The Roman Era: The British Isles: 55 B.C.-A.D. 410 (Short Oxford History of the British Isles) Paperback – 4 Apr 2002
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The Roman period marks the point at which the past of the British Isles starts to be approachable through substantial written sources as well as archaeology. Recent archaeological and documentary discoveries of major importance - and advances in the ways in which this evidence is analysed - make this an appropriate time to reconsider Roman Britain. This book distils the mass of new knowledge, setting the principal themes within a chronological framework. The team of contributing authors, which includes some of those most closely involved in discovery and analysis, applies both imagination and common sense to their subject. This book provides a lively picture of current knowledge and opinion about the Roman era in the history of the British Isles at this particularly exciting point in the evolution of the subject.
About the Author
Peter Salway, All Souls College, Oxford, Emeritus Professor, The Open University. He is author of 'A History of Roman Britain' (OUP, 1997), 'The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain' (OUP, 1990), and 'The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain' (OUP, 1993).
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As for why, first and most crucially, the first few chapters of the book offer a very good narrative history of the period. Many entries in the series (and the next one, After Rome, seems to be an extreme case) are almost purely thematic. I've become accustomed to reading rather basic and somewhat outdated narrative histories to prepare myself quickly for Short Oxford History books, but it turns out I didn't need to. I like thematic histories, but I recognize that they can be disappointing for many readers, and even I like to lock a basic narrative into my mind, before I start reading treatments of individual topics.
(For those interested, the first 2/3 of Peter Hunter Blair's Roman Britian and Early England 55 B.C.-A.D. 871 will still prepare you nicely to read this book, if you to want to be able to contrast newer ideas born out of more recent evidence and better methods. The second third will cover the period considered in the following volume, After Rome.)
Second, the authors are all very good at explaining what we know and what we can infer without forcing interpretations on the reader. Since this period is so dependent on archaeology, we're really at a loss for many areas. The authors do a good job at walking the reader through evidence and demonstrating possible interpretations and good methodology. The editor, Salway, also made it a goal to recruit scholars who disagreed on certain points, so that the current state of the field could be better represented.
As for the negatives, accounts of archaeological evidence can get a bit monotonous at times, but in the absence of footnotes, you're pretty much stuck with catalogs of interesting tesserae in the main text.