Dan Davis (Classics); Mark Thorne (Classics)
This course will explore the Roman invasion, occupation, and abandonment of Britain in the first through fifth century CE, and the subsequent “DarkAge” that gave rise to the myth of King Arthur and Camelot. We will focus specifically on three themes that impinge on quite modern notions: (1) national walls and borders, (2) displays of resistance in the face of overwhelming odds, and (3) national myths and their political uses. The first stage of our itinerary will encompass London and its environs. We will explore the Roman invasion in the first century and subsequent development of Roman towns in the southern half of the island, including the great Roman town of Londinium. In addition to visiting the Museum of London and the British Museum, we will also tour the main attractions of modern London (parliament, Westminster, and Buckingham Palace) to examine how they fit into the national fabric of British identity. The second stage will include a hike of Hadrian’s Wall (named for the Roman emperor who built it) and the ruins of Roman forts and towns, along with a tour of the borderlands between England and Scotland. The region’s main archaeological sites and medieval castles are stark reminders of contested space, resistance, and the power of mythology in the modern age. The third and final stage takes us to the southwest region of the island where we will visit the town of Bath (a Roman spa and sanctuary), Stonehenge, and the (supposed) Arthurian castle of Tintagel in Cornwall. The course will analyze how King Arthur, who is often interpreted as one of the last Romans on the island, became a heroic figure during the formation of British national identity.