Tom Holland ‘End of the Roman empire: a mirror for our times?’

This brief, bald and unconvincing summary can do little justice to Tom Holland’s sparkling, thought-provoking display of scholarship, eloquence and wit before 220 supporters of Classics for All at the Royal Society on 13 June 2016.

(c) Alex Brenner

Taking as his theme the desire of dominant powers to protect their borders against mass migration, Tom began in 955 when Otto the Great, stripped to the waist in all his hirsute magnificence, defended Europe at the battle of Lechfeld in Bavaria against the invading Hungarians.

He then time-travelled back hundreds of thousands of years to the migration into Europe by homo zapiens (foreseeing the time he would invent remote-controlled TV), displacing the Neanderthals, whose DNA can still be found in us (thereby laying the groundwork for a fine farageo of topical jokes).

Forward then to early Greece, invaded by the arriviste Dorian sons of Hercules, allowing the Athenians to boast they alone were the original inhabitants; the Gauls’ invasions of Italy, Rome being saved in 390 BC only by the sacred geese who honked a warning while the guard-dogs slept; Julius Caesar’s invasion of Gaul, designed to put a stop to them once and for all; and the Germanic invasions, prompted by the migrating Huns, that ended the Roman empire in the West in the 5th C AD.

Tom noted en passant that the Roman emperor Claudius, who argued for the admission of the betrousered Gauls into the Senate, found a parallel today in Mrs Merkel. So who wears the trousers now? Nor did he fail to mention the first-ever Brexit, when Britain stalked out of the Roman Empire in the 4th C AD.

He ended on a reflective note by pointing out that the recent migrations into Europe were the first since Lechfeld.

  • Dr Peter Jones (Classics for All founder and adviser)

Tom Holland’s talk was followed by one of the teachers we’ve retrained to teach Latin through our grant programme, Judith Tyrell, a maths teacher at Kelmscott School in Walthamstow.

(c) Alex Brenner

She gave a moving talk about how her pupils became much more motivated after doing Latin, quoting Kiera, year 10: ‘I just love Latin! It makes me feel clever’. Judith is the fourth teacher at this school to add a Latin string to their bow – a good example of how state schools take the opportunity through our ‘start-up’ grant funds to ensure a solid foundation for classics in state schools.

(c) Alex Brenner
(c) Alex Brenner