Saturday, 4 October 2014

Student life in ancient Rome

Student life hasn't really changed that much since ancient times.



I must say, though, I'm glad that this imperial decree of A.D. 370 didn't apply when I was an undergraduate...

Emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian Augustuses to Olybrius, Prefect of the City [of Rome].

The office of tax assessment shall carefully investigate the life of the students and their lodging places, to see that they actually do bestow their time on the studies which they assert that they are pursuing.

These same officials of tax assessment shall warn the students that they shall severally conduct themselves in their assemblies as persons should who consider it their duty to avoid a disgraceful and scandalous reputation and bad associations, all of which We consider as the next worst thing to actual criminality.

Nor shall the students attend shows too frequently nor commonly take part in unseasonable carousals.

We furthermore grant to you as prefect the authority that, if any student in the City should fail to conduct himself as the dignity of a liberal education demands, he shall be publicly flogged, immediately put on board a boat, expelled from the City and returned home.

From: Clyde Pharr (trans.), The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions (New York, 1952), p. 414

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Brunhild: the original Queen Cersei?

The Merovingian Queen Brunhild is one of the most notable figures of the early Middle Ages.

I was struck by the similarities between her and Queen Cersei in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, and so a bit of a comparison seemed in order. In my opinion, Brunhild makes Cersei look like a kindergarten teacher.

Queen Cersei and her younger rival Margaery. Image © HBO

This entry is a guest article at Jamie Adair's excellent blog The History Behind Game of Thrones - please check it out!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

New Year

I can't believe that the New Year is almost upon us.

Well, the new university teaching year, at least. It's not as much fun as the real New Year - fewer fireworks - but it's still quite exciting. And terrifying.

Soon the streets of Durham City, shaken from their summer hibernation, will be swarming with students new and old, the former recognisable by their bewildered looks as they wander the twisting streets of the Peninsula in forlorn attempts to locate lecture halls and/or colleges and/or bars. Amidst all this you might see harried lecturers rushing about with faces scarcely less bewildered, forlornly attempting to locate lecture halls and/or offices and/or pubs.


As the kid says at the end of Terminator: viene la tormenta.

On Saturday I drove out to Stanhope, a merry little town in the Pennines, and spent a solitary morning up in the hills. It's late enough in the year that the moors have a touch of autumn about them, but not so late that it feels bleak. The ground was soft to walk on, the heather still warmed by a purple hue. It was good to have some calm before the storm.


Strange to think that four years have passed since I arrived in Durham. It was meant to be only a temporary teaching post. Mind you, that was fine by me at the time. I'd just finished a PhD, which involved living in poverty through my 20s. I think the most extravagant thing I bought during that decade was a bread maker.

Three whole years of employment? Seriously?

To a post-doc, a three-year post is like gold dust. I also figured it would give me a chance to decide if the whole academia lark was really what I wanted to do.

My other career option, if 'option' is even the right word, was writing novels. The one good thing about seriously wanting to be a novelist is that it makes something like medieval history look like a rational career choice. Something to fall back on.

As it turned out, the temporary job became a permanent one, and the left-field plan to get a book on the shelves of Waterstones also worked out. Both happened last year, within three months of each other. It was a year of big changes, good and bad.

Of course, this means that I now I basically have two full-time jobs. This is why the blog got so quiet over the summer, as I buried my head in teaching prep and redrafting the second novel. Luckily there was a lot of crossover between the two.

I don't want to say too much about the second novel before it hits the shelves next year, but it's epic. Truly epic. For all the hard work it's been, I really, really love how it's shaping up, and I can't wait for it to get out into the world.

Ruins of the imperial palace, on the Palatine Hill in Rome

In the meantime, there's the Durham Book Festival coming up next month, which is going to be awesome. On October 12 I'm on a panel with the classicist Peter Jones, author of Veni, Vidi, Vici - should be fun!