Operatic appearances of Arminius are frequent yet forgettable. Some thirty-seven different operatic Arminiuses appeared in the eighteenth century, and a further eighteen in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Adolph Hasse are among the few composers that will have been heard of and in both cases the operas are much stronger musically than dramatically.
I had thought that only two had been recorded in modern times. The former, called Arminio, counts as the first German opera (though sung in Italian) and was written by the composer/violinist Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber at the end of the seventeenth century (the exact date is disputed) in Salzburg. The other is Georg Frideric Handel’s Arminiowritten in the autumn of 1736 in a particularly fruitful period of the composer’s life. While musically, it will satisfy even the most jaded barocchisti, it is incomprehensible even by the shaky standards of opera – a matter not helped by the fact that the composer seemingly arbitrarily cut around a thousand lines of text from Antonio Salvi’s libretto. Suffice to say that the plot exists only in the composer’s imagination and that all’s well that ends well.
A treat to learn about Telemann's Germanicus, discussed by Charles Downey at the Classical Review, an opera about which I knew absolutely nothing, and which has recently been reconstructed:
The plot – drawn from ancient Roman history and adapted from the Annales of Tacitus – is particularly contorted. It concerns a campaign in Germania by the Roman general Nero Claudius Germanicus in the First Century A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. Although set against a military background, the vicissitudes of the story all have to do with love and betrayal: the jealousy of Germanicus provoked by increasingly ridiculous misconceptions of the infidelity of his faithful wife, Agrippina.
In the other plot strand, Claudia, the daughter of the conquered Cheruscan prince Segestes, loves the Cheruscan outlaw Arminius but is offered in marriage to the Roman prince Lucius. At the same time, in the occupied city of Cologne, a Roman captain named Florus is plotting to overthrow Germanicus and Tiberius. Magical and divine forces intercede to set things right, notably when the son of Germanicus and Agrippina, the treble role of Caligula, prays to the goddess Juno, whose oracle speaks in defense of Agrippina’s virtue.
Tomorrow Emperors of Rome continues with Petronius Maximus, the first of the eight Shadow Emperors who reigned - rather than ruled - from March 455 to August 475. Even contemporaries had little to say about them.
“Although I know their names well, I won’t mention them at all. They only lived a short time after attaining the office and as a result accomplished nothing worth mentioning.”
Procopius, History of the Wars, 3.7.16-17.
I confess that I have rather a soft spot for them, and of all the emperors that I have covered they have been the most fun. Emperors like Augustus, Hadrian and Constantine – at times – have the sense of a well-trodden path about them. Everyone knows them and everyone has their own views on their time on the throne. With the Shadow Emperors, it is rather like having a swimming pool to yourself.
A good review of The Last Pagan, my biography of Julian the Apostate, at UNRV:
Let not the title fool you: the book is much more than a stale rehashing of Julian’s religious polemics against the rising Christian tide. Quite the contrary, the author explores Julian’s many sides: philosopher, writer, soldier, ruler – and member of a murderous imperial family. There are many strands woven deftly together to illuminate a three-dimensional drawing of a complex character from childhood to death. The author can describe the campaigns of the Western front in vivid detail, and then shift quite naturally to an exploration of Julian’s tax reforms. Moreover, he does so in a prose that is intelligent yet free of academic pretentiousness, fast paced and yet still sufficiently thorough.
Emperors of Rome continues with Valentinian III, the great-grandson, the grandson, the son, cousin, and nephew of Roman Emperors, still an ineffectual ruler dominated first by his mother and then by the barbarian general Aetius.
It is a statement in itself that Ruth Parsons, chief executive of Historic Scotland, has given her first print interview since she took up her position in October 2009. More to the point she decided to do so in the business pages of The Herald and with the business editor Colin Donald.
A great deal of interest will be in her comments on allegations of bullying and the exodus of staff which have dogged her since she took up the reins. As the piece makes clear, in 2011-12 the cost of staff who accepted severance or early retirement was £477,985. It was only £64,157 in 2007-08 – the year before she took over:
Parsons strongly refuted press allegations of discontent within the organisation, including accusations of "bullying" levelled at her personally. While no formal complaints are under consideration, a spate of departures by experienced senior managers since her appointment in October 2009 include the chief inspector, the director of properties in care, the director of outreach and education, head of the press office, director of human resources, director finance and director of policy.
Parsons declined to comment on the departures, but claimed her "unsettling" changes were designed to "bring out the best in people" and improve corporate decision-making. She admitted she found public criticism of her management style difficult, but claimed strong internal support for her changes, which she said had given HS's conservation department its seat at the senior management table along with visitor services, commercial and tourism, and heritage management.
"It was difficult to read those things in the newspapers but you have to understand that when you are taking an organisation through change, not everyone is going to agree with those changes or accept those changes."
In return, Parsons claimed to have been offended on behalf of the remaining staff, whose contribution, she said, is slighted by the suggestion that the exit of key conservation personnel was putting Scotland's heritage at risk.
It is a solid piece - Donald is a both a good writer and editor - but I remain curious why has it taken Parsons 29 months to talk to the press. Not engaging with the media is not a valid option these days. You come across as though you have something to hide. Parsons either needs to listen to the media advice she is already receiving or get new advisors. Remember she has a salary of £100,000 (which strikes me as too low for a job of this stature) and a budget at the moment of £47 million. Parsons may have a valid answer to many of the criticisms levelled against her, but we simply don't know.
Why did Parsons not comment on senior departures from Historic Scotland? There have too many and they are too senior for her to brush the question aside. Why did she not comment on the announcement last week of the centralisation of much archaeology in Scotland under Historic Scotland (see here)? And how does she feel about the perception that Historic Scotland has become politicised, a puppet for SNP policy on independence?
Long overdue, Rebecca Jones' new book Roman Camps in Scotland is getting justifiable coverage. She details every one of the military camps in Scotland drawing on photographs from the RCAHM collection.
A new book just published reveals the true extent of the Roman Empire’s attempts to conquer Scotland - and explores the archaeological legacy left behind.
Written by Dr Rebecca Jones, an RCAHMS archaeologist and expert on the Roman frontiers, Roman Camps in Scotland brings together a full archaeological record of the Empire’s military outposts, which were designed to be the temporary homes for conquering legions and armies.
Scotland is home to the largest number of surviving Roman camps in Europe, indicating that the attempts to conquer and occupy the land were much more extensive than previously thought. The new book highlights the sheer number of Roman camps throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK: up to 260 have been discovered and recorded in Scotland, adding to some 240 in England and Wales.
The camps provided accommodation at the most basic level for soldiers. Although they were only occupied for very short periods of time, they have left distinctive imprints in the landscape that can still be detected today. Many camps are discovered through aerial survey flights, where the outlines of ancient structures lying beneath the soil show up as crop marks.
The RCAHMS aerial survey collection and existing archives of camp excavations were used extensively by Dr Jones in her research. Now every new, known, and possible camp has been mapped and recorded, alongside details of its historical significance and role in the Roman campaigns in Scotland.
The full press release is here. Coverage at the Daily Mail and the Herald here and here. The latter has rather a good map which details the camps. A wonderful link is also the Canmore Advanced Search online database which has pictures and details of every camp.
Expect reaction over the next few days following the announcement last night that archaeology in Scotland will become much more centralised under Historic Scotland. The full press release is here:
The way Historic Scotland supports and funds archaeology projects across the country is to be strengthened.
The heritage agency has completed a review of the scope of the archaeology work it commissions and how it supports external projects across the country.
The recommendations will position Historic Scotland to take on an increased role in leading the archaeology sector and will see the creation of a dedicated forum to represent the sector as a whole and influence related policy.
Director of Policy Andrew Fleming. said: “Archaeology offers us such huge potential to interest people in our past. It is so much more than excavations and this review will help Historic Scotland fully recognise the excellent work already being carried out and develop better ways of supporting archaeology and research across Scotland.
“We are really fortunate as Scotland has an outstanding legacy of physical remains of our past. We are constantly learning more and revising our opinions about how our ancestors lived. Having a tangible link to life thousands of years ago is an incredible resource that we need to appreciate and celebrate.
“The expertise we have access to is astonishing an I hope that in taking forward plans for greater partnership working and the setting up of a forum specifically looking at archaeology we can ensure we are able to identify where investment can be most effective and what further work is needed.
“Last week the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop unveiled the remains of an ancient stringed instrument which had been found on the island of Skye. That project has uncovered a wealth of fascinating information but it is also a wonderful example of a great many people and organisations coming together to advise, fund and generally support the excavation and post excavation research. By working together we are changing the way that people regard their history and celebrating our shared history.”
Holding a review was a key performance target for 2011-12 and involved interviews with colleagues in Historic Scotland, as well as a number of partner organisations and has produced 11 key recommendations have been put forward.
Eila McQueen, Director of Archaeology Scotland, said:
“Archaeology Scotland welcome the review. We have a positive relationship with HS that we want to continue. There are exciting and challenging times ahead and I welcome the developing role of leadership from Historic Scotland and believe that we should all get behind that.”
Does the language in these press releases really have to be so awkward?