Lea Beness and Tom Hillard are associate professors in ancient history at Macquarie University. They will co-present the 21st AD Trendall Lecture as part of the ASCS conference on 4 February.

Like many budding ancient historians, both Tom and Lea’s interest in the ancient worlds took shape in high school, inspired by teachers who were passionate about the subject. Lea had the added bonus of an unusually high student-teacher ratio.  

“There were two of us in the class at Glen Innes High School and then just me. This meant I got the undivided attention of my teacher, Mrs Richardson, and I could, of course, ask her lots of questions,” she says.

This interest stuck, as both pursued careers as lecturers and researchers in ancient history.

“I love studying the ancient world because it is so fascinating. Ancient Roman culture, for instance, is a really odd mixture of the familiar and the alien which I find intriguing,” Lea says.

 “The city of Rome is also a great place to visit over and over again. There are so many layers of history there and it is such a rich and beautiful city.”

Lea and Tom’s keynote lecture will focus on the period when Rome conquered the Mediterranean, which Lea and Tom say transformed Roman culture.

“We want to shine a spotlight onto the Roman Republic at the moment when it appeared to contemporaries that Rome had achieved an unprecedented prominence in Mediterranean geopolitics, but when it was about to face its own demons.

“What happened is complicated, and can be analysed in multiple ways, but we want to highlight the role of personality (multiple personalities, as it turned out) in the unfolding of history,” Tom says.

An Armidale ex-pats, Lea and Tom are also looking forward to visiting their old town for the conference.

 “I’m looking forward to meeting and exchanging ideas with my colleagues in the discipline from across Australasia and to seeing some old friends from Armidale. The University of New England really forged me as an ancient historian so it has a special place in my heart,” Lea says.

 “It is a city which has given me so much,” Tom agrees, “and has left me filled with wonderful memories.”

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