Tag Archives: history

Graffiti of Pompeii

There are thousands of graffiti recorded in the time capsule town on Pompeii, the town destroyed and buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. They offer a glimpse into everyday ancient life in an unprecedented way. I hope you will find this list an amusing diversion or a useful resource for research.

Note – technically this list is a mixture of graffiti and dipinti. A dipinto is a drawn message or doodle, either made with paint, charcoal etc. A graffiti is incised into the surface, perhaps with a nail or tool. For the sake of simplicity, I’m using the word graffiti as a catch-all term, in keeping with the majority of guidebooks and websites.

I shall provide the location of each graffito wherever possible. Not only will this help tourists find them (if still visible,) but noting which types of graffiti appear where is a fascinating insight into the different neighbourhoods of the town. When I provide a building code, it breaks down into 3 sections. The first part notes the Regio, one of 9 zones of the town carved up by archaeologists. The second number notes the insula, or city block. The final number is the door number. So the House of the Surgeon is categorised as vi.1.10 – Regio 6, block 1, door 10. Some houses are known by a number of names, I’ll use whichever I think is the better known. A lot of buildings have multiple numbered entrances, I shall use the entrance closest to the graffito.

Where I can, I’ll also provide the catalogue number of each graffito in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Volume IV is dedicated to graffiti recorded in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The online database I use is the Epigrafik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby. This will be handy if you wish to read any of these in the original Oscan, Greek or Latin. If I can’t find a translation or attempt a clumsy one myself, I won’t include an example. This list is intended to be accessible for everyone (or at least those who don’t mind sexual themes or naughty language…) I’m not going to shy away from graffiti that use ‘naughty’ language as some books/sites do. The Pompeians weren’t prudes so I see no reason why I should be. However, perhaps you may wish to bookmark this page to read away from school/work…

If you spot any mistakes, can fill in some missing information or think I’ve missed a great example, just let me know.


If the graffiti is anything to go by, Pompeiians loved politics. The huge number of electoral slogans reminds me of my clogged Facebook timeline during our own modern elections. Official dipinti were written by professional scriptores, usually in red paint in an elegant script. Some of the others may be a teensy bit sarcastic…

  • I ask you to elect Numerius Barcha, a good man, as duovir. May Venus Pompeiana be favourable to your offerings. – CIL IV 00026, House of the Anchor vi.10.7
  • Numerius Veius, a good man. Colonists, I ask you to elect him duovir. – CIL IV 00045 Facade of a shop, viii.5.29
  • Numerius Veius Barcha, I hope you rot! – CIL IV 00075
  • Nymphodotus with Caprasia asks you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. CIL IV 207
  • All the late drinkers ask you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. Florus and Fructus wrote this! – CIL VI 581, Taberna Hedones, vii.2.44
  • I beg you to elect Marcus Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial powers, he is worthy. May you elect one who is a protector of the colony according to the opinion of Suedius Clemens, the worshipful judge, and by agreement of the council on account of his merits and his honesty, worthy of public office. Sabinus, the theatre official, elects him with applause. CIL IV 768, Shop of Sabinus, i.4.18
  • Popidius Natalis, his client, with the worshipers of Isis, call for the election of Cuspius Pansa for aedile.  CIL IV 1011, Bakery of Felix, viii.4.27
  • The ball players ask that you elect Aulus Vettius Firmus aedile, worthy of public office. CIL IV 1147, Estate of Julia Felix, ii.4.4
  • Elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus aedile, worthy of public office. Masculus and all those who have a tail recommend him… CIL IV 7240 Caupona of Masculus, i.7.14
  • All the late sleepers ask for Marcus Cerrinius Vatia for aedile. CIL IV 575
  • Vatia for aedile: supported by the petty thieves… CIL IV 576
  • Vote for Isidorus for aedile, he licks cunts the best! CIL IV 1383, Brothel of Aphrodite, Secunda, Nymphe, Spendusa, Veneria, Restituta, Timele vi.11.15
  • Lucius Popidius Ampliatus, son of Lucius, for aedile: supported by his client Montanus in conjunction with the brigands.  CIL IV 7851
  • Valens, you’re sleeping; you’re asleep and dreaming; wake up from your slumber and make Helvius Sabinus aedile. 
  • The neighbours of Lucius Statius Receptus urge you to elect him duovir with judicial power. He is deserving of the office. Aemilius Celer, his neighbour, wrote this. If you deliberately deface this sign, may you fall gravely ill! CIL IV 3775 House of Primigenia ix.8.8
  • Statia and Petronia beg you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius as aediles. There are excellent citizens for the perpetuity of the colony.  CIL IV 3294
  • Bruttius Balbus for duumvir. His actions will be fiscally responsible. Genialis supports this. CIL IV 3792 Shop, ix.2.20


Pompeiians loved a good gladiatorial spectacle. Theirs is the oldest surviving permanent amphitheatre in the Roman world. Politicians hoped to win over the citizens by sponsoring lavish spectacles and certain gladiators became ancient celebrities. It seems that ancient Campanians were quite willing to travel to see a good show, following their favourite troupes in the same way that modern sports fans go to away matches. That explains why the amphitheatre at Pompeii is so large for such a small town. Keen fans scribbled the results of fights alongside doodles of their favourite fighters.

Note – the term ‘Neronian’ indicates the gladiator trained at the Imperial training school in Capua.

  • The gladiatorial troupe of Aulus Suettius Certus, aedile, will fight at Pompeii on 31st of May. There will be a hunt and awnings. CIL IV 1189 The Eumachia, vii.9.1
  • At the dedication of the Games of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius… There will be a hunt, athletics, aprinklings, awnings. Good fortune to Maius, leader of the colony. CIL IV 1177 Forum Baths vii.5.2
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, perpetual priest of Nero and 10 pairs of gladiators of his son Decimus Lucretius Valens, will fight at Pompeii on 8,9,10,11,12 April. There will be a regular hunt and awnings. Aemilius Celer wrote this on his own by the light of the moon.  CIL IV 3884 Shop facade, ix.8.1
  • Celadus, belonging to Octavus, fought 3 won 3. CIL IV 4297 House of the Gladiators, v.5.3
  • Rusticus Malius – 12 fights, 11 wins. Marcus Terentius – 3 fights, 3 wins. CIL IV 4302 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls! CIL IV 4289 House of the Gladiators, v.5.3
  • Mansuetas the provocator will dedicate his shield to Venus if victorious! CIL IV 283, Quadriporticus viii.7.16
  • Faustus, slave of Ithacus, Neronian, at the amphitheatre; Priscus, Neronian, fought 6, victor; Herrenius, fought 18, killed CIL IV 1421 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.10
  • Asteropaeus, Neronian, 107 victories, victor. Oceanus, freedman, 6 victories, reprieved CIL IV 1422 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.9
  • In honour of the Safety of the Emperor Vespasian Caesar Augustus and his House, on the occasion of the dedication of the altar, the gladiatorial troupe of Gnaeus Allius Nigidius Maius, Flamen of Caesar Augustus, will give games at Pompeii on July 4. Beast hunt. There will be awnings. CIL IV 1180 Large Theatre exterior
  • Oceanus, of free status, victorious 13 times, won. Aracintus, of free status, victorious 4 times, earned a reprieve. CIL IV 8055 House of the Ceii i.6.15
  • Severus, of free status, victorious 13 times, earned a reprieve. Albanus, left-hander, of free status, victorious 19 times, won CIL IV 8056 House of the Ceii i.6.15 Left handed gladiators were quite rare and would have drawn a large crowd.
  • Marcus Attilius. Marcus Attilius, fought 1, won 1, victor. Lucius Raecius Felix, fought 12, won 12, reprieved. CIL IV 10236A Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Marcus Attilius, novice, victor; Hilarus, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, reprieved CIL IV 10238A Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Games at Nola given by Marcus Cominius Heres over 4 days. ‘The Chief’, Neronian, fought 13, 10 victories, victor. Hilarus, Neronian, fought 14, 12 victories, victor. Creunus, fought 7, 5 victories, reprieved.  CIL IV 10237 Tomb 14 Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • Twenty pairs of Gladiators, belonging to Aulus Suettius Antenio and to his freedman Niger, will fight at Puteoli on the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th of March. There will also be a beast hunt and athletic contests. CIL IV 9970
  • Sold to the wife of Decimus Lucretius Valens: Onustus, horseman of prime quality, Sagatus, Thracian murmillo, prime quality! CIL IV 8590 It would be extremely odd for a wife to buy gladiators on her husband’s behalf. It seems likely that this matron was in fact buying/hiring these gladiators for her own entertainment…
  • 20 pairs of gladiators of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, quinquennial, and their substitutes will fight without any public expense at Pompeii. Greetings to Gavillius Tigellus and Clodius. Greetings to Telephus, head gladiator instructor. Good luck, Diadumenus and Pyladio CIL IV 7991 House of Trebius Valens iii.2.1
  • Good fortune to Gnaeus Alleius Maius, the prince of the games! CIL IV 7990 Palaestra ii.7.7
  • Marcus Casellius Marcellus, a good aedile and a great giver of games CIL IV 4999 House of M Casellius Marcellus ix.2.26
  • Felix, belonging to Cassius, 13 fights 13 wins. Florus, belonging to Octavius, 14 fights 14 wins CIL IV 4378 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • On the 28th of July, Florus won at Nuceria, on the 15th of August, he won at Herculaneum CIL IV 4299 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • On the … Of May, the gladiator troupe of Ampliatus will fight at Formia. There will be a beast hunt, sprinklings and awnings. As the whole world desires to see my troupe, I shall provide games everywhere. CIL IV 1184 Gladiator Barracks viii.7.16
  • You have been victorious in every single one of your bouts! It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World! CIL IV 1111 Amphitheatre ii.6
  • Chariot fighter Philippus from the school of Tettius. 8 fights, 8 wins! CIL IV 4280 House of the Gladiators v.5.3



  • A small problem gets bigger if you ignore it… CIL IV 1811, Basilica, viii.1.1
  • What’s happening? Oh, eyes, you forcibly dragged me into the fire;
    Now, unforced, you flood my cheeks.
    But never can the tears extinguish the flame, t
    hey inflame the face and melt the spirit. Tiburtinus composed this. IV 4966, Odeon, viii.7.19
  • Once you are dead, you are nothing CIL IV 5279 House of the Centennial, ix.8.3
  • Nothing can last for all time: When the Sun has shone brightly it returns to Ocean; the Moon wanes, which recently was full. Even the fierceness of Venus often becomes a mere puff of wind. CIL IV 9123 Shop of Successus ix.13.4
  • Avoid giving killer looks to the wives of others with desirous expressions, harbour modesty in your mouth. CIL IV 7968A House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • Remove lustful expressions and a flirtatious gaze from another man’s wife; may there be modesty in your expression. CIL IV 7968B House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • Postpone your tiresome squabbles if you can, or leave and take them home with you. CIL IV 7968C House of the Moralist iii.4.2
  • When an old man lies on his back, his bollocks cover his arsehole. CIL IV  4488
  • The one who buggers a man on fire burns his penis CIL IV 1882 Basilica viii.1.1
  • He who despises life easily spurns god CIL IV 5370 House of the Arches ix.7.20
  • Beware of wives! CIL IV 4238 Caupona V.2.3
  • The doorman should be awake for those who come bearing gifts. If, however, someone should knock on the door empty handed, the doorman should be deaf or sleeping with the latch firmly shut… CIL IV 1894 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Now, when anger is still fresh, it is time to leave. When grief has departed love shall return. Trust me! CIL IV 4491 House of Sextus Pompeius Axiochus vi.13.19


  • Stranger, my bones beg you not to pee at my tomb: if you want to do the deceased an even bigger favour: take a dump! You see the tomb of Urtica [= ‘Stinging Nettle’]: go away, shitter! It is not safe for you to open your buttocks here. CIL IV 8899 iii.5.4
  • Secundus took a shit here.  (This was written three times on the same wall…) CIL IV 5243 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Lesbianus, you poop and you write, ‘Hi, everybody!’ CIL IV 10070 Shop of Nicanor ii.3.9
  • This is Martha’s dining room, as she shits in this dining room. CIL IV 5244 House of the Centenary ix.8.3 The graffito was found in what is thought to be the slave’s quarters.
  • One day you will understand how I feel. When I need to have a shit I’ll come and shit! CIL IV 5242 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Shitter! Beware misfortune! CIL IV 3832 Caupona of Tertius ix.7.2
  • To the one defecating here.  Beware of the curse.  If you look down on this curse, may you have an angry Jupiter for an enemy! CIL IV 7716 House of Pascius Hermes iii.5.1
  • We have pissed the bed, I confess. We have erred innkeeper, though if you ask us why; there was no chamberpot! CIL IV 4952 Unnamed house viii.7.6


  • Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here five days before the nones of October in the year that Marcus Lepidus and Quintus Catulus were consuls (2nd October 78 BC) CIL IV 1842 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here.  The women did not know of his presence.  Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.  CIL IV 8767 Large Palaestra ii.7
  • Glyco was here with Martialis while the sun was boiling, we were thirsty. CIL IV 89 Tomb 18 Porta Ercolano necropolis
  • We two dear men, friends forever, were here.  If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus. CIL IV 8162 Bar i.7.8


  • Sabinus, my beauty, Hermeros loves you! CIL IV 1256 House of the Tragic Poet vi.8.5. This is just one of many graffiti about love/sex between two men.
  • No young buck is complete until he has fallen in love CIL IV 1787 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Let everyone one in love come and see.  I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins.  If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club? CIL IV 1824 Basilica viii.1.1
  • If you are able, but not willing, why do you put off our joy and kindle hope and tell me always to come back tomorrow.  So, force me to die since you force me to live without you.  Your gift will be to stop torturing me.  Certainly, hope returns to the lover what it has once snatched away. CIL IV 1837 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Love dictates to me as I write and Cupid shows me the way, but may I die if the god should wish me to go on without you! CIL IV 1928 Basilica viii.1.1
  • I’m hurrying to you, my Sava. Try to love me! CIL IV 2414 Corridor into the Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Methe of Atella, slave of Cominia, loves Chrestus. May Venus Pompeiana smile favourably on their hearts and let them always live in harmony. CIL IV 2457 Corridor into the Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Whoever loves, let him flourish.  Let him die who knows not love.  Let him who forbids love die twice over.  CIL IV 4091 House of Caecilius Jucundus v.1.26
  • If you felt the fires of love, mule-driver, you would make far more haste to see Venus.  I love a charming boy; I ask you, goad the mules; let’s go!  Take me to Pompeii, where love is sweet.  You are mine… CIL IV 5092 House of Poppaeus Sabinus ix.5.11
  • Oh, if only I could grasp my gentle arms around you and and give kisses to your delicate little lips. Come now, my little darling, entrust your pleasures to the winds. Believe me, the nature of men is fickle. Often as I have lain awake in a wasted night, I think on these things: many whom Fortuna raised high, now suddenly rush headlong, and fall, overwhelmed by her. Thus, just as Venus joins the bodies of lovers in a moment, daylight divides them and you will separate their love. CIL IV 5296 ix.9.f
  • Marcellus loves Praenestina, but she doesn’t care for him CIL IV 7679 House of Pinarius Cerialis iii.4.b
  • (Written by Severus) – “Successus, a weaver, loves the innkeeper’s slave girl named Iris, She, however, does not love him. Still he begs her to have pity on him. His rival wrote this. Goodbye”(Answer by Successus) – “Envious one, why do you get in the way. Submit to a handsomer man and one who is being treated very wrongly and good looking”(Answer by Severus) – “I have spoken. I have written all there is to say. You love Iris, but she does not love you!” CIL IV 8258 Bar of Prima i.10.2
  • Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is.  I ask, my mistress, that you love me. CIL IV 8364 House of the Cabinetmaker i.10.7
  • My Ceres, may he who loves prosper, who forbids love may he perish badly. I loved Leda, but in a manner in which it was acceptable. Greetings, Tiberius Claudius. I loved Leda – the girl from Samos. CIL IV 9202 House of Caecilius Jucundus v.1.23
  • A blonde girl taught me to scorn brunettes. I will scorn them if I can; if not… I will reluctantly love them CIL IV 9839 Vineyard wall i.11.10
  • Blondie has taught me to hate dark-haired girls.  I shall hate them, if I can, but I wouldn’t mind loving them.  Pompeian Venus Fisica wrote this CIL IC 1520 House of the Scientists vi.14.43
  • Lovers are like bees; they live a honeyed life! CIL IV 8408a Bar of Astylus and Pardalus ii.2.1
  • If only that were true… CIL IV 8408b Bar of Astylus and Pardalus ii.2.1
  • I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world! CIL IV 3061 House of Caprasius Primus vii.2.48
  • If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should take a look at my girl friend! CIL IV 6842 House of Pinarius iv.16.15
  • Greetings to Primigenia of Nuceria.  I would wish to become a signet ring for no more than an hour, so that I might give you kisses dispatched with your signature… CIL IV 10241 Tomb, Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Sarra, you are not being very nice, leaving me all alone like this! CIL IV 1951 Basilica viii.1.1
  • A woman has borne a son of her own; he isn’t mine and doesn’t look like me, but I wish he was mine and I was wanting him to be mine. CIL IV 1877 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Juvenillia was born on Saturday in the second hour of the evening, Aug 2nd. CIL 294 vii.3 Juvenilla was therefore 3 weeks old when Vesuvius erupted.
  • Let him constrain the winds, he who rebukes lovers! And let him him forbid the waters of a stream from continuing to flow! CIL IV 1649 Shop, vii.6.35


  • Hedone says, “You can get a drink here for only one coin.  You can drink better wine for two coins.  You can drink Falernian for four coins.” CIL IV 1679 Bar of Hedone vii.2.44
  • Whoever wants to serve themselves can go on an drink from the sea! CIL IV 3494 Bar of Salvius vi.14.36
  • What a lot of tricks you use to deceive, innkeeper. You sell water but drink unmixed wine!  CIL IV 3498 Workshop of Potitus vi.14.37
  • I fucked the barmaid! cil iv 8442 Caupona of Sotericus i.12.3


Whilst the Romans did have an unwritten code of morality, it seems that their attitude to sex was open, not to be matched until, perhaps, the 20th century. Erotic images taken to the museum in Naples were kept in a secret, locked room that was only opened up to the public in 2005. Whilst the modern idea of constant orgies is inaccurate (and influenced by the early Christian church,) erotic images and graffiti were not limited to brothels and dive bars and were found in the grandest of houses. There is no Latin term for homosexuality as it was not seen as particularly remarkable (even Julius Caesar had an affair with the King of Bithynia,) although a Roman citizen should always seek to be the penetrator, not the penetratee. Fellatio, cunnilingus and heterosexual anal sex were common and frequently advertised by prostitutes. Hookers could be hired for the price of a loaf of bread or beaker of wine, although those with particular talents or services could charge a lot more. Prostitution was legal and regulated and by no means a career solely for women. Visiting prostitutes was not frowned upon and was vastly preferable to seducing another man’s wife/daughter. Some clients even left glowing (and not so complimentary) reviews!

  • Thrust slowly!  (found above a doodle of doggy style sex) CIL IV 794 House of the King of Prussia vii.9.33
  • Atimetus got me pregnant CIL IV 10231 Tomb, Porta Nuceria necropolis
  • I don’t care about your pregnancy, Salvilla; I despise it. CIL IV 8384 House of Minucius i.10.8
  • Fortunatus will fuck you really deep. Come and see, Anthusa! CIL IV 1230 House of the Surgeon vi.1.10
  • Here I’ve finally screwed a beautiful girl, praised by many, but inside there was a mudhole. CIL IV 1516 House of the Scientist vi.14.43
  • My life, my sweetheart, let’s play for a moment, let’s imagine that this bed is a field and that I am your horse… CIL IV 1781 Basilica viii.1.1
  • It is much better to fuck a hairy cunt than a smooth one: it both retains the warmth and stimulates the organ. CIL IV 1830 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right. CIL IV 1863 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Order your cock, it’s time for love! CIL IV 1938 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Restitutus says: “Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy cunt!” CIL IV 3951 Tavern of Verecundus i.2.23
  • Fortunatus, you sweet soul, you mega-fucker. Written by one who knows. CIL IV 4239 House of the Silver Wedding v.2.e
  • My lusty son, with how many women have you banged? CIL IV 5213 House of the Centenary ix.8.3
  • Cock, you are enormous! CIL IV 7089 v.7.4
  • Matrenia with the hot ass CIL IV 8473 Caupona of Hermes ii.1.13
  • Palmyra, you horny beast! CIL IV 8475 Caupona of Hermes ii.1.1
  • Dionysios is allowed to fuck whenever he wants CIL IV 8897 Shop iii.5.3
  • Crescens declares his penis hard and huge! CIL IV 10085b Imperial House ii.1.10
  • Jucundus fucks badly. CIL IV 8715b Large Palaestra ii.7
  • Here I have penetrated my lady’s open buttocks; but it was vulgar of me to write these verses. CIL IV 9246b Villa of the Mysteries
  • Virgula to her friend Tertius: you are so dirtyminded! CIL IV 1881 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Fortuna licks arseholes. CIL IV 4954 House viii.6.5


  • If anyone sits on this bench, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii. CIL IV 1751 Porta Marina
  • If anyone’s looking for tender embraces in this town, he should know that here all the girls are available. CIL IV 1796 Basilica viii.1.1
  • 15 June, Hermeros fucked here with Phileterus and Caphisus CIL IV 2185 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Phoebus the perfumer is the best fuck CIL IV 2184 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Garlicfarticus’ fucked well here whom he wished CIL IV 2188 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Here Harpocras had a good screw with Drauca for a denarius. CIL IV 2193 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • He butt fucks Aplonia, gives it good, Nonius, fucking… CIL IV 2197 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • When you hand over the money, Batacarus, then I’ll fuck you in the arse! CIL IV 2254 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Restituta with the pretty face CIL IV 2202  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Mola the fucktress CIL IV 2204  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18
  • Felicla, slave born of the household, costs 2 asses CIL IV 4023 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Menander, nice manners, costs 2 asses CIL IV 4024 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Successa, slave born of this household, costs 5 asses. She has pretty manners. CIL IV 4025 unnamed house v.1.15
  • Felix costs four asses. Florus ten. CIL IV 7339 unnamed house i.10.3
  • Afillia costs 2 and a half asses CIL IV 7764
  • Communis: 3 asses, Successus: 3 asses, Nicephorus: 2 asses, Amunus: 4 asses, Cresimus, house born slave: 4 asses CIL IV 3964 Bakery i.3.1
  • I’m yours for 2 asses CIL IV 5372 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Athenais costs 2 asses. Sabina costs 2 asses CIL IV 4150 House of Jupiter v.2.15


  • Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you.  Salvius wrote this. CIL IV 2375 House of the Citharist i.4.5
  • Let Damoetas surrender to me and he will be happier than Pasiphae.  Zosimus wrote this. CIL IV 3299 House of M Casellius Marcellus ix.2.26
  • Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity! CIL IV 3932 Bar of Innulus and Papilio i.2.20
  • I have buggered men CIL IV 4523 House of Orpheus vi.14.20
  • Albanus takes it up the arse CIL IV 4917 House of L. Caecilius Phoebus  viii.2.36
  • Lucius Habonius injures Caesonius Felix when he makes him suck his cock CIL IV 10232a Tomb 12 Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Vesbinus is catamite, Vitalius fucked him CIL IV 2319b between vii.2.16 and vii.2.17
  • Cosmus, slave of Equitia, is a great catamite and cocksucker who keeps his legs apart! CIL IV 1825 Basilica viii.1.1
  • I want to bugger a boy CIL IV 2110 Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18


There dozens of references to cunnum recorded in Pompeii. Here are just a few…

  • Satyrus, don’t lick cunt inside the opening but outside the opening. CIL IV 2400 House of M Epidius Sabinus ix.1.22
  • Saturninus, don’t lick cunts! CIL IV 3925 Caupona and brothel of Demetrius and Helpis Afra i.2.19
  • Isidorus, slave born in the household, from Puteoli, muff diver. CIL IV 4699 between vi.15.22 and vi.15.23
  • Theophilus, don’t lick cunts against the city wall like a dog! CIL IV 8898 Shop, iii.5.3
  • Asbestus licks cunt CIL IV 763 viii.4
  • Centius licks Dionusia’s cunt CIL IV 1425 House of the Labyrinth vi.11.10
  • Fronto openly licks pussy CIL IV 2257 Lupanar (brothel) vii.12.18
  • Glyco licks cunts for two asses. CIL IV 3999 Bakery i.3.27
  • Maritimus licks cunt for four asses. Virgins are free of charge CIL IV 8940 Shop, iii.7.1


It’s not a shock to find scores of graffiti mentioning blow jobs, ranging from tips, reviews and prices.

  • Rufa, may life be as good as your cocksucking! CIL IV 2421 Corridor of Large Theatre viii.7.20
  • Sabina, you suck cock, but you do it so badly! CIL IV 4185 House of the Silver Wedding v.2.1
  • Secundus, a cocksucker of rare skill CIL IV 9027 House of the Peristyle vii.6.28
  • Lick, girl!the mouth is not despised by anyone who is ready to come with the hand! CIL IV 10197 House of the Ship Europa i.15.3
  • Romula sucks her man here and everywhere. House of Marcus Fabius Rufus vii.16.22
  • Veneria sucked the cock of Maximus through the whole grape harvest, leaving both of her holes empty and only her mouth full! CIL IV 1391 Lupanare of Aphrodite, Secunda, Nymphe, Spendusa, Veneria, Restituta, Timele VI.11.15
  • Go down with your mouth along the shaft, then still licking, withdraw it upwards. Ah, there, I’m coming! CIL IV 760 Stabian Baths
  • Euplia sucks cock for 5 asses CIL IV 3330
  • Narcissus is the greatest cocksucker CIL IV 1825a Basilica viii.1.1
  • Felix sucks cock for one as CIL IV 5408 Tomb, Porta Nocera necropolis
  • Lais sucks cock for 2 asses CIL IV 1969
  • The man who shits a dick, what would you think he dined on? CIL IV 1884 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Myrtis, you give great head CIL IV 2273  Lupanar (Brothel) vii.12.18


  • Epaphra, you are bald! CIL IV 1816 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Chie, I hope your hemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they every have before! CIL IV 1820 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Phileros is a eunuch!  CIL IV 1826 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself! CIL IV 1864 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Epaphra is not good at ball games. CIL IV 1926 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Good fortune to the Puteolans; good luck to all Nucerians; the executioner’s hook to Pompeians and Pithecusans CIL IV 2183 Amphitheatre
  • Euplia is slack and has a huge clitoris CIL IV 10004 House of the Floral Cubicula i.9.5
  • Lucius Statius Philadelphus, freedman of a woman, is a thief! CIL IV 3990
  • Servilius is n love, he shouldn’t be allowed the chance. Go lick a cunt, Servilius. CIL IV 4304 House of the Gladiators v.5.3
  • Chloe says goodbye to Symphorus. Naeve should drop dead, he really should. CIL IV 4430 House vi.7.1
  • Erotaria, you jealous old bitch! CIL IV 9945 Tomb, Porta Nocera Necropolis


  • A copper pot has gone missing from my shop.  Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 sestertii.  20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief. CIL IV 0064 Shop viii.5.33
  • On April 20th, I gave a cloak to be washed.  On May 7th, a headband.  On May 8th, two tunics CIL IV 1393 Unnamed house vi.11.13
  • It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times CIL IV 1714 vii.1.40
  • Epaphra, give the paintbrush back CIL IV 1787 Basilica viii.1.1
  • Health to whomever invites me to lunch! CIL IV 1937 Basilica viii.1.1
  • On April 19th, I made bread CIL IV 8792 Large Palaestra ii.7
  • If you wish to waste time, spill millet and pick it up again CIL IV 2069 House of Holconius Rufus viii.4.4
  • Since 14 days before the Kalends of April our wages have been overdue CIL IV 6733 Bakery 6733



O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin. CIL IV 1904 Basilica, viii.1.1



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An Easter Execution

If you happen to walk past Westminster Abbey during the day it’s likely that you’ll see a long, snaking queue of tourists leading to the north door. Most of these tourists pay little attention to the smaller church of St Margaret’s that stands to the left of the Abbey entrance.

Seen by most as the Abbey’s dowdy, dull little sibling, most of the tourists lining up for Abbey tickets won’t bother venturing in to St Margaret’s. That’s a shame, as it is a fascinating building. Samuel Pepys was married there, as was John Milton and Winston Churchill. Sir Walter Raleigh is buried in St Margaret’s in the chancel. Raleigh had been beheaded in Old Palace Yard just outside in 1618, charged with plotting with the French. His widow, Elizabeth Throckmorton, carried his severed, embalmed head with her in a red velvet bag for the rest of her life. Tradition states that the head was interred with the rest of the body when their son, Carew, died and was buried next to Walter.

Quite a few London guidebooks mention Raleigh and his execution, along with other executions that took place outside Parliament. Few mention that St Margaret’s is the site of a religious martyrdom. I’ve previously written about how a bloody fight in the Abbey resulted in the death of a monk, but that was not to be the last time that Abbey clergy were to be attacked.

During the reign of Henry VIII England had undergone a religious upheaval, breaking away from Roman Catholicism. The Abbey was dissolved in 1540 along with other monasteries up and down the country. The building was saved from destruction thanks to the ties between to Abbey and royalty with Henry announcing that the Abbey was now a cathedral. When Henry died his youngest child and only son Edward became king and carried on the momentum of the Reformation, pushing further towards Protestantism. Edward died of a horrible illness aged only fifteen. He was unmarried and childless, and despite his best efforts his plan to install his very Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor failed when his furious and incredibly Catholic older sister Mary marched upon London. Mary claimed her throne and eventually had Jane executed. Mary wasted no time in restoring Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the nation, earning the moniker ‘Bloody Mary’ for her eager execution of Protestant ‘heretics.’

The sudden swing back to the ‘old’ ways made life very difficult for those who had embraced the Reformation.

William Flower was born in Cambridgeshire and had become a monk as a youth at the monastery in Ely. He later left, aged 21, eschewing Catholicism for radical Protestantism. He married a woman named Alice Pulton and the couple went on to have two children. They moved frequently with Flower alternating between working as a schoolmaster and physician/surgeon alongside his radical ministry. The family settled in Lambeth, across the river from Westminster. On 14th April 1555, Easter Sunday, William Flower left Lambeth to go to the service taking place in St Margaret’s. Mary I had been on the throne for nearly two years, masses in London churches were now decidedly Catholic. Flower was so overcome with religious zeal when he watched the sacrament being distributed among the congregation that he took his large wood knife and hacked at the head and hands of one of the priests, John Cheltham/Shelton. Cheltham was seriously injured but members of the congregation tore Flower off of him before the attack became fatal. Cheltham’s blood dropped into the sacred wine, tainting it so much that the congregation were forced to leave the church and celebrate the Eucharist elsewhere. The entire church also had to be reconsecrated following the bloodshed. Flower was taken to the gatehouse in Westminster and put in chains.

Such a frenzied attack may be seen as a crime of passion, yet there are aspects of the attack that point to a premeditated suicide mission. Flower had entered the church wearing a placard that read “Fear God, flee from the idol” in Latin. He also had a religious manifesto in his pocket, later admitting that if the congregation had lynched him before he could be arrested, someone could at least read it and understand his motives. Whilst imprisoned he corresponded with his friend, Robert Smith, a fellow radical who was at the time himself incarcerated in Newgate Prison. Flower wrote that he had not previously met Cheltham and had no personal vendetta, and would have attacked any priest distributing the communion that day. He also told Smith that he had been to St Paul’s that morning and could not bring himself to attack anyone, but had felt compelled by the Spirit later that day to go to St Margaret’s with violent intentions, fully expecting to lose his own life in the process. Flower stated that he wasn’t repentant, telling Smith that God has chosen him to carry out his will.

On the 19th of April Flower was brought before Bishop Bonner for interrogation. Flower remained unrepentant and reiterated his belief that, as a Protestant, he did not believe in transubstantiation and that he believed he was doing holy work. Bonner then tried to convince Flower to come back to the Catholic faith, but Flower thanked him and refused. He told Bonner that if he was aware that Bonner had the power  to decide whether he lived or died, but that Bonner could never have power over his soul and that God alone could judge him.

Witnesses to the attack gave statements at a deposition and Bonner charged Flower with heresy, excommunicating him. On the 24th April William Flower was brought to the spot where he was to be executed, outside St Margaret’s church. He addressed the crowd:

O eternal God, most mighty and merciful Father, who hast sent down thy Son upon the earth, to save me and all mankind, who ascended up into heaven again, and left his blood upon the earth behind him, for the redemption of our sins, have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me, for thy dear Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s sake, in whom I confess only to be all salvation and justification, and that there is none other mean, nor way, nor holiness, in which or by which any man can be saved in this world.– This is my faith, which I beseech all men here to bear witness of.

After then reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Flower was given one last chance to recant. He refused. His right arm, with which he had attacked the priest, was chopped off and his left was tied behind him to the stake on which he was to be burned. The faggots provided for the execution were insufficient to provide a large enough fire to kill Flower quickly. Holding up his severed arm for as long as he could, he prayed for God to receive his soul. The executioners had to prod him with bills into the hottest part of the fire, eventually pulling him down to a lying position into the embers. Even so, the fire still only reached his navel. Still conscious, spectators could still see his tongue move in his mouth as the bottom half of his body was consumed. It took a long time for William Flower to die.

The botched execution gave William Flower an unnecessarily cruel and prolonged death. He was the sixteenth person to die for his faith under the reign of Bloody Mary. His friend Robert Smith later would use their letters to shift public perceptions of Flower from crazed lunatic to religious martyr before himself falling victim of the Marian persecutions and being executed in August that same year, the fortyfirst to die.

284 people were executed for their faith during the 5 year reign of Bloody Mary, the last a mere 2 days before Mary herself died in 1558.Upon her death, Mary’s sister Elizabeth became Queen and quickly set about once again moving the country away from Catholicism. Bishop Bonner, a man who had been ruthlessly efficient in executing heretics, was imprisoned and died in the Marshalsea in 1569, still trying to convert others to his Catholic faith. He too has earned the moniker ‘Bloody.’ Westminster Abbey and, by extension, St Margaret’s, were once more converted into Anglican churches and have remained so ever since. Despite this, William Flower and his attack on John Cheltham are conspicuously missing from the official Westminster Abbey website and his story is not included on the audioguide. His name doesn’t feature on any memorial or monument. William Flower does live on, however, in John Foxe’s Book of of Actes and Monuments, AKA Book of Martyrs, first published in 1563.






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Veneto Adventure Travel Journal – Verona Day 2

19 April 2016

My last day in the Veneto region begins with grey rain, a sombre reminder that soon I return to a damp Britain. Mercifully, since I’m staying right by the amphitheatre, I only have a short walk to the Museo Lapidario Maffeiano. This epigraphic museum was founded by Scipione Maffei in 1714 and the collection has slowly grown ever since. It features inscriptions in Greek as well as Etruscan and Latin. The museum is right next to the Gates of the Bra.

After an hour or so the rain has disappeared and I’m impatient to the amphitheatre, which has been sitting there, tempting me, since I arrived yesterday morning.


The amphitheatre was built in the 1st century AD. There was a further, outer ring that has since been mostly lost following the earthquake of 1117. It reached as far as the lamppost in the right of the photo. By the time of the earthquake, the amphitheatre was already nearly a millennium old.


What is visible here would actually have been enclosed, the arches housed stairways up to the seating and walkways circling the seating areas.


The only existing part of the original facade stands on the side farthest from the Piazza Bra.


The arena is used for performances each summer and I’m lucky that there aren’t more areas shut off for modern staging. Musing as I always do as to why the Romans insisted on making their stairs so bloody steep, it’s time to explore.


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The amphitheatre could hold 30,000 spectators for gladiatorial games and beast hunts (such as the hunt staged by a widower for the funeral of his late wife, much to the approval of his friend Pliny the Younger. Pliny commiserates that the panthers had not arrived from Africa in time due to bad weather.) It was built circa 30 AD making it half a century older than the more famous Colosseum in Rome. It is the third biggest Roman arena, smaller than only the Colosseum and the amphitheatre of Capua (slated to be on my 2017 travel list.) It’s one of the best preserved I’ve yet seen and this apparently is due to uncommonly careful preservation over the centuries and solid construction. Like Rome and Capua, Verona boasted a Gladiator school and Games held here drew crowds from the entire region (useful, as the entire population of Roman Verona could not entirely fill it alone.)

We know the names of some of the gladiators who fought at Verona. A secutor named Aedonius died in his eighth bout, aged 26. A retiarius named Generosus boasts on his tombstone that he, a native of Alexandria, fought 27 times in Verona. He managed to retire with enough money to live well until he died, comfortably in his bed. Another retiarius, Glaucus, was from Modena. He fought eight times, defeated in his last. His tomb was put up by his wife Aurelia and his devoted fans. His funerary inscription warns the reader to thoroughly read their horoscopes. Don’t trust Nemesis, she will deceive you! He died aged 23 years and 5 days.

In 312 AD the forces of Emperor Maxentius barricaded themselves inside the amphitheatre and were besieged by Constantine, fresh from successfully defeating their comrades in Turin and Milan. Ruricius Pompeianus, Maxentius’ praetorian prefect, slipped from the city to raise more troops to defend Verona and returned to fight Constantine on open ground. Even with his new recruits and the large garrison in the amphitheatre, Pompeianus was defeated and killed in the battle. Contantine went on to finally defeat Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Constantine depicted the siege of Verona on his triumphal arch in Rome three years later.

Shortly after Christianity became the official religion, pagan Games were banned and the amphitheatre lay disused until after the fall of the Empire.  The Goths likely used it to stage entertainments, and when Verona was under the rule of the noble Scaliger family (aka Scala) (1226-1387) the arena was used in a more judiciary sense. Legal disputes could be settled with duels, except that instead of sword fights, the two sides chose a wrestler to represent them. Dante attended at least one such event, and described it in The Inferno.

No record exists of Christians being martyred by the Romans in the arena (although it is of course likely,) but Alberto I della Scala had nearly 200 patarini from Sirmione burnt at the stake inside the arena in 1278. Two years before, he made it illegal for anyone but prostitues to live inside the amphitheatre arches (a millennium after their Roman forebears had also plied their trade here,) and closed off the auditorium. In 1310, Alberto made it an offence to break through the doors into the auditorium or to urinate and defecate there, punishable by fine. Later, under Venetian rule, these laws were expanded to include punishment for anyone who tried to remove the fabric of the amphitheatre for building material. It wasn’t until 1537 that prostitutes were evicted from the arches, which now became workshops and stalls for craftsmen. The arena started to be used for tournaments which continued until 1716. The arena was then used by travelling troupes of comedic actors, dancers and musicians. Bull baiting also became popular, although Goethe was of the opinion that the arena was better suited to soccer. Following the French invasion, Napoleon Bonaparte twice watched bulls being hunted by dogs inside the arena (when he wasn’t using the building as a prisoner-of-war camp for captured Austrians.)

In 1820 the craftsmen in the arches were evicted so that restoration work could take place. After this, the arena was used for more genteel entertainments, such as acrobatics, horse racing and music. Opera was first performed in the amphitheatre in 1856. Ten years later Victor Emanuele II visited the arena for a festival celebrating the annexation of the Veneto into the Kingdom of Italy. There is an equestrian statue of him in the Piazza Bra. Operatic performances became more popular and numerous following a performance of Aida in 1913 and continue annually to this day. It also now hosts rock and pop concerts.

It’s a pleasant stroll down the Via Roma to Castelvecchio, the enormous manor house cum fortress built for the Scaliger family in the fourteenth century. It is possibly on the site of a Roman fort. Work was begun under Cangrande II della Scala, ironically the fortress didn’t prevent his assassination at the hands of his own brother. Completed following his death, Castelvecchio was still an effective deterrent against the House of Gonzaga in Mantua and the Sforzas in Milan.

Utilised as a barracks and prison by the Venetians (who added cannon,) French, (Napoleon always stayed here when in Verona,) and Austrians, the building is suitably intimidating. Castelvecchio became a barracks under Italian rule before becoming the home of the Civic museum in 1924.

Castelvecchio just as the sun is starting to set #igers_verona #Verona

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Next to Castelvecchio is the Arco dei Gavi.

Walking north-east along the Corso Cavour I reach the Porta Borsari, a Roman gateway into Verona.

Further along is the Piazza della Erbe. This is the site of the Roman forum and remains the heart of Verona. It’s a truly beautiful space and surrounded by beautiful buildings.

At the thinner end of the Piazza is the late-Renaissance Palazzo Maffei. This was once the site of the Capitolium, hinted at by the statues of Roman divinities decorating the balustrade (the statue of Hercules is thought to be Roman and from the original temple.)


Palazzo Maffei


Domus Mercatorum AKA Casa dei Mercanti

The Merchant House (Domus Mercatorum) was built by Alberto I della Scala in 1301 (although the Gothic crenellations are a a 19thC addition,)  and provided a home for guilds of merchants.

More eyecatching are the tower houses that now feature shops and restaurants on ground level. Look above the parasols and the houses of the Piazza are covered in frescoes.



The rear of the Mazzanti houses


The Fountain of Our Lady of Verona was commissioned by the Scaglieri family in 1368. The statue is originally Roman and was found a few metres away in the ancient Capitolium.The basin is also Roman in origin and comes from a bath complex.


The Berlina (right) was erected in 1207 (although this is not the original,) and is almost impossible to photograph as it is usually a convenient bench for the hot and weary. The new podesta (governor) and judges would sit here to be sworn in. It was also used as a pillory for criminals and the severed heads of executed thieves could be displayed on it.


Il Palazzo Comunale and the Torre dei Lamberti




At the base of the Torre dei Lamberti, head through the Arco della Costa to the Piazza dei Signori

As I wander in, the Piazza dei Signori is as calm as the Piazza delle Erbe is bustling.


The Palazzo del Podestà stands on Roman ruins and was built by the Scaliger family as a residence. Dante stayedhere during his exile from Florence. Under the Venetians it became a seat of the judiciary and a new archway (complete with Lion of St Mark) was built to replace the original entrance.


The Palazzo del Consiglio was built 1475-92 and is usually attributed to a Dominican monk cum architect named Giocondo. Council meetings were held here. The five statues on top represent five famous Veronese men during the Roman period: the poets Catallus and Aemilius Macer, the architect Vitruvius, Pliny the Elder (who died in the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius,) and biographer Cornelius Nepos.


A medieval tower of the  Palazzo di Cansignorio AKA Palazzo Capitano





The facade of the Palazzo della Ragione


The Torre dei Lamberti looks down on the Scala della Ragione


Just off the Piazza dei Signori are the Scaglieri tombs. They’re suitably impressive fro a family that ruled Verona for nearly two centuries.


The top of the tomb of Cansignorio della Scala


The tomb of Cangrande I della Scala is placed above the door of the Church of Santa Maria Antica.

Cangrande I first came into power, aged eighteen, at the suggestion of his brother Alboino. Whereas this does seem young, he had already successfully led Veronese troops into battle aged fourteen during a war against Ferrara and, upon the signing of a peace treaty, offered his little brother co-rulership in 1308. The brothers were allies of the Holy Roman Empire and soon became instrumental in asserting Ghibelline prominence in the region. In 1311 the brothers were chosen to head the Imperial army and successfully liberated Vicenza from Paduan rule. Cangrande was forced to miss the coronation of Emperor Henry VII to be with Alboino, who died of illness later that year. Alboino had two legitimate sons, but Mastino and Alberto were still only toddlers. Cangrande was now the sole ruler of Verona.

Cangrande I was noted for his good nature (although his temper was infamous,) and his ability to befriend people of all backgrounds. He enjoyed debate and fostered a court of poets, painters and academics. He was patron of Dante, who was exiled from Florence and spent a good deal of time in Verona. Dante even heaps praise on Cangrande in his Divine Comedy. Cangrande was deeply religious and devoted to the Virgin Mary, and always fasted for two days and week.

Cangrande I was a great military leader and successfully asserted Veronese control in the region, consolidating and expanding territory. His first act as sole ruler was to assume control of Vicenza with Imperial approval, filling the power vacuum left by the defeating Paduans. When Henry VII died two and a half years later in 1313, the Paduans soon attempted to retake Vicenza, marching overnight to launch a surprise attack in 1314. When Cangrande heard the news he immediately rode out, arriving in Vicenza in a mere three hours. He mounted a war horse and, swinging a mace, led his troops into battle. His lack of hesitation and his courage led to a decisive victory. A peace treaty wherein Padua acknowledged his rule over Vicenza was signed a month later. Hostilities with Padua did continue until 1320 when Cangrande found himself so outnumbered (and himself wounded by an arrow to the leg,) that he signed a peace treaty. A military man at heart, Cangrande was never going to be completely contented living life at court and was back waging war by 1322. In 1328 finally assumed rule over Padua. Less than a year later he was in a solid position to assume control of Treviso, another city that had long been in his crosshairs. A writer named Niccolo de Rossi dryly remarked that Cangrande would be ‘King of Italy within a year.’ Cangrande besieged the city and, low of supplies, the gates were quickly opened. However, Cangrande had fallen ill, and died, aged 38, four days after he triumphantly marched into Treviso.

His body was carried back to Verona where it now lays in the tomb pictured above. With no legitimate sons, his nephews Mastino and Alberto inherited his titles and rule of the cities Cangrande had conquered. Mastino had Cangrande’s doctor hanged shortly afterwards.

In 2004 an autopsy was carried out on the mummified remains of Cangrande. He was 5’8” and had a strong physique. Analysis of faecal matter and liver tissue revealed fatal amounts of digitalis, a poison derived from foxgloves. Stomach samples revealed that the poison had been masked with chamomile and mulberry. Nearly seven centuries after his death, Cangrande I was revealed to be a murder victim. The Duke of Milan and the Republic of Venice both had reasons to curb Verona’s aggressive expansion whilst not wanting an outright war, however Mastino, Cangrande’s own nephew, was himself ruthlessly ambitious. Did he bribe the doctor to poison his uncle, only to hang him before the doctor could implicate him?



Tomb of Mastino II

Whatever the truth, Mastino II della Scala most definitely benefitted from the death of his uncle, and if Venice or Milan were responsible in hopes for a quieter Verona, they were disappointed. Mastino persevered with the policy of Veronese expansion, taking over  Brescia, Parma and Lucca within six years.Unfortunately, although Mastino proved to be a capable general he lacked the eloquence, grace and mercy of Cangrande I.

Florence , Siena , Bologna , Perugia and the Venetian Republic formed an anti-Veronese League shortly after Lucca fell. Mastino was able to defend himself for a year, but the League kept growing, with Milan, Ferrara, Mantua and the Papal States quickly condemning Mastino. In 1337 Padua, the city that Cangrande had taken 16 years to conquer, opened her gates to a Florentine-Venetian army and Mastino’s brother Alberto was taken to Venice as prisoner. Mastino II watched in horror as city after city fell to the League. By April 1338, the armies of the League reached the walls of Verona. Besieged, Mastino started to see traitors and plotters everywhere. In August he murdered his uncle Bartolomeo, Bishop of Verona,running him through with a sword in front of the Bishop’s Palace. A rival of Bartolomeo’s had whispered to Mastino that the Bishop was betraying Verona for Venice.  Mastino, on top of being besieged, now found himself excommunicated.

The walls proved impregnable, but the siege was costly. In 1339 Mastino II had no choice but to sign a peace treaty with humiliating terms. The Scala family would be reduced to ruling Verona and Vicenza, the other cities were distributed to members of the League. His brother Albert was released from his Venetian prison and was allowed to return home. The brothers never did reclaim their former glory, dying in 1351 and 1352 respectively.


Tomb of Cansignorio

Mastino II had three legitimate sons, Cangrande, Paolo Alboino and Cansignorio. Cangrande II inherited Veronese rule upon his father’s death. He has the dubious honour of being the target of assassination not only from his two brothers but his illegitimate half-brother Fregnano as well.

Cangrande II was infamous for his tough rule that nearly crippled an already weakened city. He was ruthless, ambitious and utterly merciless. After three years in power, Cangrande II visited Bolzano. Fregnano took the opportunity to seize power in Verona and proclaim himself ruler with the aid of the Gonzaga family. Cangrande II hastily returned to Veronaand a bloody battle was fought on the Ponte Navi on February 5th, 1354. Fregnano fell into the river Adige and drowned. Days later, his bloated corpse was fished out and put up on display in the Piazza delle Erbe.

Increasingly paranoid, Cangrande II constructed the Castelvecchio and surrounded himself with Teutonic knights loaned to him by his brother-in-law, Ludwig of Brandenburg. It did him no good, in December 1359 Cangrande II was ambushed by his brothers Cansignorio and Paolo Alboino, who murdered him near the church of St Euphemia. The remaining brother ruled together until 1365, when Cansignorio accused Paolo Alboino of treason (likely a trumped up charge,) and had him imprisoned.

Cansignorio now ruled Verona alone, a city now devastated by war, famine and disease. The glittering court of Cangrande I was a distant memory as the bright talents in arts and literature sought patronage elsewhere. He soon set about trying to restore some former glory, with ambitious building plans drawn up and taxes raised to pay for their execution.

Cansignorio was apparently not a physically strong man, and died in 1375 aged only 35. On his death bed, however, he arranged for the assassination of his imprisoned brother Paolo Alboino, so that there would be no obstructions to his own bastard sons assuming control. Bartolomeo, in a mirror of the previous generation, was stabbed 26 times by his younger brother Alberto in 1381.

The three main tombs of the Arche Scaglieri mark the rise and fall of a dynasty, if only all who viewed them now realised how much blood was spilt by their owners.

My fascination with medieval violence sated, I stroll to the nearby Porta Leoni, another roman gate that lies at the end of the old cardo maximus road. Less is left standing than the Porta Borsari, but excavations underneath the modern road have been left uncovered to view.

I have just enough time for a stroll to soak up as much Veronese atmosphere as possible before my final stop.


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Love notes left at 'Juliet's House' #verona #igersverona

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I’ve fallen in love with Verona from ground level so it only makes sense to view the city from above as my time left slips away. For a small fee, it’s possible to get an elevator up the Torre dei Lamberti.

Views from Torre dei Lamberti #igersverona #verona

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And with that, it’s time to walk down the streets that still follow the ancient Roman paths down to the amphitheatre, pick up my backpack and head to the airport. On the plane home I decide that my daughter will be old enough for a trip in October when we will both be celebrating birthdays. And so I start planning a trip to Greece…


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Veneto Adventure Travel Journal – Verona Day 1

18 April 2016

I wake up in a tiny B&B a mere few dozen yards from a huge Roman amphitheatre. Life is good. I don’t usually mention the restaurants and hotels that I use, but the owner of the B&B Principe All’Arena is such a charming gentleman that I will happily endorse him here for any traveller to Verona with a limited budget. He was easily the warmest host this trip.

I was adamant that I was going to include Verona on my trip. The city predates the Romans, becoming a colony around 300 BC. The Romans have lured me here; the architecture left behind from the various rulers who followed are a delightful bonus. It’s a Monday, the day when Italian museums traditionally close. Verona is blessed with numerous beautiful churches for me to explore instead. First however, I need to spend a bit of time soaking up the ancient atmosphere outside the arena.

First church of the day is the Basilica San Zeno. I purchase a Verona Tourist Card instead of delving around for a handful of coins, particularly since the Verona card will grant me access to everything that I’ve come to see.


There has been a religious structure here since the 4th century AD when a small church was built next to the tomb of the eighth Bishop of Verona, a North African man named Zeno. Zeno was made a saint after his death (sources differ on whether his death was a martyrdom,)  and became patron  saint of Verona. The original church was replaced with a romanesque basilica and monastery in the 9th century, but what we see today is the result of a rebuilding and enlargement following an earthquake that hit Verona in 1117.

I can’t recall visiting a church with an open, split level before. The presbytery is higher than the rest of the church, whilst stairs lead down to the crypt beneath. It’s a beautiful effect in an already beautiful church.


13thC  statues of Christ and the Apostles line the balustrade separating the nave and presbytery levels.

I decide to head into the crypt first, optimistically claimed by some to be the wedding chapel of Romeo and Juliet…



The coffin of St Zeno



The crypt is a church within the church and each of the 49 columns has a unique capital.



The basilica is decorated with several frescoes from the 13th and 14th centuries. They depict religious scenes for the benefit of the illiterate congregation.




George and the Dragon

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Bronze panels decorate the door


After San Zeno I walk back east, passing Castelvecchio and the arena on the way to the Church of San Fermo and Rustico.


Firmus and Rusticus were Christian martyrs, tortured and beheaded under Emperor Maximian for refusing to make pagan sacrifices. The church is supposedly built on or near to the site of their execution.


The upper church


The pulpit and frescoes date from 1396


This structure encloses the choir



The lower church is accessed via stairs in the right transept.

Walking north along the River Aldige it’s a short walk to the Basilica Sant’Anastasia. The rather plain ( and technically unfinished) facade hides a truly beautiful interior.


The building of the Basilica began in 1290 and was mainly finished by 1323 with further building completed between 1423 and 1481.


The Basilica of Sant'Anastasia #igersverona #ig_verona

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Look up. #igersverona #ig_verona

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It’s only a short walk to the Cathedral and I’m disappointed to find it temporarily closed to the public. As a consolation, the Baptistery and Church of St Helen are still accessible.

The Chiesa Sant’Elena is on the site that Saint Zeno laid down the first Christian church in Verona.

The Chiesa di San Giovanni in Fonte was originally the cathedral baptistery. The octagonal font is carved from a  single block of stone and dates to the 13th century. The reliefs depict scenes from the Annunciation to the Baptism of Christ.


After a spot of lunch, keeping a wary eye on a grey cloud threatening to turn black, it’s time for the ancient theatre and archaeological museum accompanying it. I’m not surprised to find it closed, it is becoming somewhat of a curse for me whenever I visit Italy to find the things I most want to see shut or covered in scaffolding.

Grumpy, I decide to climb up the Scalinata Castel S Pietro, a stairway up the hill to an Austrian barracks built over an older castle that had been built on the site of a Roman temple. Naturally, to add to my frustration, the Castel is inaccessible behind chain link fences because of some renovation works. The panoramic views from the piazzale and the glimpses of the theatre on the way up are enough to cheer me up, though…

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A few hours now sadly left free, I wander around Verona before choosing a restaurant just off the Piazza Bra by the amphitheatre. The restaurants facing the piazza look touristy and expensive but mine, Le Cantine de l’Arena has al fresco seating tucked in the Piazzetta Scaletti Rubiani where I can happily dine on gnocchi with walnuts in a gooey Monte Veronese cheese sauce whilst gazing at the arena as the night gets darker.

I can’t resist a bit of night time photography on my last night of the trip.



Palazzo Barbieri


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Sicily comes to Blighty

As some readers of my travel journals may know, I visited Sicily in the spring of 2015 for an exhaustive study trip. Sicily is a ridiculously easy place to fall in love with despite her flaws. I’ve grown increasingly fascinated with the rich history of the island and I’ve been lapping up stories from her history since I returned. It’s a place of stark contrasts, irresistable food and dramatic landscapes. However, for my money the main draws are the archaeological sites. In particular, Greek colonists took their homegrown architecture and supersized it, everything seems bigger and ever so slightly flamboyant. A temple on Sicily is a Greek temple on steroids.

Come to Sicily for the temples, stay for the multi faceted history of the peoples who erected them.

Whether you have a penchant for military history, naval warfare, underwater archaeology or even (whisper it) a secret flirtation with medieval history, Sicily draws you in with a warm, lemon scented hug.

I was therefore very pleased to learn that two major museums on my home turf were to have Sicilian themed exhibitions this summer. The British Museum has an exhibition called Culture and Conquest running until August 14th and the Ashmolean has Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas until September 25th.

I decided to visit both in two days with a lecture thrown in for good measure to fondly reminisce and hopefully see some of the pieces that I missed due to the Palermo museum closure. If only Maria Grammatico could also make the trip north my 48 hours would be complete!

And so to the British Museum (as if I ever need an excuse…) for a dose of wide eyed wonder and lots of contented sighs.

The larger exhibition space was taken up by Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (which I’ll describe later,) and so the Sicily exhibition was rather restricted in scale.

Last year I was cursing the temporary closure of the Regional Archaeological Museum Antonio Salinas in Palermo. At every archaeological site on the western side of the island were signs declaring that the statue/frieze/metope from this temple/sanctuary/city could be found on display in Palermo. I was denied entry to an Aladdin’s cave. This London exhibition would be, I hoped, my chance to catch up on missed treasures.

Not so much…

The exhibition had large posters of Sicilian sites that made me long to return but was, for my insatiable appetite, a little light on actual exhibits. Call me greedy, but the sheer volume of artifacts in even the teeniest of provincial Sicilian museums can spoil a girl. What British museums do increasingly do well is signage. The BM had lots of large maps and info boards to give context to what was on show. Cohesion was sometimes lacking on my trip with some Italian museums preferring to group artifacts by type rather than giving a chronological narrative. I also don’t have to worry about my abysmal grasp of the Italian language…

I would have loved to take a few photos but they were forbidden. I find this policy a bit strange, there were no restrictions on the exact same pieces when they were displayed at their homes in Sicilian museums. For blogging purposes I’ll use my photos from last year.

I enjoyed seeing a few familiar friends like this marble statue of a warrior from Akragas (Agrigento.) The BM has beautifully lit this piece, (far better than Agrigento Archaeological Museum, if I’m honest…) so it was a shame not to be able to photograph him this time around, but for nostalgia purposes it was great to see him again.

Temple of Concord #valledeitempli #agrigento #sicily

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The exhibition is a perfect introduction ti Sicilian history so while I didn’t learn anything new at the BM this time around, I did get to see a few nice pieces that I hadn’t managed to get to last year. In particular there were some lovely exhibits from Gela.

This snake-headed bracelet (one of a pair) and gold ring were discovered on Sicily with hoards of gold and silver coins. All were deliberately buried by their owner, who intended to recover them but never returned. Around this time, about 330–300 BC, there was political unrest on the island and the added threat of attack from invading forces. For much of its history, Sicily was admired and envied for its wealth and fertility. In Greek Sicily, wealth was displayed through sumptuously decorated homes and gold jewellery like this. Learn more about the rise of Greek Sicily and its lasting impact in our #SicilyExhibition, until 14 August 2016. Gold bracelet and ring. Found at Avola, Sicily, about 330–300 BC. #jewellery #bracelet #Sicily #gold #ancientGreece

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These 2,000-year old terracotta figures depict the gods of #love. Scantily clad and casually poised, Aphrodite and winged Eros are typical of the terracotta and pottery workshops of the town of Centuripe in Greek Sicily. Terracotta modellers and potters in Centuripe favoured large, flamboyant, brilliantly coloured figures. Although sometimes found in graves, these may originally have been made to decorate the houses of the rich. Rivalling the most culturally dynamic Greek regions, Sicily became an arena for artists and intellectuals during this period. See these wonderful objects in our #SicilyExhibition, until 14 August 2016. Terracotta figures of the gods of love, painted after firing. Centuripe, #Sicily, about 200 BC. #Italy #history #ancientGreece

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The highlight of the day instead came from the accompanying lecture given by Dr Michael Scott. I had high expectations having been so impressed with his book about Delphi (as I reviewed here) that I eagerly devoured in the weeks running up to my trip to Delphi in May 2014 (insert shameless plug for my travel journal here…) Modern historians can so easily over simplify their subject to patronise their readers/viewers (mentioning no names of course!) or conversely wrap themselves up in a dense fug of academia in an arrogant attempt to repel the casual audience members. Dr Scott mercifully does neither in his books or broadcasts.

Dr Scott chose to talk about ancient Sicily not from what they left behind them at home, but abroad. As an expert on Delphi it was not a surprise that the sanctuary featured heavily along with Olympia. Personally I was thrilled to learn of the many ways my two favourite places in the ancient world were linked.

It’s important to remember that Delphi was the centre of the world for Greeks and if Sicilian cities wanted to make an impression on the world they needed to head to Delphi to do it. One could never set foot on Sicilian soil, but by visiting Delphi they would have been able to see Sicilian art and architecture, read of the exploits of Sicilians tyrants, watch Sicilian athletes, listen to Sicilian musicians and have a chat with any Sicilians also making a pilgrimage.

I visited Delphi 12 months before Sicily, otherwise I may have noticed just how many Sicilian connections are there.

For instance, I didn’t pay that much attention to this base before and I can’t recall reading a sign about it. Even if I had, Gelon was a name that had popped up in my reading but I probably wouldn’t become well acquainted with the tyrant of Gela and Syracuse for another year.

The base once supported a bronze column topped with a statue of Nike with a tripod above her. Gelon had erected this close to the temple of Apollo within a stone’s throw of the serpent column and tripod celebrating the Greek victory over the Persian invaders at Plataia in 479BC. Gelon’s structure was a celebration over his victory at Himera over the Carthaginians. Gelon was apparently very keen for the Greek world to know that his victory over a worthy foe was just as important and deserving of respect as a victory over Persians (which was a war that Gelon coincidentally refused to contribute to…)


On the right, (which to my shame, I did not bother fitting in the frame) can be seen another base of another tripod dedicated by Gelon’s brother and successor, Hieron I. According to Dr Scott, Hieron made sure his monument was ever so slightly more impressive that of his brother, today only the slightly larger base leaves a clue.

Hieron left a greater impression on Delphi than his tripod, however. It seems a little strange that one of the highlights of the Delphi museum should be Sicilian.

Four years after defeating the Etruscans in naval combat at Cumae (initiating the decline of Etruscan dominance in Italy,) Hieron balanced his tyrant duties with being a top ranking athlete. He won the the chariot race in the Pythian Games at Delphi in 470BC, inspiring Pindar to write his 1st Pythian Ode. Hieron continued to compete at Delphi and Olympia picking up further prizes.

Hieron commissioned the bronze statue to commemorate his athletic prowess and installed it close to the temple of Apollo. It originally also featured four bronze horses along with slaves holding their reins, now sadly lost.

The lecture was fascinating and I am now pining to return to Sicily AND Delphi. I could write far more, instead I urge you to keep an eye on the Hellenic Society YouTube channel as everything was filmed.

Should anyone spot a lecture by Dr Scott, I urge you to grab a ticket. Watching anyone talk about a subject they so evidently love is always a joy to watch and Dr Scott is so effortlessly engaging it is impossible not to be swept up with him. I only wish I could persuade him to actually guide me around Sicily and Delphi instead of a lecture room in London.

Should you be brazen enough, Dr Scott was also gracious enough to chat with a few of us afterwards and was a delight to talk to. I left the museum with a spring in my step.

The following day it was the turn of the Ashmolean. I have a deep love of underwater archaeology as I find a certain romance to things being found where they were never meant to be. Little stirs my soul like a shipwreck does, so the Ashmolean exhibition called to me like a siren.

Again, no photography, again, no one in Sicily cared…


Hercules has made the journey from Catania to Oxford for a holiday…


This statue was brought up from the sea floor off the coast of Lilybaeum, now known as Marsala. It’s possible to tell which side of the statue was safely buried and which side was exposed to currents and sea life.

It was lovely to see part of the exhibition dedicated to the work of underwater archaeoligy pioneer Honor Frost. I’d had the pleasure of viewing the jewel of her maritime excavations when I went to Marsala to see the remains of a Carthaginian warship sunk off of the Egadi islands.



The Ashmolean exhibition added to my excitement by including several bronze rams found on the seafloor. One Carthaginian ram displayed the dents made by bashing into a Roman ship, a Roman ram still had a chunk of Carthaginian ship wedged in. It’s strange to think that had they not fallen into the sea, these rams would have been carted off to Rome to adorn the rostrum in the Forum.

The Ashmolean puts on a good show, but so far I’ve yet to see anyone (including the Underwater Archaeology Museum in Bodrum!!!) put on a better exhibition about shipwrecks than the 2014 Antikythera show at the National Archaeology Museum in Athens. I fear I’ve been spoiled for life…


Statue from the Antikythera shipwreck

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The Bloody History of Two American Labyrinths Part 2 – The Murder Castle

Following on from The House That Bullets Built we come to our second American maze, just as tragic as the Winchester mansion but far more violent.

Herman Webster Mudgett was born in New Hampshire in 1861. He developed a fascination with death at an early age. When Mudgett was 17 he married his first wife Clara Lovering. Within a few years they had a son named Robert. To support his young family (and to indulge in his morbid obsessions,) Mudgett enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School and graduated in 1884. Whilst studying he devised an insurance fraud scam. Mudgett broke into the school laboratories and stole corpses. He would take out life insurance policies on the deceased and would then carefully disfigure the bodies to make it look as if death had been accidental. He collected the insurance pay outs and had the added joy of experimenting on dead bodies.

A few years after graduating Mudgett moved to Chicago to become a pharmacist. Along the way he’d married another woman bigamously and fathered a daughter. He also ditched his memorable name and called himself Henry Howard Holmes. ‘Holmes’ applied for a job in 1886 at a Chicago drugstore belonging to Dr Holton. Holton was bedridden, dying of cancer. His wife was struggling to run the store by herself as well as nurse her husband. Mudgett offered his services and Mrs Holton gratefully accepted. Spotting an opportunity, ‘Holmes’ made sure that he soon become indispensable to the frazzled Mrs Holton. He used his charisma to charm her and his pharmaceutical skills to give her time to tend to her dying husband. Soon Mudgett was running the show. Dr Holton died shortly afterwards and Mudgett made his move on the grieving widow. Mudgett offered to buy the store from Mrs Holton and promised that she could carry on living in the upstairs accommodation without having to worry about moving or earning a crust. He mortgaged the entire contents of the drugstore to pay Mrs Holton. However, Mudgett defaulted on the repayments. Mrs Holton was furious, and threatened to take Mudgett to court. Mrs Holton disappeared soon after. Having ‘taken care’ of Mrs Holton, Mudgett made sure to tell the town gossips that Mrs Holton had gone to California to be with relatives, needing comfort after the tragic death of her husband. After a while he added that she had decided to stay, to live out her retirement among family.

Having grown a taste for murder, Mudgett began work on a massive project that would satisfy his homicidal needs. The lot opposite the drugstore came up for sale and Mudgett bought it, intending to build a new drugstore within a massive hotel of his own design.


Mudgett concocted a bizarre plan that spread dozens of rooms over 3 floors plus basement and took up the entire width of the block. The ground floor comprised of shops, including the drugstore, whilst the top floors could offer plenty of accommodation for tourists. Mudgett hired several crews of builders to construct his creation. It was quickly nicknamed ‘The Castle’ by locals who watched on curiously as Mudgett fired contractor after contractor. No crew lasted long on the site, always being dismissed quickly with Mudgett refusing to pay wages or material costs due to ‘unsatisfactory work.’ Mudgett couldn’t risk any contractor noticing how peculiar the plans were….


murdercastle-Page 40


The floor plan was a warren of secret passages, concealed entrances, staircases leading to dead ends or sheer drops and windowless rooms with doors that couldn’t be opened from the inside. There were chutes and fake elevators from the accommodation levels leading to the basement, which boasted two kilns each large enough to fit a person as well as an autopsy room, vats of acid and pits of quicklime.

By 1893 the hotel was officially opened for business, conveniently launching in time for the World’s Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World. The fair was to last for 5 months and was expected to attract millions of tourists to Chicago. Exhibits were to include marvellous new electrical inventions, technological advances and world famous musicians. Even Antonin Dvorak conducted an orchestra at the fair. There was a replica Viking ship and the first ever Ferris wheel. The entire event was a stunning success, with 5 million visitors each month. The fair even inspired the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz novel by Frank L Baum.

Conveniently for Mudgett, these 25 million visitors were in need of a place to stay whilst they indulged in the carnival atmosphere. The Castle was soon doing a roaring trade, particularly with young, single women. He also hired female hotel staff who were required to take out life insurance policies naming Mudgett as sole beneficiary, old habits die hard!) who lodged in the top storey.

Mudgett started to prey on the lone travellers and vulnerable young employees utilising some truly sadistic architectural traps. The inescapable rooms were sound-proofed. Mudgett would hold his victims prisoners for weeks, sometimes several months, inflicting torture on his terrified captives. He even had a medieval style rack. To make sure no-one escaped, alarms were fitted to every room that would sound in his office if anyone attempted to open the doors. If he grew tired of inflicting pain, the rooms each came with a gas line with which he could asphyxiate his prisoners with the flick of a switch. One of these rooms was no bigger than a cupboard and had a trapdoor leading straight down to the basement. Scorch marks on some of the walls showed that Mudgett ignited the gas with inbuilt blow-torches so that his victims would be incinerated. Other victims were merely locked in a vault until they suffocated or starved. The vault was next to his office, he could hear the screams of the dying from the comfort of his desk.

With some of the corpses Mudgett would indulge in his hobby of performing autopsies in his custom-built morgue in the basement. He’d made so many contacts at medical school that he was even able to sell some of the organs and skeletons to his old classmates and professors.

Mudgett killed tourists, employees, mistresses and even children. He lured vulnerable lonely women to his Castle by posting in the Lonely Hearts adverts, and killed all those who had not informed a friend where they had gone. He kept trophies of jewellery and watches in his basement. He performed illegal abortions, destroying the dead women from any botched attempts. Victims were disposed of in the kilns, with any remaining bone fragments thrown into the acid vats of lime-pits.

By the end of the Fair, Mudgett had racked up a gruesome body count. He’d deliberately targeted people whose disappearances would most likely go unnoticed and unreported, nevertheless, around 50 missing persons could be traced back the The Castle. It wasn’t until an unrelated crime that Mudgett was caught, however.

Mudgett as briefly jailed for a horse racing betting scam. Whilst in prison he befriended train robber Marion Hedgepeth and shared a plan for faking the death of an associate, Benjamin Pietzel. Mudgett was to acquire a corpse and burn it so that it was charred beyond recognition, and claim it was Pietzel. Pietzel and Mudgett were to share the insurance pay out, worth a heft $10k (over quarter of a million now.) Hedgepeth recommended a crooked attorney named Howe to make sure the scheme went off without a hitch. All Hedgepeth required was a ‘finder’s fee.’

Mudgett decided to murder Pietzel and burn his corpse rather than find another body and claim the insurance pay out for himself. He also murdered three of Pietzel’s children for good measure. He neglected to send Hedgepeth his cut of the money. Hedgepeth took his revenge by relaying the details of the scheme to police before Mudgett had a chance to kill Mrs Pietzel and the remaining Pietzel children. Mudgett was pursued by the Pinkerton detectives as the Castle was searched for evidence. Police soon realised that Mudgett was far worse than an insurance scammer. The police search uncovered the macabre killing mechanisms and torture chambers of the building. They could scarcely believe what they had found, so sadistic and efficient were the devices. Detectives found the remains of the Pietzel children, among others.

Mudgett was arrested in Boston and brought to Philadelphia to stand trial for the murder of Benjamin Pietzel. A newspaper paid him £7,500 for an exclusive confession. Mudgett owned up to 27 deaths, although the real figure will never be known. The toll could be 200 or more, judging by fragmentary remains found at the Castle and missing persons lists.

Mudgett AKA H H Holmes was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. He was executed in 1896 just short of his 36th birthday. He had requested that his coffin should be filled and covered over with concrete so that he would not be dug up and dissected. Amazingly, given how many of his victims he had himself dissected, the judge agreed. When ‘Holmes’ was executed his neck didn’t snap. He dangled, slowly suffocating, for over 15 minutes.

The Castle, swiftly redubbed the Murder Castle, also did not survive. It burnt down to the ground shortly after the execution. An empty petrol can suggested arson, either by an associate wanting to destroy evidence or family of a victim wanting to erase it from the town. A post office has been built on the site. Now nothing but photos, floor plans and ghost stories remain of the building built by the man dubbed America’s first serial killer.







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Finding a Lost King in the Reality TV and Social Media Age

Yesterday (4th Feb 2013) a team from the University of Leicester announced that a skeleton exhumed from beneath a Leicester car park was the long lost body of Richard III. It was exciting news for history nerds and archaeology enthusiasts everywhere.

I won’t go into the archaeology methods used or the history of Richard himself here, the blogosphere is already filled with excellent posts regarding both. Needless to say, the discovery caught the imagination. Some have even called it ‘the Mary Rose of our generation.’

What caught my attention was the reaction to the news from social media sites. When the Mary Rose was salvaged in 1982 the internet was in its infancy. There was no immediate global reaction poured out from countless smartphones, no websites streaming footage of press conferences in real time.

I watched the announcement yesterday in front of a 24 hour news channel, clutching my iPhone tightly and refreshing my twitter feed every ten seconds. I love big events shared with twitter. For instance, watching the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was made infinitely more entertaining when keeping one eye on the extravaganza and one eye on my laptop. All of a sudden I wasn’t just at my in-law’s house, I was at a global party attended by hundreds of my wittiest friends. Various tweets that night made me laugh until it hurt, made me incredibly proud to be British and gave a community feel to the night, despite being spent in the middle of rural Leicestershire.

Following the kind of people that I do, I knew that an event such as the Richard III announcement would make for an exciting and emotional twitter feed. I wasn’t wrong. After being dismissed a nerd all through school and my animated ramblings being tolerated by friends and family since, it was gratifying to see that my excitement was shared by so many people I’ve come to know and like. Despite my twitter friends being spread liberally across the country, we were all on the edge of a shared seat as the archaeologists and academics at the press conference took an age to get to the actual confirmation.

What interested me was that my twitter friends soon divided themselves into distinct camps.

A) Thrilled to find out that Dickie has been found at last. These tweeps were rightly impressed with the hard work that had gone into the identification and were happily predicting a tourism boom for Leicestershire and a new interest in an era unjustly ignored by many in favour of showboating Tudors or a deathly dull widowed recluse named Victoria. Could this be the discovery that finally brings the Plantagenet dynasty back into vogue? Could the news be the catalyst for a whole new group of people to take an interest in history? Tour guides and teachers fell into this category, you could almost see them rubbing their hands in glee.

B) There was a sizable contingent of tweeters who jammed on the capslock to remind the rest of us that Richard III was a homicidal, ruthless bastard. Baffled at the unbridled joy shown, they just couldn’t understand why the nation could be happy to have dug up a murderer. I’m surprised none of them suggested putting the skeleton on a posthumous show trial. My tolerance level of this was and is low. Firstly, it has never been a secret that saintly monarchs with a watertight set of morals have never captured the imagination like a good old villain or naughty boy can. No-one is fascinated by Henry VIII because he liked cuddling puppies, no-one devours books about Charles II because he routinely prayed every 30 minutes. The interest exists because of Henry’s monstrous ego and his marital soap opera and because Charles was a charismatic party animal with a mistress for each day of the year. Richard III won’t be winning any Uncle of the Year awards perhaps, and he may not have been the huggy type, but he is wonderfully interesting.  Bleating that he was a bit of a meanie is pointless.


Within seconds of the announcement the cry went up that we should test the suspected remains of the dead nephews and solve the murder mystery IMMEDIATELY. NOW. IT’S IMPERATIVE.

Calm down, love, one thing at a time. Let’s just appreciate this discovery for five minutes before we move on to the next project, shall we? It was time consuming enough to ID THESE remains, let alone start on more than one set of remains suspected of being the princes. Not to mention that at least one set of bones is contaminated.

Murder mysteries are indeed intoxicating, personally I’m not in a rush for this one to be solved. The frantic and maniacal calls for the case to be reopened reminded me of this:

D) The high and mightys. It did dampen my spirits to see so many prominent historians attempt to pour cold water on the whole discovery. On a day where archaeology and British history made headlines across the world it seemed petty and bitter to send out snarky remarks that the discovery wouldn’t really ‘change’ anything. I don’t think it is necessary for the discovery to change anything to be noteworthy. Your colleagues have had significant success in finding a frickin’ monarch and the whole world is talking about it. Say congratulations and then shut up. Group A got understandably annoyed with Group D. Group D sneered at Group A from their academic pedestals. Some interesting and usually lovely people fell into Group D, hopefully normal service will resume soon.

E) The comedians. When debate rears its ugly head, tweeters can always rely on the witty banterers to break the tension. Here are some of my favourites from people I follow or simply tweets that were so brilliant that they got retweeted for hours.

Larry the Cat (@Number10cat) “Archaeologists say they were instantly able to distinguish remains of Richard III from Clegg family owing to presence of a spine”

Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) “Just had 600 years of parking fines through for Richard III. Might see if one can persuade Chris Huhne’s wife to pay them.”

Richard III (@HMRichardIII) “I bloody told you it was me”

Gemma (‏@gemgemgembird)
“Which historical figure do we dig up next, then? I say we go to Stratford, because SOMEONE has got some explaining to do.”

Jen (@MsGibbster) “Richard III ‘fit for work’ says ATOS”

Stuart Heritage (@StuHeritage) “Next news: berserk Richard III clone breaks out of cage and eats a man off a toilet”


So that was in the morning.

I suspect that I was not alone in spending the afternoon in a rather exuberant mood. History was the most popular subject of the day, therefore we were popular by association. History nerds were sexy, charismatic types for the day, even if it was only in our own imaginations. The feeling was brief, because the evening brought us, the nerds, crashing back down to reality. Why? ‘Richard III: The King in the Car Park’ on Channel 4 (quickly dubbed CSI:Plantagenet by twitter wits.)

We were all hoping for the documentary to be informative, whilst also showing history lovers in a positive light. A shame then, that Channel 4 wasted this opportunity and instead relied on that other monster of the modern age; reality TV.

When producers are too lazy to conduct research or too devoid of moral fibre to actually care about their subject, they now rely on the default template for reality TV. Find the most eccentric person on screen and make them look batshit crazy, then sit back and watch the ratings rise. Shame on Channel 4 for racing through informative segments with experts to focus on Philippa Langley.

Ms Langley was responsible for gathering evidence of the location, finding the funding for a full scale archaeological dig and then actually convincing someone to conduct the entire procedure. It can’t have been easy and obviously took dedication and perseverance. To be generous she is a determined amateur who pointed actual archaeologists and scientists in the right direction. On screen however, she came off as a cringingly batty woman obsessed with a single person to the point of fixation.

Maybe Channel 4 did her a disservice, perhaps she’s lovely and a little socially awkward. Maybe Channel 4 did the nation a favour and warned us in advance not to invite her to dinner if we make her acquaintance, lest she compare the roast chicken carcass to Richard’s ribcage and run out of the dining room sobbing.

Twitter was predictably quick to condemn or defend. Philippa fans were eager to remind us that after long periods of research it is easy to form an emotional attachment with a subject. I agree, I always feel close to my research subjects, as a tour guide it is essential. Without an emotional attachment, good or bad, I can’t tell their story in an engaging way. However, I (and most historians, Philippa defenders included!) am able to step back and see personality flaws and mistakes. No historical figure is perfect, but listening to Philippa you’d have thought that old Dickie was the only person on the planet who ever truly deserved to live.

Philippa and other cantankerous members of the infamous Richard III society (not all are stubbornly hero worshipping, a few vocal and militant members have earned them a bad reputation) are too fanatical for comfort. The Society as a whole maintains that Richard III has had a raw deal in the history stakes, and he has. He’s been depicted by propagandists and later moralists as a complete git. I’m inclined to say that he WAS  a git but for pragmatic and justifiable reasons considering his rank and the era in which he lived. Philippa and fellow fans will merely stick metaphorical fingers in ears whilst loudly denying that Richard ever did anything more violent then accidentally tread on a woodlouse.

THAT is what annoys me about Philippa. Due to her crush on Richard she ignores his history itself. She tries to mould him into the angel that she wants him to be. She is bashing a square peg into a round hole with a huge mallet made of desperate obsession. Richard III is not as bad as the Tudors and their arse licking Shakespeare said he was, but he’s not a saint either. A balance must be struck, and they don’t come more imbalanced than Philippa.

So the previously ebullient nerds in the audience were deflated when this uber nerd took to our screens and let the side down by being melodramatic and fanatical.

Watching Philippa drape the (not yet identified!!!!) remains in a cheap flag under the uncomfortable eyes of actual experts, run around constantly crying, and stare at the skeleton with uncontrollable fervour was uncomfortable viewing. I honestly thought at one point that she was going to pick up the skull and hug it, running her fingers erotically around the eye sockets.

With one fell swoop history nerds ceased to be rock stars (oh how short lived that turned out to be) and reverted back to being awkward oddities that no-one wants to sit next to on the bus. Instead of strutting around, proud of our knowledge and passion, we’ll go back to hiding in our libraries and museums, safe from the laughing masses.

The actual experts on the show were talented, coherent and mercifully practical. Such a shame then, that television producers assume that they will bore or confuse us with techie speak. I could happily have listened to them talk for the entire 90 minutes instead of being subjected to the obligatory ’emotional journey’ of Philippa. How patronising that Channel 4 should put the emphasis on that instead of the incredible scientists, or indeed, Richard himself. His undeserved rep was constantly alluded to and yet nobody thought to dig a little deeper.

It will fascinate me to see how television and the internet has evolved when the next big discovery rolls along. Will science win the day or will emotions run so high they drown it out again? Time and twitter will tell.


Filed under musings

The Parthenon Marbles – or, Stirring the Proverbial on Twitter

Every now and again, when the planets align and the elements are in total harmony, something magical happens.

A throwaway tweet that has been thrown into the swirling maelstrom that is Twitter and forgotten by it’s author moments later gets viewed and retweeted until it is a raging titan in 140 characters. It takes on a life of its own, dragging tweeters into its cyclone and refusing to let them go for hours. It is the stuff of myth and legend.

Well, not quite, but it does sound rather deliciously dramatic.

One morning last week I wrote a quick tweet as a kneejerk reaction to a mention of the Elgin/Parthenon marbles. I can’t even remember how it came up, perhaps the radio? Or an inch of newspaper column? I didn’t think much about it, but nevertheless chucked my tiny opinion into the whirlwind of chatter that is Twitter. What I basically said was that it would be nice to see the marbles in Athens but that I was hesitant to see them sent back in case it set a precedent for a major global game of Musical Museum Exhibits. I didn’t actually say that last bit hoe I’ve written it here, hindsight does tend to make me marginally wittier. (I said marginally, trolls!)

I thought no more of it, put my iPod Touch down, and sat myself down to watch whatever MGM musical was showing on TCM.

Now I’ve had a tweet go viral (or as viral as you can get in our rather small twitterstorian community) before. A quick tweet about Ancient Greek sex positions offered by prostitutes complete with a droll hashtag saw my follower number triple in two days and was retweeted so many times I thought my iPod had broken. Sex sells, and whilst shocked (and delighted) I at least understood why it had happened. With this, I wasn’t so sure.

Within minutes I was being bombarded with tweets from a host of people. I knew that I wasn’t going to get many people sitting on the Elgin fence as indifference doesn’t tend to inspire a lot of replies, but the strength of conviction among the people who did bother to type out a reply was amazing.

I had unwittingly unleashed one of my industry’s most fervent debates upon myself.

A bit of background for those of you that don’t sit for hours contemplating the fate of a few lumps of rock:

Under the Golden Age of Pericles in Athens during the 5th Century BC, two architects named Iktinos and Kallikrates and a sculptor names Phidias were put in charge of rejuvenating the Athenian Acropolis that had been sadly razed during a Persian scuffle. Money from the Delian League, a group of Greek states allied with Athens against Persia, was siphoned off to pay for the scheme.

Soon, grandiose buildings were being constructed on the Acropolis, a grand gateway called the Propylaea and a temple called the Erechtheion which has columns shaped like beautiful women (called caryatids) as well as statues liberally sprinkled around the complex. As we all know, the shining star of the site was and is the Parthenon, a massive temple dedicated to the patron Goddess of the city, Athena.

This temple housed one of Phidias’ masterpieces (now lost) which was a massive chryselephantine statue of Athena (which means made out of ivory and gold.) The gold of her statue was fully removable and served as the Athenian Treasury.

It’s interesting to note that the scheme, much like The Eiffel Tower and London Eye, had it’s detractors as it was being built. Before these buildings become iconic there is always someone who wants to kick the architect in the shin. One Athenian grumbled that the beautification of the Acropolis was nothing less than bedecking it as if it were a brazen whore. The Parthenon, it seems, has created debate since before it’s completion.

Fastforward to a time where the Greeks aren’t on such a strong footing. Under Roman rule, Emperor Nero couldn’t resist slapping his name upon the Parthenon in massive metal letters.

1,000 years after Phidias and Greece was now officially Christian with their own orthodox church – The Parthenon. The statue of Athena having being carted off to disappear into the ether at Constantinople, the Parthenon was adapted for a bit of Jesus worshipping. Then, in 1456, it’s all change again as a minaret is plonked unceremoniously onto the temple and,et voila, we have ourselves a mosque. So already, the Parthenon has seen a lot of changes to its function and appearance. Frankly, given the pagan nature of the sculpture, it’s a miracle any of it was allowed to survive.

Not that we’re out of the woods quite yet. In 1687 the Venetians are trying to oust the Turkish from Athens. The Turks decide to hide in their gunpowder store which is situated inside the, you guessed it, Parthenon. 700+ Venetian cannonballs later and KABOOM! The magazine explodes leaving hardly any of the temple standing. (Much of what you see today has been reconstructed.) Frencesco Morosini, a Venetian General, didn’t leave Athens before trying to shove a few large choice bits of sculpture into his luggage, smashing Poseidon, Athena’s chariot and a few of the stone horses in the process.

By 1801 you could be forgiven for thinking that the Parthenon might have fared better elsewhere. The Ottomans were selling chunks of sculpture off to tourists. Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to Constantinople was an antiquities fanatic and it bothered him to see the destruction of antiquities in Turkey and Greece. By the time he managed to take a tour of the Acropolis, sculptures were laying littered on the floor. Some had been ground down to dust to make cement, and quite a few pieces had mysteriously vanished. The Parthenon was no longer a beautiful wonder of architecture, she was a wreck.

Lord Elgin wasted no time in convincing the Ottoman Sultan that Elgin should cart them off to Blighty before they were lost forever. To be quite frank, had I a time machine I’d do exactly the same thing, although if we’re being pedantic I would have prevented the Christians moving in first and halted the whole sorry tale from there. Even so, once again at the time there were noisy critics who condemned Elgin as a looter.

It wasn’t easy or particularly well executed, but the fragments of sculpture that had survived being sawn off/shipwrecked had finally made it back to London. Where, on the verge of bankruptcy, Elgin sold them to the British Museum at a knock down price. It’s worth noting that Elgin hadn’t wanted to sell, he’d been planning to use the marbles to prettify his ancestral seat in Scotland. Had he not been so awful at managing his money the Parthenon marbles could be being used as a bench in a stately home’s garden right now.

Anyway, The Marbles ended up in the BM and Elgin’s name was to be permanently attached to them for ever after. Staff at the museum in the late 1800’s tried to get the marbles to gleam white by using various caustic acids and later in the pre-WWII years accusations were thrown about scrubbing the marbles with wire wool.

And so we arrive at the present day, where two sides are violently opposed as to whether the marbles should be returned to Athens or remain in London.

Throw in a tweet by someone decidedly on the fence and bitter arguments occur. Back to the tweet in question.

It was a mere thought, spoken in electronic form to no-one in particular. Within seconds, I was challenged by someone I had followed for a while but who as yet hadn’t heard of me.

I can therefore only assume that @Elginism searches for related keywords on an hourly basis to pounce on any unsuspecting tweeter who has an opinion that may slightly differ from theirs. (Don’t be fooled by the twitter handle, ‘Elginism’ doesn’t mean pro-Elgin, it’s slang for vandalism and desecration.)

I’d been following his tweets for a while as I like to keep a balanced view of things, not necessarily because I agree with what he says, and after his first volley he started following me back. To make it easier, I assume, to debate with me. Now, I like a good debate. But things soon escalated as twitter joined in en masse. I shall now paraphrase the conversation:

Me: Scared of setting a scary precedent yaddah yaddah

@Elginism: But lots of things have been returned eg Euphronios Krater, Morgantina Silver etc Each case must be judged on it’s own merits.

Elginism carries on to say that they’re not a fan of the inside-out display of the frieze in the BM.

A lady who tour guides in Rome replied to me also. @UnderstandRome countered that whilst she is a huge fan of the new Acropolis Museum, she’s seen where they’ve made a space to display the marbles and in her opinion, it’s easier to view them in the BM. (The Acropolis Museum wants to display them high up as they would have been viewed in situ. Not easy to get a good photo that way….)

In the meantime I’m replying to @Elginism that I’d worry that if one museum gave in to return demands, it’d start off a domino effect. The reply comes back that the prospect of a worldwide swapshop shouldn’t put people off doing ‘the right thing.’

So far so debated, but what IS the right thing? I have to admit to retweeting all of the replies I’m getting from both sides. I am refusing to take a side! I tweet that perhaps casts can be made as a compromise. It’s amusing to note that this was skimmed over.

After a few to and fros, @lobstersquad mentions that perhaps this shouldn’t BE a huge debate. It is only a tiny minority who actually give a flying toss about where the marbles are housed.

@Elginism isn’t letting the subject drop, my refusal to agree with them fully must be annoying them. All I’d said that was I could understand the BM’s reticence. Again, the reply comes that shouldn’t be an excuse to ‘live in the past.’

Hang on a second. Surely the idea of reuniting a couple of statues with their former building IS living in the past? Isn’t that PRECISELY what @Elginism wants? To restore how things were arranged IN THE PAST?

I counter that I consider it a mercy that Elgin got in there before more destruction was caused. One explosion shame on you, two explosions shame on me. That kind of thing. And then came the dreaded line:

“That’s not what Elgin thought at the time.” Here’s where we get on shaky ground. Trying to crowbar your belief system into the thoughts of someone long dead is, let’s face it, dodgy at best. I’m afraid I’m going to have to read correspondence or journals from Elgin before I join in on imagining what he thought about the whole thing. No matter, the discussion is carrying on without me. Seeing as I’m retweeting everything so that my followers can see the conversation, other people are joining in and going off on their own tangents whilst mentioning my handle so I can stay in the loop.

@rogueclassicist chimes in with the opinion that the marbles should not be considered as ‘belonging’ to Greece or Britain. They should belong to humanity. Therefore, keep them in the best place for society to view them.

Brilliant idea! Let’s look at some statistics. The Art Newspaper compiles an annual list of visitor figures for the 100 most visited museums of art in the world.

In 2011, the British Museum takes bronze with a staggering 5,848,534 visitors, beaten only by the Louvre and the Met. The Acropolis Museum, opened in summer 2009, limped into 38th place for the 2011 figures with a measly (by comparison) 1,244,702.

It can further be argued that the BM doesn’t charge an entrance fee like the Acropolis Museum does, and therefore is available to all. In these penny pinching times, that’s a huge consideration. When your budget is tight do you choose to pay rent or waltz around a museum?

London gets nearly twice the visitors that the whole of Greece receives annually. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Greece, I often joke that I must be a greek in a past life. But we have to admit that of the 19million odd visitors to Greece per year, most head straight for cheap 18-30 resorts for ouzo and sunbathing rather than a bit of culture. It’s something I tut about every time I’m there. Why go to Athens when you can stay in Faliraki for a quarter of the price and get hammered for a fortnight? At least with London we can genuinely say that culture is our main selling point, because the beaches are muddy river banks and we don’t serve cheap ouzo.

So by that argument, the marbles should stay here. More people are seeing them in London than they would in Greece.

@rogueclassicist then points out, quite reasonably, that until Greece can guarantee that his visit to see the marbles wouldn’t be prevented by strikes, then he won’t give his support.

As soon as I retweet it, feathers start rustling. I try asking if there are any compromises that either side would agree upon. @Elginism shows me a planned compromise that doesn’t see Athens compromising on much. Ho hum.

The touchy subject of finance is starting to rumble so loudly that I can’t ignore it.

@Elginism pointed out that The Acropolis Museum has deliberately not been state funded for this very reason. If Greece goes bankrupt, the museum will be independent. I hadn’t know that.

However, with various big name tourism companies in the UK and family run hotels and restaurants in Greece on the verge of collapse, it’s not going to be much use having an independently financed museum if nobody can get to it or have anywhere to sleep afterwards. @Eyeonwales is neatly covering my thoughts here so I can stay schtum and let them do the work for a bit.

My beloved @GeneralJules cheekily brings everyone back to my original point, precedence. He asks whether Italy have asked for all the paintings Napoleon nicked and took to France. I can see the Louvre emptying as I type. Napoleon did love a souvenir or seven.

@crazylegsno1 points out that it’s probably not a good idea to send priceless artifacts to a country on the brink of civil war.

@thefirstlexi seems to have been silently watching so far, but finally weighs in with the age old argument of the original legality of Elgin’s permission to take them in the first place. This to me admittedly sounds a bit redundant after so much time and that we should focus on other factors, but I may be in a minority. She also, quite astutely, delivers her Parthian shot. “As for strikes, it’s not like the UK has none.”

Ah yes, UK, we all remember the horrors of the London riots. Thank God the little pricks were more interested in breaking into branches of Curry’s than to head to our museums. It’s a mercy, but we can’t say it won’t happen in the future.

@HewlettElaine wondered whether part of the viewing experience is lost if you peruse the marbles in a UK gallery rather than on the Acropolis they were designed for, but again, the fact that the Acropolis Museum’s designated exhibition space for them is not ideal for easy viewing is a worry for some. Elaine is uncomfortable with the West deciding what is worth saving from the East. However, I maintain that it can’t be denied that Western archaeologists etc have more money and skills to salvage and reserve.

A few of my tweeting friends are DMing me messages of solidarity and congratulations at the magnitude of the debate I’ve caused in the background to this argument which has by now rolled on for nine hours. In that time I spent two hours in ASDA and one hour baking, and yet still different branches of debate rolled on, like branches of a tree stemming from my trunk of initial tweet. I check my tweets, at no time have I decisively stated that I am for one side and against the other. I have merely engaged both sides. The new angles from tweeters gave me much to think about, but it did sadden me at how voracious certain tweeters were. I will not agree with you if you slap me in the face with fifteen tweets telling me why I am wrong, when I haven’t actually expressed a definitive opinion.

And so we reach an impasse, for I cannot make up my mind.

My initial worry still niggles me. People have been looting for millenia. The romans did it to Greece centuries before us Brits did, and we were hardly alone in doing it in our own era of collecting anything that wasn’t, and sometimes was, nailed down. If the global museum community returned every artifact to it’s country of origin, would places like Greece and Rome have room for it all? Probably not. There would be more museums than tavernas and trattoria. The Louvre, British Museum, the Met, the Berlin Museums and countless others would be emptied overnight, as more and more governments cotton on that if they throw a big enough hissy fit, they will get their toys back.

My head loves it that I can browse the galleries of the British Museum and travel the ancient Mediterranean within the space of an afternoon. I see children who visit and start a life long love of history when they’re faced with such wonders first hand, and that can’t be a bad thing. Thanks to collections in museums around the world, children globally can come face to face with incredible ancient art.

For those souls who can’t afford to travel, they will still get the opportunity to see some of our global heritage. I live and breathe the ancient world and I am having to sacrifice a hell of a lot to be able to afford trips to see the places I read and dream about. For many, it simply isn’t an option.

My heart would like to see the Marbles where they were intended to go. I have a huge history crush on Phidias and I am completely in love with ancient Greece. But I am wary of Greece’s current state, tottering on the verge of meltdown. I’d be loathe to return artifacts to a country before it has a chance to resolve much larger issues. However, how marvellous would it be to stare at the art in the same place that Socrates and Plato did? My heart beats faster at the thought.

It will probably infuriate a few tweeters that after all that negotiation and all that debate, I steadfastly refuse to get down from my nice little fence.

I am inclined to simply say that the world is not a perfect place and that not everyone can get what they want. Some will dismiss that as wishywashy, some may accuse me of being indecisive. Some will no doubt unfollow me in a huff because I’ve refused to concede to them. I’ve never been one to define myself by campaigning for one cause above all else and it baffles me when people do.

I am a huge fan of compromise. And until both sides agree to one, I’m not siding either way. There has to be a way to satisfy both. An even compromise. As @elginsim points out, Athens has half of the marbles there already. Perhaps us having the other half is compromise enough.

In conclusion:

After a poll, it seems that twitter (or my followers at least) do firmly want to see the marbles in Athens. Let’s hope Thomas Cook doesn’t go bust.

Please add you two cents in the comments section, no doubt I’ve missed something out.

Further reading:

The kick-ass Mary Beard has written a wonderful history of the Parthenon, titled, funnily enough, The Parthenon. If you want a definitive history of the building and it’s art, this is it.

The wonderful funny and charming Greg Jenner (@greg_jenner) has written a blog on his thoughts on the matter, which is frankly, better than my attempt: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/greg-jenner/elgin-marbles-should-we-return-them-to-greece_b_1396208.html

And here is the website for @Elginism which has a raft of information: http://www.elginism.com/


Filed under musings, Uncategorized

Southwick – The D-Day Village

Today marks the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landing, a turning point in the Second World War that swung the odds into Allied favour.

Twitter will be full of historians describing the events on the Normandy beaches, Pegasus Bridge etc etc. Whilst I will no doubt post a few of my customary factoids on my @TourGuideGirl feed, I thought it best to devote a blog post to an unsung hero of Operation Overlord.

I grew up in Portsmouth, it is justifiably famous as the premier base of the Royal Navy and scene of countless events of historical significance. Yet, just over the hill to the north, lies a tiny little village called Southwick. Quaint, unassuming and quiet, Southwick played a massive role in the run up to D-Day but is frequently forgotten when the events of the 6th of June 1944 are recounted.

My fascination with the area started at the age of 11, when I joined the HMS Dryad Royal Naval Volunteer Band as a clarinettist. In the centre of the naval base is a beautiful Georgian building called Southwick House, although we knew it as The Wardroom.

A View of Southwick House

The band often performed at Mess Dinners in the Wardroom, and between sets we’d retire from the main dining room for some refreshments into one of the other rooms in the house. I vividly remember the first time I poked my head round a door into the Map Room. As a pre-teen, although my love of history was growing, my breadth of knowledge wasn’t wonderful, but some of the members of the band started to tell me more about the history of Southwick House and its significant role. Fifteen years later (crikey,) and I’ve been able to do my own research and fit it in with other events of the war.

It’s a brilliant story. The squire of the Southwick Estate was an eccentric chap called Colonel Evelyn Thistlethwayte. In the early years of the war he frequently invited various Admirals to while away a few spare hours on his estate to join him in some pheasant shooting. These Admirals made a note of the spectacular situation of the house whilst firing at dozy game birds and by late 1941 the entire Estate was requisitioned by the Navy to house the Royal Naval Navigation School, which had had to be relocated from the heavily targeted Dockyard in Portsmouth.

Just south of Southwick Village is Fort Southwick on the crest of Portsdown Hill, part of a defensive line including four other forts built in the 1860’s in case of an impending French invasion. I learnt much of Fort Southwick’s wartime role from my time as a tour guide at the Fort next door, Fort Nelson. Whereas Nelson was adapted and used as an ammo store, Fort Widley used to billet WRNS and Fort Wallington as the military telegraphic HQ (also relocated from the dockyard,) Fort Southwick eclipsed them all. Fort Southwick was chosen to be the underground nerve centre of the planning of a large scale mainland invasion, with a labyrinth of steel lined tunnels being added below the original Victorian tunnel system.

Southwick House, a stone’s throw from the fort and already inhabited by the Navy, was a natural choice for the main HQ building. The Navigation School was moved yet again, and the Allied Commanders moved in.

The old drawing room became the Map Room, and Chad Valley toy company made a huge plywood map of the English south coast and Normandy that filled an entire wall.

The D-Day Planning Map in the drawing room of Southwick House

Nissen huts and mobile homes sprung up around the house. One mobile home was used by General Montgomery, although his main billet was the nearby Broomfield House, where he entertained George VI, Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower among others. Prince Philip was also present in Southwick at the time as a Naval Lieutenant, and when he accompanied the Queen on a visit to Southwick in 1973 he was seen pointing out his favourite wartime pub to her. This pub is the Golden Lion, (not to be confused with the Red Lion a few doors down) and was partially converted into an officer’s mess at the time. You can go to the Golden Lion and have a pint in the very same spot as Eisenhower drank beer with Monty. Why the Golden Lion isn’t constantly full of history buffs is a question that baffles me.

For months in early 1943 Southwick was buzzing with activity. It was a huge undertaking to organise thousands of sailors and troops from Britain, America, Canada and various other Commonwealth countries. 6,939 Naval vessels were involved in the invasion and the shipping of 7,000,000 tonnes of equipment from the US had to be organised. It is from Southwick that General Eisenhower, General Montgomery and Admiral Ramsay wrote their famous letters to the troops on the eve of battle, and it was from Southwick House that Eisenhower took the decision to postpone the invasion for 24 hours on advice from the specially built weather station built in the grounds. Monty and Eisenhower remained at HQ at H-Hour of D-Day, Monty departing for Normandy that afternoon and Eisenhower following him the next day, having spent the day orchestrating the invasion by land, sea and air. Thousands of troops who had been billeted in the surrounding villages and in Portsmouth and Southampton had disappeared overnight, but they had left hundreds of chalk ‘thank you’ messages on walls and pavements to the locals who had looked after them so well. Within a day or two the wounded were returning to the south coast, this time accompanied by Axis POWs. And so Southwick returned to being a sleepy little chocolate-box village, just as it had been for centuries. Only a few people venture to visit, despite it’s illustrious history and roll call of famous former residents. Fort Southwick remained with the Navy until 2003. I remember visiting it often to watch my dad on parade with the Royal Naval Reserves. It’s now privately owned and almost impossible to get into. Access is limited, the last time I checked the only access given was to a ghost hunting expedition. I sincerely hope the current reclusive owner is looking after the place! I believe he wants to turn the redan into flats. Southwick House and it’s environs also remained naval property, being compulsorially purchased when the war was over. As HMS Dryad it was the Maritime Warfare School until 2004, when it was decommissioned. I cried when it closed as HMS Dryad Royal Naval Volunteer Band, who I’d been a member of for eight years also had to disband. We played a final event to march the sailors out. The site has since been turned into a tri-service military police training centre. It’s not impossible to visit Southwick House and stand where great general and admirals stood and planned the greatest invasion in history. Details of access can be found here: http://www.ddaymuseum.co.uk/d-day/visitor-information The Golden Lion serves brilliant food with (so my husband tells me) excellent beer brewed on site. I highly recommend a trip to the D-Day Museum in Southsea, Portsmouth after that for their excellent exhibitions, including a replica Mapboard in case you can’t get into Southwick House. You’ll find the museum next to Southsea Castle.


Filed under stories from history, Uncategorized

How To Be A Rockstar Tourguide

   A tour is when someone who knows a bit more about a subject than everyone else present talks to them about it.

   A good tour is slightly different.

    To clarify, I am a bloody good tour guide. I’m not ashamed to say it. I put a lot of effort into my work and take a lot of pride in it as well. It is wonderfully easy to tell if you are a good tour guide. The tour group will let you know, believe me. And if you are a good tour guide, seeing happy faces and perhaps receiving compliments at the conclusion of your tour is not only an indication of the quality of your work, it is your reward for the effort you have put in. At the conclusion of a mediocre tour, your group will melt away silently and immediately. If you are a good tour guide, you will get a round of applause. I’ve even had people offer to buy me my lunch in the on-site cafe as a way of saying thank you. This isn’t boasting. Well, maybe it is, but it is also justification for my audacity in having written this post in the first place.

  Even if you are not a tour guide, hopefully the next time you go on a disappointing tour, you’ll be less willing to simply put up with sub standard work. Demand a better experience! Don’t accept shoddy work. You wouldn’t in any other aspect of life. Don’t let tour guides away with it any more than you would any other professional who is absolutely awful.

So, my tips for being a rock star tour guide are as follows:

  • Show up early. If your tour is scheduled for immediately after your lunch break, cut the lunch break short. In the 5 minutes before your tour commences, you can learn so much about the people in your group and therefore tailor the experience to them. Does your group mainly consist of families with school age children? You’ll be able to prepare a few age appropriate stories and jokes before you start. Is your group comprised of a group of elderly ladies and gentlemen on a coach tour to your area? You’ll be able to plan to walk a little slower to compensate and you’ll have time to consider whether you really need to include the narrow spiral staircase this time around. Does everyone appear to be foreign? You’ll be forewarned that they will understand 10% of what you say unless you simplify your language. Do you hear a regional accent? Perhaps you have an exhibit produced in that region. You can decide now whether to add that exhibit to your tour for their benefit, even though you wouldn’t generally include it. You get the concept.
  • A friendly greeting is key. It sets the tone for everything that follows. It should be a matter of personal pride that your group knows it has your full attention and that you are thrilled to be giving them the tour. If you are distracted or grumpy, you have lost any chance of engaging your audience before you finish your third sentence.  These people pay your wages, the least you can do is be genuinely pleased to be talking to them. If you’re not, get a job somewhere else.
  • Personal appearance. I’m not advocating that you get a hollywood makeover complete with botox and teeth bleaching. I’m not even, as a woman, suggest that other female tour guides cake themselves in make up. However I am of the opinion that every tour guide should be clean. I once went on a tour of a Norman castle where the guide smelt as if he hadn’t showered for a week. Hence, my only memory of the place isn’t of me having a good time, it’s of trying desperately not to breathe through my nose for 45 minutes. Breath mints are also a must have. You will be breathing over thse people for a considerable amount of time. None of them are interested in what you ate for lunch. Flashy ostentatious jewellery detract from any words that leave your mouth. You can be as knowledgeable as you like, but if your giant costume jewellery is blinding them or hypnotising them into a trance then you may as well not bother talking at all. A few subtle pieces are of course perfectly acceptable, but turning up draped in the largest pieces of bling you possess isn’t professional. For the ladies: Whether you paint your nails or not, your nails should be neat and clean. And as for make up, if you do choose to wear it, whether you like it or not, no-one will take you seriously if you look like you’ve applied every single cosmetic you own onto your face all at once. Go for subtle and classy. Feel free to express your personality in your appearance by all means, but don’t feel the need to beat your listeners around the head with it. You are of course unique and special, yadda yadda, but the group aren’t here to see how unique and special YOU are, they’re here for the site. Like it or not, people do make assumptions based on their initial impression of your appearance. Do you want to spend the next hour doing your job, or trying to convince them that you are qualified to do your job even though you seem to have come dressed to the site as a Hell’s Angel/60’s hippy throwback/clown/eastern european prostitute? Don’t let your appearance detract from your knowledge. That said, a friendly smile never goes out of fashion.
  • Make yourself heard! What is the point of mumbling for an hour? It baffles me at how many of my colleagues whisper their way through tours. Project your voice. If you lift your chin it will open up the throat and allow sound to resonate strongly. Direct your voice to the back of the group. This is not the same as shouting. Shouting will appear aggressive and let’s face it, it’s not very appealing to listen to. Diction is also important, particularly if you work in a busy or outdoor environment. Don’t drop Ts and Hs. If you have a very strong regional accent, I’d advise you to dilute it a bit, unless you are absolutely certain that your entire group is local. I have met a few guides who accentuate their accents in pure rebellion. How dare people from a different region visit this place? How dare they grimace as they struggle to understand your dialect? What a pointless attitude. These people have travelled a long way because they are just as interested in this place as you are. Don’t punish them for it.
  • There is nothing worse than listening to a monotone dirge. This is a curse that afflicts many public speakers and you’ve probably taken the mickey out of others for it. Keep the tone of your voice conversational and you’ll be fine. Allow the pitch of your voice to rise and fall the same way as it would if you were talking to your friends. You’ll instantly be more interesting and easy to listen to and you’ll engage your audience ten times easier. If you find this difficult, think about going to a community drama class or theatre troupe. I’ve always described my style as theatrical and I thank my childhood and teenage hobby of amateur theatre for it. Acting in a play or musical is not that much different to being a tour guide, you are still essentially trying to capture the attention of a large group of people for an extended period of time with nothing but your voice and body language. Speaking of which:
  • Keep your body language relaxed and friendly. Slouching, however, is to be avoided as it constricts your chest cavity and prevents effective voice projection. Hand gestures are to be encouraged as long as you don’t look as if you are swatting at an invisible horde of hornets.
  • Pacing. Your tour may well have a strict schedule to adhere to. It is wise to map out your tour on paper and allocate the places where you will pause the walking to talk. Scribble down a draft of what you’d generally say at each point of interest. Each stop should roughly last the same amount of time. In the safety of your sitting room, use a stopwatch to time each speech. You may find that some are a lot longer than others. Perhaps you have allowed your own personal ardour for a particular exhibit or area to take precedence. It is wiser to limit your own private obsessions and instead focus on what items or areas would appeal to a more general audience. Editing your tour is crucial, otherwise you will run over your allotted time slot and the tendency to ramble aimlessly will be greater. Your points should be concise.
  • Your first speech. You may know which obscure noble built this castle. You may know which general ran this fort. You may know exactly what the significance of this pottery is in this museum exhibit. Your group will have, as a general rule, no clue. Even if you know what the Duke who lived in this stately home ate for breakfast ate on Tuesdays 375 years ago, chances are your group don’t even know who he is. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your group has a working knowledge of the site. If they did, they wouldn’t bother with your tour. Including a brief summary of the events that caused your site to be built and it’s impact on the area will be invaluable. I often give a few references to contemporary famous people and events to help give my visitors a sense of chronology. Try to boil down a war/dynasty/catastrophe etc to a few key sentences. If your group want a more in-depth analysis, they will let you know.
  • Kids. Love them or loathe them, you will conduct tours full of kids. We have all been on tours where bored children are screaming, running around like savages, babbling incessantly and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Childless adults will be fantasising about throttling the little hooligans. 9 times out of 10 this is because the tour guide is stoically doing their very best to ignore the children’s existence. Many mediocre tour guides take the view that they are not babysitters. They are somehow above talking to children. Rubbish. If you have kids on your tour, aim comments at them. Use age appropriate jokes. Kids don’t want to know about document disputes, but if there were knights and princesses in your castle, throw in a few references to a joust and you’ll have the little angels eating out the palm of your hand. Parents will be thrilled and grateful that you are taking the time to engage with their little darlings. I always find it useful to ask them to imagine a scene. Or to go down a Horrible Histories route and give them a fact about something disgusting. Kids LOVE to know about historical toilet facilities for some reason. The children will be satisfied and therefore easier to control, and all the childless adults on your tour will love you for it.
  • Ask questions. “How many of you know about……….?” etc. You can instantly gauge which aspects of the tour you can emphasise and which areas you may need to explain in terms easier to grasp.
  • Comedy. We can’t all be hilariously funny entertainers that leave our audiences in fits of giggles, but a lighthearted tone goes a long way. For instance, a little sarcastic aside as a ‘group in joke’ works wonders. A site I worked at had been the home of a particularly rotund historical figure. I made a joke about how it was a shame that they didn’t have Weight Watchers 300 years ago and how funny the image of him counting out food points would be. Not particularly golden material, or indeed respectful to the poor guy, but it did do the trick of making him appear more human and lightening the tone. Find a funny anecdote about some of the people with links to your buildings or exhibits and have them ready in your arsenal at all times.  I worked at a site with ties to Napoleon III of France and his wife Eugenie. Not a single person on the tour was interested in Napoleon III’s foreign policies, but they laughed like hyenas when I mentioned that Eugenie was notorious for farting loudly and often. If you are going to poke fun at anything, always have a redeeming feature to compensate for it with. Light  hearted ribbing is one thing, a relentless personal attack is bullying. For instance, Eugenie was a devoted mother who travelled all the way to Africa to bring back the body of her son who had died fighting in a war there. Her devotion and love of her family is admirable. Modern comparisons also help to lighten the mood. Admiral Lord Nelson was a national hero, much like David Beckham, and Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire was to 18th century fashion what Lady Gaga is to modern fashion. You’re not looking for howls of laughter, a wry smile is perfectly sufficient.
  • Historical knowledge. As a tour guide, chances are you don’t have a history degree, and if you do, it was because history was for fun, not that you had a burning ambition to be an Oxbridge professor. No-one will expect you to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of your subject. If you work at a castle, it’s unlikely you’ll be condemned by a visitor for not knowing the architecture of a contemporary castle at the other end of the country. That said, there will inevitably, one day, be a smug bastard who will take great joy in drawing attention to any gaps in your knowledge of the subject you are supposed to be well versed in. He will think it hilarious to embarrass you in front of the rest of the group. You obviously cannot tell this person that he is an unbearably pretentious little p****, however much you might want to. So don’t give him the satisfaction. Make sure you have at least a working knowledge of every aspect of your site/exhibit. And never, even if sorely tempted to, lie about something you haven’t a clue about. Never be afraid to say “whilst that isn’t my particular area of expertise, I can ask a curator for the answer?” It’s actually more likely at this point that the b****** in question will be so disappointed that his bullying didn’t reduce you to a sobbing heap that he’ll mutter something and back off. You can fantasise about kicking him in the shin after he’s gone home. And even if he does back off, ask the curator for an answer anyway. You’ll be better prepared next time. Even if you have worked at your site for years, there is always a new nugget of interesting trivia to learn and share.
  • Never give up half way through. I once had a scheduled tour at a site where one person turned up. It was raining, I was hungry, and he looked bored already. He didn’t answer any of my questions and didn’t actually look in me in the eye once. I could have very easily gone through the motions and given this man a half arsed tour, cut it short, and hidden in the cafe kitchen where the chef may have a few spare slices of cake for me. But I didn’t. I kept my tone of voice buoyant and conversational. I talked with all the enthusiasm I could muster and kept in all of my jokes even though he didn’t laugh at a single one. At the end I was rewarded with a solemn handshake, a curt nod, and a £20 tip. I must have let the surprise show on my face, because he added that he’d thoroughly enjoyed the tour and was glad to see someone with so much love for her subject. Ever since, I have never given anything but my full attention to any tour. Some people aren’t very demonstrative, but they still care if you don’t put in any effort.

Follow these tips and you should be well on your way to delivering tours that hit the mark every time. And if you’re not a tour guide, don’t let the guides fob you off with a rubbish tour next time you pay good money to visit a visitor attraction!


Filed under The Art of Tour Guiding