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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bolshie Britons, 2 May 2009
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The End of Roman Britain (Paperback)
Jones presents the argument in favour of the scenario of the Britons themselves consciously rejecting Roman civilisation at the end of the fourth century, well before the coming of the English. His reasoning essentially breaks into three categories: the relative population levels of Britons and English, mutual attitudes between the Britons and Roman government, and environmental factors.

In chapter 1, "Population and the invasions", Jones discusses population levels in Britain and the potential size of the English immigration. He suggests that the relative levels were such that the English could not have caused the destruction of Roman civilisation. In chapter 2, "The scale of the Adventus" the numbers of English immigrants are considered based on literary evidence, then in chapter 3, "The Anglo-Saxon invasions", Jones analyses the logistics of the invasion, including such matters as the ship technology of the time. The small numbers back up his suggestion that the English could not have overwhelmed and destroyed Roman society.

Chapter 4, "Romano-British attitudes" goes back once more to literary evidence to show that the British were never entirely enamoured about being part of the empire. Chapter 5 "The Roman provinces of Britain" then considers the Roman governance and how it would have given Britons plenty of reasons for grievance.

Chapter 6 "The environment and the End" considers climate change as a factor. A change in British climate in the 4th century, turning cooler and much wetter would have had a great negative impact on agriculture, creating a cause for massive civil unrest.

So Jones concludes that the Britons must have consciously thrown off Roman civilisation at the end of the fourth century, not merely rebelled as an independent province but retained Roman ways. It's certainly a well-argued presentation, but it feels a little like it's only half the argument. In order to support the thesis, we really need to know how Jones sees British society changing after the rebellion and then how he sees the small number of English subsequently transforming Britain after their arrival (or did they even need to - was the de-Romanised Britain sufficiently similar to the society of the English?) There are plenty of other archaeologists and historians arguing for continuity and even expansion of Roman civilisation after 400 (see for example Britain and the End of the Roman Empire and Britannia Prima: The Romans in the West of Britain).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Half Strong, Second Half Weak, 5 Aug 2012
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The End of Roman Britain (Paperback)
The thesis of this book is that the Anglo-Saxon conquest was not primarily responsible for the break with Roman civilization but came after it. The thesis can be divided into two parts. First, that the Saxons arrived in very small numbers (probably under 50,000) and thus couldn't have imposed their culture on the dominant population. Second, that the native Britons consciously rejected Roman society before the Saxons arrived and thus aided such a blending of populations. Jones uses a good amount of literary works in his book and defends its use against those who reject all primary sources and focus solely on archaeology. It is refreshing to see this in a professional history as more and more the literary texts are being dismissed as unreliable while archaeology is placed on a pedestal.

The first argument he makes quite well. Clearly there are some elements (language most obviously) where the Saxon influence prevailed, but the majority of the population adopted the language and names of people who were little more than military overlords. In this he is (despite what he says in his introduction) following the current majority view. The Saxons were never populous enough to replace the indigenous inhabitants so those men must have come to identify themselves as Saxons over time. Parallels are obvious between this and the Arab conquests, where the inhabitants of Egypt and elsewhere became Arabs over several centuries. In fact, the question is really whether to compare the arrival of the Saxons with the Arabs or the Vikings. The Vikings came over in force and colonized much of northern England while the Arabs remained a small military elite running the country. Yet despite there being more descendents of Vikings than of Saxons in England today (according to genetic studies), the Saxon culture won out in the end. Unfortunately he doesn't really go into how this could have happened, probably because there's no evidence, but spends most of his time trying to prove the small numbers. The first two chapters are basically an attempt to determine the population size of the British and the Saxons. His arguments are well thought out and convincing, even though the evidence is so paltry that its meaning could go either way. His first chapter looks at the archaeological evidence (mostly graveyards) and his second the literary evidence. The following chapter is one of the better ones and looks at the types of ships the Saxons would have taken to England. These ships were primitive things without sails and he argues from this that the size of the forces capable of being carried over in these was quite small. The evidence may not be as decisive as he makes it sound but he includes a lot of it and presents it well.

The second part of the book is where he runs into problems. I found myself disagreeing with most of what he said. It was not enough for him to show that Britain abandoned Roman culture, he felt he had to show that they had never accepted it. Furthermore he felt the need to make Britain hate the Romans. After all his denial of the uniqueness of the Saxon conquest when compared with other barbarian invasions I was surprised to find him proclaiming Britain's uniqueness as a province never truly accepting of Roman rule. He works quite hard at showing that Britain was a uniquely rebellious and unhappy province when it simply wasn't. Certainly it had its share of problems, but with the exception of one rebellion at the end of the third century, a successful emperor (Constantine) in the 4th, and a failed emperor in the second there were no rebellions until the last generation of Roman rule. That's actually a fairly typical record for a frontier province. Germany and Pannonia produced emperors and usurpers left and right and even neighboring Gaul proclaimed more. Yet Gaul kept its Romanitas while Britain lost it. Clearly insecurity doesn't represent a lack of loyalty nor does it indicate an unsuccessfully assimilated province. When it comes right down to it the fact is that at the end Britain did everything it could to remain a part of the empire only giving up once their imperial candidate failed to protect them. I'm not that impressed with his assertion that Britain was a uniquely vilified province either. They do have one example of an epigram mocking Britons (specifically one Briton) but the rest of the evidence is rather unimpressive. Most provincials were looked down on to some extent whether it was the effeminate Syrians or the boisterous Gauls. He doesn't provide anything to convince me that the attitude towards Britain was significantly worse. He does mention the interesting fact that Britain was often used as a place of exile. This seems to say something about how inconsequential they considered Britain to be, but it certainly doesn't justify his statement that "as this action was taken instead of execution, it is tempting to speculate that in the eyes of his court, Britain may have represented a fate worse than death" (162).

His literary sources backing the assertion of hostility towards Rome are St. Patrick, Gildas, and Nennius. And here he has real problems of proof ecause he tries to prove the opposite of what the sources say. Patrick calls himself and his fellow countrymen Romans as well as Britons. Jones argues (correctly) that Romans are referred to only in a religious sense and that furthermore (incorrectly) the absence of any reference to Romans politically indicates that he was indifferent at best to Roman civilization, possibly even hostile. It would be far better to say that he pays no attention to politics whatsoever except where they intrude on his religious activities. None of this changes the fact that he uses the word Roman in a positive way. Gildas is the second British author he analyzes and, like Patrick, he has to explain away the fact that he loves the Romans. Far more than Patrick in fact. Gildas uses them as exemplars of virtue to compare with the vile and untrustworthy Britons who are ruining everything. Admittedly his greatest praise comes for the Britons who drove off the Saxons, but even here he makes sure to mention that their leader was descended from Roman parents. Certainly he refers to harsh punishments from the Romans, but Jones' mistake is in thinking this is viewed as a bad thing. Gildas is fully in favor of cruel torments provided that they are directed against the unrighteous. Gildas is emphasizing how righteous the Romans were in stamping out heretics and traitors. More interesting is his assertion that Gildas didn't view the Roman period as a particularly secure period, which is true enough, but again it is in keeping with his main theme: The Britons are evil and deserve what they get, which is why they need to reform now and God will reward them. Nennius is a more complicated source since he comes centuries later, but here at least it is certainly true that he doesn't have a very high opinion of the Roman conquerors. Given that this reflects British opinion after centuries of conflicts against outside invaders this isn't necessarily an accurate view of their feelings at the time. Even here the view isn't as hostile as he expresses. It's mostly indifferent.

I started this book off very excited at its analysis of the Saxon invasion and ended it on a fairly sour note. It's still a good work but I wish that he had kept his focus on the Saxons rather than the Romans who I don't feel he always gets. As refreshing as it is seeing a text on the end of Roman Britain from a Saxon perspective I don't think that it can consider its case proven. Not that it is possible to find definitive proof for much of anything in this poorly documented and hard to understand era. Whether you agree with the first part or not it is well argued and uses both literary and archaeological sources with equal skill. The second part relies exclusively on written material and seems to really be struggling to prove its conclusion. This was particularly infuriating for me since I don't disagree with his basic thesis, simply the direction and extremes to which he takes it. It is quite possible to state that Britain was never fully Romanized (See Britannia: The Failed State or UnRoman Britain for example), but he doesn't really try to argue this. If you accept his conclusions then he has proved that by default, but if you don't then there is nothing in here to show that Britain was anything but a normal province of the empire.
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The End of Roman Britain
The End of Roman Britain by Michael E. Jones (Paperback - 2 April 1998)
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