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Roman Britain: A New History 55 BC-AD 450 [Hardcover]

Patricia Southern
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Sep 2011
The perfect introduction to the history of Roman Britain. For nearly four centuries, from AD 43 to 410, Britain was a small province on the north western edge of the vast Roman Empire. Patricia Southern's masterly new history tells the story from first contact, through invasion and conquest, coexistence to eventual decline incorporating the political, social and cultural history of 'Britannia'. For the first time the wealth of 'voices' from the varied population of Roman Britain are placed centre stage in the narrative. Indirectly via the works of ancient historians, annalists and biographers, and directly from building inscriptions, religious dedications, gravestones, graffiti, leaden curse tablets, artefacts and coins. Writers such as Gaius Julius Caesar, the geographer Strabo, the historian Tacitus, and the annalist Cassius Dio, describe Britain and the main historical events, but perhaps the most vivid source is the corpus of letters from the fort at Vindolanda in Northumberland, where named individuals talk about birthday parties and complain about the terrible state of the roads -

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Amberley Publishing (28 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 144560146X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1445601465
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 478,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Patricia Southern is an authority of the history of ancient Rome and the author of twelve books on the subject. Her other books include: ANCIENT ROME: THE RISE & FALL OF AN EMPIRE 753BC-AD476 ('Clear and witty' OXBOW BOOK NEWS, 'A lucid book' CHOICE); CLEOPATRA ('In the absence of Cleopatra's memoirs, Southern's commendably balanced biography will do very well' THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH. 'Scholarly and readable... looks carefully behind the rhetoric of a hostile ancient press' DR PETER JONES); JULIUS CAESAR ('Her style is delightfully approachable: lean and lucid, witty and pacy' ANTIQUITY); DOMITIAN: TRAGIC TYRANT ('A lively and wittily written book - the story of a strange life, enjoyably told' CLASSICAL JOURNAL); THE ROMAN EMPIRE FROM SEVERUS TO CONSTANTINE ('Writing with her usual surpassing skill for a broader readership, Patricia Southern distills and immense body of scholarship in history, military archaeology and numismatics' ANTIQUITY); AUGUSTUS, POMPEY THE GREAT, EMPRESS ZENOBIA, ANTONY & CLEOPATRA, THE ROMAN ARMY: A SOCIAL AND INSTITUTIONAL HISTORY and THE LATE ROMAN ARMY. She lives in Northumberland.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Romans in the gloaming 1 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover
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!
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3.0 out of 5 stars .. not bad but not gripping 10 July 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
.. I can't work out what it was about this book that didn't grab me because it is my favourite period .. maybe too reliant on Archaeology and not enough DNA genetic and textual material .. maybe it was the wrong cut-off date .. maybe the lack of conclusions and the bigger European picture ...
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roman History 21 Oct 2012
By alison
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a present for my history mad brother, when asked he said it was perfect well written and a good read,his historial interests are mainly contained within the Romans just being in Britain and would like more books covereing this period
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview about how little we really know 13 Dec 2013
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are at least three other books with the same title. There are also a host more from various other historians and/or archaeologists covering the same topic: Roman Britain. I have read some of them, but by no means all of them so I am in no position and do not intend to make sweeping comparisons. It may not be perfect. I found a few "glitches" in it. Some things looked a bit odd, or perhaps even a bit questionable, and I will get back to these later on.

To begin with, the reader needs to understand what the author seems to have tried to achieve and how she has - quite deliberately - limited herself to what is really known. This is what you would expect any good historian to do, although it can be quite difficult and it raises at least two sets of issues.

The first set of issues arises when realising how little we really know about "Roman Britain" and how much we have to rely upon comparisons with other parts of the Empire, some of which may not always be relevant. This is something that is very well shown and illustrated across the book. A related point here is that the main advances in Roman history in general, and Roman Britain in general, are due to archaeology and the numerous findings that have been discovered. However, even in Britain, where archaeology started earlier than in most places and where there is still some much to find, there are limits to the information it can provide. This is also something that the author shows rather well and she mostly refuses the kind of unverifiable speculations and theories that could have so easily side-tracked her.

For this in particular, the book and its author deserve quite a lot of credit, especially since it can easily lead to misunderstandings and disappointments. For instance, a reviewer of the Kindle version of this book complained that it was "a history of Roman Britain written entirely from a Roman perspective." This is a perfectly correct statement. It may even be exactly what the author intended to do although whether intended or not, there was simply no alternative, given that the facts about the Britons (that is the collection of tribes that populated the island) are even fewer than for the Romans. The conclusion is that it is simply not possible to write a history of Roman Britain with "insights into what the indigenous population did or thought". Consequently, it seems rather unfair to blame the author for not having tried to do something that is simply not possible.

A related criticism is that this book has an "almost exclusive focus on military affairs." The statement is perfectly accurate. Whether this should be seen as a criticism is perhaps more questionable. Patricia Southern has written extensively on the Roman army. This book reflects this fact and even includes bits and pieces from her more general volume on the Roman army, with a number of examples from the Roman Army in Britain being found in both volumes. There are also two other reasons explaining the focus on military affairs and the Roman Army. One is the fact that the Roman Army is perhaps better documented, and the other is that it played a huge and complex role in the development of Roman provinces in general, and Roman Britain. Both reasons are well and rather convincingly explained in the book.

Apart from its obvious "law and order" and strictly military role, it also played a considerable economic role. Provided for Roman forces was a huge market, or more accurately a series of large markets in each of the provinces were significant forces were stationed. The economic role of the Roman Army was also indirect. Many of the forts that were evacuated as the army moved to the north became the sites of Roman towns and Roman engineers did occasionally help edify public buildings, for instance.

Two further advantages of this book, for a so-called "general reader" or someone not very familiar with the history of Rome, and of Roman Britain especially, are the way it is written and the structure that Patricia Southern has chosen to follow. The contents are presented as simply as possible, that is chronologically. A number of boxes are scattered across it to explain and focus on specific points. The text itself is indeed presented as a matter of fact way, using plain layman English, with explanations and translations being provided as soon as a "specialised" or Latin term is used. As a result, the contents are clear, easy to access and easy to understand.

There may however be a "price to pay" for this. Because this book is about facts, history and archaeology, the author avoids most scholarly discussions and often does not present the various debates and interpretations. She just mentions that this or that issue happens to be controversial. So, in the case of the battle of Mount Graupius, for instance, do not expect this book to contain a lengthy presentation of all the theories about the location of Agricola's main and major victory: you will not find this. A related effect is that the contents, which I happened to find fascinating, may "feel" somewhat "dull" for those who might not be "Roman buffs". Do not, for instance, expect to be "entertained" in a Tom Holland style, although, now and again, some of Pat Southern's comments and dry humour might make you smile.

Then there are a number of little "glitches". One is a (limited) number of repetitions, because the same issue may pop up in different periods of Roman Britain and it gets repeated. This should however not be exaggerated. There are relatively few such repetitions and when they do occur, the author keeps them to a minimum - a couple of sentences to make the reader aware that a given topic was also an issue in the period under review. A second type of "glitch" results from the fact that the book is an overview. They are mostly simplifications and details which arise as the author attempts to cut a long story short while still preserving the core of it. For instance, Stilicho is presented as "by birth a Vandal". It seems that he was only half-Vandal. A slightly different case is illustrated by the following sentence: "the situation changed in 409, when Arcadius, Emperor of Constantinople, died." Contrary to what this sentence might suggest, Arcadius had died in May 408.

Despite this, I found that the book was a rather good starting point for someone (such as a general reader or perhaps an undergraduate student) interested in Roman Britain. It is also a rather good overview, regardless of how much one may know (of believe to know) on the topic. Four solid stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roman Britain by Patricia Southern 5 Aug 2012
By Marilyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Roman Britain by Patricia Southern is a fascinating book. She is extremely knowledgeable in her field of expertise but makes the narrative very readable and interesting for a reader interested in this subject and desiring to learn the latest theories about the Roman occupation. I completed an internship in Newcastle-upon-Tyne which is near Hadrian's Wall of the Roman period and this book brought many wonderful memories back to life. In addition it has introduced me to many other interesting aspects of this period in English and Roman history. It is a fascinating and entertaining read.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dry, dry, dry 7 Mar 2013
By Daniel I. Gordon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Too much on who was govervor of Britain when; very little on life and society in Roman Britain. Very disappointing.
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