There is no doubting that in this book Patricia Southern has written a fascinating and compelling account of the Roman occupation of Britain but it's claim to be "a new history" suggests a revisionist approach akin to the excellent "UnRoman Britain" by Russell and Laycock. Instead, this book is in many ways very much a traditional narrative history that borrows heavily from ancient texts to describe the political and adminstrative process with the social history largely being limited to inserts within each chapter. Apart from her desire to frequently offer contrasting opinions, this seemed to me to be almost an old-fashioned approach to history in the way that she is attracted to significant people, dates and events.
As well as being a great read, there are several aspects that I really like about this book. It is easy to read, doesn't court controversy and offers conflicting interpretations of particular events. This book has no tub-thumping agenda like Russell and Laycock's book (although I applaud their conclusions) and Southern is happy to marry up archaeology with the written history which I found to be very satisfying as someone who likes to see the "given" questioned. Anyone with the slightest inkling of this era of British history will already be familiar with the accounts about Julius Caesar, Agricola and Boudicca but the 2nd century onwards is equally covered in the book albeit the number of sources available appear to be extremely scant. Much of the book seems to be given over to events in the North of England and the border with Scotland where the loal Brigantes seemed to always cause a degree of nuisance. You will find very little about Venta Belgarum where I live, for example! In fact, there were stretches of this book where is felt like nothing else was happening South of Hadrian's wall other than the construction of the Saxon shore forts. However, the story is hugely compelling and I felt that the book seemed to demonstrate that we are equally in the dark about the later Roman periods than we are about the Dark Ages. As well as being very enjoyable, the glossary includes a dictionary of Roman terms, a comprehensive list of Roman sites in the UK that are available for the public to visit and a very good summary of each of the Classical writer's work on the topic of Britannia.
There are a few quibbles. If you close your eyes after reading this book, it is still very difficult to imagine what Roman Britain may have been like and I found that I was unable to build up a picture of how Britannia may have looked or indeed, how it changed over the years. You will find very little about town development in comparison with the phase-by-phase descriptions of Hadrian's Wall and the social aspect of the history is touched upon but not elaborated. I felt this book was at it's weakest when considering how Britain changed when the Romans left and there was no real analysis of just how much or how little they impacted upon society. After reading "UnRoman Britain" which mimimalises the contribution of Rome, I would have loved to have read Paricia Southern's opinion. However, I would imagine that she would have remained balanced on this matter and offered a contrasting view just as she had on other topics.
In summary, this book effectively is a narrative history with a bias towards the "big hitters" in history and , in this respect, is against the current trend. Given that so much of this is oftern over-looked in the discussions regarding villas, Romanisation and religious culture, I found this approach refreshing and whilst not at all controversial, there is sufficient in this brilliant book to make you want to investigate the topic further. Thoroughly recommended.