Monday March 1st: A new year, and a new programme of lectures and exhibitions at BRLSI. Following 2009′s hugely successful Darwin and Beyond season, the theme for 2010 is The Romans in Bath, and here to open it was, appropriately, the Chair of Bath and North-East Somerset Council, Cllr Bryan Chalker (below left).
Addressing a packed (and, as it turned out, very knowledgeable) Elwin Room audience, Cllr Chalker described himself as a passionate advocate of Bath’s Roman heritage, and spoke of the Roman secrets still hidden beneath the city’s streets, advising everyone to take the ‘Roman Tunnels’ walks which occur during the council’s Access weeks. With his politician’s hat (and chain of office) on, he also spoke of his frustration at the attitudes of some of his colleagues who failed to see the value of Bath’s ancient history, and praised the BRLSI for raising its profile with the Romans programme.
Then it was on to the evening’s lecture, again appropriately the BRLSI’s Chair of Trustees, Professor Julian Vincent, on Roman Technology – Past and Future. He reminded us that 2,000 years ago the Romans were adept at the kind of cement and concrete construction that we think of as modern, using it to build a Pantheon dome larger than St Paul’s, and a bridge, the Pons Fabricus, that’s still standing. They were masters of water, building oar-driven Trireme ships that could travel faster than a modern racing boat, and towering aqueducts to feed water mills whose surviving descendents in Britain today could produce as much power as the proposed Severn Barrage – if we chose to revive them.
The Romans were also, of course, masters of war, inventors of an arrow-firing ‘machine gun’ and inventive enough, when the need arose, to use the hair of their female citizens as substitute catapault elastic (as a biologist turned engineer, Prof Vincent couldn’t help admiring their skill at using natural materials in high-tech solutions). And they were no strangers to another supposedly modern phenomenon, environmental damage, scarring entire landscapes in their hunt for gold and other precious resources.
As so often happens at the BRLSI the audience had their own contributions to make, as when one member revealed himself to be the author of an on-screen diagram of a water-powered brass mill, and proceeded to answer Prof Vincent’s questions about the specifics of the machinery. Meanwhile in the scheduled Q&A session afterwards, BRLSI’s Convenor of Antiquities, Heatherlee Hooker, reminded us that the Romans had themselves stood on the shoulders of giants, in particular the Etruscans.
Opportunities to get involved in this kind of discourse are increasingly rare these days, but remain alive and well in Queen Square. The Romans in Bath series runs until November, with 21 lectures, two exhibitions and a field trip to the Roman fortress of Caerleon still to come. For full details see our Romans in Bath website.
Audience participation: Prof Julian Vincent (right) in Q&A action alongside Romans in
Bath Programme Manager Martin Sturge.