on 3 January 2005
A beautifully produced and well organised piece of scholarship - Jones & Mattingly offer a first class analysis of the Roman invasion and occupation of the province of Britannia. They begin by setting the scene, offering an overview of the 'physical context' of the island - the essential geography of Pennine spinal column running through northern England, the mountains of Wales and Scotland, the varied coastline, the watersheds determining river flow and access to the hinterland, and rainfall, weather, and their influence on population distribution and land use. Geography and weather would play a major role in determining the success ... and the extent of the occupation.
The approach is scholarly, but highly accessible. The combination of a readable narrative and profuse use of black and white maps (plus photos of the archaeological evidence) makes this an excellent source of reference for anyone interested in the period.
The authors explore what Roman geographers knew of the islands - comparatively little as it happens. Tacitus implies that the Romans only confirmed that Britannia was an island after the fleet circumnavigated it in Agricola's time. These were the lands at the end of the earth, and the Roman army had to chart its way through the unknown.
The demographic and tribal structure before invasion is explored. Again, much of this is unknown territory - there is no recorded history, and much of the archaeological evidence is inconclusive. The Romans arrived in 43AD and left c.410AD. Their arrival had an immediate impact on the native tribes and the changes they wrought have had a lasting effect, not least in dividing off Romanised Britannia from what, today, is Scotland.
Jones & Mattingly consider the demands of pacification - the military campaigns, the garrisoning of the south, the maintenance of defence against the northern tribes and seaborn invaders. Again, the maps and illustrations are singularly effective and informative.
The authors emphasise that it was not only a military occupation - the Romans changed the use of land, their villa and urban economy transforming demography, political organisation, and transport. But Britannia was always on the fringe of Empire - the garrison would be stripped when Rome was under threat from other sources, and all the while, the cost of holding the line against the northern tribes would place a drain on resources ... and taxes.
And the Romans brought cultural change - they brought their moneyed economy, they brought reading and writing and a new language, they brought their arts and crafts, their political organisation. And they brought their gods, they adapted these to local gods, then set in store the conflict which would result from the Celtic and the Roman forms of Christianity trying to co-exist on the island.
Superbly written and illustrated, Jones & Mattingly provide a work which is an essential for scholars and amateur enthusiasts alike.