Septimius Severus in Scotland: The Northern Campaigns of the First Hammer of the Scots Hardcover – 7 Mar 2018
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"Although Elliott's treatment is at times repetitive, and one could wish for more detail on the actual campaigns, perhaps a brief survey of archaeological remains from the war, Septimius Severus in Scotland is a valuable read for anyone with an interest Roman history."--StrategyPage
About the Author
Simon Elliott is an archaeologist, historian and leading aerospace journalist, and former editor at both Jane s Defence Weekly and Flight International. He has just completed his PhD in Archaeology at Kent University and has an MA in Archaeology from UCL and an MA in War Studies from KCL. His research has been published in History Today, RUSI Journal, Military History Monthly and British Archaeology, and he is the author of Sea Eagles to Empire: The Classis Britannica and the Battles for Britain (shortlisted for the Military History Monthly Book of the Year Award). Simon lectures widely to local history societies and archaeological groups. He is co-Director of the Roman villa excavation at Teston and is a council member of the Council for British Archaeology s South East region.
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Second complaint -so repetitive, of topics, catch-phrases and almost whole sentences. His editor must have been fast asleep or utterly uninterested.
Third complaint. Since almost all of the book must by necessity be filler, why couldnt better filler have been chosen. I would hazard a wild guess that ROMAN SCOTLAND might have been a decent topic! I had to go to David Breeze's basic book to get information that was not provided here. Instead, most of the book should be re-titled 'All I know about Septimius. Even the photos are mostly of an irrelevant arch in Rome, an arch built with re-tasked elements of a Dacian wars monument from a hundred years prior! A few more of Scotland would have been wiser. OK - we don't necessarily know the invasion routes in detail, but the type of land, the type of barriers, could have been better illustrated.
However, the negative experience will not prevent me from reading the author's prior book on the Roman British fleet. This was his PhD topic, and seems to have covered new ground. I did learn new stuff. The scholarship present was up-to-date. albeit slight. Many better analyses have been done. I recall a good one based on the 19c British Army in Afghanistan. The issues were very similar, there was a large baggage train to protect, and the entire force needed real protection every night. Everyone either walked or rode. Soldiers carried comparably heavy packs (or more). Distances traveled and amounts of food eaten were similar, etc, etc. If the facts are unknown, other known facts could have been deployed in such a manner. Another angle could have come from a A decent read of Roman Military Signalling by David Woolliscroft could have also added weight, if it's insights had been combined with insights from walking the ground.
It is quite intriguing to read some of the more negative comments because anyone unaware of the source material will not appreciate the paucity of information this writer had had to go on. Having picked this book up after reading a book by Adrian Goldsworthy on a similar topic but with a broader sweep than Simon Elliott's, I have to say that this book does more to put everything into a proper context and made me think more considerately about this topic. No stone is left unturned in this study. The weather, the weaponry, the clothing of soldiers, the archaeology and the narrative sources are all explored. It would be a hard push to consider any aspect of this campaign that is not considered.
Central to the story is the rise of Severus and by placing the account in to a broader political context, it is fascinating to see how the campaign in Scotland fitted in thinking of the times. I would tend to concur that there is a lot of padding and fringe topics considered in this account but somehow Elliott uses the information in a fashion that takes things away from a typically dry piece of military history to look how things like the removal of the Imperial court to York would have impinged upon the development of the a Roman city from where the Empire was effectively run for about three years. Whilst this may not directly be of consequence to the campaign itself, I felt that the author manged to conjure up a vivid impression of how the campaign would have affected ordinary people in Roman Britain. the rise of Severus is core to this book and I can appreciate why some reviewers have grumbled about this. In my opinion, the rise of Severus and his ultimate showdown with the British governor and Imperial pretender Chlodius Albinus is all part of the story as this created the vacuum into which the Scottish tribes exploited and ultimately necessitated Severus's expedition to restore order. The more negative comments by other reviewers regarding the last chapter are unfair because Elliott cannot elaborate on something is there is nothing from which to do so. This book is pretty easy to read although my criticism is reserved to the fact that I think the book would have benefited with more maps as I am not too familiar with Scotland.
In conclusion, I would concur that there is an element of repetition in some elements within the book and that it is certainly broader in context than the title may suggest. Despite this, Elliott has used his military and archaeological knowledge to produce an account that renders Severus' campaigns in Scotland more realistic than Dio's original source material. I feel that military historians have a tendency to be the least thorough of all historians due to their frequent inability to consider social aspects of war and are generally oblivious to the archaeological record. In this book, Simon Elliott takes a holistic approach which makes this a thorough and as comprehensive understanding of the campaigns as it possible from the bare bones he has to play with. Some history books have a tendency to talk only to the enthusiast but by tackling such a broad remit of topics in this book I felt that Elliott has effectively produced an account of a seemingly niche topic and recast it in a fashion so a newcomer to this fascinating period of history will vividly appreciate the impact of what was probably the largest scale military operation ever unleashed in the British Isles. I think this books sets the standard for future books about any military campaign. Anyone reading this book will probably be able to visualise many of the things the author talks about whereas I would not necessarily have said the same about Goldsworthy, as knowledgeable as he is.
This is a worthy companion to the earlier tome about the British fleet and I look forward to this writer shining further light on neglected elements of the Romans in Britain.
It's pretty well written with just the odd clumsy sentence to occasionally jar. The author knows his stuff although I struggled to find much new in the information provided I would agree with his comments on the route and tactics of the expedition into Scotland - and if I never see the phrase "expeditio felicissima Britannica" again I shall die a happy chap. Another foible of the author that caught my eye and I'm not sure if I like it or not, is the explanation of what's in each chapter at the start of said chapter in the first person.
Overall, and despite the fact I have given only three stars, if one is new to Rome then this is certainly a book worth getting.
for many this will be a very big eye opener compared to what they thought they knew, espescially to scots who are taught the romans stayed out of their country! far from it. written well and with passion for the subect throughout.