Weekend Reading: And The Award Goes To…

This week I was delighted to reach the pinnacle of classical artistic accomplishment. Yes, that’s right: I was awarded first prize in the Roman History category of the Legonium Photography Competition! (I’m very proud: I haven’t even won a raffle in years…!)

The brief was to take a picture of a scene from Roman history using toys or household objects – and I do live with a lot of toys, so it wasn’t much of a challenge. Here’s my winning entry, composed with the help of my son, who donated the toys and then watched me with a condescending smirk as I tried to get the lighting right on a bus wearing a crown…




I like to think that this makes me a World Champion in the art of Representing Roman History Through Toys (along with judge Sarah Scullin, of course, whose pioneering work in this field is unmatched). Now I just have to decide where to put that on my increasingly peculiar academic CV….!

To be serious for a minute… this sort of initiative is important to me on several levels, quite apart from the fact that it’s fun. My son was diagnosed with autism four years ago, and for a long time we communicated mainly through toys. He couldn’t speak or make eye contact, didn’t respond to his name or acknowledge the presence of other people, and medical professionals said that perhaps he never would. But we could play together in parallel, with toys that represented his interests, and it was a way of modelling behaviour that worked for him. Toys were involved in much of his therapy, from the Speech and Language sessions to the Occupational Therapy (since toys with small parts, like Lego or Playmobil, are apparently very good for building up finger strength and coordination in kids with hypermobility).

For us the early intervention made all the difference, and things improved dramatically. But even though my son is socially much more confident now, and no longer needs the practice with fine motor skills, he still rehearses situations constantly through dialogue between a weird assortment of figures. There are toys all over my house, and they all have distinct identities and jobs to do – and they certainly can’t be put away. It’s like living in the middle of ‘Toy Story’ sometimes.

So, as a classicist with an interest in autistic learning, I’ve been following closely the work done recently on Classics and autism in relation to the appeal of mythology. And it’s a pleasure to see the growing scholarly interest in classical children’s culture and in how toys (particularly Lego) open up the classical world to different audiences and allow it to be experienced in different ways. I’ve followed particularly the research by Lynette Jensen, along with initiatives by, among others, Lego Classicists and Legonium – not to mention the wonderful Lego recreations of ancient sites which have been displayed in museums around the world.

That’s why I’ve chosen the Legonium Latin reader as my competition prize: because I think there’s a great deal of value in learning through toys, both for mainstream kids and for those whose brains process information a bit differently. I’d love to be actively involved in this kind of research myself (there’s got to be some reason why I bothered to get two Masters degrees in Education!), but that’s a luxury I don’t have these days, with a teaching-only job and the perpetual chaos of single-motherhood.

(I also chose the book because I really like Lego. But don’t tell anybody…!)

Anyway, my son is very proud that we’ve managed to achieve something that he can actually tell his friends about – and I’m basking in the sunshine of his approval. Well, temporarily at least: he’ll be irritated with me again by Sunday, and ignoring me again by next week!


Perhaps I carried the bus theme a bit too far with my second entry. It turns out to be rather difficult to attach wings to a bus. Where’s Daedalus when you need him?






This week’s links from around the internet




Learning about Roman Colchester from horses – Daily Gazette

Roman jewellery on a barbarian woman – The Daily Mail 

Electioneering – A Don’s Life 

The allure of Troy – The Guardian 

Roman road row – Largs and Millport Weekly News





Comment and opinion

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue – The Sphinx 

The Battle of Actium – Classical Wisdom Weekly 

What happened at Troy? – The Spectator

Working class Classics – Aeon 

Myths, monsters and mosaics – Current Archaeology 

Staging Trojan Women – INDYWeek

The Greeks and winning – The Spectator 

Against the epic? – Archaeology of the Mediterranean World 

Writing in the ancient world – CREWS Project 

The lost Roman standards – Coin Week

Hippocrates as fan fiction – CRSN

Crochet your way into Classics – Eidolon 

Illustrating Classics – Eidolon

Naming new places in an ancient language – In Medias Res

British School at Athens course for teachers – ACE

The history of female classicists – Society for Classical Studies



Podcasts, video and other media

Cleopatra and Antony – Ancient History Fangirl

Ladies in the Empire – The Exploress

11 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: And The Award Goes To…

  1. Thank you for this and congratulations – both on your award and gaining your son’s approval.
    In my inimitable way I was oblivious to how toys could help bridge the gap to Classical times to different groups. Strange really as I am always on the lookout for different ways to make the past more accessible although I suspect I may have just been considering my own needs. I must be more open minded!
    Currently I am doing the Rome MOOC and am loving how the 3D modelling created by Matthew Nichols allows such an immersive experience. This is not to mention the VR experience in the Domus Aurea – didn’t do the Circus Maximus but that is for the next visit (March).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It made me (and Mrs) cry it was so fabulous – there again we also welled up the first time we saw the Colosseum from the open top tourist bus, so it might just be us.
        Having said that I have recommended it to several other ‘study buddies’ from OU and they, without exception, have had the same response. It may be OU people are just strange.


  2. Congratulations on your success in the Legonium competition. I’ve always thought that Tarquinius Superbus was a pun waiting to happen. I hadn’t realized that your little lad was on the autistic spectrum….that’s hard work. I speak from experience; My James is also on the autistic spectrum, and he has grown up into a self-sufficient and reasonably well-organized man – has enjoyed solo holidays in Kenya and the USA, and is currently planning a trip to India. Sadly for me, he has little interest in the classical world, although he has visited quite a few interesting sites with me – Rome, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Pergamum (you may remember my photos of the mosaics), Glanum, Arles, Nimes etc, etc. So the message is – keep up your good work, and be encouraged; J will grow up into a fabulous individual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, thank you Pam! It’s certainly reassuring to know someone who’s been through it all and come out the other side! And what fabulous trips (I do remember your photos)! That’s one of my goals for the next couple of years – to start travelling a bit more with my son. Although I suspect that, like yours, he’ll just tolerate the classical stuff…!


  3. FANTASTIC! Well done on your award-winning work. You similarly deserve first rate recognition for your teaching; and certainly for your personal passion for autism-focused education. And you definitely get my vote in the amazing mum stakes. There should be a premium prize for that 👍🤗


  4. Congratulations on your well-earned award!

    It reminded me of an archaeological paper I read recently (by Mireia Lopez Bertran and Jaime Vives Ferrandiz) regarding miniatures in domestic contexts in Iron Age Spain. Miniatures and figurines in the ancient world are a very interesting subject (in the pre-Neolithic Near East clay was used to make figurines before it was ever used to make pots) – however, in the Iberian Iron Age miniature skilful reproductions of pottery tableware, tools, animals and horsemen have been found particularly in houses and sometimes in child burials. They have been interpreted as toys used to teach children (and adults) about their world and culture.

    Of course there are many examples of Roman toys – although I’ve never seen a crowned bus before! – but it seems as a teaching tool they go back even earlier (Egyptian too?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, nice! An actual ancient-world predecessor of miniature educational toys? I’m going to have to look that up and then use it to justify bringing along lots of Playmobil to tutorials…!


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