Ancient Scotland and “Classical Caledonia”: In Conversation with Alan Montgomery

Ancient Scotland and “Classical Caledonia”: In Conversation with Alan Montgomery


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This illustrated lecture with historian Dr. Alan Montgomery features his new book, ‘Classical Caledonia’, which investigates early modern attitudes towards Scotland’s ancient history. Enlightening, exciting, and educational, this is a fitting talk for anyone with an interest in how history and historical myth helped to shape Scotland.

The eighteenth century was a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Scottish nation. Following years of famine and financial crisis, Scots finally surrendered their sovereignty by submitting to a union with England in 1707. The Jacobite revolt of 1745 rocked the new British establishment to its foundations, and the repercussions would be felt for decades to come, particularly in the Highlands. As is often the case in times of trauma, patriotic Scots turned to their history for solace, searching for a lost Golden Age of fearless heroes to bolster their sagging sense of self-esteem.

For centuries, one of Scotland’s proudest claims was that she was one of the only nations to have successfully resisted invasion by ancient Rome, the greatest empire that the world had ever known. But the eighteenth-century would become a period when Rome was held in high regard throughout Europe. As a result, some Scots attempted to prove that their homeland, the place known in ancient times as ‘Caledonia’, had in fact been a Roman province filled with cities, villas and temples, all potent symbols of classical civility. The arguments and debates that ensued tell us much about how history can be used (and abused) in the creation of national identity.

Including tales of eccentric antiquarians, of a lost ancient temple with legendary links to Julius Caesar and King Arthur and of a notorious forgery that would fool British scholars for over a century, this interactive seminar will explore how and why history (and historical myth) can play an important role in the development of the modern nation.

Alan Montgomery was born and raised in Scotland but has spent most of his adult life in London. Having achieved an MA in Art History at Glasgow University, he worked for many years in the art world at both an international auction house and an antique dealer. In recent years he has returned to academia, achieving an MA in Classical Civilisation in 2011, and has recently completed a Ph.D. in which he analyzed eighteenth-century attitudes towards the ancient Roman world. In addition to his work for Context Travel, Alan also writes catalog essays on Contemporary Art for a leading auctioneer. Elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 2017, he has just started work on a book inspired by his Ph.D. research, which will be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2020.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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