‘But these things that Rome had to give, are they not good things?’ Marcus demanded. ‘Justice and order, and good roads; worth having, surely?’ 

‘They be all good things,’ Esca agreed. ‘But the price is too high.’ 
‘The price? Freedom?’ 
‘Yes – and other things than freedom.’ 
‘What other things? Tell me, Esca; I want to know. I want to understand.’ 

The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliffe, p92

Iron Age and Roman Heritage: exploring ancient identities in modern Britain (IA&RH) is an AHRC-funded project running from 2016-2019 and is a collaboration between Durham University and University College London, London. We will study the living meaning of Iron Age, Roman and post-Roman heritage by examining the creative and variable ways in which people incorporate the past into their lives – both through quantitative analysis of digital sources, online ethnography, qualitative interviews and participant observation.  We hope to challenge the divisions that currently separate the interests of stakeholders such as academic archaeologists, heritage managers, re-enactors, teachers, and visitors to ancient monuments.

As part of our work we have begun to explore the concept of ‘insistent dualities’, first introduced by Mary Beard and John Henderson, in which Iron Age and Roman interactions in Britain are often defined against each other through the establishment of oppositions such as indigenous/migrant, spiritual/literal, liberty/slavery, farmers/soldiers. Despite sustained criticisms in academia these dualities appear to remain prevalent across a variety of media: school teaching, television and film, and operate in a powerful way in British culture, at both a personal and national level and in relation to identity, spirituality, and politics.

In this workshop we will focus on just one duality: the ‘barbaric’ indigenous tribes of Britain versus the ‘civilised’ Roman invaders. This contrast, initially developed by Classical writers, has been built upon throughout history and continues to colour the ways in which many British people view their origins. Past approaches to the concept of ‘Romanisation’ tended to emphasise positive innovations brought to Britain by Rome, overlooking less palatable aspects of Roman society such as violence, slavery, and despotism. At the same time, writers romanticised the wild, free, noble, and spiritual nature of the Iron Age Britons, whilst marginalising any pre-existing ‘civilisation’. By selecting and combining only the positive attributes of each culture they created an idealised Romano Briton ancestor: a tamed, educated barbarian with manners, literacy, economics, and engineering – yet retaining the noble, spiritual, artistic nature, and connection to the earth of the ‘Ancients’. But how do new evidence and ideas challenge these concepts? In what ways do the ‘authorised’ heritage stories presented by academics, curators, and educators relate to and inform those generated by non-professional participants or understood by the wider public?  What values are important in this process of selection, dissemination, and re-creation? How do these reflect contemporary, political and social concerns?

The named participants (below) are asked to reflect on their own research from this perspective and also to comment on the ideas outlined in the presentation by the project team that forms the introduction to the session. Contributors might like to talk for around 10 minutes leaving time for questions and discussion. Other members of the audience who attend the workshop will also be given the opportunity to contribute after the individual presentations and during the open discussion.

Provisional workshop programme (2.5 hrs)

To register for this session, please do so via the main TRAC website. For info, please feel free to contact the project team.

To participate in the discussion via Twitter, please use both #TRACDurham and #IAHR