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Roman Ireland [Paperback]

Vittorio Di Martino
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2006
Archaeologists divided over claims Romans invaded Ireland. Irish Times, January 1996 Imagine Ireland untouched by Roman influence when Britain was part of the Roman Empire, a time when the distance was nothing for sailors routinely navigating the entire Mediterranean. Yet the accepted view has been there was no Roman expedition to Ireland. The Irish lived in Celtic purity with little outside influence until St Patrick brought Christianity. Yet many sites have produced Roman objects indicating a Roman presence in Ireland. Roman Ireland is a fresh reconsideration of Roman influence in Ireland. It outlines the influence of Latin on the Irish language, the Roman contribution to Irish art and the new contacts trade opened between the Irish and Roman worlds. Roman influence on social life, craftsmanship and farming is disclosed. Finally, new insights are provided on Christianisation as a vehicle of Romanisation in Ireland and the likely occurrence of at least one Roman military invasion of Ireland.

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: The Collins Press; Rev Ed edition (1 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905172192
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905172191
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 15.7 x 20.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,295,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


Readily digestible and enjoyable. --Irish Independent

A treasury of fascinating facts, challenge to conventional thinking. --Ireland On Sunday

There is much worth considering here. --Ireland Galway Historical & Archaeological Society

From the Inside Flap

A nondescript patch of land 15 miles north of Dublin has shattered one of Ireland's strongest myths. It indicates that the country was, after all, invaded by the Romans. The Sunday Times, January 1996

Imagine Ireland untouched by Roman influence during the four centuries Britain, only 55km away at the closest crossing, was part ofthe Roman imperial world. This was a time when such a distance was nothing for sailors routinely navigating the entire Mediterranean. Yet, until recently, the accepted view has been no Roman expedition to Ireland ever took place.
Roman Ireland provides a fresh reconsideration of Roman influence in Ireland, highlighting the common Indo-European roots of Roman and Irish culture. It outlines the early influence of Latin on the Irish language, the Roman contribution to the shaping of Irish art and the crucial function of trade in opening new contacts between the Irish and Roman worlds. The impact of Rome on social life, metallurgy, craftsmanship and farming is described.

Finally, new insights are provided on the importance of Christianisation as a vehicle of Romanisation in Ireland and the likely occurrence of at least one Roman military invasion in Ireland. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book when it first came out in 2003, but only got to read it in 2012. Another review has summarised the chapters very well, so I shall limit myself to how credible the author's premises are based on the evidence he presents. The author's drive to write the book comes from his personal Roman (he is a native of the eternal city) view of how the Irish regard their historical relationship with the Roman world, based on his ten year sojourn on the island. His central claim (which was provoked by some archaeological discoveries in 1996) is that the Romans invaded Ireland at least once. Sadly his evidence for this is extremely poor as it is limited to a rather stretching interpretation of a phrase in Tacitus, a jokey line in Juvenal, an Irish legend about a deposed king returning to claim his birthright and small amount of archaeological discoveries which could easily be interpreted in other ways.
The four stars are not for this, but for the hard work the author has put into examining the agricultural, social, artistic and linguistic transmission between the Roman and Irish worlds. This is an area that has suffered historically as there has been an understandable (given its struggle for independence from Britain) tendency in Ireland to claim the separation of a unique Irish Celtic culture immune from Roman influence. Hopefully the book has stimulated debate in Ireland to conduct more archaeology and to avoid falling into the trap of preconceptions (something that British archaeologists and ancient historians also need a boot in the bottom for their re-imaginings of British ancient history through the glasses of their contemporary political ideologies).
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smashing the myth 2 May 2009
Verified Purchase
A romantic and heroic picture has been handed down to us of an Ireland untouched by the Romans, remaining completely isolated in Celtic purity until the coming of Patrick. On the basis of the evidence summarised in this book, the picture couldn't be more wrong.

It's also a story of modern day politics and nationalism; personal attacks against those who will not toe the line with regards to the nationalistic romantic vision; and at best turning a blind eye to or creating fantastical explaining away of and at worst wilful neglect, loss and even destruction of archaeological evidence.

Chapter 1 considers the archaeological and literary evidence which may support the idea that Agricola launched an invasion of Ireland in the first century.

Chapter 2 analyses such items as brooches and toilet items (combs, nail cleaners etc.), and the cross-cultural influence with the Roman world.

Chapter 3 discusses farming practice, and the changes which took place under Roman influence, such as changes in ploughing practice and field shape, improvements in plough technology and a move to dairy farming. Many farming related words in the Irish language betray a Latin origin at an early stage (the conversion of 'p' to 'c' in the adoption is the clue).

Chapter 4 is about literacy. Ogham is generally held to be an Irish invention ex nihilo. Here it is shown that the grouping of ogham letters shows a derivation from groupings given by Latin grammarians; furthermore the use of doubled medial consonants following the patterns of Latin orthography (unlike the later practice when the Latin alphabet was adopted) is a dead giveaway. More examples of early Latin influence into the Irish language are given.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Questions with Few Answers 3 Jan 2009
By Martin Nutty - Published on Amazon.com
Interesting book which lays out evidence of direct contact between Celtic Ireland and the Roman World. The author takes a shot at Ireland's self image of being untouched by the Roman Empire, a point of cultural pride I believe from an earlier era. I suspect Irish Nationalism dictates that Ireland is pure Celtic state then Briton which was sullied by Roman culture!

Interesting that the book is written by a native Roman who lived in Ireland for some 10 years. It seems that Irish Academia has been unwilling at best and hostile at worse to marshall a complete analysis in book from of Roman involvement in Ireland.

One wonders at the seeming unwillingness to investigate what appears to be a Roman site at Drumanagh north of Dublin which has yielded a number of Roman artifacts. The site is discussed but little coverage is given of the impediments to doing a full excavation.

The book is a little errudite and certainly speculative for my tastes. It raises interesting questions which one hopes will be investigated by the new generation less constrained by orthodox Irish identity issues.
4.0 out of 5 stars When Ireland met Rome 15 Feb 2013
By Marcel Dupasquier - Published on Amazon.com
The value of this book depends to a large extent on what you expect from it. If you have come to read about new, astonishing proofs that the Romans have indeed conquered the whole or parts of the Celtic island, then you will be disappointed. There simply is no such proof that the book could elaborate on. The Roman influence on Ireland was much more subtle. The Mediterranean Empire with its artistic fashions and its technological innovations merely inspired the Irish people into new ways of thinking and producing things. And this did not happen overnight with one conquest, but rather over centuries of diffusion with people constantly moving between the different British Isles, be it as mercenaries or traders, and taking new ideas home with them. What we have thus is a continuous, linear development from the Celtic La Tène to the Roman culture. And this process is then also nicely delineated in the book, covering a broad scope from farming techniques to literature, from the gods to the arts. As a consequence of the slowness of this process, the Irish were constantly about two to three hundred years behind the Romans. Hence, once the Irish have reached the point where their culture would have been indistinguishable from the other side of the Irish sea, the Roman empire had already ceased to exist there. Many aspects of the Romans culture continued to exist, however, most prominently being the religion. Therefore, the process in Ireland in the end is not called the Romanization of Ireland, but the Christianization of it.

The book further gives detail of two possible Roman invasions of Ireland. However, evidence of them is very thin. If they really happened, they must have been short-lived and probably did not affect the diffusion of culture mentioned above in profound ways. They were at most punitive expeditions and have thus to be treated with caution. As the Romans undertook such expeditions once every generation over the Rhine and the Danube, however, it seems plausible enough that they would commit themselves as well once every second century or so to dissuade the Irish from plundering the British coast. However, until more archeological evidence becomes available, no statements over this matter can be made with certainty.

The only point of critique I have about the book is that its writing style is sometimes hard to read, which lessened my enjoyment studying it somewhat. Still the subject is an important one. Science is full of paradigms which are hard to overcome, and scientific thinking only changes once proofs become too evident to ignore. In this respect, this book does an important job pushing the discussion into the right direction.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, speculative, not entirely convincing 3 Feb 2013
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
I bought this book in Dublin in 2004 during a business trip because I was intrigued by this claim. I read it and liked it, despite finding this central claim rather strange and the "evidence" on which it was supposed to be built rather shaky. I picked up again, quite recently and have re-read it. I have enjoyed about just as much as the first time, despite still finding it just as speculative and unconvincing. The central claim of this book is that, contrary to conventional history, the Romans invaded at least once (and maybe twice) and occupied at least part of Ireland and that this can be "proved" in a number of ways.

Before going any further, I should make two quick comments. One is that this is yet another piece of "revisionist" history where an author tries to demonstrate that what we have been taught to believe is not "the truth", which has been somehow deformed, twisted and hidden as the result of some sort of "hidden agenda". It is becoming increasingly common to come across history books claiming to tell the "true story" unlike all of their predecessors on the same subject. Some of this may be enjoyable and come up with a plausible, if speculative, story. Other are simply too far-fetched to believe.

In this case, whether - and perhaps more importantly to what extent - you believe the book's central claim is entirely up to you, although there is also a need to recognize that this kind of feature is also a marketing ploy. This brings me to the second point. Rather than opposing the traditional claim that Romans never set foot in Ireland and did not exert any influence over it to the claim that Ireland was invaded and partly occupied, it may be more likely that something in between happened. This is one of the reasons why this book has value, even if the author stretches whatever "evidence" he has too much.

Ireland must have been subject to some Roman influence, even if only through trade, piracy and retaliatory raids to destroy the pirates' nests and restore "Roman order". This would be enough to explain most of the so-called "evidence" of Roman influence in Ireland, starting with Roman coins. It might also explain the presence of a fort that the author claims to be a Roman one. If this was so, it could simply be a temporary outpost set up to suppress piracy, although there may be a range of other interpretations as well, such as an Irish chieftain, client of the Romans, whose stronghold may have been built with Roman techniques.

Then, as another reviewer mentioned, there is the author's work in demonstrating the Roman influence on many aspects of Irish culture and society. Here again, some of the points made may seem far-fetched, speculative, or simply exaggerated, and maybe they are. However, such questioning does has merit. They show that the assumption that Ireland remained entirely immune from Roman influence is rather implausible, to put it mildly. It would be particularly difficult to believe since all areas just beyond The Empire's frontiers, but also areas as far away as Scandinavia or Poland did feel Rome's influence. Such a unique exception would beg an explanation.

This is why I found this book was worth four stars or anything between three and four because, to be truthful here, I took a while to make up my mind on the rating. While the author's claims are often far-fetched or exaggerated, and although he does jump to conclusions and infer rather a lot from very limited evidence, he does show how implausible it is to believe that Ireland was not influenced by Rome. The unresolved question is how much influence?
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