Interview by Ursus
Internet discussion fora are usually a dime a dozen. In my nine years online I've digested and spat out quite a few. UNRV offered a different vibe. There was something special about it, something that enticed me and begged my loyalty and indulgence. I soon learned it was due to the excellent management of the site administrators. Erudite, responsive, urbane and yet approachable, few sites are invested with such a commanding presence.
There are three site owners, and this being a Romanophilia forum we reverently call them the Triumviri. Moonlapse, Primus Pilus and Viggen are their online handles. Collectively they founded UNRV six years ago and have since been dutifully managing this ever-growing phenomenon. I've known them for four years, and for the last three have been working closely with them in my capacity as a legatus (forum moderator).
Yet most site members know little about them. Allow me to remedy the situation by fleshing out these intriguing personalities.
The Triumvir with whom I have the most contact on a daily basis is "Primus Pilus", or known in real life as Chris Heaton. This devoted family man lives just north of Detroit, Michigan with his wife and two young sons. By day, Chris is a mild mannered corporate controller in the last remaining vestiges of Detroit's automotive industry (Chris has always urged his countrymen to "buy American" when it comes to cars...). When not balancing the corporate books, Chris remains physically active in a variety of athletic activities, enjoys sports and the outdoors (presumably in the three months of summer that Michigan in not a frigid wasteland), and drinks wine with his wife and friends.
In contrast to the ever present Chris, the Triumvir known as "Moonlapse" has always come across to me as a more shadowy figure (and I say that with affection). This behind the scenes persona is known to most of his real life associates as Jon. Jon lives in Colorado's Front Range. He is happily married, but in lieu of children has decided to raise what he describes as an "aggressive, barfing cat." Despite adhering to a pronounced libertarian philosophy, Jon is gainfully employed by the Department of Defense, a contradiction that serves to inspire "exasperated forehead slapping." In his spare time Jon reads up on economics and obscure items of American history. He plays guitar, enjoys beer, and tinkers with a wide variety of mechanical and electrical devices.
Then there is "Viggen." Christian Josef Posratching, as he is known, hails from Austria (what our Roman forebears used to call Noricum). Christian is 38, separated from his wife and has a young daughter. He pays his bills by serving as an assistant manager in a department store. In his off hours he amuses himself with fishing and online foreign currency exchanges. There is also a persistent rumor among his colleagues that Christian rides kangaroos through the forests of Austria.
As the trio tells the story, they met in 2002 on the forums for a Roman Empire MMOG called "Roma Victor." Christian had the idea to develop a history resource guide for the game called United Nations of Roma Victor. Christian asked Jon to join for his technical expertise, and Chris was enlisted for his writing skills and historical knowledge. It was not long before UNRV took on a life of its own, achieving an identity and purpose independent of Roma Victor.
But all of this is just scratching the surface, and the time has come to reach deeper in to these elusive personalities. Without further adieu, it is my duty and pleasure to present to you the following interview.
Ursus: Gentlemen, tell me something about yourself that most site members wouldn't know about you, but might find interesting.
Primus Pilus: Not sure if anyone would find this interesting or not, but I used to actively collect super-hero comic books. Spiderman, Captain America, Batman, that sort of thing. I still have a rather large collection though I've sold much of it off over the years. I've started to get back into a bit since my boys are showing an interest, especially with the popularity of recent super-hero movies. I don't have the time or inclination to actively buy/sell and trade for profit the way I once did, but if it helps inspire my sons to read, that's incentive enough.
Moonlapse: I started working a farm, learned to drive, and took my first shot of liquor when I was about 12. My grandma gave me the shot.
Viggen: I lived 6 years in South Africa (from 1996 to 2002), a frightening but also wonderful time. It shaped me more then the other 32 years.
Ursus: How and when did you get interested in ancient history and the Roman Empire?
Primus Pilus: While I have always been drawn to history (and I think most people who have a passion for it can relate to how it's really always been a part of us), my first real exposure to Rome came from my private school (St. Thomas Lutheran) elementary days. I can't remember how old I was, but I recall being selected to play a Roman legionary in a play/skit regarding the crucifixion. I was the one who stabbed Jesus with the "spear of destiny" and got to say, "He truly is the son of God".
From that point on I was simply always drawn to Rome. I recall as a boy seeing such legendary films as Fall of the Roman Empire, Ben Hur and Spartacus and being absolutely enthralled. I was captivated by a video game on my old Commodore 64 that involved both administrating the empire and destroying rebellions. I remember being overwhelmed by the depth of a voluntary middle school (6th grade?) project in which I tried to reconstruct the entire lineage of the Roman emperors on a single large poster board. While the project was obviously disastrous, the fire just kept burning...
Moonlapse: I had an excellent history teacher in the 6th grade who hosted after-school historical strategy gaming and mock combat with padded weapons. Shortly after that, I read Stephen Lawhead's Song of Albion trilogy, which really sparked an interest in ancient Celts. The nail in the coffin for Hellenistic and Roman history was when I read Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire and Jack Whyte's The Skystone about 9 years ago.
Viggen: In highschool, when we learned about the Punic Wars, I felt Hannibal was the coolest thing that ever set foot on this planet.
Ursus: What is your area of expertise or interest within Roman history?
Primus Pilus: While my interests are fairly broad, I prefer the Republican era from the mid to late period through the early principate. Specifically, I really enjoy the intricacies of the political order. As far as expertise goes, I wouldn't consider myself an expert in any particular subject though some are clearly stronger than others. I have found that connecting, locating and relating specific source material to various topics at hand comes rather easily to me.
Moonlapse: I wouldn't say I have a specific interest in any single aspect of Roman history, but my area of expertise, if any, would be geography. The wallmap development required quite a bit of very specific geographic research.
Viggen: I am far away from being an expert of Roman history. I like the period from 400 to 500 AD the shaping of the Germanic world that came out of it and the influence that the Romans had on my country (Austria).
Ursus: Is there is specific figure or event in Roman history that really intrigues you and why?
Primus Pilus: While this may sound like a complete cop-out, if I had to pick one single thing I suppose Julius Caesar (and the era) would draw me in every time. The reason is simple: he is a legendary heroic figure to some and horrific tyrant to others and this can be easily attested to by the number of passionate discussions in our forum. His life and career offers examples of the greatest and worst of Rome in one single package. I'm caught somewhere in between, admiring his personal achievements while despising both the methods and the results. The inherent conflict in that series of events (though not necessarily the particular incidents) is rather indicative of Rome's entire history.
Moonlapse: I find the rise of the Roman navy during the First Punic War to be particularly intriguing. The innovation and perseverance of the Romans was remarkable.
Viggen: Hannibal. If there were no proof, we easily could think this is just a myth, because to cross the Alps is something most rucksack tourists of today wouldn't manage despite their modern equipment.
Ursus: What are your specific areas of duty within UNRV?
Primus Pilus: At one time it was writing and populating the forum with discussion. As UNRV has grown, full time writing has taken a back seat to daily administration and interaction on the forum. I beat myself up quite a bit for not actively writing as much as I once did, but I still trickle some articles out here and there. I've really enjoyed some of the compilation projects, such as the Legal Chronology and the Victims of the Proscription list, and plan to do some more. Additionally, being an accountant by profession, I also take care of the "books".
Moonlapse: I generally take care of the site design, map designs, the web applications, and the web server.
Viggen: I am in charge of marketing, writing the newsletter, and doing the regular page updates. I am also known for giving everyone around me a hard time.
Ursus: Just how much work is it to run UNRV?
Primus Pilus: We all have different roles, but each can be rather significant, at least at times. There are occasions when I can be personally overwhelmed and others where I'm laden with guilt for not doing enough. In the big scheme of things though, I view it as a rewarding personal achievement and generally relish everything about it.
Moonlapse: It depends on how quickly the site is to progress in services and content. It can either take only a few hours a week, or all of my spare time. I'll admit that I get the most distracted and am the most prone to procrastination, but when I really get into a project, it's pretty much full throttle until its done or it gets completely interrupted. So for me, it alternates between a little bit of work and a whole lot of work.
Viggen: It is a pretty involved project, and there is always something to do. I basically work an hour before I go to work and one to three hours after I get back from work. But when things go wrong it can be a full day's work too (on the weekends).
Ursus: What are some things you as as individuals do behind the scenes for the site that most people don't know about?
Primus Pilus: As stated earlier, the accounting. UNRV.com LLC might be a tiny, financially irrelevant operation in the big scheme of things, but accounting is theoretically the same whether you make $100 or $1,000,000. Receipts, expenses, tax calculations and payments etc. all have to be recorded regardless of the rather trivial amount.
Moonlapse: I've researched, installed, tested, and learned how to modify quite a few web applications in a search for a system that will suite our future plans for the site. The wallmap required a hard and fast education in satellite topography data and topography data rendering.
Viggen: Managing thousands of spam mails and the boring work of making the site rank well in the search engines.
Ursus: Do you three get along as site administrators?
Primus Pilus: I think so, especially since we each provide individually unique functions and would rarely butt heads over such things that fall in our own areas of influence. However, it's very odd that we've been doing this for some 6 or 7 years or whatever it's been and we've never met in person. That's something I really would like to remedy.
Moonlapse: I'd say we get along as well as any business partners could wish. I have a feeling though that I frustrate Christian with my sporadic workflow.
Viggen: After 5 years working with them, I can honestly say it is a match in heaven, I can`t remember we ever had a major argument. Every one has his field of expertise and no one is fiddling with the others department.
Ursus: What is UNRV's greatest success so far? It's greatest failure?
Primus Pilus: The greatest success is really the fact that the site exists. Considering how we started with such modest goals and under such unusual circumstances in contrast to how far it's come surprises me to no end. Our greatest failure is our inability to focus and finish projects that we've started and/or talked about. This doesn't fall on any one of us in particular (whether it be my writing, Jon's book project or Christian's various web enhancement functions) but is an inherent issue with the nature of a rather casual partnership that is not our primary profession.
Moonlapse: I think UNRV's greatest successes are in becoming a referenced source of historical information and in generating enough revenue to start the community driven book program and attract recognized authors. Although it wasn't a failure and was in fact a very important developmental step, I'm nearly ashamed of the first wallmap. I cringe when I look at it.
Viggen: Greatest success is the popularity the site has reached. I don`t think we had any real failures, but one thing that bothers me is that we are not implementing new things faster, there are so many ideas and just so little time.
Ursus: Overall are you happy with the growth and quality of UNRV?
Primus Pilus: I am astounded by the growth. Unfortunately, that growth has made me acutely aware of how many people have read my writing... something that I feel is not the greatest quality despite the best intentions. However, I don't let it bother me too greatly, because I'm quite certain that it's served a purpose of providing a basic introduction to some while inspiring others to learn more. After all, that was my intention from the beginning.
Moonlapse: Overall, yes. Any personal dissatisfaction is rooted in my inability to focus on growth and quality full-time.
Viggen: The growth is very impressive, we had in 2003 about 10 visitors a day and last year we finished with 1.7 million unique visitors. The quality is (also thanks to the community) growing every day, especially the book review section is a treat, we will have our focus on this part of the site, as it is one of the most popular places, and deserves a better navigation, a rating system and a search function!
Ursus: Do you get positive or negative feedback from random people for UNRV?
Primus Pilus: This is somewhat in relation to the question above. For the most part, I receive positive feedback from people and receive a great many requests for bibliographies, etc. from teachers and students. That, of course, makes me feel fantastic, because again it's inspiration and education (my own and that of site visitors) that's the ultimate goal. Occasionally I get feedback from what I consider to be "crazy people" who refuse to view things objectively and simply hate me because of my interpretation of events, but those are generally quite rare as well as amusing. I believe I take criticism fairly well and am greatly appreciative of those folks who take a moment to correct me on typographical errors, grammatical confusion, or outright incorrect statements whether it be on the forum or via email. Thank You.. even to those who can be or have been a bit harsh about it.
Moonlapse: Anytime I explain or show UNRV to anyone the reaction is always positive.
Viggen: I only had positive feedback.
Ursus: Where do you see UNRV in a few years? What are you great plans for it?
Primus Pilus: I just want to continue to interact with like-minded people... to learn, inform, inspire and be inspired. Essentially, I just want this site to be synonymous with that sentiment, whether we reach millions of people or hundreds. I'll let Christian worry about how to reach all those people.
Moonlapse: Hopefully, we'll play a much larger role in history and books on the internet. Some of our plans include a comprehensive database of Roman history books and reviews that can be narrowed down to very specific topics and more maps, both interactive and in print.
Viggen: Having its headquarter in the Cayman Island, with my big fat yacht in the harbour! (just kidding). The book review section is the closest to my heart, this is really were we are having our focus on. But also to get the community more involved; for this we obviously have to give them better tools to do so.
Ursus: What is one thing you would like to say to the UNRV readership?
Primus Pilus: Much in line with the sentiment of previous answers, I truly hope that my work, as well as that of Jon and Christian simply motivates people to investigate Rome and the ancient world. As Cicero once wrote "Not to know what has been transacted in former times is always to remain a child." Also, despite what may seem a cliche and forgive me for saying more than one thing... it's a necessity to thank those people who help make this site the destination that it's become. In addition to those members of our community who routinely interact, engage and share information, personal thoughts and opinions, I would be remiss not to thank our forum moderators in particular for their personal contributions as well as for acting as incredible ambassadors to the world wide web.
Moonlapse: Your support for our site has been one of my strongest sources of motivation, I can't thank you guys enough.
Viggen: Thanks for making this a great place!
I thank Chris, Jon and Christian for their time. More importantly I, and I am sure all of us, thank them for their ongoing administrative duties. Hail UNRV!