I grew up in Lancaster, England, which is a settlement that began as a Roman fort on one of the hills that still dominate the city’s skyline. It is not too far from many important Roman sites, such as Chester, York and Hadrian’s Wall, and so I studied the Romans as part of my primary education. I have always had a great interest in history of all kinds, but I was blown away by my first encounters with Latin at the age of twelve. Not only was this a most logical language, which appealed to my science-orientated brain and love of puzzle solving, but also the things that we read were about wonderful historical figures and events. We did not read about Marie-Claire going to the swimming pool (sorry, French teachers around the world), but about Hannibal taking elephants over the Alps. For some reason I found this much more interesting!
It was about this time that I first encountered Robert Graves’ works on the life of Emperor Claudius and I came to realize that Roman history was massively complex and interesting. Obviously, I understand that Mr Graves took considerable license with many of his characterizations and depiction of events, but the underlying story that we receive through history is still fascinating. All the political maneuvering, the intelligence and sophistication of these ancient people struck me as it became abundantly clear that they were little different from those of us in the supposedly ‘modern’ era. In fact, the Romans are responsible for a great deal of what makes modern life so successful (as Mothy Python reminds us in The Life of Brian). They were a wonderfully organized people, and surprisingly tolerant of racial and religious differences, which appealed to my teenage sensibilities.
Later in my school career I stuck to my scientific training and eventually went to university to study Biology. However, I always had a niggling interest in all things Roman. This came to the fore several years later when I decided to study for a degree in Classical Studies with the Open University, which offers distance-learning opportunities throughout the UK. This degree allowed me to study a wide range of disciplines focusing on both the Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek civilizations. The study of literature, archaeology, history, architecture, religion and art was a far cry from my original training in science, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My one regret about our move to the USA is that it has taken me away from these studies and the ability to see the remnants of these societies with only a short journey across Europe.
As part of the level one Humanities course, we studied the Colosseum and that year my poor husband persuaded me to take our first foreign holiday: to Rome. To say that visiting the Eternal City was a revelation to me is a massive understatement. Have you ever been to a place and felt that you instinctively belong there? I have: that is how I felt when I first stepped into the Forum. In the years since that first trip I have visited the city many times, finished my Classics degree, learnt Italian and added authentic Roman, both ancient and modern, recipes to my repertoire. I keep hinting that my husband should try to get a post in Italy, but that has yet to happen, even though we were adopted by one of his Italian colleagues and made unofficial members of his family. Now that we are living in the USA, I miss my yearly trips to Italy, although I am very excited to have a family trip planned early next summer that will give us two whole weeks to enjoy the sights of Rome and the area around Pompeii.
However, despite all of this, I do not claim to be a Roman, nor do I dress as one, or reenact their religious ceremonies. I am simply enamored of this period of history and the impact that it has had on our world.