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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable "anti-history"
Miles Russell (Bloodline: The Celtic Kings of Roman Britain) and Stuart Laycock (Britannia - The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain & Warlords: The Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain) have joined forces here in a new work. Whereas their previous works are rather more for the specialist and enthusiastic amateur, this volume appears to be aimed...
Published on 13 Nov. 2010 by E. L. Wisty

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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars unroman stuff
I`ve read the reviews and the book too and my opinion is quite different. The book is a logical piece in Laycock`s books on how Britain fell into pieces along the lines of the tribal areas. Tribalism was strong throughout the roman period which is how this was possible. If tribalism was so strong then Britain can`t really have been very Roman, which is where this book...
Published on 21 April 2011 by B. Santa

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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars unroman stuff, 21 April 2011
By 
B. Santa (London,UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (Hardcover)
I`ve read the reviews and the book too and my opinion is quite different. The book is a logical piece in Laycock`s books on how Britain fell into pieces along the lines of the tribal areas. Tribalism was strong throughout the roman period which is how this was possible. If tribalism was so strong then Britain can`t really have been very Roman, which is where this book fits into the set, but this whole myth the book promises to expose is not a myth, at least not in 2010. This argument that Roman Britain wasn`t so Roman at all is hardly new. Richard Reece came up with this more than 20 years ago and if you`ve read Mattingly`s excellent `An Imperial Possession, Britain in the Roman Empire`(2006), you`ll be surprised what this whole `wow, Laycock and Russell got it right` enthusiasm is about. Mattingly`s book is a difficult read, but you can find all the `most people lived in round houses`, `urbanism was a failure` etc. mantra there.

It`s interesting to note how the coin legend `RSR` `Satrunian Age returns` is interpreted as a message to the British subjects of Carausius (p.151). The legend I.N.P.C.D.A. (deciphered by Bedoyere) is somehow left out of the book. It stands for `Iam Nova Progenies Caelo Demittitur Alto` `now a generation is let down from heaven above`. My point is that since these are from Vergil`s Eclogue IV, I wonder how these unroman guys were able to understand the message? I can`t picture a Celtic-British lad reading Virgil in front of his round house. Unless you had proper Latin education these letters on the coins meant nothing to you and then of course the question `Who were these messages for?` springs to mind. Probably not the round house dwellers and if not then how can these coins lead you to the conclusion that Carausius was a British ruler? I wanted to check the very rare coins the book mentions, but there are no footnotes. Improper footnoting is a problem throughout the book. The argument is heavily weighted on the section on `non-villa` sites (pp. 119-129) referring to finds of several excavations without a single footnote. I`m sure what they conclude is correct, but if this is meant to be a kind of academic piece there should be footnotes, or a bibliography for each chapter.

But most of this is probably not so important for those who meet Roman Britain for the first time. The book is easy to follow, beautifully illustrated which is forward looking and the general reader will find it very interesting. A perfect present for sb who is interested in Roman history.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable "anti-history", 13 Nov. 2010
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (Hardcover)
Miles Russell (Bloodline: The Celtic Kings of Roman Britain) and Stuart Laycock (Britannia - The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain & Warlords: The Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain) have joined forces here in a new work. Whereas their previous works are rather more for the specialist and enthusiastic amateur, this volume appears to be aimed a little more towards the general reader, with the text appealing less to detailed technical argument and also incorporating more photographs and reconstruction illustrations.

Russell & Laycock argue that the Roman province of Britannia was far less Romanised than is commonly regarded. The "sexy" history which we always hear about concentrates entirely on the few; but villas for example should really be compared to grand 18th century stately homes, hardly representative of the majority of Britons who were still living in poky Iron Age roundhouses. The masses were unwilling participants in all this who took the opportunity to throw off Roman governance and indeed all the trappings of Roman civilisation during the troubles of the early fifth century. The ideas of Laycock's earlier works are incorporated and reiterated here, namely that the tribal rivalries of Iron Age Britain were never fully suppressed during the Roman period and resurfaced again at this time, and that archaeological analysis of military style belt buckles apparently entering civilian use suggests the rise of militias to replace the regular army.

This contention of a rejection of Rome requires an accompanying argument of how a large part of Britain became Anglicised thereafter - for if Britain defied permanent Romanisation over four centuries and was rapidly de-Romanised, how could Anglo-Saxon culture take over so quickly and easily and permanently? This was one of my criticisms of Jones' otherwise excellent The End of Roman Britain which also argued for rejection of Roman civilisation at this time but ignored this question. Russell and Laycock at least understand and acknowledge this problem, but I'm not sure that they resolve it here however. (See also Snyder's An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons, AD 400-600 and Faulkner's The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain for other works arguing similarly for an active throwing off of Roman governance.)

Nevertheless this is a great book, beginning to redress the balance of our views on Roman Britain. Thank you Miles and Stuart, and more power to your pens.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UnRoman Britain, yes--but UnBriton Britain?, 26 Jan. 2011
This review is from: UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (Hardcover)
This is that rare thing--a serious academic argument presented in a clear, enjoyable way. Laycock and Russell have managed to produce a well-documented book that is far above other studies in this field. The idea that Britain was a kind of frontier zone where romanitas never quite caught on is presented in a logical way, backed up by considerable evidence. They do the same in demonstrating that post-Roman contacts between Briton and Saxon were probably stronger than many scholars have allowed. They make a plausible case that Britain really was rather UnRoman.

Two caveats however. The first is that, while they rightly call for greater use of our best source, Gildas, they do not really address his explanation for Britain's post-Roman decline: raiding by barbarian sea marauders. Yet raids by the later Vikings wrought almost as much damage on England and Carolingian Europe as the decline we see in Britain's archaeology post-410. The Latinity of the Age of Bede nearly disappeared. Moreover, since Gildas indicates that this raiding lasted for forty years, this would fully explain why Gaul and other western areas stayed much more Roman. The Romans--or federates maintaining a Roman-style peace--came back after 410, and stayed for quite a while longer.

The second caveat is: given that Britain was UnRoman, what kind of culture did it then have? It took a full two centuries for most of what is now England to fall under Saxon control. If Britain was so culturally demoralized--after successfully resisting Roman acculturation for 400 years--how was it able to hang on to so much for so long after 410? The ASC speaks of many fierce contests between Briton and Saxon, some of which, as at Salisbury and Wyrtgeornsburg (Bradford-on-Avon), appear to be British counterattacks. This, combined with Gildas' Old Testament template, suggests Britons possessed a rather robust ideology that could mobilize significant resources for war. Indeed, one might make a good case that forceful British resistance actually facilitated `Germanisation' by the 100,000 incomers. A much more rapid takeover by such a small immigrant population would have produced something closer to Frankish Gaul.

Russell and Laycock have made a good case for an UnRoman Britain. But to be fair to the Britons, would the fact that in two centuries the English permanently lost ALL of their country to Northmen from Denmark and Normandy mean that we must now speak of an 'UnEnglish' Anglo-Saxon England?
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UNROMAN BRITAIN!, 14 Jan. 2011
By 
Je Salter (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (Hardcover)
This is a great book with very interesting insights. Obviously history shows that Britain wasn't entirely conquered by the Romans and that 'unconquering' took them 400 years. If you have an interest in Roman Britain (or not as the book suggests) this will make a great addition to your collection! Well worth the money.

It covers all aspects of Britain throughout the Roman period from Caesars attempts to invade to the invasion of AD43. It also gives examples of which areas of the country took on Roman life and areas that didn't and certain tribal areas defiance to the worlds largest empire.

It also shows that Britain wasn't the backward civilisation that most believed it to be before the arrival of the Romans. An excellent book and a great addition to any collection of books of the era!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hype, spin and « evidence », 25 Jan. 2013
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Like, I suspect, many other readers who have acquired this book, I was rather tempted by the very much hyped up title (UnRoman Britain) and subtitle ("exposing the Great Myth of Britannia"). While this nice marketing ploy seems to have worked rather well, I could not help wondering whether the authors had not just gone a bit "overboard". Rather than limiting themselves to debunking "the Great Myth of Britannia", they seem to have come up with their own "Great Myth", which is even more controversial given the methods that they have used to make their case.

There are essentially two parts in the case made by the authors. The first is that, despite the Roman Empire's efforts over more than three centuries, it somehow failed to Romanize Britannia which therefore remained largely "UnRoman." Attempting to make this case takes up most of the book, which, in reality, is structured chronologically, just like Stuart Laycock's other book - "Britannia, the Failed State". The second part of the case is an attempt to explain why Britain, that is geographically modern England and Wales, somehow did not follow the same pattern as others regions of the Western half of the Roman Empire, as the Empire crumbled. It is also an attempt to "explain" the demise of almost everything that had made Britain into a province of the Empire Roman. It is finally an attempt to explain how and why the "Anglo-Saxons" took over most of Britain .

Both parts of the case are interesting and even fascinating at times. Both are also presented as "revisionist" as well, to the extent that they are presented as challenges to the "established" views about Roman Britain, its end, the Romano-British transition period and the take-over by the "Anglo-Saxons". This is where some of the hype comes into play because the cases themselves, and many of the elements that they contain, are hardly new and not very original.

This is a point already made by another reviewer (B. Santa) who showed how a number of statements made by Russell and Laycok have already been made by others. A typical example is the point about "most people lived in round huts", rather than in Roman cities or villas. In itself, this does not "prove" anything, and certainly not that the "Britons" (here meant as the collection of tribes that populated Britain when the Romans started to conquer it) were averse to "Romanization". All that it does prove, if anything at all, is that there were huge disparities between the very few rich, who could afford a "Roman lifestyle" (living in villas, access to "luxury goods") and a minority of the population, who lived in Roman (or Romanized) towns, on the one hand, and the vast majority of the population which lived in the countryside and had to make do with much humbler dwellings because they simpler could not afford anything else. This, by the way, was the case throughout the Roman Empire. It is rather unsurprising, at a time when at least 80% (or perhaps even 90%) of the population did not live in cities and towns. So, not original at all and nothing specific to Britain.

The authors fail to mention both points, preferring to mention that Britain, unlike other provinces, was less urbanized and that towns and cities somehow did not develop as much and as well as in other Roman provinces. While this may be at least probable, there is a range of possible reasons for this and these are never properly discussed. Instead, it is assumed, rather than demonstrated, that this was because of some kind of unique unwillingness from the Britons side to "integrate". This would possibly have made "Britons" somewhat unique across the whole of the Empire, even when compared with the less Romanized parts of Northern Gaul or North-Western Spain, but this uniqueness, assuming it existed elsewhere than in the authors' minds, is only explained through a collection of carefully selected, but very unconvincing, statements.

One of these is that Romanization started later in Britain than almost anywhere else. There is, however, the notable exception of Dacia. This comparison is certainly an interesting one, and one which the authors do not really make. This is because Dacia was abandoned (around AD 270) well before the Empire left Britain to fend for itself. It is also of interest because Rumanians still speak nowadays a language derived from Latin. This is despite all the invasions they have been subject to, despite having ferociously resisted Domitian and Trajan's rather terrible wars of aggression and despite the slaughters and mass enslavement that followed Roman Conquests. Again, the main reason provided by the authors to "explain" the presumed "uniqueness" of Britain is some kind of passive resistance by a majority of Britons who, somehow mysteriously, would have managed to cling to some kind of "British identity" and "British culture" where all other populations subjected by Rome would have been more thoroughly "Romanized". There are numerous problems with this kind of allegation.
- one is the authors make a case for some kind of "Britishness" and "british culture" while elsewhere they also claim that, given the country's dividions into tribes, there was no such thing. This contradiction was rather puzzling
- Slightly more convincing, is one leaves the "Britishness" issue to the side, is the assumption that pre-Roman populations managed to maintain strong tribal identities. Again, parallels are made with less-Romanized parts of Gaul and Spain where tribes also retained some importance in terms of identity for Romanized populations. Here again, however, the authors are not convincing. The "evidence" supposed to support it is, at best, circumstantial and, at worst, inconclusive. For instance, if the tribes did retain as much importance and influence as the authors believe, then it begs the question as to why Rome would have tolerated this, whether in Britain or elsewhere. This is a question that the authors do not raise or address. Instead, they mention that Britain was largely subdivided along tribal lines by the Romans themselves when they set up their administration. While perfectly true, this gives at least the impression that Rome may somehow have tried (and failed) to Romanize the tribes. Interestingly, this is where the authors fail to continue the parallel with other less Romanized Roman provinces, also inhabited by Celtic populations. Had they pursued their comparison, they would have been forced to show that both in Spain and in Gaul, the tribes continued to exist but were Romanized by being included into Roman structures similar to the civitates in Britain.

Beyond these few examples, and there are dozens and dozens of others throughout the book, I was simply amazed by the authors use of rather dubious methods when attempting to make their case. I had never, up to this one, read a book that was some full of "maybes" and "perhaps", in other terms assumptions, interpretations and tentative explanations that are not backed by sufficiently solid evidence. What made it worse, however, was that the interpretations were carefully selected to fit the authors' cases. Moreover, all other possible interpretations, and there is at least one alternative for each point made throughout the book, are simply and rather systematically ignored. Here is one example, among many others. The authors never really consider the case of Britain from rome's perspective, which is something that I found quite astonishing. They sometimes get close to this, particularly when mentioning that Britain was peripheral in terms of geography, but they never quite get to mentioning that, for Rome, Britain was an expensive and largely unrewarding conquest. It seems to have barely, and, at some times, not at all, have justified the cost of maintaining such a large military force. If anything, and seen from Rome, Britain was a backwater and a relatively unattractive proposition for anyone who got posted there. Partly because it was a backwater, the civilians that went there may have been largely those that had little to lose, who were adventurous types and/or who wanted to "get rich quick" by exploiting the locals and were not too scrupulous on the means to do so. While all this is just as speculative as what the authors have done, it does illustrate the range of possible and plausible interpretations, a range that the authors have not even taken the trouble to mention, let alone discuss.

Another problem related to the tentative "evidence" is that the book includes what I can only qualify as questionable methods. The typical starts with the authors presenting tentative interpretations. Little by little, and sometimes just through sheer repetition, these become "facts". One case in point is the tentative statement that "it is quite possible that most Britons may never have fully seen themselves as Romans." This, apart from being a case of second-guessing (who can even pretend to really know how the "Britons" may have seen themselves, especially some 20 centuries after?), is indeed "quite possible" since there is not enough evidence to make a point either way. By the end of the book, it has become a "fact". Another example, although perhaps an extreme one, is about general Gerontius (Contantius III's main general) who, after being tentatively presented as British ("also seems to have been British") suddenly becomes "The Briton" after three pages of glossy photos and illustrations.

Yet another amazing case of "second-guessing" arises at the beginning of Chapter 1 (titled "Powergames"). Here, the authors state that "Britain was viewed as a natural target by the power-hungry Roman general Julius Caesar" and that his expeditions in 55BC and 54 BC were "invasions into Britain." They then mention that by 55BC, Caesar had subjugated much of Gaul and punished the Germans. What they fail to mention is that in the process, he had acquired a huge fortune, enormous prestige and considerable power, including a regular increase in the number of legions under his direct command. They also fail to provide a plausible explanation as to why Caesar, given that he had it all, would have or needed to "invade" an island which was, for him, at the end of the known world? What could Caesar still have to prove, and to whom? The authors' explanation - he wanted to demonstrate to the Roman public `his ability to go anywhere and do anything" - falls rather short. This was what he had already been demonstrating, and rather successfully, since he had fabricated his first "Gallic War" against the Helvetes. After all that he had achieved since 58 BC (defeating the Helvetes, the Germans, the Belgian tribes, crossing the Rhine to "punish" them and then defeating the tribes of modern Brittany, including the Venetes at sea), one would think that the point had perhaps been made already. So, very unconvincing, once again.

A related consideration is the very biased interpretation about the Roman Army of Britain becoming somehow more "British" overtime (this is despite the authors mentioning previously that the term was rather meaningless!). The authors make the point that this happened especially from the third century onwards because recruitment became more localized, as elsewhere in the Empire. This is where the revolt of some of Julian's crack Gallic troops, who supposedly refused to be posted to Asia because they were attached to Gaul and their families, is brought in to illustrate the alleged "regionalisation" of Roman armies. Apart from being a rather traditional ploy (each and every historian seems to use the same example to illustrate this regionalisation point), this is only part of the story. This is because, interestingly enough, the very same troops do not seem to have had the slightest objection in following Julian when he marched East and then embarked on his Persian campaign.

The supposed increased "Britishness" of the Roman Army, which is used as the main explanation for having the Army rebel against Rome, contradicts at least two other points that are made about the Roman Army. It was a major vector for integrating recruits from very different horizons, including so-called Barbarians living beyond the Empire's borders, and it seems to have been very attractive and have worked rather well, and for much longer than was traditionally believed (at least until AD 378 and perhaps even up to the early fifth century) as an integration tool. So even assuming that recruitment did become more localized, one fails to see, and the authors do not explain, why the Army would have so much more trouble in integrating Brigantes or Durotriges than it had in integrating the thousands of Roman-trained and equipped Germanic warriors (Franks, Vandals etc...) who fought for Constantine the Great or for Valentinian the First.

Yet another problem is the supposed "rebellious nature" of the Britons in general, and of the Roman Army in Britain in particular, with the link between the two providing the main explanation. Here again, this is one - rather far-fetched - interpretation. There are others which may be at least as plausible, if not more, but they are neither discussed nor mentioned, because they do not, once again, fit in with the authors' case. One of these interpretations is that the Roman Army in Britain represented a large concentration of troops, and perhaps even a rather disproportionately large one (initially four full legions, so about 20000 legionaries with at least as many auxiliaries) when compared with the rest of the Empire and given the secondary importance of Britain. Overtime, as the Empire's resources declined and the pressure on the frontiers increased, a very logical choice from Rome's point of view (but, of course, a choice which would not at all been popular with those remaining in Britain) would have been to reduce the size of the Army and use the freed-up troops elsewhere, for instance on the Rhine or the Danube. If such reductions increased over time, the cumulative impact in economic terms (with the Army being, by far, the main source of "public spending" for the Empire's Treasury) and in terms of reduced security would certainly be felt on the remaining forces and on the populations they were tasked to defend. Accordingly, and rather than far-fetched ethnically-motivated rebellions, the Roman Army rebellions could have had the same kind of motivations that other military rebellions that took place on other borders. For instance, Postumus' rebellion, and that of the Rhine legions took place in AD 260 after these had been severely depleted by Emperor Gallien who had stripped them of part of their effectives and deployed the numerous detachments to fight on the Danube.

Accordingly, and despite the hyped up and misleading chapter title of "Britain conquering Rome", what all of these rebellions would have illustrated are bitter civil wars between various sections of the Army wanting a larger and more adequate share (from their point of view, of course) of the Empire's dwindling resources (in both money and men) in order to fulfil their jobs under better conditions. However far-fetched this might seem, it is at least as plausible as the authors' "ethnic" interpretation.

Then there is an even more amazing case made by the authors. This is about "Britain leaving the Empire", to quote yet another chapter title. Needless to say, the populations, and even the elites in Britain, never had ANY say in the matter. Apart from the sheer implausibility of this, the authors clearly show further on in the book that leaving the Empire was economically disastrous for the Britons, or at least for their elites, since it meant becoming cut off of the rest of the Empire and no longer integrated in it. To justify this rather surprising decision to leave, Emperor Honorius, having vanquished the latest rebel from Britain (Constantius III) shortly before, would have accepted the `fait accompli" of Britain's rebellion and secession. The traditional explanation - Rome abandoned Britain to its own devices - although perhaps less palatable and more unpleasant, since it implies that Britania saw abandonned, seems much more realistic, given the context in AD 410. The Empire pulled out whatever little military forces (although some Roman military might have preferred to desert and stay, assuming they could not bring their families with them) and the imperial civil servants that were still posted in Britain. The British civitates were told that, from now on, they had to fend for themselves and defend themselves. This is exactly what the civitates, that is the local level of administration organized around the Roman towns did, including arming militias of citizens/tribesmen and the raising of private war bands by the landlords. This is also similar to what happened elsewhere in the Western part of the Roman Empire, especially in Gaul and Spain. In all three regions, as the authors mention, bands of "barbarian" mercenaries seem to have been hired to participate in the defense. Alongside the use of Anglo-Saxons, and maybe even before AD 410, Roman Britannia seems to have have hired banks of Franish warriors. Interestingly, all these elements (militias, private forces, barbarian mercenaries) are "Roman ways" of dealing with localized defences as the dwindling imperial regular forces increasingly concentrated on defending the Imperial heartlands in the West. As for Northern Gaul, this became a frontier or even a war zone, with Constantius and then Aetius stationing various groups of Barbarian federates as "buffers" against renewed attacks (for instance the Alanian bands stationed at Orleans and Vienne, south of Lyon). Britain, which had no longer any role to play in any of this, was on its own and remained so, despite the pleas for help that at least some Romano-British elites made (a couple of times, if I remember correctly) to Aetius. There were no military resources to spare for Britain and defending it was clearly not a top priority in Ravenna.

Finally, there are some very difficult, controversial - but fascinating - issues about the transition from "UnRoman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England." The authors made a number of points, some of which are excellent - but none of these are entirely original. Some of these also hold true for other former Roman provinces on the mainland. One of these is to minimize the scale of the Anglo-Saxon "invasions" and show that the take-over process (rather than an outright conquest) was lengthy (up to 100 years), was not necessarily as violent as it is traditionnally presented and involved small numbers of newcomers trickling in every year rather than one or several major waves of invaders. A similar case has become accepted for the continent over the last 2-3 decades and the numbers that took part in what used to be called "The Great invasions" have been scaled down significantly.

With reagrds to numbers, those provided by the authors - some three million "Britons" when the Romans left, with this number halved a hundred years later and including some 100000 - and which are drawn from other authors - are tentative estimates and, in reality, no more than educated guesses. The size for the Briton population by AD 410 could just as well have been 2 million or 3 million, for instance, and the total cumulated number of "newcomers" over a century could have been three or four times larger, for all we know. In other terms, the range between extremes is simply huge and, in reality, we have no plausible order of magnitude, contrary to what the authors' suggest.

Another point picked up from other authors is to show that the "Anglo-Saxons" included many other groups than just Angles and Saxons. Again, the same was true on the continent with the Franks, the Vandals or the Visigoths (to mention just these), which were all confederations of tribes, picking up along thjeir way and over time many additions with very different backgrounds (including runnaway slaves, destitute farmers or deserters from the Roman army). Here again, the authors make a somewhat different case similar case, although an interesting one, by arguing that many "Anglo-Saxons" by the mid-sixth century would have been "Anglo-Saxonized" Britons. This is another point which seems to have become more or less "mainstream" nowadays. To some extent, the authors seem to have been guilty of applying double standards here: a large scale change of identity and the assimilation of Britons by Anglo-Saxons seems perfectly acceptable to the authors. However, a similar process over a much longer period and during which a much more powerful Empire would have failed to Romanize a bunch of tribes is also argued. The rather dubious explanation for this is a cultural one: the "Briton culture" (although, again, this contradicts the authors' other assertion about tribalization and the absence of any common identity) was vibrant when the Romans arrived but the Romano-British culture was dying when the Anglo-Saxons took over. Inm itself, the argument is hardly convincing. When its contradictions are exposed, it becomes not at all convincing. Anyway, why would someone fight any harder for his home, family and way of life in one case than in the other?

To conclude, at last, I hope to have shown in this overlong review to what extent the methods used in this book are problematic and biased. It is for this reason that I cannot rate the book more than two stars, despite an interesting case which is unfortunately very poorly made.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rome and the British identity, 24 Sept. 2011
By 
Ian Thumwood "ian17577" (Winchester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (Hardcover)
As a avid reader of history books, the best books are always ones like this which fire up your imagination and pose more questions that answers. Despite my initial misgivings whereby Laycock and Russell compare the Roman conquest of Britain to the recent attempts to bring "democracy" to Iraq and Afghanistan, this book makes the argument that Roman culture was never fully embraced in Britannia and that the tribal / Celtic culture endured long enough to enable the Saxon and other European invaders who settled from the 5th Century onwards to be more readily absorbed as their own culture was not so far removed from these later conquerors. Indeed, the now acknowledged notion that the Saxons did not enthinically cleanse the Britona but rather the two cultures tended to merge forms the conclusion of this book after making refrence to the historian Gildas.

However, this book is at it's best when considering the fate of the colony during the second half of Rome's occupation. One of the most fascinating aspects was the fact that Britannia seemed to be a hotbed of political rebellion which the fact that the large military presence needed to control the province led to governors being appointed who frequently had Imperial ambitions. Whilst the story of Constantine's departure from York to become Emperor is well known, this was not the first occasion that Britannia's military might had venture into Europe. For instance, I never appreciated that the British commander Clodius Albinus had invaded Gaul with a 150,000 strong army only to be defeated by the Emperor Septimus Severus outside Lyons, a "Roman" city with which I am very familiar. This book cotinues to explore the rebellious nature of Britannia and how the colony even became part of an alternative Empire that opposed Rome. Backing the records up with archaeological evidence, an unfamiliar story of Rome's involvement emerges and I was gripped by the narrative which went well beyond the usual accounts of Boudicca, the constructions of villas and Hadrian's wall which is the usual stereotype historians fall back on for this era.

Whilst this is a relatively slim volume, the information is very densely packed and the authors present a lot of information to take in. Granted that there isn't a great deal of recorded information about this era, the account presented by the authors covers a wide range of topis from religion, construction, industry and the rise and fall of urban development prior to the departure of the Romans in 410. It was staggering to discover too that how a change in dress sense is evident from the discovery of belt buckles and why this might suggest an increased militarisation of the country that reflects the increasing political instability as the period progressed. The authors point out that the life styles of the Romano-British is almost certainly under-represented in the archaeological record and that a truer picture of this era may have been of a pioneer, frontier country where the trappings of the Imperial conquest were perhaps embraced only tentatively.

In summary, this is a difficult book to put down and one which is lavishly illustrated with some very impressive photographs and drawings. Although it will always remain impossible to verify the argument that is presented in this book, it is a hugely attractive vision. All too often, our preception of the Romans in Britain is over-simplified and I feel this book goes a very long way in presenting an alternative which seems to me to be far more credible. I think that this book's strength is also indicative of the fact that these arguments now need to be looked at in the far broader context of the Roman Empire to establish whether the circumstances described within were not unique to Britannia but perhaps also applicable elsewhere. Thoroughly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing book!, 27 Mar. 2013
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After all the programmes on T.V. about Roman villas etc, it was interesting and startling to find out that after all Britain tended to keep its own identity and quickly reverted after the legions left. Only the yuppies of their day and the local bigwigs conformed to Roman ways- not very different to today really !
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been better, 24 Jan. 2013
By 
Pandemonic (nr Barcelona, Spain) - See all my reviews
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I did not find this book particularly satisfying. The authors take as their starting point that we all believe that Roman Britain was full of Britons who had adopted Roman culture 100% as their own - something which certainly was never my point of view.

In one or two thousand years time, historians may well look back at us and think that we were all football mad. Granted there are may thousands in the UK who are football crazy, millions even, but there are probably just as many of us who don't give a tuppenny damn for the game. Or take the jewel in the crown of the British Empire: after some 150 years of British rule, there were still millions of Indians who didn't dress like Britons, talk like Englishmen, live like Europeans. Am we really meant to express our surprise at that?

What I did expect from this book was a scholarly approach to the subject, but I find that the authors fall between the two stools of a popular, Daily Mirror guide to Romano-British living and a more serious, studied examination of their thesis. My distinct impression is that they were not sure who was their audience nor what was its level.

At the bottom end of the scale, the repetitive use of words or phrases such as " would seem", "would appear", "may have been", "would probably" , "possibly linked", "must have been", "could be" etc, begin to undermine one's confidence in the authors. Granted, one cannot be absolutely definitive about everything, but I found their apparent lack of confidence annoying.

I also found annoying that at other times they introduce a topic or subject which they assume that the reader is familiar with. Quoit brooches make their first appearance, or rather are first referred to, on page 160, and again on page 207, but without any explanation. It is not until page 216 when a photograph appears that we know what the authors are discussing.

There is a shortage of maps and/or explanations. I happen to know where the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia was located, but I had/have no idea where to find the kingdoms of Deira, Lindsey or Bernicia, and there is no map in the book to show me. Talking of kingdoms, the "reign-holders" shown in Fig. 47 are really rein holders, part of a horse's harness.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Roman was Roman Britain?, 1 Nov. 2011
By 
Mark Howells (Puyallup, Washington State, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia (Hardcover)
In this well written, lavishly illustrated and easy to read book, the authors argue that Romanitas was only taken up by a small fraction of the population of Britain from the first to the fifth centuries. The well-preserved archaeological record left by that small fraction in their military, urban and villa footprint belies the fact that the majority of the population continued to live in roundhouses. The majority enjoyed a life little touched by Tacitus' trappings of the Roman life style: "...vice, the lounge, the bath and the elegant banquet."

Why did the "Romaness" of the prior 350+ years wash off so fast once the Romans left Britain to her own devices? How did the Anglo-Saxons seemingly take over so completely? Why doesn't Britain speak a Romance language today?

The central concept of the book is that the tribal divisions existing amongst the British when the Romans first occupied the country never really went away. Thus, when Rome pulled out, this tribalism easily re-emerged - it had never disappeared.

A very provocative interpretation presented in plain language for the general reader. See also Britannia - The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain, Warlords: The Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain and Roman Sussex.
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4.0 out of 5 stars INTERESTING., 14 Aug. 2013
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AN INTERESTING TAKE ON ROMAN OR UNROMAN BRITAIN,MAKES YOU LOOK AT THINGS AND THINK OF THEM DIFFERANTLY.EASILY WRITTEN AND WORTH READING.
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