Tom Holland

The desecration of Stonehenge

The Conservative party, over the course of its lengthy history, has been defined by two particular traditions. One emphasis the duty of care to the past. It nurtures a suspicion of grandiose and ill-founded schemes. It never forgets that the responsibility of a conservative is ultimately to conserve. Then, parallel to this, there is a

How to plan the ultimate English road trip

Huge excitement last week, as archaeologists announced the discovery in Southwark of the best preserved Roman mausoleum ever found in Britain. I heard the news on the radio while driving with a friend, and both of us – living as we do south of the river – cheered. Shortly afterwards, I was invited on to

In defence of pigeons

I have done absolutely nothing this past year except pound away at a book. For complicated logistical reasons that are far too boring to go into, I discovered last summer – rather in the manner of a Bank of England economist blindsided by the inflation rate – that I had badly miscalculated how long I

The prickly truth: hedgehogs face a struggle to survive

No wild animal is closer to the hearts of the British than the hedgehog. In poll after poll, it has been voted our favourite mammal. This is hardly surprising. Hedgehogs naturally inspire affection. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the companionable washerwoman created by Beatrix Potter, is only the most celebrated of a whole host of them who trot

The anxieties that long ago shadowed Christmas are back

Christmas has been given the green light by the government this year less because it marks the birth of Christ than because retailers and the hospitality industry desperately need it to go ahead. Other feast days in the Christian calendar still belong to the church. Christmas is the feast day that a fundamentally secular nation

In praise of a precious poet

Never having experienced anything that I would attribute to a supernatural cause, I am obliged to confess that my prayers have always gone unanswered. But I only have to read George Herbert — rector of a small church near where I grew up, and therefore a poet who has always been particularly precious to me

The history of Thebes is as mysterious as its Sphinx

The Spartans were not the only Greeks to die at Thermopylae. On the fateful final morning of the battle, when Leonidas, knowing that the pass had been sold, ordered the vast majority of the contingents stationed at the Hot Gates to retreat and live to fight another day, two detachments stayed behind to join the

Sugared with wit: How ‘Mr Spectator’ came to life

The Spectator is a child of the 19th century, and damned proud of it. First published in 1828, the link provided by its 10,000 issues to a long-vanished age of Regency waistlines and Romantic poets is one of the great wonders of journalism. Its success was built upon Victorian foundations, yet it is a peculiarity

Revelations about the prophet

In 2011, when the editor of Charlie Hebdo put Muhammad on the cover, he did so as the heir to more than 200 years of a peculiarly French brand of anti-clericalism. Just as radicals in the Revolution had desecrated churches and smashed icons, so did cartoonists at France’s most scabrous magazine delight in satirising religion.

The way of the cross

Declarations of hope that Notre Dame can be resurrected have been much in evidence this Holy Week. Such is the lesson of Easter: that life can come from death. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, that other great emblem of Paris, Notre Dame provides the French with evidence that their modern and secular republic has its foundations

Decline and fall | 8 November 2018

For a millennium and a half now, one of the great pleasures of being a commentator on current affairs has been comparing a political crisis to the fall of the Roman Empire. Nothing recently has quite so turbo-charged this perennial trend like the presidency of Donald Trump. The flamboyant egotism, the patent amorality, the porn

Fallen franchise

Back in the mists of prehistory, when I was eight, dinosaur films followed a set pattern. The dinosaurs themselves would be cheerfully unpalaeontological; women would wear improbable outfits; volcanoes would explode. Then, in 1993, courtesy of Steven Spielberg, came a sea-change. Jurassic Park was that cinematic rarity: a science fiction film that succeeded in influencing

Children and slaves first

In the reign of Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity in AD 310 set the entire Roman world on a course to becoming Christian, a Palestinian scholar named Eusebius pondered the reasons for the triumph of his faith. Naturally, he saw behind it the guiding hand of God; but he did not rest content with that

The photograph that filled me with terror

This time last year, in a review for The Spectator of two books on extraterrestrial life, I mentioned how, as a child, the highlight of the summer holidays was when my cousin Simon came to stay. Our great shared passion was mysteries: not only flying saucers, but everything from the Loch Ness Monster to Atlantis

Don’t forget the Yazidis

As the floodwaters subsided, the Ark drifted across northern Iraq. Finally, with a crunching jolt, it hit dry land. Its timbers had scraped the peak of a mountain range called Sinjar. Water began to pour in. Fortunately, a black serpent, its coils as thick as an arm, moved to plug the breach. The Ark did

The killing God

On 6 July 1535, the severed head of England’s former lord chancellor, Sir Thomas More, was carried across London Bridge to the gatehouse on the southern bank. There it was parboiled and set on a spike. Another head, that of the bishop and theologian John Fisher, was removed to make way for it, and thrown

To earth from heaven

When I was a child, the highlight of the summer holidays was when my cousin Simon came to stay. We shared a common obsession: aliens. Day after fruitless day, we would scan the skies, looking for UFOs. At night, long after we were supposed to have gone to sleep, we would get out our torches

Diary – 1 September 2016

European unions come and go. Back in 1794, one of the more improbable ones was founded when Corsica joined Britain as an autonomous kingdom under the rule of George III. It didn’t last long, and by 1796, after an ignominious Brexit from the island, the Corsicans once again found themselves under French rule. Today, the

Pitch perfect | 21 July 2016

One day, many seasons ago, Jon Hotten was on the field when a bowler took all ten wickets. In his memories, the afternoon has the quality of a dream. The ground was deep in the countryside, surrounded by trees. The boundary line was erratic and the sightscreens weathered. The match was won beneath a ‘perfect