School Roman Day

A School Roman visit will include a presentation that is normally centered around the Roman conquest of Britain, and is combined with some Ancient Celtic background information including the culture, costume and artifacts of the Celts

In every workshop we arrive in costume and bring a huge selection of resources to your school – enough to fill eight tables
(Lorica Roman armour, swords and weapons, costume, everyday items etc.)

Object handling is always the most important part of the session!

Worshop activities include writing with a wax tablet and scribe, wool spinning and each pupil can strike a Roman coin using authentically made dies – and they keep the coin they made.

We normally look at Britain before and after the Roman conquest and bring some ancient celtic artifacts along as well.

Pupils can dress up in ancient Roman chain mail armour and helmets, or in authentic tunics. They can have their face (or back of hand) painted in non toxic blue “wode”

Perhaps they may even as the leader of a ancient Celtic tribe with a cloak of many furs and a torc necklace!

They can learn about the daily life of a Roman soldier and the one person of whom he was frightened (not the enemy!)
We will talk about roman food, slaves and day to day life.

The sessions can be of any length in between 45 minutes and two hours each and we can fit as many into a day as time allows. If required during the visit, the teacher can take a class photograph with each pupil either holding an object or wearing a costume!



Was the Emperor Caligula a Monster?

It is difficult to imagine a Roman emperor more different from those who had preceded him than Gaius Caligula of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, who succeeded Tiberius in March AD 37. Caligula is remembered as a bloodthirsty tyrant, a ‘monster’ who performed incest with his sisters and wanted to make his favourite horse, Incitatus, a consul. This article looks at Caligula’s notorious, short-lived reign, and explains why his reputation may have been deliberately besmirched.

The true story, however, is probably different, particularly as much of the information we have about Caligula comes from the biography The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius – who was born 28 years after Caligula died. Suetonius’s tales smack of dinner table gossip but they have nonetheless been influential in shaping Caligula’s reputation.

Roman Shield
Roman Shield

We know, for instance, that Caligula wasn’t the much-maligned emperor’s real name; he was called Gaius by his father, the general Germanicus, but nicknamed Caligula (or ‘Bootikins’) because, as a small boy, he strutted around Germanicus’s military camp on the Rhine frontier dressed as a soldier. It appears that the name Caligula resurfaced after his death in an attempt to ridicule him by emphasising his youth.

Caligula was only 24 when he succeeded Tiberius, and the Romans were hopeful this intelligent young man would inject energy into the fraying Empire. Unfortunately, he appears to have become drunk with power; at a dinner party, for instance, he is said to have burst out laughing because, he told his surprised guests, he had just realised he could, if he gave the word, have all their throats slit. He sent his soldiers to invade Britain, and then called off the incursion, ordering them to collect seashells instead. The reason, we are told, is that the seashells could act as tokens of his victory over the sea-god Neptune.

Gladiator Helmet
Gladiator Helmet

But some historians argue that Caligula hadn’t ordered his men to bring back seashells at all but rather to move their engineers’ huts on the battlefield. The confusion arose because ‘musculi’ meant both seashells and engineers’ huts in Ancient Rome.

Again, according to conventional gossip, he had a voracious sexual appetite, bedding his sisters, senators’ wives, male and female prostitutes and even a middle-aged actor. He claimed he had slept with the moon goddess, Diana. As befitting his bad boy reputation, he drank heavily. He suffered from epilepsy, which could have made him appear vulnerable to his enemies, and a sudden, life-threatening illness early in his reign suggests he may from the very start have been marked out for assassination by poison.

After this illness, Caligula became increasingly erratic and suspicious of plots against him, and had senators executed or exiled. His suggestion that he planned to make his horse a consul probably originated from an off-hand remark – and could have been deliberately distorted down the ages, just as Marie-Antoinette, queen of France during the French Revolution, is believed by conventional wisdom to have said ‘Let them eat cake’ to starving peasants, when actually she said nothing of the sort.

Why would so many unpopular stories have surfaced about Caligula if they weren’t true? The answer may have something to do with the fact that Tiberius, who was Caligula’s adopted grandfather and predecessor, had decamped to the island of Capri for several years prior to his death. This had allowed senators and other men of influence to become increasingly powerful in Rome – there are even suggestions that they wanted the return of republican government (this is confirmed by the fact that several senators proposed just such a move at a meeting after Caligula’s death). These senators would hardly have enjoyed the prospect of a young upstart returning to claim the mantle of emperor, particularly as he would have been surrounded by a coterie of his own favourites. The assassination of Caligula needed to be justified, and there was no better way to do this than to irreparably besmirch his reputation.

Caligula was, in hindsight, unwise not to woo potential friends in Rome. It wasn’t prudent, for instance, to alienate the Praetorian Guard, an elite unit of more than 4,000 men that had been founded in 27 BC by Augustus. Caligula antagonised these men – who, after Augustus’s death had become considerably influential – by adopting an entourage of German troops to protect him.

The men of the Praetorian Guard may also have been annoyed with Caligula because of his callous mistreatment of their commander, Macro, who is said to have eased Caligula’s path to power by smothering Tiberius with a pillow. Caligula expressed his gratitude by having an affair with Macro’s wife, then arresting him and stripping him of his office – the reason appeared to be that if Macro could so easily help to dispatch one emperor, he could do the same to another. Macro and his family committed suicide shortly afterwards (although another account states he was executed for treason).

The conspiracy that culminated in the emperor’s assassination on 24 January in AD 41 may have originated in the Praetorian Guard. It’s believed Caligula was surprised by one or more guards and stabbed to death after watching a gladiatorial show on the Palatine hill; the Guard then helped manoeuvre Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, into power.

Peter Balanck 2014


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