Did Quintus Lollius Urbicus sneak across the border?

Mary Beard looks at another bizarre Twitter storm, this one set off by outrage at The Very Idea that there were any not entirely white people in Roman Britain.

It all started when an “alt-right” commenter picked up on a BBC schools video that featured a family in Roman Britain in which the father, a high ranking  soldier, was presented as black (as it is a cartoon it is harder to be more precise than that). The commenter objected both on twitter and on an online site. ‘The left’ he wrote, ‘ is literally trying to rewrite history to pretend Britain always had mass immigration.’

Several people objected to this criticism before me, notable Mike Stuchbery, who  pointed out on Twitter quite a lot of the evidence for ethnic and cultural diversity in the province. I came in quite late to say that the video was ‘pretty accurate’. I think, for example, that the BBC character was loosely based (with a bit of a chronological shift) on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a man from what is now Algeria, who became governor of Britain; you can still visit his grand tomb at Tiddis. If you want some more information on that accuracy, then try the blog of Neville Morley or of Matthew Nicholls; thanks to both for the support — and to the many others who have spoken up. I am really grateful.

You mean there wasn’t a Wall between Algeria and Britain? You mean the Mediterranean and the Atlantic weren’t full of sharks the size of 747s that ate any ship that ventured too far from home? You mean people from one place could actually travel to another place, even one quite a long distance away? How can this be? It must be PolitiKol Korrektness.

It was then that the attacks came, and have gone on for days since. True they haven’t yet got to death threats (as they have with my US colleague Sarah Bond, who had the nerve to talk about classical statues not originally being white) but a torrent of aggressive insults, on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender (batty old broad, obese, etc etc ). True they were well balanced by the support I got (thanks again all), and individually none was more than irritating, but the cumulative effect was just nasty. And it got worse after Nicholas Nassim Taleb weighed in, not on my side. He proved a rallying cry for the insults. One person, for example, posted a photo of Taleb, with the message to me ‘Hey… how does this make you pheel?’. When I said that it felt a bit like harrassment another came in with ‘no its what actual debate looks like. A bit more would might make you a better historian’ <sic>. And the same guy followed that up with a cartoon image of a frog putting his ‘hand’ over a woman’s mouth. This was about par for the course in gender terms. Whereas Taleb was Prof Taleb, I was Ms Beard (I don’t actually give a stuff about academic titles, but you see what’s going on here!)

Taleb himself was slightly less insulting, slightly. He accused me of talking bullshit and started to turn the whole thing into a bit of academic warfare/oneupmanship: ‘I get more academic citations per year than you got all your life!’ he wrote at one point.

At that point I took a quick squiz at Prof Taleb’s Twitter and found the usual dreary bullying combined with whines about PolitiKol Korrektness. How tedious these people are.

He wrote a piece for medium about how PolitiKolly Korrekt it all is and how angry it makes him, with an extra rant about UK academics:

The UK political correctness mob. Britain perfected the scholar with “f*** you money”, but today’s typical U.K. academic is a wuss, with a renewable 5 year contract, and, like the middle class, in a state of insecurity and constant fear of being caught breaking rules. They are very vulnerable to the slightest accusation (recall the Tim Hunt affair where a Nobel winner was summarily fired because of a confusing joke, with no chance of explaining what he meant).

Oh look, he got a basic fact wrong. Nearly everybody arguing his side of the question got that basic fact wrong. Tim Hunt was not fired, summarily or otherwise. He was a retired academic at the time. He was removed from an honorary professorship, an unpaid position.

In my case “feminists” were upset that I could disagree with a woman (I should not treat a woman as I would a man, yet they manage to find no contradiction.) So they used the excuse that I call Mary Beard Ms Beard simply because I will never call a historian with a PhD “Doctor”, particulary if the person, like Ms Beard has shown evidence of being a BS vendor…

Well he doesn’t actually mean “has shown evidence of being a BS vendor.” He means “has said something I don’t like.”

Greetings from Pepe the Frog.

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