Prof. Barry Cunliffe (Oxford), “Celtic from the West?”

For more than three hundred years the prevailing model, built on linguistic data, has been that the Celts and their language originated in west central Europe and spread from there to the west some time in the middle of the first millennium BC.  In the 19th and early 20th century it was conventional for the fast growing archaeological evidence to be interpreted according to the linguistic model but by 1960 archaeologists working in western Europe found the old hypothesis increasingly difficult to support. This contribution lays out the problem and explores possible solutions.

Dr. Alex Woolf (St. Andrews), “The Ethnogenesis of the Britons: a Late Antique story.”


Prof. Helen Fulton (Bristol), “Origins and Introductions: Troy and Britain in Late Medieval Writing.”

This paper looks at the reception of Britishness into English literary culture of the late Middle Ages through the medium of the topos of Troy. The focus of the paper is mainly on texts in Middle English from the 14th and 15th centuries which use the theme of Troy as an opening preface to set the scene for accounts of English nationhood, as in the fourteenth-century romance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

These Trojan prefaces and vernacular accounts of the Trojan legend function to romanticise Troy as a fictional symbol of the fall of city, government, and nation, a warning from the past to leaders of the present. For an authentic account of Britain’s historical past, medieval English writers turned not to Troy, which served other purposes, but to Rome whose imperial occupation of Britain, largely elided by Geoffrey of Monmouth, provided a moral heritage whose material remains were still visible in the landscape.

By avoiding the possible historicity of Troy, as asserted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, medieval English writers were able to avoid acknowledging the special status of the Welsh as the descendants of the British Trojans. The appropriation of both Troy and Rome as sites of Englishness can therefore be read as an erasure of the Welsh as supposedly autochthonous descendants of the Trojans. The paper will finish by considering ways in which the Welsh continued to assert their Trojan origins in the late Middle Ages through poetic references and the translation of Dares Phrygius’s Latin account of Troy into the vernacular chronicle, Ystorya Dared.

Prof. Ceri Davies (Swansea), “Meeting the classical challenge: Sir John Prise and defending the British History.”

How reliable is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae? How much support do classical writers give for the early part of the Galfridian account of British history? Such centuries-old questions came to a head in the sixteenth century with the publication, in 1534, of Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia and its rejection of much of Geoffrey’s narrative. This paper will explore the response to Polydore Vergil presented by the Tudor administrator and antiquary Sir John Prise (1501/2-1555), of Brecon and Hereford, in his Latin book Historiae Britannicae Defensio (first published posthumously in 1573). For all his passionate adherence to the traditional history, Prise constructed his defence on the basis of scholarly principles established by Renaissance humanists in their study of the Greek and Latin classics. The paper will concentrate on Prise, but will bring into play other scholars concerned with British antiquity, e.g. John Leland, Humphrey Llwyd, David Powel and William Camden.

For details of a new edition (2015) of John Prise, Historiae Britannicae Defensio, see:


Prof. Philip Schwyzer (Exeter), “The Politics of British Antiquity in the Jacobean Era.”

For many English and Welsh observers in 1603, the union of the crowns under James VI and I marked a restoration of Britain’s natural political order. According to the tradition inherited from Geoffrey of Monmouth among others, the island had been anciently united under a single ruler. In the debate over closer legal and political union between England and Scotland in the early years of James’s reign, both Celtic and Classical understandings of the British past were brought to bear and exposed to unprecedented scrutiny. This paper explores the politics of British antiquity in the Jacobean era, with a focus on the complex historical and cultural vision of Michael Drayton and John Selden’s Poly-Olbion.

Dr. Mary-Ann Constantine (Wales), “Celts and Romans on Tour: Visions of Early Britain in C18th travel literature.”

This paper draws on work from a current AHRC-funded project ‘Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760-1820’ to explore the presence (sometimes shadowy, sometimes surprisingly brash) of Romans and Britons in the Tour literature of the late eighteenth century. Focusing particularly but not exclusively on the work of Thomas Pennant, it shows how the deeply ingrained narratives of Classical authors like Caesar and Tacitus offered a framework for perceiving the past in the landscape; indeed, sometimes they literally wrote the traveller’s itinerary. But the Classics also provided ways of reading the present, and Tours of Wales and Scotland in particular offer some interestingly complex perspectives on questions of loyalty and cultural diversity in the relatively new polity of a ‘united’ Britain.

Prof. Rosemary Sweet (Leicester), “Antiquaries and the Romanized Briton.”

Early eighteenth-century Britain saw an efflorescence of scholarship on Roman Britain, but its emphasis was overwhelmingly upon the military occupation of the island and the subjugation of the Britons by the Romans. Such interest as there was in the social and cultural impact of the Romans on the Britons wavered between those who applauded the first advent of civilization and the arts, and those who, good students of Tacitus as they were, deplored the loss of the Britons’ spirit of freedom and liberty, when the Britons were suborned by the luxuries and refinements of Roman civilization. Actually documenting or describing this process of cultural change was not, however, a topic that antiquaries in the eighteenth century engaged with. Interest in the ‘romanized Briton’ started to become more evident in the later eighteenth century, however, coinciding with greater interest amongst antiquaries generally in the social life and ‘domestic economy’ of earlier periods. The discovery of major archaeological sites such as the Roman villas at Bignor and Woodchester pointed to a peaceable, civilian society; excavations in towns and cities for gas mains, sewers and urban improvement likewise revealed a wealth of Roman antiquities indicative of commercial and manufacturing prosperity. Further afield, accounts of the excavations at Pompeii stimulated interest in the evidence for urban and domestic life in Roman Britain. This paper will focus upon how antiquaries and archaeologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries used this new material evidence of the past to construct an alternative to the militarised vision of Romano-British society, one in which questions of domesticity, family structure, and commercial enterprise were foremost.

Dr. Philip Burton (Birmingham), “Looking for Celts and Romans in Middle-earth.”

Looking for Celts and Romans in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is a fascinating if frustrating quest. On the one hand, Tolkien famously insists that his work is not allegorical, and that while one may apply motifs in his fiction to situations in the ‘primary world’, this applicability should be seen as a matter of readerly eisegesis rather than authorial intent. On the other, he seems frequently to lead the reader towards drawing the sort of parallels he studiously disavows. This is particularly noticeable in his ethnography. Thus his Rohirrim are presented as speaking a form of Old English and being in general ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in culture; something similar is true of Hobbits; the greatest of the dwarf-kindreds is the race of the Longbeards (whence Lombards); and so on.

Romans and Celts form two notional exceptions, if partial ones. Despite Tolkien’s long-standing love of Welsh language and literature, it is harder to find obviously ‘Celtic’ peoples in his work. In this paper, I suggest three groups which partly fit this definition. These are typically characterized by their language, their appearance, and by their geographical and cultural marginalization from some other, normative ethnic group. Their relationship to this ‘main’ group varies; they may be equal but different, a tragic remnant, or barely human. Romans are harder to identify; indeed, I suggest they are a significant absence in Tolkien’s work, representing an ambiguity in his attitude towards the contribution of Rome to the peoples of Britain and Europe.

Prof. Richard Hingley (Durham), “Hadrian’s Wall and the unity of the nation: putting monumentality to use in thoughts about Scottish and English identity.”

This paper will explore the tendency for this famous Roman frontier work to be used to conceptualise the division of peoples living to the south and north of its line. It will focus, initially, on debates in the media during 2012-2014 that related the monument to ideas about Scottish independence. These conceptions will be traced back in time with an emphasis on the genealogy of how ideas of ruination and rebuilding are encapsulated in images and writings that derive from the modern, early modern and medieval pasts. The paper will also address the ways that increasing knowledge of the physical character of the monument has impacted upon changing conceptions. The paper is derived from the author’s published research (R. Hingley 2012 Hadrian’s Wall: A Life, Oxford University Press) and from subsequent political developments in the UK and Europe.