Weekend Reading: Hidden Empresses

This week I’ve been wandering round with my camera, recording the Empresses of South Shields.

First, a bit of local geography… Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, North-East England, is at the top of the hill known as the Lawe, overlooking the point where the River Tyne meets the sea. The street which runs alongside the Fort is called Fort Street; parallel to that, the next street down the hill is Trajan Avenue. Then there’s Vespasian Avenue and Julian Avenue, all linked by Lawe Road running down past the park. It’s a very imperial hill.

But once upon a time, there were other names. When Lawe Road was built, in the 1880s and 90s, each section of it was named after the wife of an emperor.

The section of road which led to Julian Avenue was called Helena Terrace; the section up to Vespasian Avenue was Flavia Terrace; and the block which joined onto Trajan Avenue was Plotina Terrace. At the corner of each empress’ block was a sandstone plaque which also gave the name of their respective husbands. The plaques are still (just about) visible; walking up the hill is a mini History lesson!


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These block names were not formally used for long, if at all: even the 1895 Ordnance Survey map lists the road simply as ‘Lawe Road’. So why were they put there in the first place?

Well, I don’t know for certain. But a possible answer lies in the social history of the area. The Victorian settlement on the Lawe was built as a community of pilots; nineteenth-century census records show an almost unbroken list of pilots, mariners, mates, engineers and steamboatmen living in the houses on the hill. At certain times of the year, nearly all the men across a dozen streets must have been away at sea.

At those times the hill would have become a community of women. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the women of the ancient world were so visibly represented in our street names.


Looking down Lawe Road from Fort Street
The view from Fort Street across the park at 3pm today: looking pretty bleak!



This week’s classical links from around the internet


From Classical Studies Support

Encountering Ashurbanipal: a review of the British Museum Exhibition – Klara Hegedus 

Taking up an archaeology placement – Frances Breen 



Not the first Greek computer – Smithsonian

Cleopatra the Musical – Theater Mania

What Plato tells us about Facebook’s problems – The New York Times 

A new statue of Ceres – Vermont Public Radio 

The Indiana Jones of art? – BBC

Romans, trains and Coventry – Coventry Live 

Uncovering Leda and the swan – Haaretz  and many other news outlets

Restoring the Parthenon – Greek Reporter 

Scribbling on Euripides – The Guardian 

Roman forum in Yorkshire – BBC 



Comment and opinion

Lessons from ancient literature – The Washington Post 

Who is welcome in ‘the classical’? – Classics at the Intersections 

Reception in historical fiction – Oxford Classical Dictionary 

Claire Danes reads the Odyssey – Bustle 

Solving a wrestling mystery – UVA Today 

The glitz of the Etruscans – The History Girls 

Ovid on breakups – In Media Res

Acting Greek tragedy – Institute of Classical Studies 

On specialist libraries – History Affect 

The impact of films – Cognitive 

Greeks and robots – The Weekly Standard

Caesar on Finland (!) – Sententiae Antiquae 

Plato and censorship – Aeon

The Spartans and Brasidas – The Deadliest Blogger 

Suetonius’ sauce level – The History Girls 

Introducing Medea – The Conversation 

Only one brothel? – History Extra 

A 12-hour reading of the Odyssey – Aussie Theatre 

Empire of Texts – Hyperallergic 

Coins and the Ptolemies – Coin Week

Staging the Penelopiad – The Medium 

Blogging about Comprehensible Input – Todally Comprehensible Latin

Brexit and the polis – The Spectator 

Women as catalysts of war – Feminism in India 

Speaking for Aristotle – The Edithorial 

Translating sexual violence in the Metamorphoses – Sewanee 

Adapting the Iliad for 2019 – Neos Kosmos 

Lucky sneezes – The Historian’s Hut 

Becoming an emperor – Eagles and Dragons 

Euripides’ life and works – Classical Wisdom Weekly 


academic translator


Videos, podcasts and other media

Messenger Speeches – Acting the Ancient World

Homer and Miletus – The Corbett Lecture 2018 

Expedition – Domitian’s Rule – Penn Museum 

Leonidas and the 300 – Barry Strauss 

Talking about Horace – In Our Time 

Battle after battle – The Partial Historians 

Roman Tribunes – Ancient History Guy 

Unconventional military tactics – The History Network 

Restoring ancient Babylon – National Public Radio

The Greek Lottery – Retropod 

Edith Hall on Aristotle – Tbilisi State University 

… and on The Barbarian – King’s College London 

Introducing Gods and Robots – Princeton University Press 

Germanicus the manicus – Ancient History Fangirl 

Egypt and Mycenae – The History of Egypt Podcast 

The Babylonian War – The Hellenistic Age Podcast 

Ancient Magic podcast – School of Advanced Study

Animating the Iliad – Oxford Classics 


Other stuff

Routledge Archaeology free access for 2 weeks – Taylor & Francis Online 

Download a free copy of a monograph on Roman Britain, AD 410 – Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies 

Legonium’s December calendar – Legonium 

Classical socks – Flaroh 





4 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Hidden Empresses

  1. I love reading this every Friday, I get wrong for spending ages following all the links, how I envied Frances Breen on her placement to Pompeii, to walk around in Pompeii in silence and peace, what a dream! ( I went on a free Public Holiday!!!) Classical studies support really takes me out of myself, don’t stop!!!!!!


    1. Thanks, Neil: I’m never sure if there’s anyone out there who’s actually reading these posts!
      Yes, an out-of-hours Pompeii is the stuff that classicist dreams are made of…!


    If you missed this you must scroll up to the image, zoom in, and read it; it’s just above ‘vdeo, podcasts and other media’! Hilarious! And all too true :-\


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