TIME: 13:00 – 14:00, Thursday 9th June 2016
VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, SW1P 4QP
SPEAKER: Lady Susette Palmer, Lecturer on Ancient Civilization
HOST: Lord Palmer
CHAIR: Alan Mendoza, Chief Executive, the Henry Jackson Society
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today for a rather different Henry Jackson Society event where we are I think fusing knowledge of ancient civilizations into the current day, and of course we’re discussing Palmyra, what’s happened recently, whether we should restore the site that was so brutally desecrated by ISIS or indeed whether the money would be better spent elsewhere, and joining us to do so is Lady Susette Palmer, who is a lecturer in ancient civilizations, has done, I think it’s all around the world, that you’ve gone and spoken on various aspects of this. Lady Palmer was of course a local councillor for many years as was her esteemed husband, I think you were in the same ward weren’t you? [Lady Palmer- Same ward, same council]. Family ward, so that’s all entertaining in that way, and you were a mayor of Barnet as well, so has a lot of experience on the political sphere as well, but we’re here of course to welcome you for your knowledge on what’s happened recently and how that relates. Please do give our guest a very warm welcome.
Thank you very much. As Alan said, I think this is really, can you hear me know? I think this is really a new departure for both of us. I’m more used to talking about ancient history rather than current events, and you’re more used to listening to current events rather than ancient history, so I hope it works for both of us. I’m basing this talk on the words of the very first historian ever, Thucydides, writing in fifth century Athens, who states quite clearly at the beginning of his history of the Peloponnesian War, he’s not writing for his own generation. What he’s doing is writing for the people in the far distant future who want to understand the events which happened in the past, and which human nature being what it is, are likely to happen again in the future, and to understand those events. George Santayana, who I’ve put up next to him, says much the same thing, but rather more succinctly. Of course, this means that you have to be able to trust the historians, and Thucydides himself actually takes this point up. He says, not that the truth was always easy to discover, I found that eyewitnesses of the same event were telling me different things either because they were biased toward one side or the other or because they had an imperfect recollection, and I actually think that applies to the historians as well as for the people they’re talking to, so be that as it may, let us go back to Palmyra in history.
We’re told, the legend is that Solomon built the city of Palmyra. That’s its other name, that’s what it is in Arabic and Aramaic. The town that’s there today, around the site, is still called Tadmur, and if you look under that quote from the Bible, you will see that there’s a quote from the first century AD historian, Flavius Josephus, who is telling us exactly why Solomon would have chosen to build his town there, and of course geographically speaking, it’s still in the same place today, but now, it’s between, it’s in the middle of the battle fields between the various people in the war in Syria.
Now, this is the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. Bel is their chief god, and next to it, you can see quite clearly that it was a very large and very extensive site, now considerably rubble. Palmyra was part of the Roman Empire going back a long way. It was actually incorporated into the province of Syria way back in the days of Pompey the Great, but in fact, Rome didn’t pay very much attention to it until Emperor Tiberius came along and decided that it would be an asset on the trade routes, and in order to make the people feel good about this, he started out by renewing the Temple of Bel and doing some restoration work then.
The next emperor to take an interest was Trajan, and Trajan helped things along considerably. During his reign as emperor, first of all he built a road from Palmyra to the Euphrates, which speeded up the speed of things very considerably, and also, the Romans annexed Petra in the year 106, and after that, a lot of trade was diverted up towards Palmyra, and I’ve got a map of that, here we are. You can see the trade routes, the pink trade routes are coming up from the Persian Gulf, and the green one is coming from the Red Sea via Petra, and you can see very clearly from that map, both Palmyra is bang in the middle between the Euphrates and the coast, and also I’ve put a modern map alongside, which will give you some idea of the distances.
So, Palmyra began to deal in trade. As the Roman Empire grew, the volume of trade going through Palmyra increased, and in fact we have a quote from the first century, where the elder Pliny says, at the lowest reckoning, India and China and the Arabian Peninsula drain our empire of one hundred million Sesterces a year, that is what our luxuries and our womenfolk cost us. I wouldn’t mind betting that he had his lion’s share of luxuries as well. [Inaudible].
Right. This is the Temple of Bel-Shamin, and when we reach the year 132 AD, the Emperor Hadrian paid a visit to Palmyra. The visit was entirely paid for, which you can see from the inscription I’ve put up next to it, by one of the richest men in Palmyra, Male Agrippa, and because he wanted to make sure that everybody knew what he’d done, he supervised the town senate putting up the plaque. Hadrian was extremely pleased with Palmyra, as well he should have been having had it all paid for by him, and he gave it an exceptional status. He called it Hadriana Palmyra, and he made it a free city within the Roman Empire, which meant that it could legitimately rule itself, and it was a two way thing. Palmyra was famous for its archers. The archers, which were all the Parthian style, which meant that you could shoot forwards as well as you could backwards, which meant you could look as though you were running away, but actually you could shoot at the enemy behind you who thought you were fleeing and thus win the battle. We use the phrase, when we talk about a Parthian shot, backwards, and Rome incorporated Parthian troops all over the empire. The slide I’ve got here is from Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, which if you come to think of it, is about as far away from Palmyra as you can get and still be in the Roman Empire. This is by Barates, a Palmyrene, put up for his wife, an Englishwoman. The gravestone is in both languages, and it shows just how far Palmyrene troops managed to travel.
Now, where you have trade, particularly if there’s a lot of trade, you have taxes. These are the tax tablets, referred to as the 137 tax tablets because they were first published in the year 137, not because there are 137 of them, and the reason it’s in the Hermitage Museum is because they were first translated by a Russian. They tell you, in two languages, in Greek, which is the language of the Eastern Roman Empire, and in Aramaic, Palmyrene Aramaic, which is the lingua franca of much of the rest of Syria, so you had no excuse for not knowing what your charges were going to be, and it also warned you about things like water taxes that you would have to pay while you were in the town of Palmyra.
So, things went along swimmingly until the third century when things started to unravel. There were two reasons for this happening. One of them was that the Persian king and his son, who is here in this picture, Shapur I, conquered the Parthian Empire, and not content with conquering Parthia, on the eastern border of the Roman Empire, they were determined to take back all the lands that Rome had conquered from the Persian Empire and incorporated into the Roman Empire, so you have a war on that front. Then Emperor Valerian sent a large force against the Persians and was defeated, and Valerian became the first Roman emperor ever to be conquered by the enemy. The picture, which is rock art, if I can get this on, yes, this is Shapur. We can see his crown there. This is Philip, the Roman emperor before Valerian. He paid what I think we would probably call [inaudible], a very large sum, in order not to have to go into the Persian Empire, and at the back, Shapur is holding by wrist Valerian, and we don’t know what happens to Valerian. All we know is that he never returned to Rome. There are a lot of stories which I haven’t got time to go into now.
So, who is going to take over Rome? Well, Valerian had a son who was reigning jointly with him, whose name is Gallienus, and Gallienus is already fighting on two fronts. He’s fighting the Goths on the [inaudible] border. They’re trying to cross into Roman territory because of food shortage, and he’s dealing with a breakaway empire in Gaul, which extends as far as Britain, so he’s really badly extended, and you can believe that he’s very pleased when the leader of Palmyra, Odaenathus, takes over, collects the remnants Valerian’s army, adds his own Palmyrene troops to them, and defeats the [inaudible] Persian Empire, not only pushing it back as far as the Euphrates but also even further back towards the old capital city of Ctesiphon on the Tigris, and shortly after that, Odaenathus puts down a revolution against Rome by one of the towns surrounding the district. This is actually [inaudible]. We’re not actually absolutely sure whether this bust is Odaenathus. I wonder about it because if you look up there, he’s got a sort of small tiara with a priest engraved on it in some way, and that usually denotes a priest rather than a member of the senate, but I suppose they’re not mutually exclusive.
Now, at this time, Odaenathus was married to his second wife, and she’s a lady you’ve probably heard of, Zenobia. He has a son by his first marriage. He also has at least one son by Zenobia. Gallienus, at this stage, takes the things, the prizes that Odaenathus has won, and he celebrates a triumph at Rome on the basis of these things, and it’s entirely possible that he’s beginning to wonder whether Odaenathus is doing this for the Roman Empire or for his own Palmyra city, which is beginning to extend.
Now, Odaenathus is assassinated, and we don’t know which of the conspiracy theories is true, whether it’s Gallienus, who thinks he’s getting too big for his boots, whether it’s his second wife Zenobia acting as the wicked stepmother and getting rid of both him and his eldest son in order to open a path for her own son and with herself as regent, or whether it’s a group of nobles from Palmyra, who feel they need a change of leader and thing that Zenobia will be the best front for them. I tend to think the last is probably right, but any of them could in fact be true. The trouble with this period is that there is actually no contemporary historian, so we only know things that were written a lot later, by which time they’d had a long time in which to get jumbled.
This is probably a column for Zenobia’s father. We can’t be absolutely sure because she always signs herself [inaudible] in the Aramaic tradition and not in the Roman tradition that the name is here. Now, I said we don’t know her as well as she’s been known in the past. It starts with the Historia Augusta, a hundred years or so after her, who gives a description of an extremely beautiful, extremely charismatic, extremely learned woman who is even better than Cleopatra, even more charismatic than Cleopatra. She actually claims Cleopatra as one of her ancestors, and also Dido, who you will remember, Rome, the Roman Aeneas leaves behind to throw herself on a funeral pyre, and Chaucer wrote a story about her in The Canterbury Tales in amongst [inaudible], I’ve put the quote up there, and also Gibbon. This is very unusual for Gibbon. Gibbon is very cynical about most of the historic personages her writes about, but you can see from that he actually sounds as though he’s almost in love with her. When we get to the beginning of the nineteenth century, Lady Hester Stanhope, an Englishwoman traveling abroad and wearing Eastern clothes, rode into Palmyra with her entourage, and she was acclaimed as Zenobia reborn. The statue is by an American in the mid-nineteenth century. You will notice that Zenobia has chains on her wrists, and those chains appear on nearly all the images of her from later. This coin is all you really know about her. None of the statues have remained, and if you look at the coin below it, this one here, this is a previous Roman empress Julia Maesa, and you can see that she’s copied from the [inaudible], the same sort of headdress and diadem, and she’s got the goddess Juno there, whereas Julia Maesa has got the goddess Astarte. She’s also on modern coins. This is the Syrian five hundred pound note. You can see that it’s taken from that, and she’s there because she’s generally regarded by the Arab world as being the first leader of an independent Syria, and underneath there’s a coin in a series from Togo. These are a series of women, famous women. So there we have her. She probably looked more like this. This is a Palmyrene woman of the same century, and you can see it’s much more elaborate than the Roman style. She’s wearing at least four necklaces, I think it might be five, she’s got a bracelet, and she’s got a very complicated headdress. She has a sort of metal badge or band across here, then she has a stiffened tiara above that, and over that, she’s got a sort of turban with a veil over the whole lot which she can pull across her face if she needs to.
Now, this is Gallienus, who is assassinated in his turn. You will find that a lot of Roman emperors in this third century period, where there are twenty-six short-lived emperors between the death of Septimus Severus and Diocletian. He’s wearing the Roman crown, and next to him we have his successor, Claudius the Goth, called the Goth because he spent his two short years as emperor before he died of the plague in fighting on the Gothic border. They’re both wearing a Roman crown, but they have very different facial expressions. They’re probably portraits.
So here we have Zenobia’s kingdom, as she carved it out, at her largest. Rome had other things to worry about As far as they were concerned, the East was actually quite a long way away, and she’s taken full advantage of that, and in the gap between the emperors, to extend right down to Egypt. At that stage, Rome has to sit up and take notice. Egypt is very important to Rome. It’s the source of the corn for the corn dole for the inhabitants of Rome, and if you have no corn dole, you don’t have any bread and [inaudible], and you have riots really where you don’t want them in the heart of Rome. So the emperor, who is now, I’m sorry [inaudible], okay, the emperor sends a large force against Zenobia, it’s Claudius of course, against Zenobia, and surprisingly, she manages to beat it. She and her generals, [inaudible] and Zabdas, beat it back, and now she’s beginning to get the idea. She calls herself queen, and she starts to issue coins from the mint at Alexandria. The first one she mints is actually a double-headed coin, but although it’s double-headed, the heads on each side are different, so you can still toss it [Lord Palmer- I use those all the time]. Right, okay, so it’s a double-headed coin. It’s her on one, on her own later. It’s her son Vaballathus on his own later, but to start with, she’s hedging her bets. She has the new emperor, Aurelian, Claudius dies of the plague, on one side, and she has her own son Vaballathus on the other side. Aurelian, who is going to beat her in the end, also issues his own coins, and he is trying to make Rome worship just the one god, just the god Sol, who is the figure on this coin here. It doesn’t work of course. Rome is used to having multiple gods.
So, Zenobia is beaten by Aurelian. She retreats to her own city of Palmyra. You will remember that Solomon built it with very strong walls, and we can only assume that they’re still there. Aurelian is on the outside, she’s on the inside, it’s a standoff. He offers her terms which she turns down. She makes a break for it, riding we’re told, a female camel, which is the fastest, as far as the Euphrates, where the Romans catch up with her, and she’s returned to Aurelian in chains. There she is. Aurelian goes on to beat Tetricus, the breakaway Gallic Empire, and he celebrates triumph. They’re both walking in front of his chariot, loaded down with chains. We’re told that Zenobia was afterwards married off to a Roman senator and that she had two more children. I don’t know how she felt when Aurelian was assassinated two years later. Perhaps she rejoiced.
So, now let’s go look very quickly at some of the art of Palmyra. This is the Temple of Baal. It looks like that because it became a Christian church, and after that it became a mosque. There’s nothing left of it now except a very shaky gateway. This is the Temple of Bel-Shamin that we looked at before. You can actually see it there, being blown up. Very sad, and here, this is a Palmyrene [inaudible]. This is unique architecturally. They’re very full front on, but the figures do not have that different sort of expression. The major god in the middle, Bel-Shamin, is slightly different to the other two, but they’re pretty well the same, and this is the moon god. You can see the moon there in his headdress. This is the sun god, and the other thing I should comment about it, apart from the fact that they’re full on, is that they’re wearing trousers. You can just see it here. Romans did not wear trousers. The Pamyrenes have taken up the Persian practice, so there they are in their trousers.
These are priests, the Palmyrene one on this side wearing a very Eastern headdress was, you can’t see it there because it’s been damaged, but it would have had the little diadem with the head of the priest in it. On the other side, a much more fluid Roman effigy of a priest. It’s not only more fluid from the drapery but also it’s full on. It’s quite a different style, and if you look at these towers, they are unique. Other people have towers in the East, but they’re open towers so as the vultures can get at the body. This is not the case with these. They are actually burials in the sides of the staircase as you go up the tower. This is one of the most beautiful ones. It’s now completely ruined, and these, it’s a gravestone, you saw the one of Barates’s wife in the Palmyrene style before. If you look at the one next to it, you can see that’s very much in the Roman style, and I’m sure you can read the inscriptions.
Now, we’re back to the present day. This is Khaled al-Asaad. He was chief of the antiquities of Palmyra. He and his staff moved as much as they possibly could before ISIL took over the site. When ISIL caught up with him, they cut his head off because he wouldn’t tell them where they’d hidden the things. He was eighty-two years old and a very brave man. You can see the eulogy from Irina Bokova of the UN next to him.
The amphitheater is still there. It’s still there because that’s what they’re using as, that was what they were using as their killing field. And now, we come to one of the problems. Do you restore Palmyra? President Assad thinks that they’ve got about sixty percent of what was there, either lying on the ground in rubble or still standing. I’m not too sure about that. This is an arch. It’s been copied by 3D technology by the Institute for Digital Archaeology at Oxford. It’s meant to be an absolutely accurate copy, but it’s only three quarters of the size. Can you see where I am? It’s Trafalgar Square. I’m in front of the National Gallery, and Boris Johnson opened the display of this arch during May. It was there for three days. I’m there with my family. It’s my granddaughter Shera who’s taking the pictures.
It’s not a new problem, this do you restore it, do you leave it as it is, because after all the destruction itself is a part of the history. It started with Sir Arthur Evans. Have many of you been to Knossos? Well, Knossos is a restored site. He restored it as he thought it was, and it’s given a great lot of enjoyment to a great many people, more so I think than the palaces which have been left unrestored over the rest of Crete, but it is iffy. You have to get it accurate, and of course it’s not the original, no matter what you do it.
So, we have here some quotations, and I think that’s probably more than enough from me, and I would like to hear your views, and I will of course try and answer any questions you may have for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
Thank you very much. I live with the ancient world at home because Susette lectures on it, and to some degree, this particular lecture covers the current events as well as the history and links the two. I mean, only today, up in the House of Lords just now, and there was a repeat of a statement made in the Commons about whether the sending of supplies to Palmyra and whether there should be an airlift or not, and this is very, very pertinent at the moment as to what is happening in Syria and in particular in Palmyra, so these are things which are things meeting each other at the moment, so perhaps I could, there are questions, perhaps we could move straight into questions. Would anyone want to start?
I speak as a restorer. [Lord Palmer– Could you say who you are perhaps?] My name is [inaudible], and I did restoration for about thirty-five years, and I was in Jordan [inaudible], which I thought was absolutely fascinating, and that’s as near as I ever got to what you were talking about [inaudible]. I feel very strongly that such a monument should be restored because all monuments, all buildings, through their history get restored, whether they’re being lived in or not, so nothing is ever the original. It is ever-progressing, but if you don’t restore, it’ll only decay much quicker, and you look at so many sites that have been discovered through the last, well since the Reformation, sorry, the [Lady Palmer- Renaissance] exactly, the Renaissance, when things started getting discovered, and then they were opened up, and particularly the Italians, you know [inaudible], but there was no attitude of restoration or preservation, so now so many things have been destroyed because of that attitude and lack of knowledge of course at that time, but now I think, when we have so much knowledge and ability to restore, with our digital abilities, I do think it’s important.
Okay, I’ve been watching the BBC program on the Silk Road, and it’s quite clear from that China is rebuilding the caravanserai it feels tourist will expect to see there, and that to me seemed a bit like Disney, but when you got further along the Silk Road, and you got to Tashkent and to Uzbekistan, in fact, they are restoring, but they’re restoring using artisans with the same techniques and steeped, if you like, in the same tradition, and that didn’t upset me in the same way, so perhaps it depends how you do it as well as whether you do it.
You mentioned Georgia, I mean, some of the new buildings in Georgia [Lady Palmer- She said Jordan, I think] oh, Jordan! I was only saying in Georgia because there, and since it all talks very often about languages and alphabet, and when we were in Georgia found this alphabet was completely different from everything else. Jordan, the view into Petra, with Susette, is probably one of, I think one of my favorite views, as you walk down the [inaudible] into the treasury in front of you, it is absolutely amazing.
I was never more, I wouldn’t actually go back. We had tickets for two days. It was so overrun with tourists and so damaged by tourists, and I, as a restorer, saw the damage that was being done with absolutely no control whatsoever. I was appalled, and it totally upset me, so I didn’t go back the following day because of the destruction, which is just human destruction, which, you know, is just appalling.
We went further into the site, and as you go further in, it’s less populated by tourists, were tired out from walking down the [inaudible]. I remember when we came back and Susette said, could we get one of the horses? There were these men with donkeys, and I had very little Jordanian currency in my hand, and I negotiated with these guys for two donkeys, and the whole of the trip back, the man was running next to me saying, more money, more money, more money, and so your point about the tourism is right but I still found coming through the [inaudible] and seeing the treasury quite an amazing site.
And that has been restored, quite specifically, and that’s a good, perhaps, representation of a good restoration. That’s what brings the tourists in.
At the back? Yeah, right at the back, and then in front.
I’m [inaudible], Institute of Archaeology, UCL. I run a conservation team there, so I’d like to ask you if you have ever considered engaging, because of course we all want to see things back for some sort of enjoyment and for knowledge transferred from [inaudible] and all that, but I would like to know if you have considered engagement of local groups in Syria so you can [inaudible] representatives of stakeholders or interest groups in Syria to decide what should be restored or preserved how [inaudible] done and therefore to make it sustainable. Of course some of the issues we have already raised here could be discussed in this group [inaudible] and definitely involving local people, so invite experts and all that, but there has to be very strong engagement.
The Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology is not keen on the idea. I think I’ve got a quote, is there one of the quotes, the bottom one there [Question 2- Of engagement or restoring?]. Of rebuilding at the moment. After the war, should this ghastly war ever end, then I think that will be the time when archaeologists and restorers will be able to go in and see what is to be done there. It’s difficult. I mean, the situation in Syria [inaudible] was saying at the beginning is still so bad that I don’t think they’re in any position to actually be restoring anything yet, but I agree that it should be a group’s decision.
The point being really asked was should there be a local involvement from the community in the restoring rather than being imposed by archaeologists at UCL or wherever.
Yes, I mean obviously they should be. It’s after all their heritage. The modern town is still called Tadmur and the site is called Palmyra, but you were talking about things being discovered in the Renaissance and afterwards, and in fact Palmyra is a case in point. It was covered eventually by the desert sands, and it was only rediscovered in the middle of the eighteenth century, and the first survey was done by two Englishmen, Robert Wood and James, can’t remember, something or the other, but they published a plan of what they found, and that really brought Palmyra back again into the eye of the world.
Lady at the front has been [inaudible]. Could you try to speak up? I’m sorry.
My name’s Sarah Rose. [Inaudible]. What is important is not preserving the monuments, but we need to ask what it means to us, what we get from it, in what way does the existence of these structures benefit us, and I’d like to quote something from [inaudible], the poet [inaudible], and he describes his childhood memories of going through the rooms of the Royal Academy and the staircases, and he says, all of these things are still with me and never cease to be in me, and that’s what we get from these monuments, [inaudible] gothic cathedrals, for instance, if they weren’t there, our whole being would be different.
I think it’s true that architecture and buildings and streets that you live amongst are part of your inner psyche, if you like, but if then, if they had been destroyed, would it be the same to you if they had been rebuilt? Would you like to see them rebuilt? [Question 3- I would]. You would.
It really is, you’re making the real point that it’s not only the monuments themselves, it’s what it feels to you or to the poets, to the writers who are writing about them at their time, and one of the sad things, Susette pointed out in the lecture, was there were no, very little contemporary writers at the time, so in a sense, you’re not quite sure what someone thought at the time, walking through Palmyra because it’s often things that happened afterwards, as I understand it.
But you can tell what happened to you in your own lifetime.
And the point made before, when you talked about, someone mentioned Sicily? Did someone mention Sicily? [Lady Palmer- No, it was me. I mentioned Crete.] Oh you mentioned Sicily, I mean one of Susette’s lectures is on the Norman conquest of Sicily, and being a non-historian, I hadn’t realized that Normans actually conquered Sicily [Lady Palmer- The other Roman conquerors.] The other Roman conquerors, King Roger of Sicily, and so I mean, you know, but so much of history is forgotten. Yes?
I think the thing is that you don’t know what buildings you can pull down and restore or what you should leave there, and what the future will think about it. I’m particularly struck by that in some of the towns in Belgium. There’s one very near Brussels, I can’t recollect its name at the moment, but it was too poor to pull down its buildings in medieval times so it’s still got them, and nowadays, it makes a very nice tourist place, so you don’t really know, do you, about the future. Palmyra also suffered from [inaudible] actually, [inaudible], so it’s gone through destructions. We know that there was, there were people living there through all these various phases. There’s a rather nice story by the Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela in the twelfth century, who tells us that there is a Jewish community of two thousand Jews in the town, which since there weren’t a large number of Jews in that part of Syria, probably meant that it was still a pretty sizable town and would have been restored quite considerably by then I think.
David raises the really interesting point which was raised before about how things are preserved because they were covered by sand and discovered in the seventeenth century, and the one thing Cambodia, which I also visited, one of them was covered in the jungle, and it had been lost, and I can’t remember the explorer who found it in the jungle, and it was really quite amazing because it just, as if it had been covered by sand, obviously covered by jungle. Yes?
[Name inaudible]. Bringing this into the present era and looking ideologies, that is also something that is very interesting, for instance I have a lot of experience with Germany. I lived for many years in Western Germany, where, after the war, there was this drive to rebuild, but usually not in the old style, and there was a lot of very ugly buildings put up in various cities, and then in 1989 when the Berlin Wall went down, and people started to go into the East to help their sisters and brothers there to rebuild, there was this amazement in some quarters that so little had been done because the Communist government there hadn’t the resources and didn’t see the point, so people were still living in buildings that had been built in the late eighteenth or throughout the nineteenth century that were crumbling, but due to the neglect, they were still salvageable, and now, in the Eastern part of Germany, you can see beautiful cities. I mean, Dresden is one of the examples, although Dresden of course was bombed very badly during the war, but I mean, that is simply how things happened. For forty years, nothing was repaired, and now they can actually repair things beautifully, restore them, without knocking them down and starting all over again and copying them.
I think they’re going to try to do the same with Parliament.
Parliament is obviously just down the road. It’s crumbling from the base upwards, and the only feasible program is going to be everyone in the Commons and the Lords is going to have to move out for something like six years, and that will cost billions, but if they try to do it while people were in situ, it would take many more years and many more billions of pounds, so my office is right next to the Royal Gallery, and I’m going to be pushed into a prefab somewhere, so there we are. Yes, and then one at the back.
John Palmer. So, many buildings have gone through many generations where conquerors have come and gone, and they’ve envisaged a building in their own style, and so you can restore it to one of these points in time, and virtual reality might give you an interesting way to do that and to be able to look at something from any particular time in its history, but is that the democratization and sharing of history, or is it just the Disney-fication?
I think it’s an interesting point, actually, and it really takes up from what you were saying about actually seeing or walking through or working in a place, giving you a feeling of it. I’m not sure that it would give you a feeling. I think you’re making it into a different sort of art, actually. I really do.
I mean, actually, just having as reality in a digital format is not the same as the actual building, although it is important. Gentleman at the back?
It’s a very interesting concept, Susette, because it’s that the actual site can be remembered, not exactly in Palmyra, but it could be reconstructed on coins or in other places, not necessarily London. It could be anywhere. Is that preservation, is that something [inaudible]?
You’re seeing this as a three-dimensional, not just a [inaudible] two-dimensional effort? [Response inaudible].
Well what do you think about the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square having a memorial in that way?
Well, Trafalgar Square has already had the arch of Palmyra, and I must tell you that putting that arch there was not popular with everybody. There was a Christian group that were writing letters when it was originally going to be a different arch, one of the arches from the temples, which more or less tells you that if that arch goes up in Trafalgar Square, Satan will be taking over Great Britain. Yes I think an exhibition would be an idea, but I would like to see an exhibition as near as possible to the site of the original, and again, there we have the problem that the war in Syria does not show any sign of ending whatsoever.
Let me ask a question. What about the ethics of restoration in respect to working with the Assad regime? What’s your thoughts on that and more generally?
Well it’s obvious that President Assad is trying to legitimize a regime which I don’t think should be legitimized. It’s my own personal thought, and it’s the money. It’s going to take a lot of money to do. At the moment, as far as I can see, a lot of Syria is in ruins. They don’t even have simple basics like water. There are something like a million people who are blockaded mainly by the Syrian army, who don’t have food, which is what the [inaudible] was talking about. I would hesitate to deal with the man, but that’s me, and I know that in the end, maybe fifty years from now, I would like to see something done, but I think I would hesitate to deal with Assad at this stage.
Moving into my area of politics, which is the current politics, and really, you know, Assad is responsible for so much destruction and killing, but there is an argument because someone mentioned, you mentioned Germany, so after the Second World War, the Allies got rid of the senior Nazis, but they left in place a lot of the administration in Germany so it was able to be rebuilt, and one of the problems in Syria and Iraq in particular was that the army was sacked and all the administrators were sacked, and then you had all the numerous groups vying with no structure at all, whereas, so, I mean I think there is a strong argument for some way of moving from Assad, who shouldn’t stay there for any length of time, to an administration which may incorporate people who were within the Assad regime. It’s not something I’m happy about, but it’s probably the way that you could have some form of sensible management there.
I think what you’re saying takes us right back to the very first slide I put up there, that you can learn from history, and if you don’t learn from history, you’re going to have to go around the same old things, the same destruction over and over again, and I think that takes us very neatly back to the beginning.
Well thank you very much. I’d like to thank Alan Mendoza and the Henry Jackson Society for hosting this. I think it’s [inaudible] a slight break, as Susette said in the beginning from more of the current events, but this is an area where the current events in the world meets history, and I hope you enjoyed the lecture.