Archive for the 'History' Category

23rd Jan 2013

The Cattle Raid skips a week

I know, I know. I’ve only managed two weeks after my Christmas break, and I’m already missing one. In my defence, this is a very complicated chapter, and I have a deadline on something else, various family commitments, and I’ve been moved to a new department in my day job and am learning the ropes. Plus, as I’ve probably never told this blog, I’ve been taking singing classes since last spring, and I have to learn my part of a song from Les Misérables, a show I’ve never seen, for Thursday. And my masked alter-ego has to stop my arch-enemy from destroying the world. All that. So once again, I crave your indulgence.

But I want to give you something. I’ve recently, with the aid of Irish Comic News, the Dublin cultural blog Come Here to Me!, and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, been able to reconstruct a biographical sketch of Phil Blake, a forgotten Irish cartoonist from the turn of the 20th century, over at the Irish Comics Wiki (check out the page of his cartoons and illustrations as well). Blake was born in Navan, County Meath, in 1869, the son of a farmer and Justice of the Peace, and seems to have started out drawing ads for Dublin businesses and theatre programmes, before taking over as the regular political cartoonist of the Weekly Freeman about 1898. He had a distinctive art nouveau style, and drew for the Freeman until about 1905, even getting a namecheck in James Joyce’s Ulysses. In 1908 he illustrated The Moneylender, a “controversial and scurrilous” novel about Jewish moneylenders in Dublin by Joseph Edelstein, a well-known if controversial member of Dublin’s Jewish community. Some time after that he relocated to Australia, where he illustrated fashion catalogues for a Sydney department store, and designed books of photographs by pioneering Australian photographer Harry Phillips. He died in Sydney in 1918, aged only 49.

Old Love Letters by Phil Blake, 1902

Old Love Letters by Phil Blake, 1902

Posted by Posted by paddybrown under Filed under Blog, Cartoonists, History, Irish comics, skip week, The Cattle Raid of Cooley Comments No Comments »

28th Jul 2010

Summer art-fatigue, and the deeper history of Irish comics

I’m starting to notice a pattern. Salesmanship, I think, tires me out.  Summer convention season – I do a bunch of cons and comics shows and stuff, and that brain-tiredness that makes making art next to impossible catches up with me again. Which means that, for the second week running, there’s no Cattle Raid of Cooley. And you have no idea how many times I have written, deleted and rewritten this paragraph. I shall rest up, avoid incurring mental injury by trying to force it, and return stronger – hopefully before too much longer. Maybe even next Wednesday. Fingers crossed.

But I’ll leave you with something to be going on with. You’ll no doubt remember last year I offered the first part of The History of Irish Comics, tracing the earliest examples of the cartoonist’s art in Ireland to Henry Brocas and William O’Keefe at the turn of the 19th century. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to push it back even further. First, I discovered Michael Stoppelaer, a Dublin-born singer, actor, portrait-painter and caricaturist, who died in 1777. Flushed with the success of that discovery, I immediately went one better, leaping back another two hundred years!

The Image of Irelande

In 1578, a customs agent called John Derricke, based in Drogheda and working for Sir Henry Sidney, Elizabeth I’s Lord Deputy of Ireland, witnessed Sidney’s campaigns against the Irish and their “woodkarne” guerrilla raids against English settlements, and he wrote a book, The Image of Irelande, about them. The first part of the book is a long poem of indifferent quality about the barbarous Irish and their violent and incomprehensible ways, and how that justifies the English in their attempts to rule them. The second part is, for our purposes, the interesting bit: a sequence of twelve double-page woodcut illustrations, with accompanying verse narration and occasional dialogue, relating how, after a successful raid on a settlement and a party to celebrate, complete with braigeteóirí, professional farters (see above), the Irish woodkarne are defeated twice in battle by Sir Henry Sidney, whose army parades in triumph in Dublin before receiving the submission of Turlough Luineach Ó Néill, king of Tyrone, his former rebel ally Rory Óg Ó More reduced to living in the forest with the wolves.

You’ll sometimes come across one or other of Derricke’s woodcuts, our of context, in a history book, because they are a unique and invaluable visual resource for the dress and military tactics of the period – but they were created as a sequence, and that sequence carries a narrative. They are, by any definition, a comic strip, created in Ireland when Shakespeare was a spotty adolescent. Okay, it’s by an Englishman who doesn’t think much of the Irish, but you can’t have everything.

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06th Feb 2010

Rome lookalikes

A few things struck me on my trip to Rome a couple of weekends ago. There seemed to be a promotion on of the period when Jack Meadows out of The Bill was emperor…

Jack Meadows - the Emperor Vespasian

Also found sculptures of Robin Cook…

Robin Cook

Mrs Doyle out of Father Ted

Mrs Doyle

And even the Ood out of Doctor Who, wearing a shower cap.

The Ood - a minotaur

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31st Oct 2009

Historical possibilities – the Roman invasion of Britain

I posted about a year and a half ago that I thought the supposed image of Christ on the Hinton St. Mary mosaic looked more like the emperor Constantine, and last month got left a comment by Ciorst saying that archaeologists had been saying this for ages – Martin Henig said “this probably shows Christ, but a member of the family of Constantine, perhaps even Constantine himself who adopted the chi-rho as his emblem, remains an alternative possibility” in The Art of Roman Britain in 1995.  It seems that sometimes when I get an idea in my head, I’m on the right track, so, despite the redoubtable Jona Lendering’s warning that “‘amateur historian’ is just another word for ‘unqualified’“, I’m going to have another go at it.

In AD 43, the Romans launched their conquest of Britain. The most common interpretation has been that they sailed from Boulogne and landed at Richborough in Kent (for example: Sheppard Frere, Britannia p. 48), but in recent years there has been some dispute about this. The only surviving account of the invasion is in Cassius Dio’s Roman History (book 60, Chs 19-23), and Dio says they sailed west. As you’ll see from the map below, Boulogne to Richborough is more-or-less north.  So some (for example, John Manley in AD 43: a Reassessment) have suggested that perhaps they sailed from Boulogne to the Solent (the strait between the Isle of Wight and Southampton Water), which would be sailing west as Dio says. This theory has two added advantages as a theory: Dio says the invasion was launched in support of Verica, a deposed king who, based on his coin distribution, ruled in that part of the country, and Suetonius (Vespasian ch. 4) says the future emperor Vespasian conquered the Isle of Wight as part of the invasion campaign.

From Boulogne to Richborough and the Solent

From Boulogne to Richborough and the Solent

However, there are good reasons for thinking that Richborough was the landing point. Frere says “Excavations at Richborough have revealed an early Claudian defensive beach-head perimeter which is clearly the scene of the main and possibly the only landing” (Britannia p. 48), and Dio’s account describes the Romans as fairly quickly advancing to a fording-point of the Thames “near where it empties into the ocean”, establishing camp there and sending word to Claudius. If, as it seems, the objective of the first phase of the campaign was to secure a strategic crossing-point of the Thames near its estuary, it doesn’t make much sense to sail west to the Solent, and then have to march so far back east.

So what’s the solution? Dio says the invasion fleet sailed in three divisions, so perhaps one landed at Richborough, another at the Solent, and the third somewhere else. But Dio also seems to describe a unified campaign from the landing to the Thames.

The key is to realise that the point of departure for the invasion fleet is not specified. Dio doesn’t mention it. Suetonius (Claudius 17) says that Claudius sailed to Britain from Gesoriacum (Boulogne), but Claudius and his reinforcements came later, in a separate sailing. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the main invasion force sailed from the same place.

Strabo (Geography 4.5.2), writing about 7 BC, says that in his time there were only four commonly used points of departure for Britain: the mouths of the rivers Rhine, Seine, Loire and Garonne. He also mentions Itium, another name for Boulogne,1 from which  Julius Caesar sailed in 55 and 54 BC, although the implication is that it was no longer in common use. From the Loire and Garonne you would have to sail all the way around Britanny, probably to destinations in Cornwall.  From the Seine, the most obvious destination is the Solent. From the Rhine, Strabo says it was usual to sail along the coast before crossing from somewhere between the territories of the Menapii and the Morini, two Belgic population groups. Richborough seems a likely destination, sailing west.

Routes to Britain according to Strabo

Routes to Britain according to Strabo

We know from Suetonius (Vespasian ch. 4 again) that the legion Vespasian commanded was transferred from a posting in Germania to take part in the invasion.  According to L. J. F. Keppie’s Legions and Veterans: Roman Amy Papers 1971-2000 (p. 140) this legion, the II Augusta, was in Strasbourg, which is on the Rhine, and of the three other legions believed to have taken part, the XIV Gemina was in Mainz and the XX was in Xanten, both also on the Rhine.  The fourth, the IX Hispana, was further south-east in Pannonia.  It would seem sensible, if you wanted to gather these four legions in one place in preparation for a voyage to Britain, to do it via the Rhine.

I believe this theory is consistent with all the known facts and sources, but I haven’t seen it considered in print. Any and all more informed (and better qualified) comments welcome.

1 6 April 2010: Bill Thayer points out that Itium, aka Itius Portus, may not be Boulogne – see this page on his Lacus Curtius site and the linked articles. It may rather be Wissant, a little further north towards Calais.

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29th May 2008

"Image of Christ" revisited

I posted a piece last month ago about how the supposed image of Christ found in a mosaic floor at Hinton St. Mary actually looked rather more like the Colossus of Constantine. Interestingly enough, as I was browsing in Waterstones yesterday afternoon, I happened across The Romans for Dummies by Guy de la Bedoyere. The cover is a montage of lots of images – but the cover designer has placed the Colossus of Constantine right next to the Hinton St. Mary “Christ”! Perhaps I’m not the only one to have come to that conclusion…

The Romans for Dummies

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28th Apr 2008

Image of Christ?

A 4th century mosaic was discovered in the remains of a Roman villa at Hinton St. Mary in Dorset in 1963. At the centre is a portrait of a man superimposed on the Christian Chi-Rho symbol, and on the basis of that symbol it’s universally identified as a picture of Christ. Here’s what it looks like:

Doesn’t look much like the traditional image of Christ, does it? He’s clean-shaven and wearing a toga. The Romans may have co-opted Christianity, but they never claimed Christ was a Roman.

Here’s a photo of the statue known as the Collossus of Constantine – a portrait of the emperor who legalised Christianity, and is supposed to have had a vision instructing him to conquer in the sign of the Chi-Rho.

The same cleft chin. The same broad face and narrow mouth. The same eyes and eyebrows. The same haircut. That mosaic image isn’t Christ – it’s Constantine!

Posted by Posted by paddybrown under Filed under History, Religion Comments 11 Comments »

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