Anthony Barrett

Imperial Biographies

My main research activity is my involvement in the Imperial Biographies Series published by Yale University press. This series envisages new analyses of the lives and careers of the more significant figures of Rome’s imperial families.

I have so far completed three volumes in the series. My aim is to present detailed scholarly arguments, based on literary texts, numismatic and epigraphic information, and the latest archaeological evidence. This is intended for the specialist. At the same time it is hoped that the results will be of considerable interest to the lay reader.

The first book, on Caligula, offered the portrait of a sane and rational emperor, but one without moral compunctions. It has been translated into Italian, and Russian and German editions are pending.

The second, on Agrippina, seeks to dispel that notion of the promiscuous murderess and to suggest that Agrippina’s contribution to the state was beneficial. It also argues that she saw her main role as partner to the emperor Claudius, rather than merely the agent of her son Nero. A Russian edition is pending.

The third volume is devoted to Livia, the wife of the first emperor, Augustus. It presents her as a politically astute woman who played an important role in the evolution of the early principate.

Since 1988 I have directed the excavation of the Roman fort on the ‘Lunt’, a plateau overlooking the river Sowe to the south of the city of Coventry.

The fort seems to have begun in Nero’s reign ca. A.D. 60 in connection with the rebellion of Boudicca. Its dimensions are unknown, but it may have been large enough to house a legionary vexillation.

At some point in the 60’s it was reduced to an auxiliary fort (Period II), covering approximately 1.21 hectares. This fort in turn underwent some modifications until its abandonment ca. 80. There is some tenuous evidence of a brief re-occupation in the 3d century.

The excavation of the interior of the Period II fort was completed in the early 70’s. The conventional features of an auxiliary fort were identified, including the praetorium, barrack blocks and granaries. But there are two striking anomalies, the ‘gyrus’, a circular structure some 35m in diameter, unique to this site and of uncertain function, and the sinuous shape of the eastern defences, for which no compelling strategic or topographical explanations have been adduced.

The major excavations between 1967 and 1972 were followed by reconstruction of the eastern defences, one of the granaries and the gyrus. I began work in 1988, uncovering the northern section of the Period II western defenses for the first time. Various buildings of Period I have been unearthed, including a granary. It has also been demonstrated that the western defenses exhibit the same curving pattern as the eastern.

A detailed report is submitted each year to English Heritage. These annual reports will form the basis of the final publication of the site.