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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Millennium Tales
On my first trip to Scotland last year, I started to feel very ignorant about its early history. All that I could remember from schooldays was about the Picts and that the Romans had tried but failed to conquer the lands north of Hadrian's Wall. I was also aware, from of all places the Scottish church in Vienna, that `the Scots' came originally from Ireland, but that was...
Published 21 months ago by Nicholas Casley

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's like us?
Superbly researched and written! The melting pot that Scotland historically is, is wonderfully investigated here & out
Inked here! Excellent!
Published 16 months ago by Mr. Michael Lothian


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Millennium Tales, 21 Aug. 2013
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings (Paperback)
On my first trip to Scotland last year, I started to feel very ignorant about its early history. All that I could remember from schooldays was about the Picts and that the Romans had tried but failed to conquer the lands north of Hadrian's Wall. I was also aware, from of all places the Scottish church in Vienna, that `the Scots' came originally from Ireland, but that was about it. Before my trip I read Neil Oliver's book on the history of Scotland and watched his programmes on DVD, but they only seemed to skim the surface of the first thousand years AD and only left me wanting to know more. Standing in the bookshop at the Battle of Bannockburn Centre my eye was drawn to this recently-published work.

Despite the cover listing the Picts, the Romans, the Gaels and the Vikings, Tim Clarkson includes the Britons and the English in his tale that covers ten chapters. He makes an honest and open pronouncement in his introduction about what his book is and what it is not. He aims to provide a standard chronological narrative history of Scotland's first millennium: just what I needed. He acquaints the reader with the vexed problem of the sources, or rather the lack thereof. And where there are sources, he remarks on how and why they need to be treated with caution. (In the narrative, no references are given, but there is a relatively comprehensive bibliography.)

Straightaway, in his opening discussion about the Celts, we come up to date with the latest research, such as DNA studies showing that they were by no means ethnically homogenous, but rather "a myriad collection of communities linked by similarities in culture and language." But I am not sure if Clarkson is right to state that crannogs were occupied exclusively in the first millennium, since examples in Perthshire seem to have been used as late as the seventeenth century.

There are occasions when Clarkson departs from what I thought to be the `standard' tale. For instance, he proposes that the linguistic divide between the Britons/Picts and the Gaels was not a result of a `putative' invasion of Scots from Ireland, but that the inhabitants of Argyll were indigenous Gaelic speakers. This is interesting and controversial, but not enough detail is provided to support its argument. Referring again to recent DNA analyses, Clarkson indicates areas of strong Norse influence, but one wonders if DNA might also have something significant to say about the other contenders in Scotland's early story: can we detect differences between Picts and Gaels, Britons and Northumbrian English? Clarkson is silent on this issue.

Other unorthodox - but not necessarily inaccurate (given the lack of sources) - changes concern the site of the kingdom of Rheged, that of the battle of Catraeth, and that there was no Pictish population in Galloway despite indications of influence there. In support of his pronouncements, Clarkson remarks at one point how theories have morphed into hard facts without cause, thus hindering objective consideration. This may be so, but I am not sure if the author's assertion that "the fusion of ethnic and political identities" was as non-existent in seventh-century Britain as he implies.

Clarkson's style employs long and matter-of-fact but readable paragraphs. He sometimes gets bogged down in king lists and the perpetual internal strife that seems to have been the norm in individual kingdoms. His is not a literary achievement, yet I am enamoured of his skill in combining broad sweeps of contextual facts with detailed handling of particulars, such as the northward `march' of Romanisation from the English Channel to the Highlands.

Occasionally we read words full of contemporary resonance, such as `insurgents' and `covert operations', but can we say that the Roman army operated "on a global scale"? There are also occasions where initial capitals are inappropriate for an objective historian, viz. "preach the Faith", and "spread the Word".

The book comes with eighteen monochrome plates, but these are poorly chosen and not particularly of much use. Nor are the maps particularly good. A few errors came to this reader's notice, either of fact (Dunblane is no longer in Perthshire) or typology ("Firth of Firth" appears at least twice), but at least we should be thankful that there is barely a word mentioned about King Arthur.

Clarkson's final chapter usefully pulls all the various ethnic strands together to assess each ethnic grouping's place at the time that the land became one kingdom of Scotland. Clarkson's tale has been a tough one in finding, managing, assessing and weighing the evidence to hand, but he maintained this reader's interest in the story he wanted to tell. And I hope my review has also shown that he has stimulated thought about what he himself has tried to claim, so much so that I have now purchased some of the books in the bibliography to gain a greater understanding of this fascinating but frustrating period of Scottish and, by definition, British and European history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read or Reference, 18 July 2013
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E. S. M. Campbell (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Never been one for factual books as I normally find them a bit dry, however, this is a very easy read and I can see it being used as a reference book also. So, very good value for money.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, 11 Jan. 2013
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Good and interesting book but I'd be happier if there was much more pictures, maps etc, a lot of places mentioned in the text can't be located on the very few maps that are in the book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very good overview of the cultures of key peoples who shaped ..., 24 April 2015
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This review is from: The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings (Paperback)
Very good overview of the cultures of key peoples who shaped and influenced the early history of what was to become Scotland.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's like us?, 1 Feb. 2014
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Superbly researched and written! The melting pot that Scotland historically is, is wonderfully investigated here & out
Inked here! Excellent!
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The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings
The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings by Tim Clarkson (Paperback - 1 Aug. 2013)
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