Explore Pompeii alongside author and expert Dr. Simon Elliott in 201913th August 2018
If you're thinking about taking a trip to Pompeii, we can recommend joining us in May 2019 and experiencing the history and legacy of this haunting destination in the company of Dr. Simon Elliott.
History – specifically the Roman period – is Simon's area of expertise and passion. His book, 'Sea Eagles of Empire: The Classis Britannica and the Battles for Britain', won the gold Military History Monthly's Book of the Year in 2017, and he has also published 'Septimius Severus in Scotland: The Northern Campaigns of the First Hammer of the Scots' along with 'Roman Legionaries: Soldiers of Empire'.
Departing on May 9th, Simon will lead a tour group around Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania. We caught up with him ahead of the trip to find out what he can't travel without, what kickstarted his interest in Roman history and what he's most looking forward to about the tour. He also mentioned that he likes the fiction written by Ben Kane, who coincidentally will lead our May 2nd Pompeii departure!
What are your travel essentials while packing? What’s the one thing you simply can’t travel without and why?
I know it’s an absolute modern cliché but my Galaxy Note 4. It’s getting on a bit now but has the most fantastic camera which has taken the images used on the front covers of four of my books! And loads of pics inside the books too. Plus I am a very keen user of various social media channels to ensure all of my friends ands followers are fully up to speed on my research, publishing and archaeological activities. As I type I have just updated Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on this morning’s excavations on one of my upper Medway Valley villa sites. The other thing I always make sure I take when going to the Med is a hat!!! Oh, and a good book or two. And while I’m at it, a nice spread of historical and archaeological magazines to read while travelling!
You’re going to lead our 9th May departure to the haunting ancient city of Pompeii. How many times have you visited before? What are you most looking forward to about this experience?
I love Pompeii with a passion, every time I go I see something new which I love sharing with anybody near me! My favourite place there is the amphitheatre. When you stand in the centre you get a much better appreciation of what it was like to be in such a venue during the Roman period than any other I have been in. And I have been in a lot! I also always get a tingle down my back when I stand in the forum and look towards mighty Vesuvius. It makes you feel puny by comparison. You can sense the helplessness felt by many Pompeians in AD 79 when the volcano erupted. My favourite memory though was with my son Alex when he was young (he is now doing a War Studies MA, a real chip of the old block!). It was a blistering June day, and when we decided to eat our packed lunch, the only shade we could find was behind one of the large mausolea as you leave the town. It felt very, well, Roman!!!
You’ve written extensively on Roman history, what is it about that era that fascinates you and how did you first get interested in it?
Great question! I love all history to be honest, but my real passion is the classical world. I remember as a small child drawing large pictures of Roman legionaries in their iron banded lorica segmentata and hoplites in Corinthian helmets and just loving it! I later got into wargaming with toy soldiers (yes I really am that much of a geek!) and remember how I fell in love with the legions of Roman and the phalanxes of Macedonia as my figures marched to victory across a 6ft by 4ft table! I still play today! But it is the Romans that have been the subject of all of my publishing to date – five books! Sea Eagles of Empire about the Classis Britannica Roman navy in Britain, Empire State which tells the story of the Roman military doing everything BUT fighting, Septimius Severus in Scotland which tells the story of his astonishing attempts to conquer the far north of the islands of Britain (an Amazon no 1 best seller), Roman Legionaries (everything you ever wanted to know about this elite warrior of the ancient world) and Ragstone to Riches (my PhD thesis about how the ragstone quarries of the upper Medway Valley built much of Roman London. A rather glamorous title for a book about the metalla!). There is something about the Romans which grips me. Their grit, never accepting defeat and always returning until victorious. Their ability to assimilate the best ideas of their opponents – think Gallic chainmail and helmet, Spanish javelins and gladius, Samnite shield. Their innate sense of superiority. The sheer longevity of the Republic and then Empire. The vast geographies their armies campaigned across. For the historian they truly are the gift that keeps on giving!
What is it about archaeology that you find so captivating and what’s your most memorable moment from working in this field to date?
I have an absolute passion for archaeology that has driven me to two MAs and a PhD, courtesy of a very patient family!!! For me archaeology is the ultimate detective story, where I am not only finding clues to help understand the lives of those who lived in the past, but then interpreting the findings to develop a narrative which explains what has been uncovered by the various strands of research. I then love to actually talk about my research to any audience who will listen to me, or read my write-ups! In fact I will be appearing on TV as the ‘expert’ later this year, another opportunity to talk about the Romans!
My favourite eureka moment was about four years ago when walking my Hector – the archaeological dog! – in the fields behind where we live in the upper Medway Valley. In the Roman period this was a dense landscape of settlement and industry, the home of the ragstone quarries mentioned above. He chased a rabbit into a wide hedge, which happened to be along the line of a Roman road linking one of the quarries to a villa on the river. When I went in to see what he was up to I came across what looked like a Roman milestone. I called the local farmer to come and have a look and as we stepped back together to view it in better perspective and record it I came across the exposed rim of a Roman Gauloise 4 amphora. On investigation it had been reused for a cremation burial, with the ‘milestone’ being the grave marker. We had stumbled on the cemetery associated with the villa, with a fine view across the valley. Another site on the long list for investigation!
What are you reading at the moment, do you have any recommendations for any fellow archaeologists or history lovers?
I have just finished Max Adam’s ‘The King in the North’ which is a fantastic take on 7th century AD northern Britain, and am about to start Matthew Kneale’s ‘Rome: A History in Seven Sackings’. The latest issues of Current Archaeology is also waiting in the reading pile, as is the current issue of Classic Rock magazine! Well, an archaeologist does have to have some interests outside of digging holes in the ground!
For recommendations, I still love David Mattingly’s 2006 ‘An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire’ and his no-frills take on the experience of those living in province/ provinces/ diocese at the time. For something more recent, Nick Ashton’s ‘Early Humans’ for a fabulously accessible take on the prehistory of the British Isles.
In terms of historical fiction, which I love, anything by Ben Kane or Harry Sidebottom, and for the kids anything by Caroline Lawrence!