Professor Simon James
Professor of Archaeology
Tel: +44 (0)116 252 2535
BSc, PhD (London), FSA
I read archaeology at the London Institute of Archaeology, where I also took my PhD, by which time the Institute had become part of University College, London. I moved to the British Museum, first as an archaeological illustrator and then as a museum educator, responsible for programmes relating to the later prehistoric and Roman collections. After a decade at the British Museum, I decided to seek a career in research and teaching. Having held a Leverhulme Special Research Fellowship at the University of Durham, I joined the School in January 2000, was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2002 and Reader in 2005. In April 2012, I was awarded a personal chair. I was the School's Director of Research from 2012-14.
My main research areas relate to ancient conflict, especially in the Roman world and contemporary societies in Europe and the Middle East.
I am on research leave until the summer of 2017, funded by the University and the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, completing publication of my research on the major urban Roman military base at Dura-Europos, Syria (conducted from 2005 to 2010 - see my 'Research' section below). My previous work on the military archaeology of Dura included identification of probable use of 'chemical warfare' during the final siege of the city c.AD256.
I coordinate the School's involvement in Operation Nightingale, providing archaeological fieldwork opportunities to help injured soldiers in their recovery, and am academic advisor to the UK's tri-Service Defence Archaeology Group.
I am currently running the Ancient Akrotiri Project in Cyprus.
From 2011 to 2016, I was also a member of the University of Leicester-based team conducting the Leverhulme Trust-funded research programme on the Impact of Diasporas on the Making of Britain.
I contribute to a range of undergraduate modules and am Director of MA Archaeology of the Roman World.
Selected recent publications
'‘Visual competence’ in archaeology, a problem hiding in plain sight,' Antiquity 89: 347 (2015): 1189-1202.
'The "Romanness of the Soldiers": Barbarized Periphery or Imperial Core?' in L. Brody and G. Hoffman, Eds, Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of Empire, Boston, (MacMullen Museum of Art, 2014) 91-107.
'4. The Archaeology of War', in B. Campbell and L. Tritle, Eds, The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013) 91-127.
'‘Facing the sword: confronting the realities of martial violence and other mayhem, present and past’', in S. Ralph, Ed., The Archaeology of Violence: An integrated approach to the study of violence and conflict, (Buffalo, State University of New York, 2013), 98-116.
Rome & the Sword: How Warriors & Weapons shaped Roman History, Thames & Hudson, London & New York (2011)
'Stratagems, combat, and "chemical warfare" in the siege mines of Dura-Europos', American Journal of Archaeology 115 (2011) 69-101.
'The point of the sword: what Roman-era weapons could do to bodies—and why they often didn't', (2010) in eds A.W. Busch and H.J. Schalles, Waffen in Aktion. Akten der 16. Internationalen Roman Military Equipment Conference (ROMEC). Xantener Berichte 16, 41-54.
Trow S, James S and Moore T. Becoming Roman, Being Gallic, Staying British: Research and Excavations at Ditches 'Hillfort' and Villa 1984-2006, (Oxbow, Oxford, 2009).
'A bloodless past: the pacification of Early Iron Age Britain', in The Earlier Iron Age in Britain and the Near Continent, CC Haselgrove and RE Pope (eds.), (Oxford, Oxbow, 2007), pp.160-173.
Excavations at Dura-Europos, Final Report VII, the Arms and Armour, and other Military Equipment (British Museum Press, London, 2004)
'Writing the legions; the past, present and future of Roman military studies in Britain' (2002) Archaeological Journal 159, pp. 1-58. PDF
'"Romanization" and the peoples of Britain' in S Keay and N Terrenato (eds.), Italy and the West. Comparative Issues in Romanization (Oxbow, Oxford, 2001), pp. 77-89
(with M Millett) Britons and Romans: advancing an archaeological agenda (CBA Research Report 125, York, 2001) Online version
The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? (British Museum Press, London, and University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999)
My work is centred on the Roman world and societies with which it interacted, including northern ‘barbarians’ (especially Iron Age societies in the British Isles, and whether they can usefully be seen as ‘Celtic’) and the peoples of the ancient Middle East (Syria/Mesopotamia). Much of my work has been on issues of identity and conflict. In particular, I have examined ‘the Celts’ ancient and modern, and the nature of 'Romanization'.
I have also studied Roman soldierly identity, and its construction through material culture. This was part of a long-standing interest in the archaeology of the Roman military, notably through publication of a major monograph on the arms and armour from Dura-Europos, Syria. It further evolved into wider work on the role of martial violence in ancient societies, and particularly in the development of the Roman world.
I have been a member of the Franco-Syrian-led expedition to Dura-Europos, working on Roman military aspects of the site, including the siege in which the city was destroyed. Re-analysis of dramatic excavated evidence from siege-mines at the site suggested use of early 'chemical warfare'. Work on the imperial military base in the city included a complete magnetometry survey in 2007 and additional photographic and Total Station survey in 2008. The main phase of fieldwork was completed in 2010. The tragic descent of Syria into violence prevented a planned study season at Dura in 2012, but research and writing up for publication continues, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and now the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.
Another dimension has been my work on modern representations, understandings and appropriations of the past, ranging from studies of theory and practice in archaeological illustration (especially ‘reconstructions’) to the creation of histories and modern myths (such as the factoid of the Roman galley slave, and notions of 'Ancient Celts' mentioned above). Recently I was a member of the Visualisation in Archaeology project team, looking at how archaeological knowledge is created, expressed and disseminated through visual media.
From 2011-2016, my continuing research activity in the the archaeology and history of identities in Britain was through team membership of the University of Leicester-based Impact of Diasporas on the Making of Britain research programme, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
Since 2012, I have been involved with (since 2016, the UK Ministry of Defence's) Operation Nightingale, which engages injured service personnel in archaeological fieldwork to help them in their recovery. From 2013, my engagement extended to that of academic advisor for the new Defence Archaeology Group, a tri-Service archaeological society embracing both Operation Nightingale and wider archaeological activities undertaken by military personnel on MOD land in collaboration with the MOD's Defence Infrastucture Organisation's Historic Environment Team, and now also otuside the Defence Estate with other professional partners.
Topics available for PhD supervision:
- the archaeology of conflict
- violence and military institutions, especially 'the Roman Army'
- the archaeology of the Roman provinces and related cultures
- the representation of the past, especially in visual media
- Botan Maghdid, thesis topic: History and historiography of Roman : Sasanian relations in Northern Mesopotamia
- Dr Jennifer Baird, currently Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, Birkbeck College, London, UK (graduated 2006, thesis title: 'Housing and households at Dura-Europos : a study in identity on Rome's Eastern Frontier')
- Dr John Cater, currently President, Aztec Archaeological Consultants LLC, Aztec, New Mexico, USA (graduated 2007, thesis title: 'Anasazi violence : a study of patterns and interpretation of meaning')
- Dr Andrew Birley, currently Director of Excavations, Vindolanda Trust, Northumberland, UK (graduated 2010, thesis title: 'The nature and significance of extramural settlement at Vindolanda and other selected sites')
- Hayley Dunn (graduated 2014: 'Roots of the British 1000 BC - AD 1000: Histories, Genetics, and The Peopling of Britain' (jointly supervised with Prof Mark Jobling, Genetics)
- Anna Walas (graduated 2014: 'Use of space in Roman military bases')
- Sergio Gonzalez Sanchez, thesis topic: 'Rome and the ‘Barbarians’: Martial Interaction and mutual influence across/beyond the northern frontiers of the Empire'