Eagle Sidebars

As the reviews of The Eagle from this side of the pond seem to have subsided (none left in the ‘Sword and Sandal’ section at the bottom of the main page) and have been largely ‘meh’, from what I’ve seen, it’s interesting that a couple of apropos news articles from the other side of the pond have shown up in my emailbox. First comes a feature from the Journal on Lindsay Allason-Jones, who was the historical advisor on the film:

A NEW historical epic film about a lost Roman legion has the stamp of North East expertise.

The $25m movie The Eagle, inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff’s 1954 novel The Eagle of the Ninth, opens in Britain on March 25.

And the film’s academic adviser is Newcastle University Roman expert Lindsay Allason-Jones.

The novel is based on what is now thought to be a myth – that the Ninth Legion vanished without trace after marching beyond Hadrian’s Wall into Scotland.

The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald, whose previous movies include The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and Touching the Void.

The Eagle follows a young Roman centurion called Marcus as he ventures beyond Hadrian’s Wall to discover the fate of the lost Ninth Legion, which had been led by his father.

Its cast includes Donald Sutherland and North East actor Jamie Bell, who starred in the role of Billy Elliot.

Lindsay has written 13 books on Roman topics and has appeared in TV programmes such as Meet the Ancestors and Time Team.

She was visited by The Eagle’s production team in 2008 when she was in the process of closing down the university’s Museum of Antiquities, whose collections moved to the Great North Museum. When asked to be the film’s historical advisor, Lindsay said: “ I agreed because I thought it would be very interesting to see how a film was put together from start to finish.

“It was fascinating to go from seeing the original script through to sorting out the details, meeting the cast and crew and dealing with the distributor’s publicity team.

“I was sent copies of the script and asked to comment, which was tricky because Rosemary Sutcliff was writing more than 50 years ago when our understanding of Roman Britain was very different.”

Lindsay pointed out historical flaws in the novel, such as the centurion being in charge of a fortress.

“In fact a centurion was only in charge of 80 men. I wanted to make the film as accurate as possible but there are some things you can’t bend because it is the job of the makers to produce an exciting film. But one that I couldn’t let through, although I was tempted for a split second, was ‘gladiolus’ instead of ‘gladius’ (the sword used by the Romans) in the publicity.

“I still have a lovely image of them running into battle waving their flowers every time I think about it.”

The movie was released in the United States last month and grossed $8.6m in its first weekend.

Lindsay said: “As academics we’re always told to do things which have impact and it suddenly dawned on me that, although my name is just another credit in a long line, of all the things I’ve done in my career this one probably has more impact than any of them.

“It’s a good film that cannot fail to interest people in the Romans.”

… we’ll comment on the centurion-in-charge thing in another post. Other than that, though, another item — from the Gazette — relates on what ultimately inspired the film:

A ROMAN eagle found in Silchester is the inspiration behind a new blockbuster movie starring Channing Tatum and Donald Sutherland.

And to mark the film’s release, Universal Pictures ferried a band of critics to the ancient Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum where the eagle was discovered.

They were given a tour, along with producer Duncan Kenworthy – whose producer credits include Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral. They were also taken to the amphitheatre and instructed in Roman combat by the film’s experts in sword fighting.

The journalists were also taught a legionary display march, much to the surprise of visitors.

And afterwards they enjoyed a Roman feast and were given a screening of the new film at Reading Museum.

The film, much of which was shot in Hungary, tells the story of a young Roman soldier as he attempts to honour his father’s memory by finding his legion’s lost golden emblem.

It is based on The Eagle of the Ninth, a book written by Rosemary Sutcliff in 1954 – whose story, although largely set in Scotland – was born from the Hampshire find almost a century before.

The spectacular bronze eagle was discovered by the Revd James Joyce while excavating Silchester’s Roman ruins in 1866. He believed the eagle had once been part of a legion’s standard that was hidden when the legion was attacked.

In recent times the Silchester site has been the subject of numerous excavations by the University of Reading.

Scholars at first thought the eagle had been part of a statue that was burned down in the third century.

However Professor Michael Fulford, who leads the annual dig in Silchester and gave the critics a tour, said while that may not be the case, it is an important find.

He said: “A combination of accumulated knowledge and close study have shown the eagle was almost certainly part of a statue of the Roman god Jupiter and not part of a legionary standard. It’s likely that the Romans gave the statue to the local ruler who ruled this part of southern Britain on behalf of Rome.

“The probable donor was Nero himself as it was he who ordered the construction of the palace for his tribal ally.”

The eagle itself now resides at Reading Museum. The Eagle, released by Universal Pictures, will be in cinemas from March 25.

… if you’re wondering about the eagle in the Reading Museum

Also Seen: Worst Movie Accents

The Toronto Sun (and likely other members of the Sun chain) has a feature on bad movie accents in 20 or so movies, and Brangelina form a Classical duo at numbers five and six:

WHO: Brad Pitt as Achilles. MOVIE: “Troy” (2004.) ACCENT SUPPOSED TO BE: Ancient Greek (which, in most Hollywood movies – becomes a British accent). SOUNDS LIKE: American cowboy with a hint of English.


WHO: Angelina Jolie as Olympias. MOVIE: “Alexander” (2004) ACCENT SUPPOSED TO BE: Ancient Greek. SOUNDS LIKE: Possibly Russian. Also odd? Co-star Colin Farrell forgoes the Greek completely and speaks with a British accent instead, making Jolie’s even more out of place.

Back when Troy came out, Language Log had an interesting post on Pitt’s enunciation:

… Jolie doesn’t seem to have merited similar treatment (other than a zillion reviewers mocking her for her Russian/Transylvanian/East European affectation)

Roman Fish Salting Site from Spain

From Euro Weekly News:

FOLLOWING on from the recent discovery of archaeological remains in the heart of Denia, a new excavation has brought to light the structures of an ancient salting factory under the town’s modern buildings.

The remains appear to be late Roman, dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, when old Denia went under its Roman name of Dianium, and consisted of “ a set of four contiguous pools of regular ground, dug into the earth, and have a strong coating of signinum opus (a heavy lime based plaster)” said local architect and the head of Denia’s Municipal Architecture Department, Josep A Gisbert.

These structures “are related to a common type of late Roman factory, the likes of which have been well documented along the coast of the Levante, and coastal enclaves of Andalusia and Tarragona “ continued Sr. Gisbert.

Archaeological excavations in this area have not yet been completed.

And this week works are commencing on a new ‘dig’ in Denia in an attempt to expose more of the extensive factory remains and so gain better understanding of the factory and its workings.

The factories were coastal based to give easy access to salt beds, and so also were conveniently situated to offer instant salting for the locally caught fish trade.

“It’s (the salting works) special location is in an area close to the old city centre, adjacent to the forum (the main square in Roman times). This proves a strong urban regression from the classical city, which has overlapping ruins of industrial and domestic architecture, as well as fifth and sixth century cemeteries,“ said Sr. Gisbert.

The discovery “leads to another conclusion” he said, “this small salting factory which ran for almost one thousand five hundred years and was part of the fabric of Dianium, is a historical reference that confirms the presence of salted fish in the diet and work of the people’s daily lives.” In short, archaeology is not simply the study of old rocks. It tells us things. It explains life.

Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Wikipedia entry on Denia:

There is evidence of human habitation in the area since prehistoric times and there are significant Iberian ruins on the hillsides nearby. In the 4th century BC it was a Greek colony of Marseille or Empúries, being mentioned by Strabo as Hemeroscòpion. It was an ally of Rome during the Punic Wars, and later was absorbed into the Roman Empire under the name of Dianum. In the 1st century BC Quintus Sertorius established a Roman naval base here.

Despite that apparently-long Classical history,  the only other item I’ve ever come across news-wise for Denia was a somewhat vague item (and so filed away) on the discovery of a lead ingot from there last June from some real estate newsletter:

Divers diving off the coast of Denia have discovered a lead ingot on the sea bed which is believed to be of Roman origin.

Recent storms have washed the ingot closer towards the shore.The bar weighs at least 30 kilos and is said to be in perfect condition.

The Denia archaeological museum has stated that this is an exceptional find and of great historic value. It is thought to have originated from Carthago Nova(Cartagena) and it bears the words Societate and T.Lucreticil,making the archaeologists think that it originated with a Roman mining firm .

There is documented evidence that saying that the Lucretia dynasty was involved in the mining of lead at the beginning of the second century BC.This ingot was possibly part of a shipment bound for the northern Mediterranean,sinking off the coast.

… never did manage to track down a Roman gens Lucretia mining family (not that I spent too much time on it ) …