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Monmouth College group explores Roman Britain during spring break

Barry McNamara
Participants from Monmouth College’s spring break trip to Roman Britain pose with Hewes Library director Rick Sayre (green sweater). During the trip, the group visited Stonehenge and brought home a book about the famous site, which they donated to the library.
In 1817, poet John Keats was inspired by viewing the British Museum’s newly acquired Elgin Marbles, a set of Athenian sculptures taken from the Parthenon. One of his resulting works was his famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
Exactly 200 years later, 11 Monmouth College students found themselves in front of those same sculptures during their spring break trip to the United Kingdom.
Monmouth classics professor Tom Sienkewicz, who led the trip with department colleague Kyle Jazwa, couldn’t resist the opportunity to have the students try to put themselves in Keats’ shoes.
“One of the most memorable moments of the trip for me was in the British Museum, when the students were assigned to reflect on the marble friezes that inspired Keats,” said Sienkewicz.
Sienkewicz said that throughout the eight-day trip the students “participated fully, taking meticulous notes” and participated in interactive assignments.
“It was one of the best trips we’ve taken,” he said. “The students were wonderful.”
Sienkewicz is a veteran of leading students on classics-themed trips, having visited Rome, Greece, Spain, France and Turkey – multiple times in several cases. But although he had toured the Roman sites in Britain before, this was the first time he was accompanied by students.
“I saw a lot of sites I’d never seen before, as well as improvements to sites that I saw 30 years ago,” said Sienkewicz. “Revisiting the excavation of the Roman baths in Bath was very exciting. They’ve done an incredible amount of excavation and really opened things up from how it was the last time I was there.”
While detailing some of the highlights of the trip, which also included visiting sites at Silchester, Chichester and Cirenchester, Sienkewicz gave a brief history of Rome’s presence in Britain.
“Caesar tried to invade Britain, but it was a failure,” he said. “(More than 75 years later) in 43 A.D., a Roman presence was established under Emperor Claudius. It lasted nearly four centuries, before the troops there were needed elsewhere as the Roman Empire was collapsing.”
The group also visited Stonehenge and brought home a book about the famous site, which they donated to Monmouth College’s Hewes Library.
Another highlight was visiting the Museum of London Archaeological Archive – “the largest in the world, they say,” said Sienkewicz. “One of the archivists gave us a tour and showed us artifacts that aren’t typically on display.”
He added: “We were all very pleased by the museum exhibits we saw, in general. The British do a wonderful job of creating exciting museum experiences to help patrons really appreciate the history.”
For Nate Smolczyk, a sophomore from Canton, Ill., the trip was an ideal way to spend a spring break while also broadening his horizons.
“The trip to the United Kingdom to study Roman Britain was my first experience leaving the United States and being exposed to another culture, as well as my first experience studying classics,” said Smolczyk. “It was the perfect combination of scheduled class obligations and free time to explore London. I’m a mathematics and computer science major, and I took the class to experience new things while learning about a topic I was unfamiliar with.”