“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, February 08, 2010

Colchester, England, once capitol of Roman Britain, looking for money to save 2000 year old chariot track

Race is on to save site of Roman chariot track
Campaigners hope to raise funds to preserve last remaining site of its kind in Britain

By Tom Peck Independent

There was considerable excitement among archaeologists when, in 2005, a firm of housing developers unearthed the only Roman chariot-racing track in Britain, on a site in Colchester, Essex.

Five years later, residents have less than a month to save the site. The racetrack is still hidden beneath local roads, gardens and old army buildings, but campaigners are hoping to buy a large Victorian garden which covers the key part of the circuit.

Buried beneath are eight stone enclosures, originally having been fitted with wooden double doors, like giant greyhound racing traps. The land is the garden of a listed but derelict sergeants' mess, which will become an exhibition if the campaign succeeds. If it fails, however, the building will become apartments, and the garden will be the apartment block's private land again.

For almost 2,000 years, the 350-metre outline of the track has remained intact. The site lay undiscovered until the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) began excavating after the Ministry of Defence sold the barracks for housing in 2005. Archaeological digs suggest the racetrack was built in the early 2nd century, and lasted about 150 years before falling out of use, perhaps because a day at the races became prohibitively expensive for the local gentry – crowds received free admission and also expected to receive gifts.

CAT has since traced long stretches of the perimeter, complete with banked seating for up to 15,000 people. The bases of start and finish posts have also been discovered, as well as elaborate fountains that served as lap markers.

Wendy Bailey, chairwoman of Destination Colchester, said a campaign had received a boost with a £30,000 council contribution. "This has really caught the imagination of ordinary local people," she told The Guardian. "We're doing a fundraiser at the local football ground, where one man said: 'This was like their football to the people of those days.' We are extraordinarily grateful to the council, but I still don't think the authorities charged with protecting it really get how important this heritage is to local people."

Tony Robinson, the actor and presenter of Channel 4's Time Team, has supported the campaign, as have the politician Tony Benn and the historian Dan Cruickshank. Mr Robinson said the circus was an incredible find. "I hope local people, politicians and businesses will all play their part in ensuring as much of it as possible, including the starting stalls, is made secure and accessible for future generations."

If the campaigners are to buy the land and have the site taken off the market, they will need to find £200,000 by the end of February. The sergeants' mess hall building, which they hope will be bought by the archaeology trust and a consortium of community groups and businesses, will cost a further £550,000

More than £120,000 has so far been raised in just a few weeks, almost entirely in small donations from the public. Colchester United flashed up the campaign poster on their screens during a recent match.

Chariot racing was very popular with the Romans, as immortalised by Charlton Heston in the movie adaptation Ben-Hur, but only four tracks have been found in the former north-western provinces of the old Empire. Colchester was once the capital of Roman Britain, and now claims to be Britain's oldest town. The Roman garrison in the town would have provided an enthusiastic audience.


  1. interesting post. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did anyone hear that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.

  2. nice article. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did any one know that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.

  3. great read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you hear that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.

  4. It seems to me that if the US had sent an Ambassador, to Costa Rica, that spoke Spanish, well, we might have been better represented, there.

    That being more important to US than making the Ambassadorship a payoff to a political fundraiser.

    But what the hey, it is only in America.

  5. Steve Clemons at TPM:

    Financial Times Washington Bureau Chief Edward Luce has written a granularly informed insider account about those who hold the keys to the inner most sanctum of Obama Land -- Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod.

    It's a vital article -- a brave one -- that includes "dozens of interviews with his closest allies and friends in Washington."

    Most are unnamed because the consequences of retribution from this powerful foursome can be severe in an access-dependent town. John Podesta, president of the powerful, administration-tilting Center for American Progress, had the temerity and self-confidence to put his thoughts publicly on the record. But most others could not.

    Mark Schmitt, executive editor of the liberal magazine the American Prospect, wrote that "Luce has written what seems to me the best and most succinct rundown of what's gone wrong in the White House, with particular attention to the role of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel." But some of the big aggregators out there -- Mike Allen at Politico and ABC's The Note among others -- didn't give Luce's juicy and lengthy essay any love.

    Why not? Allen is a good friend of mine and tries to keep a good balance between tough-hitting political stuff, but also goes out of his way to give strokes to those in the White House he can -- particularly "Axe" -- who is a regular in Mike's daily Playbook. I try to do the same, to be honest, and have a particular thing for Bill Burton's wit and was pleased to see Rahm Emanuel giving David Geffen rather than Rick Warren lots of hugs during the Inauguration eve fests.

    But this Luce piece is unavoidably, accurately hard-hitting, and while many of the nation's top news anchors and editors are sending emails back and forth (I have been sent three such emails in confidence) on what a spot-on piece Luce wrought on the administration, they fear that the "four horsepersons of the Obama White House" will shut down and cut off access to those who give the essay 'legs.'

    But in the too regularly vapid chatter about DC's political scene, serious critiques of the internal game around Obama not only deserve review on their own merits but have to be read -- because Obama is not winning. He is failing and people need to consider why.


    It's a truism: Some actions must await obvious disaster.

    Emanuel and Gibbs are two such "actions."