (though occasionally quite tough), and very thought-provoking. All of these thoughts will eventually mature, and the posts will keep on coming. However, for now, the places which a Pausanias-like individual would have seen in the 2nd-century, on the Fosse road between Cirencester and Leicester, have now been all accounted for. Yet, we should note, at the last, that Pausanias, as the great Hellenic that he was, would never have deemed it worth his bother visiting Britain. It, for him, was the land over-the-sea, occupied, and completely under the thumb of a Roman culture that he despised and often tried to ignore when talking about his Greece. The country which the British empire-builders thought was most touched by Rome and its mentality was a backwater, for many Roman subjects like Pausanias, and unworthy of much notice.
Then again, as much as I don’t want to subscribe to the same views of British ‘greatness’ (if it even could even be heralded in this way), coming from its Roman heritage; views which have been spewed out enough times to sound ludicrous when said. What Pausanias would have missed out on when he did not visit is the reaction of the ancient British culture to Rome, and Rome’s reaction to its new territory. Britain was one of the most heavily garrisoned places in the ancient world, and it was occupied by Rome longer than the British empire had control of India. This had an extreme effect, and is both interesting and intriguing, and still being worked through by both scholars and, in my mind, the public. The Scottish independence campaign and UKIP have used the fact that foreigners in Britain are still largely seen, unfortunately, as invaders: a possible legacy of Roman and then Norman occupation of these isles. Though Rome’s occupation was seen as a ‘good thing’ I think its brutality (its movement of peoples, imposition of culture, and surveillance through the army), has left definite scars on the British psyche.
Till next time:

Bourton-on-the-Water–Stow-on-the-Wold–Dorn-Ettington-Bishops Tachbrook

With the Mother Goddesses certainly smiling in my favour at the back-end of yesterday’s adventure around the Fosse, I struck out eagerly from Bourton-on-the-Water. My final destination would be the small commuter town of Bishops Tachbrook which lies just south of Leamington Spa, but not too far from my road. During the journey, however, I would hopefully explore some of the more backwater sites of Roman Britain. Places such as Dorn and Ettington have yielded enough Roman remains to classify them as sites of occupation, but they often appear to be left out of archaeological or ancient historical accounts of Britain in this era. This could be because the finds there were not of the greatest quality, or due to the fact that the more important sites around (such as Chedworth or Cirencester), shift the focus from the Dorns and Ettingtons of 2nd century Britain. This, I believe, should be rectified, and so I was most eager to see these villages.

Before I don my Pausanian hat I must remind readers that the modern Fosse is not what a 2nd century traveller would have seen, it is roaring with cars and trucks as it A-roads its way north. The Fosse Way no longer offers safety for the single walker. Therefore I have to scout around it for footpaths running parallel to give me as close an experience as possible to travelling its route. This could be seen as something of a betrayal to my bold headline that I am ‘walking the Fosse Way’, but it does give me a greater sense of the landscape of the region, and thinking space, without having to keep an eye on cars. It is also helpful in this case to explore the less well-developed sites of Roman Britain on lanes much like the ones the locals would have used to navigate around the Fosse; it gives that greater sense of ‘closeness to the past’.

Pausanias-Thomas:
1. ‘Stow-on-the-Wold’ lies 4 miles north-east of ‘Bourton-on-the-Water’. It is a small Iron-Age type place eclipsed by its larger southern neighbour. The population is too small for their earthworks, and live mainly on bartering with the wool and meat they garner from keeping small flocks of sheep.
2. ‘Dorn’ is a further 4 miles on. This is a more impressive settlement, and more in touch with civilisation. It has a large bank and ditch system for protection and livestock control. Indeed it is almost large enough to be small town in Greece. The inhabitants very much enjoy using samian-ware and other such fine pottery pieces as found on an Italian or Greek dining table. There are villas very close to it, and the villagers are not unused to coinage. They even seem to have a great belief in the goddess Regina in this region. This is either because of a local queen who had importance in their history, or due to an interaction between the goddess Juno (queen of the gods), and a local. What the story is behind this I am not entirely sure, but in the past Juno appears to have given prosperity to a certain community of little influence in return for worship. The worship of her then spread from there as the many surrounding communities attempted to soak up the rewards they saw offered to one of their number.
3. ‘Ettington’, along the Fosse, is a further 10 miles. It is here that the Fosse is crossed by a local road running between ‘Alchester’ and ‘Alcester’. It has little importance, and there is very little to say about.

My observations and journey:

I enjoyed travelling the actual Fosse so much after slogging through the hard miles of country lanes the day before that I started the day with a treat. Bourton slipped behind me as I headed north-east on a bus full of the sixth formers of the local secondary school. At first the bus was packed, and then it was empty as they suddenly disgorged themselves from every available space. It is (very) occasionally intriguing how tightly humans can squeeze themselves so everybody has at least some room. With the bus considerably lighter we sped on to Stow where my map had informed me that there were remains of a Roman nature. I still have no idea whether this is actually true. I walked to the spot the OS map had indicated, and explored up and down the road. There could have been remains there, but they were long covered in weeds and brambles. What’s more a high stone wall and several ‘Keep-Out’, and ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs lay between me and my goal. I took a photo, but did not linger: curtains were twitching all around. Stow is, however, remarkably beautiful if always a slightly damp town. Its high position on a plateau gave it protection, but also exposed it to the elements. I have now been to it five times in my life, I have never seen all of it dry with yellow Cotswold stone agleam. There appears to be a great amount of moss in Stow. The sheep industry really thrives here, and this is what has made it famous– possibly even in Roman times, although those Roman walls remain, for me at least, distant.

Then again, I was more interested in Dorn which was meant to possess some truly spectacular earth ramparts and ditches of enormous size. Proper archaeologist territory. There had been high end pottery found here in the past, there were coin finds in surrounding fields (suggesting high usage in Dorn- the more coins you have the more you can casually lose), it had good connections with villas, and even a stone statue of the goddess Regina came from near here. Arriving from Moreton-in-Marsh where a bus from Stow dropped me I marched through fields on footpaths (not well marked ones I might add), to Dorn. The settlement was very much of a damp squib. It again lay on private land behind a considerable hedge. A busy farm next door showed me that I could not sneak through undetected. I turned away deflated, and hoping for a least some sign of human occupation headed away towards the villa at Ebrington.

On the way to Ebrington I had two good experiences that cheered me. The first came when climbing a rather steep hill just beyond Dorn. An older lady stopped to inform me that I was her saviour. She was worrying that if she had fallen in the ploughed field no-one would have found her. I, though, could have looked after her had she toppled. This was nice on one level as it came as the first proper human interaction that day, and on another because it revealed that the camaraderie between travellers is really not dead in Britain. Secondly, though it is not as noteworthy, cars on the lanes between the hill villages I passed took greater care around me– nodding and waving– almost as a kind of support team.

This may taking those interactions and my thoughts on them too far. But it was uplifting as I wound through small roads towards Ebrington. I was further buoyed by what I found. In a cow field and under a herd of the creatures were the definite shapes of structures. This, paired with the more unusual vegetation growing along these hummocks (revealing the richer decayed deposits beneath), consolidated my feeling of happiness. It was not overly intriguing, but it was a find.

From Ebrington I swayed across more hilltops, and down more valleys into smaller and smaller hamlets (one of which contained a war memorial commemorating two sets of three brothers who had died in WW1). Finally I reached Ettington which my research had indicated as being even more nondescript than Stow, and so calling off the search for any meaningful settlement there, and taking a taxi to Bishops Tachbrook; I looked forward to the promise of a bath. The transport I took was needed- night was closing in, and they alleviated then pain on my pins which had gone 25+ miles today. Not only this, but they actually gave me the chance to go along the straight Fosse Way– and of course it is rather straight.

My back-of-beyond leg had ended and I had the impression that it was not fruitless. These small villages on the roads of Roman Britain must have resembled something out of Wild West films. Small tight-knit communities living on few resources wary of those who come in after dark and fearful of any kind of stranger (even when reliant on them for some scale of trade). These places may have been left out of many works on the subject of Britain under Roman rule because they tended not to change, but carried on scraping on the edges. It is my view that these people could not be ignored, and that is why I hoped to, at least, see the general location of their settlements (high and cold as at Stow, or on the edge of nowhere like Ettington), to gather an impression of their lives. An impression that I hope to continue and develop.

I must also apologise for the occasional typo in this blog. I am writing it on a machine that is not that conducive to blogging and this may allow the odd mistake to slip in.

Ebrington and its villa- the tussocks indicate a settlement.

Ebrington and its villa- the tussocks indicate a settlement.

image

The landscape folds around the roads in this region.

The landscape folds around the roads in this region.

Modern Dorn

Modern Dorn

Gazing longingly through the hedge towards Dorn's Roman remains

Gazing longingly through the hedge towards Dorn’s Roman remains

Ebrington villa again.

Ebrington villa again.

Stow and the Fosse

Stow and the Fosse

Possible Roman remains in Stow?

Possible Roman remains in Stow?

Medieval enclosures in Moreton

Medieval enclosures in Moreton

Modern Ettington

Modern Ettington

Cirencester-Calmsden-Chedworth-Chedworth villa-Hampnett-Northleach-Bourton-on-the-Water

In a landscape as divorced from that of Greece’s as it could possibly be (greens and browns as opposed to yellows and greys), the British section of this journey began. My plan is to follow the Fosse Way from Cirencester to Leicester, and my first day was to start in Cirencester and to reach Bourton-on-the-Water. With no equivalent guide to Pausanias I was to rely on the straight-running Fosse, and a handful of Ordnance Survey maps. The maps were essential so as to help me navigate around the Fosse (it being a major road made walking along its length was impossible), whilst sticking to its general course.

To make sure that this part of the blog did not slide into a litany of places visited and my increasing number of blisters I have decided to not only describe the whole of my walk as if I was Pausanias travelling it, but also then to add my impressions to that description.

So to begin:

Pausanias-Thomas:

1. Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) stands on the Fosse Road about 120 miles from Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter). When going into the city there is a large new amphitheatre on the right built out of earth and wood. It can hold the whole of the city’s population. The city itself has a grid structure with many fine town houses. There is a forum, theatre, and basilica. The basilica is being rebuilt because it has sunk into the earth, and the rebuilding has been ongoing for several years. Both the forum and basilica are in the fine Italian style and made of local stone with some marble.
2. It is said that the city was originally a fort constructed by the cavalry in the conquest of Britain, but it was later abandoned as the invasion moved on. However, the site was not left empty as the Dobunni, who were living in the area, had moved their capital to this fort, when it was operative, so that they could trade there.
3. Recent invasions in the empire have forced the inhabitants to build a wall of stone and earth for protection. This encloses 96 hectares and makes the city the second largest in the province of Britannia.
4. The Mother Goddess cult is peculiarly strong here, there are many statues both bronze and stone in the city. This could be because of the fact that the majority of the inhabitants are native Dobunni. Their coins originally had a three-tailed horse on them, and the interest in the number three linked to a divinity may come from there. There is a legend though that in a famine an old man of the city prayed to every deity he knew for the town’s relief from disaster. But the suffering would not cease. Then starving he wandered out of the city and fell on the road. Raising his head he saw three suns in the sky, three beetles crawling before him, and he saw three kites circling. Then it was that he remembered about the Mother Goddesses, and raised his hands towards them. The famine was cured. The city has honoured them most highly ever since.
5. If you walk along the Fosse Road from Corinium Dobunnorum it runs straight except for near the gate of the town where it slips around several mounds made by the ancestors of the Dobunni. The road is otherwise hilly, but nondescript except for the many black grouse that nest near it. It is around 20 miles from Corinium Dobunnorum to Bourton-on-the-Water. This is a small market town. The river is very low here so the townspeople aren’t able to use it for travel. They have to rely on the passing of people along the road for the majority of their trade.

My observations:

Cirencester is very much the typical beautiful and in many ways idyllic Cotswold settlement. Its houses are all of the same yellow brick, and its streets are lined with small tearooms, alternative food shops, and of course clothes shops (though the odd superstore does creep in). The stone was probably the same that was used by the Romans in their house building. The amphitheatre still exists intact with huge grassy mounds and large entrances (some bored kids were playing a strange kind of football in it). The amphitheatre has been estimated to hold up to 8,000 people- nearly enough to accommodate the population of the modern city, and certainly that of the ancient. The forum and basilica have only been located by pieces of grand building material, but would have stood in the 2nd century AD on the old site of the fort. This is why the basilica had to be rebuilt- it was sinking into the remains of the old fort.

With regards to the fort, it seems to have been built to hold some Thracian horse who were supposedly guarding the road from the untamed Britons in what is now Wales. These cavalry eventually abandoned the fort in 75 AD, but the city flourished with largely Dobunni settlers. Why the Dobunni abandoned their central settlement at Bagendon (laying protected in earthworks a few miles north), is an intriguing question, and not in my mind answered. Whether it was because they were forced to move to where soldiers could keep an eye on them as they were deemed untrustworthy, or due to the Romans wanting to show clearly who were the powers in the land (they now having the strength to move peoples); or for trade reasons is hard to guess. The museum considers the last point but I was less convinced.

However, it did become clear from both the museum, and the size of the amphitheatre that this city was an important place for the Roman province. To have a basilica, forum, and amphitheatre all point to it being an extremely important place in the 2nd century AD. It even appears to have had its on ruling council or senate. Again I do not agree with the museum who argue that it kept this status throughout Roman rule as surely the importance of the military garrison at York, especially in the 3rd century, demoted Cirencester from the status of second city in Britain which the museum and some other sources grant it. What is clear, then again, was Cirencester’s richness- the museum’s collection of mosaics, wall plaster, bronze and stone pieces, and supposed Christian graffiti is simply marvellous. The graffiti is also interesting as it could suggest that Cirencester was an important early Christian centre in Britain. That Cirencester paid host to many cult statues to the Mother Goddess in the second century is true-the museum houses many elaborate ones- though the myth that I attached to it is not- it is a very Pausanian technique to tell a fable, although he usually goes for a longer discourse.

In an aside, my chat with the museum curator firmly removed the myth of all Roman roads being straight from my head. For she pointed out that the Fosse kinks around the barrows in the region showing a peculiar Roman respect of the ancient traditions.

When I did get out of town (its roads are extremely difficult to navigate), I went by the Monarch’s Way footpath (named so because the hunted Charles II seems to have fled down it after his defeat at Worcester in 1651). The green hills of the Cotswolds rolled around me as I sailed along and even though I was quickly lost I was entertained by some cyclists who engaged me in a detailed conversation about which of the local pubs I should visit. My lack of proper path led me to head down lanes frequented more by the car than by the walker. This, even if slightly dangerous, did get me to Calmsden (though it was not my original destination), in good time. The problem was that whilst there, and in the process of eating my tesco lunch, motorists had a strange habit of pulling over to ask after my general health. No matter, I soon rejoined the footpath towards Chedworth and its famous villa. I could not mention this in my Pausanias-like description as he focused on towns, but I could not avoid one of the most famous villas (in terms of its art), in Britain. It also has a personal significance to me as it was there that I first fell in love with the ancient world and the process of finding it- namely archaeology. And so I was in drawn again to its site.

By the end of walk there I almost wished it had less significance for me. Modern Chedworth seems to have roads not marked on any map. And when I extricated myself from its coils I had to face the ill-marked footpaths that had led me wrong earlier. Inevitably I got lost, and ended heading through Chedworth woods which appear to be mainly home to pheasants. I was possibly trespassing, even now I am unsure, but I did get to see the largest number of pheasants I ever have. This is why I have written above that there were many black grouse to see in the 2nd century (these birds, as the RSPB inform me, inhabit the same kinds of areas that pheasants do). With several bramble scratches I reached Chedworth villa, and while trying to locate its temple I fell into conversation with a gentleman who told me that it was fruitless trying to search for it as it lay on private land, and may even have been Dobunni and not Roman. Slightly dimly I ignored the advice and set forth along the wood’s border to locate the temple. Of course I never found it, it was on private land, and covered in foliage. So with a slightly depressed air I began climbing again towards a village called Hampnett. From this modern settlement I stepped along the ridges to Northleach. It was here that my luck finally turned for as I walked into the village square a bus to Bourton-in-the-Water drew up which I promptly boarded (saving my soles). I also, on the bus, had the pleasure of travelling for the first time up the Fosse Way.

Having settled in my residence (more exactly the Mousetrap Inn which serves very good food incidentally, though the shower is rather uncontrollable), I came to reflect on some of my experiences. Some could question why I had chosen to seek out Chedworth with such fervour (the map reveals that it lies a distance from the Fosse), and as my desire was not entirely personal I will explain I’m more detail. Britain’s population was really quite large in the 2nd century (possibly near 10 million), and all those people must have lived somewhere. Unlike in Greece where most would have lived in the many cities that dotted the landscape, Britain did not have many major settlements. Therefore the majority must have lived in small farms and villages, and these are sadly mostly ploughed over or covered in soil. In light of this I decided to seek out all of the Roman remains that are in the vicinity of the Fosse, and this is what led me to Chedworth. It has some of the most complete in situ remains, and is relatively near the Fosse.

It is also noteworthy that although you can get drawn by the beauty and starkness of Greece it is the countryside and landscapes most known to you that really draw delight. It sounds conservative to say so, but I felt more at ease here when lost (even with the pain in my feet), for I knew the land more than in a Greece. Both landscapes have their merits, and the British has certainly been picked over more often with some kind of dwelling unlike unspoiled (in many ways) Greece, but it is the home wherein the heart lies.

Tomorrow I shall walk from Bourton to Ettington, and take a taxi from there to Bishops Tachbrook.

Delphi and Athens– last few days in Greece

Omens no longer needed to be taken as we were not testing our strength and wits among the foothills of the mountain. The goats of Parnassos were, therefore, safe. This post will deal with our last few days in Athens– the Delphian museum, and its other sites, and the exploring of Athens. Pausanias had a different use here: not so much as a guide in our journeys, but needed to give extra detail on various aspects in Delphi, and Athens.

A quick note to conclude our time in Delphi then. We went on from the sanctuary itself to pause by the sacred spring where ambassadors to the oracle cleansed themselves before being received. Its present usage, however, was based around providing bus drivers water with which they could clean their buses. The spring’s waters that once cleaned Athenians, Massilians, Ephesians, Spartans, and Corinthians was now washing the dirt off the tourist vehicles of Americans and Japanese. This was saddening in one way, and we still drank from it (Pausanias recommended its ‘sweet’ waters), at least it still ran, was not dirtied at source, and had a practical function. The gymnasium was closed off and lay yellowing under the sun, but the Athena Pronoia site was stunning with its three standing columns. This is what Pausanias has to say on the matter:

“As you come into the city is a series of temples. The first was in ruins, the next empty of statues and offerings, the third had a few portraits of Roman kings, the fourth is called the Temple of Foresight [or Athena Pronoia]”

This is interesting as it shows that Pausanias approached Delphi along the same route as we originally did (from Athens), and that even in his day the dedicators and names of some of the temples were still unknown (or unworthy of comment). The museum of Delphi is very much a must see location for any traveller, and its interesting collection was increasing in stature (in our eyes at least), by the constant references to Pausanias. Our experience there was only somewhat marred due to the large number of tour groups; a sight rarer in Delphi’s less well known attractions. But the Charioteer statue, and the friezes of various treasuries stood serene above it all– constantly challenging new interpretations and views. We visited the museum in the morning of the day after our sight-seeing of Delphi’s archaeology, and with rain misting the mountains, and then pounding down on our heads we headed for the 16.00pm bus back into Athens.

The bus swayed through Arachova-Levadeia-some hotel location-and various stops in Athens, and is only remarkable for the fact that it was quite crowded, and I occasionally feared for our survival. The bus driver was attempting to hold a conversation with a bloke half-way down the bus for most of the journey, and his eyes were not what they were. He looked through his wing screen mirrors with glasses, but had no trouble with driving the rest of the journey without. Very strange, but we did arrive in one piece.

At the station we decided to walk the remaining distance through outer Athens, it was now 7.00pm, to the youth hostel which was strategically placed in the very heart of the city. It was an hour’s march, and an extremely worthwhile one. Not only did it open our eyes’ to an Athen’s untouched by tourism, but also showed us that Greeks enjoy a natter, sitting and chatting in groups, young and old, on every street. This could be quite alarming for the lone voyager and yet it presented an insight again into the slightly informal nature of Greek society. Athens has grown exponentially though in the last hundred years or so, and the predominant grey look, and heavy traffic of its outer regions divorce it from the crystalline white of the Parthenon and its past. Indeed the centre is ringed by quite a major road from the out-lying regions which gives a further feel of separation. In the darkness we reached the Student and Traveller’s Inn for a whistle-stop day’s tour of the city (not in our original plans), which would be useful to see how Pausanias reacted to such a famous landscape for Greek history. Pausanias starts his account with:

“When you are inside the city you come to a building for the arrangement of sacred processions”

Again Pausanias is not exactly forthcoming on the atmosphere of the city, or other sites apart from monuments, but at least he is true to his principles of documenting the Hellenistic glory of the country.

The next day (the 8th), began early as we set off to investigate that most important site of democracy: the Hill of the Pnyx. The natural stone of the hill had had very little shaping done to it even in the height of Athenian democracy. The speaker’s platform was the only significant feature, and its stepped nature belies the fact that archers (who were also non-Athenians), sat below the orator to enforce decisions and order in the assembly (made up by all citizens who could attend). Both when sitting just above the speaker’s platform, and when standing next to Meton’s heliotropian (the oldest known astronomical instrument), we were afforded stunning views of the Acropolis.

Outlined on their rock stood the Parthenon, the shrine of wingless victory, and the Erechtheion. It is easy to see why the first human settlers in Athens chose this hill as their base– it is the most impressive geographical structure around. As Pausanias says:

“The Acropolis has one way in; it offers no other, the whole acropolis is sheer and strong-walled”

Pausanias was as struck by its beauty as we were, and dealt with its architecture, and paintings (now sadly lost to the modern audience), at length. He calls some of its features ‘incomparable’ even. As we watched the midday sun light up the marble arches of the Acropolis I took the decision that it would become for the focal point for our exploration of Athens– to be walked around, but to be in some way untouchable. As for Parnassos we would not go up to it or climb it, but see how the rest of (in this case), the city revolved around it. With this in mind we worked through Pausanias’ description and stories related to it, and bemoaned the fate of the gigantic statue of Athena:

“The statue is made of ivory and gold. She has a sphinx on the middle of her helmet, and griffins worked on either side of it”

It is now lost to history. Pausanias also described the Athenians as the most devout of the Greeks– an interesting statement. We wondered how he was quantifying and measuring belief and faith, but we did tend to agree. Our agreement stemming from the fact that religious festivals (of which the Athenians had many), probably helped strengthen societal bonds, alike to a big events like the Olympic opening ceremonies, and increased pride in the state (an important result as democratic Athens was constantly surrounded by it undemocratic and aggressive neighbours).

Moving from the Pnyx, its history, and its views we set off to the market-place of Athens (the Agora). This would have been the beating heart of the ancient city. Patrolling right around it, we noticed again that the Parthenon was always ‘there’, and enjoyed the amount of material remaining. The statuary, temple of Hephaestus, and Royal Stoa all stood out very clearly. What was less impressive, and would probably have angered Pausanias, that lover of Hellenism, was the train track running right past the Royal Stoa. Surely this was a place not to build a train line in? It had even covered the Altar of the Twelve Gods (the point from which all distances were measured in Athens). I would tend to disagree with the cheery sign next to the train line which announced that the Altar stood completely untouched underneath the moving trains, but possibly I am being too wary of the preservation value that train networks have. The amount of graffiti in the Agora and its tree-covered state (that both would have been there 2000 years ago is a moot question (I suspect only the former)), were also interesting.

We then moved onto the Kerameikos– the graveyard of Athens, and where many state burials occurred. Here all the war dead, and notable politicians were laid to rest. Pericles and Demosthenes gave their funerary speeches here. It is now also famous for the number of funerary monuments to the rich nobility of Athens. Their white marble tombs (or their replicas), jostle for space and place the surrounding state-sponsored tombs in shade. They are very lovely, but they do somewhat detract from the impression that all male citizens were equal in Athenian democracy. It is, however, still a peaceful area unlike the Agora (though this was probably never quiet).

We then decided to turn towards the modern Athenian flea market. This could be surprising for some (it is not the most archaeologically significant structure), but we wanted to experience the closest modern-day example of the Agora that we could find. And by Zeus we found it! If you turn from the main tourist track you come through the side streets to the antique dealers, and they know how to deliver a pitch. Another interesting point is that some of them were passionately Egyptian, something we can compare to ancient Athens where foreigners had businesses throughout the city. Metics (as the Athenians called them), held an important place in the city’s economy, and these antique dealers seem to hold the same.

Our adventures had led us to the night-tinged hour of 6.00pm, and so we departed for the youth hostel. As we returned we passed by the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s arch, and Lysikrates monument. What was significant about all of them was the fact that all aligned themselves in some respect to the Acropolis. The monument, for example, seemed to have been designed in such a way that when looking up at it you could see the Acropolis too. Each was also an integral part of the city, a constant reminder for each of its inhabitants of Athen’s legacy. Pausanias has little to say on any of these, they were not built during high points of Greek culture. As we turned down into a square by a Lysikrates’ memorial we came across an older man who engaged me in a discussion on the merits of Barcelona’s football style compared to say Liverpool. It eventually transpired that this man was himself once a professional footballer, having won a significant cup in a US ‘soccer’ competition. About himself he said that he was a strong striker, not afraid of the challenge. While I can not deny him this, it again became obvious that history is in the fabric of Greece whether it is modern (say this man’s achievements or the political posters wallpapering every surface), or the ancient. Greece is not unique in this, but the openness of its inhabitants help make this extra clear.

Finally we arrived (exhausted by the amount we had to take in today), at our accommodation. We weren’t completely done, and soon departed again to watch a tango group dance beneath the super moon and the Acropolis. In the moonlight everything became purer, and the clean surfaces reminded us powerfully of the glory and magnificence of Greece. Pausanias had finished his journey as he reached the bounds of Phokis with a story about an architect whose eye-sight was cured. And so as we stood on the edge of the Acropolis park, with our eyes sharper in the moonlight, it became the time to leave him, the Greeks, and my brave comrades behind, and depart to Britain.

My British travels will take me from Cirencester to Leicester along the Fosse Way in the following way:

Day 1: (the 11th) Cirencester to Bourton-on-the-Water (passing Chedworth Roman villa)
Day 2: Bourton-on-the-Water to Bishops Tachbrook (walking through Dorn and Ettington)
Day 3: Bishops Tachbrook into Ullesthorpe (Chesterton-on-Fosse and High Cross having been viewed.
Day 4: Ullesthorpe to Leicester

Finally it remains for me to say that our romp through Athens is not the most descriptive you could find, books and articles deal more fully with each aspect of it, but it does include our immediate impressions of the modern day remains and the people who interact with. In this light I include my comrades’ final day remarks:

Joe: “It was nice seeing the old and new Athens next to each other- the shops, especially the flea market, after looking at the Agora, the graffiti and activism after seeing the Pnyx”

David: “Just looking at the streets of Athens makes it clear that Greece is not in good shape. The ubiquitous ‘to let’ signs reveal an economy still yet to recover, while anarchist, fascist, communist, and other extreme political graffiti show a society deeply riddled with anger and discontent” 

Sacred spring near the Delphic sanctuary

Sacred spring near the Delphic sanctuary

Athena Pronaia sanctuary -Delphi

Athena Pronaia sanctuary -Delphi

A bronze bullhead- Delphi museum

A bronze bullhead- Delphi museum

Hera spearing an unfortunate-Delphi mueum

Hera spearing an unfortunate-Delphi mueum

Painted terracotta- Delphi museum

Painted terracotta- Delphi museum

Detail of the Charioteer's head-Delphi museum

Detail of the Charioteer’s head-Delphi museum

Socrates' prison-Athens

Socrates’ prison-Athens

Looking up towards the Pnyx-- up till the 19th century Athenian women used to slide down these rocks in a fertility rite (must have been painful)

Looking up towards the Pnyx– up till the 19th century Athenian women used to slide down these rocks in a fertility rite (must have been painful)

The Acropolis from the Pnyx Hill

The Acropolis from the Pnyx Hill

Looking down towards the assembly's area (to the left), and the speaker's platform (on the right), on th Pnyx Hill

Looking down towards the assembly’s area (to the left), and the speaker’s platform (on the right), on th Pnyx Hill

Athens from the Pnyx

Athens from the Pnyx

Outer Athens from the Pnyx

Outer Athens from the Pnyx

Statues in the Agora

Statues in the Agora

The temple of Hephaestus through the trees

The temple of Hephaestus through the trees

The railway next to the Agora

The railway next to the Agora

The Royal Stoa in the Agora

The Royal Stoa in the Agora

The Roman Agora

The Roman Agora

The Kerameikos or burial ground in Athens

The Kerameikos or burial ground in Athens

One of the richer tombs in the Kerameikos

One of the richer tombs in the Kerameikos

The Lysikrates monument

The Lysikrates monument

Looking down towards Hadrian's arch

Looking down towards Hadrian’s arch

Amfikleia-Livadeia-Delphi

The omens ripped from the bleating carcass were again satisfactory, and we again set off in the slight yellow light of a Greek dawn. The plan for today was something a little different from what had gone before as the travelling would mostly happen on Greek public transport. In the latter stages of planning this trek it was decided that Pausanias would firstly not have travelled his own route as fast as we were about to (he wrote his account over twenty years). And secondly, that as he was probably not walking the whole way it was acceptable to make use of the local transport systems to the extent he probably did. Therefore instead of crossing back over Parnassos to get to Delphi instead we manoeuvred around its eastern flank (the side we hadn’t gone past before), to reach Delphi more quickly in an effort to match Pausanias’ account with what we saw there.

In pursuit of this goal we walked the 1.5 kilometres at 7.00am Greek time to the local railway station at Amfikleia. This, when we reached it, struck us as very local indeed with a chalk board for arrivals and departures, and no apparent machine for tickets. Without these then we chanced our hand on the train when it came rattling in (graffiti-stained). In another display of hospitality the Greek train conductor took us under his wing, and was around to tell us that the stop (we were getting off at Levadeia), was coming up in addition to informing the driver of our presence. Accompanied then by his helping hand down to the platform, and the driver’s announcement of our arrival at the station (something he hadn’t done for any other stop), we disembarked. Pausanias who most likely relied on such assistance would himself have been gratified by the attention we were given. A short taxi drive later (delayed due to the cabby’s need to feed the local cats), we were in the provincial town of Levadeia, and the biggest settlement we had been in since leaving Athens.

Ancient Levadeia is written about by Pausanias in his description of Boiotia (the region abutting Phokis to the east). Boiotia (whose most famous city was Thebes), formed itself into a military League at various points in its history, and Pausanias describes Levadeia as very much holding its place amongst that confederacy. Here are a few of his thoughts about it:

“Where the Phokians look down on Orchomenos [another Boiotian city] from the mountains, in the plain is the border city of Lebadeia”

“The grandeur of this city ranks it among the most prosperous cities in Greece”

“[t]hese people believe snakes are as much sacred to Trophonias [a minor local deity] as they are to Asklepios…There is an open-air sanctuary of Demeter Europa and Zeus of Rain…and the temple of Zeus the King. Because of storms and eddies of war, or simply the size of the temple, they left it half finished”

Unfortunately we had not the time to explore the city (our bus was due), but a few points of interest can be gleaned from the area around the bus station in comparison to Pausanias’ account. It seems that Levadeia, at the expense of Thebes, had grown into something of a hub in the second-century AD, and this standing seems to have continued into the modern period; it is still the provincial capital of Boiotia. But its prosperity now is not as noticeable, indeed its heavy industry appears to have died leaving empty windowed factories on the city outskirts. It still seemed to be a border city on some ways, a place from which there were many different routes to take. The ancient ruins Levi describes as fragmentary, and on top of a nearby hill. It is a shame that we couldn’t reach them as the form the deities took were unusual (Zeus of rain and kingship for example). A church now stands among them and showed us for the first time the continuity of religious centres in a landscape.

The bus, when it arrived, whipped us along the edges of cliffs until we reached the shining cliffs of Delphi. The time was around 11.30am and, checked in at the hotel, we set out to explore the navel of the ancient world– the sanctuary itself. Various legends, narrated by Pausanias among others, were created to explain the importance of Delphi. Myths linking the site to Zeus and Eagles, to Gaia, and of course Apollo. It is probably enough to say that the myths and legends come up short when attempting to describe the sheer presence of Delphi terraced to the rocks. It would be difficult to do justice either to Pausanias’ many chapters on Delphi, and the religious area itself as they are both of such scale. Therefore I will give a few points on Pausanias’ description, and then compare our perceptions of the site. In addition I will include all the pictures taken of Delphi to try to give you an impression of its magnitude and impressiveness.

Pausanias’ treatment of Delphi is on the one hand highly coloured, and on the other frustrating. He wends his way up the hillside, disregarding the actual city of Delphi, and focuses his attention on each dedication instead. This is very useful when archaeologists and ancient historians try to reconstruct the site, and identify the objects, but also leaves his narrative (in my opinion to modern eyes), somewhat disjointed. Each object has its own backstory which create tangents and discourses on the obscure (such as Pausanias’s investigation into the size and geography of Sardinia), it is almost Herodotian in this sense. This made it extremely difficult to follow Pausanias around the site as although there was a clear order to the account it strayed. Another factor about his description is that it does not deal with the recent votives and buildings of Pausanias’ day. He strips these away to give an almost undiluted Hellenic picture– nothing could be further from the truth. Pausanias was dealing with the sanctuary in its twilight years where it no longer represented the centre of the world for any civilisation. The new navel was Rome, and even though senators and emperors patronised the city it clearly declined in importance and repair. Clear evidence for this can be found in the fact that Hadrian who reigned just before Pausanias was writing had to reinstitute the religious ceremonies at the temple and altar of Apollo, and in Domitian’s pompous boast about its restoration. Pausanias’ Delphi is a snapshot of one of several centuries before.

Having said all this his book on Phokis is our only true guide to all the riches that lay within the sanctuary boundaries. This makes it essential for an understanding of the placement of objects in the sacred area (often driven by competition), and how ancient people understood the wonders and riches of the city. Pausanias’ capture of it in its Hellenic greatness underlines the fact that it was then that Delphi became the religious and diplomatic centre for Greeks. Pausanias himself was interested by the legends behind the art (as may have been clear throughout my blogs about him), and this lets us into the psyche of his class– interested in, and concerned about myth, but not dependent on them. Pausanias enjoys recording city landscapes, and it is through this that he tells the stories attached to each object (predating ‘A History in a 100 Objects’ by nearly 2000 years).

Moving onto the site it should suffice to say that the tourist industry often hinders and sometimes hijacks the beauty of the site as it bustles and hustles you along. It is a site renovated and rejigged to give a clearer view to that industry as well, and so suffers from the fact that some of its monuments could be queried on the nature of their reconstruction. In addition, it gives a sense of a site slightly at odds with its past, and tailored to fit modern perceptions. Only twice did it really feel ancient: once when crawling through a network of tunnels under the temple, potentially intended for drainage (our wilder theory was that it could have been used to concentrate the Pythia’s fumes after its reconstruction in the 4th Century BC), and second when climbing an ancient staircase bounded tightly with walls on either side. This brought us closer to the past as it gave us a sense of the practicality of such a site, and the bustle of it due to the staircase resembling those in modern Delphi.

This is possibly too sniffy though, the site is well worth the visit (and free for students), its beauty and location alone recommend it. Not only that but the city’s fantastic outdoor collection of inscriptions (some written in minute script), allowed the past to speak to you in small corners of the sanctuary. Then there were the temples and treasuries themselves–awe inspiring, and each worthy of many articles and books.

Pausanias, and this is where he ultimately succeeds as a writer of a travel journal, shows us his site as he would see it, never defending his treatment of it, but allowing the holiness of the site to shine through his work, while dealing with it in a pragmatic way. City and description meld to create a glorious image of a city of artistic brilliance in one of the most striking places in the world.

Joe: “What I most enjoyed was peering into the roped off areas at the edge of the sanctuary into what looked like residential ruins, which along with the rubble in the surrounding area gave more of a sense of the scale of Delphi as a city full of people rather than just a religious site”

David: “Calculating the relative sizes of the theatre and stadium in Delphi we were amused to note that the stadium was significantly larger- well in keeping with preferences today”