With a vintage fair and costumed re-enactors, the festival is a great day out. Credit: Martin Cook

Viking's new speaker: An Interview with historian Tom Holland

Author: Sarah Riches

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Viking has teamed up with Chalke History Festival in June – and this year, the historian Tom Holland will be speaking at the event

As well as literary talks, the festival will showcase Spitfire flyovers, archery displays and D-Day swing dances. What are you most looking forward to?

There will be more performances this year, with eight different acts and performers speaking around the site every day. It’s the best place to listen to fascinating speakers with the most beautiful countryside backdrop. I’m looking forward to hearing from the former Top Gear presenter James May on his favourite subject – cars. Sir Max Hastings, the journalist, historian and author of 30 books, mostly about war, will also speak, and historian Bettany Hughes will talk about her latest book, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

What is your most significant book?

Dominion, which is about the Roman belief that crucifixion was the worst fate imaginable. How astonishing it was, then, that people believed one particular crucifixion victim – an obscure provincial man called Jesus – had been a god. Dominion explores the implications of this shocking conviction as they have reverberated through 2,500 years of history. The process of writing it was like a pilgrimage – it was insanely ambitious but pilgrimages should be ambitious, or what’s the value in them?

Can you tell us more about your current projects?

I’m recording episodes of The Rest Is History [the world’s most downloaded history podcast] and mulling over a new book which will argue that the 1960s ranks as a period of ideological upheaval fit to rank with the 1520s.

What is your favourite era in history?

The Roman Empire, because it has something of the quality of the best science fiction: it is simultaneously familiar yet utterly alien.

Tom Holland, author of Dominion, is speaking at Chalke History Festival in June. Credit: Russell Emm

Why do you think understanding our past is so important?

The bottom line is that history is fascinating – regardless of period or geographical area. There is such a multiplicity of ways of understanding the past, which teaches us that there is an infinitude of ways to be human. What could be a more fascinating subject than that?

If you could meet anyone from history, who would it be?

Dr Samuel Johnson, the great literary lion of 18th century London. He is the hero of the first great modern biography, written by his devoted admirer James Boswell, and comes across as the most wonderful man imaginable: brilliant, funny and humane. I would love to see if he measured up to his portrait.

As the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, where in Italy would you like to cruise to?

I’d like to explore the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi and Sicilian coasts, with their rich legacy of Greek architecture. Cruising around Italy would be such a vivid journey into the past; we’d be following in the wake of Odysseus himself.


Chalke History Festival takes place near Salisbury, Wiltshire, from June 24-30. Tom's podcast will be broadcast at the festival on June 15. Tickets are on sale now at chalkefestival.com

Viking have teamed up with Chalke History Festival this year. Credit: Elizabeth Perry
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About Sarah Riches

After a five-year stint living in Asia, Sarah was inspired to become a travel journalist. Sarah has freelanced for Condé Nast Traveller and National Geographic Traveller and is the author of London Almanac (2010) and Culture Smart! The Essential Guide to British Customs & Culture (2024). She was also the deputy editor of Time Out Abu Dhabi, Where London and London Planner, digital editor of Wanderlust – the UK’s oldest travel magazine.