Top positive review
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Excellent illustrated introduction and overview
on 15 February 2016
This book is an excellent introduction and starting point for whoever is interested in Roman Britain. It offers a good and comprehensive overview with lavish and numerous illustrations, photos and maps. Its eleven chapters cover the topic both chronologically and thematically.
The first chapter addresses Britain before the Roman invasion. The two following ones cover the conquest and Late Roman Britain from the mid-second century AD to the end of the fourth century while the book’s last chapter (titled “the aftermath”) addresses the end of Roman Britain and the decades post AD 410.
The rest of the book – the seven chapters that make the core of it – is divided into themes. The titles of the thematic chapters clearly describe the topics addressed. These are: Governing Britain, Military installations, Towns in Roman Britain, Industry, Commerce and Production, The Countryside and Villas, People and places and Religion. Within each chapter, the author mentions or alludes to the various theories that have been presented. He also makes heavy use of archaeological findings and treasure hordes. Particularly interesting are the multiple boxes and vignettes included, with these making the book particularly entertaining to read, especially when combined with illustrations and reconstitutions.
While the author’s grasp of his subject is obvious, this is never displayed. One of the qualities of this book is in fact that the author freely admits how little we really know. He does not pretend to have found “the” answers to controversial debates that have excited and divided historians and archaeologists for decades. He is also excellent at showing to what extent the “fashionable” views of Britain and its treatment as part of the Roman Empire have varied over time from the benevolent and civilising version during Victorian and British colonial times to the cruel and oppressive version that emerged during the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the most interesting pieces here is the author’s own and relatively balanced view, and his ability to question received ideas. Clearly, Rome could and at times clearly was oppressive, especially during the conquest phase but, as the author shows, it could not be only that and would not have lasted as long as it did if it had not managed to “Romanise” and integrate most of the pre-existing population of Britain, starting with its elites.
He also notes and shows to what extent Britain became populated and prosperous, especially its Southern part, and underlines that such levels would not be reached again before the end of the Middle Ages or even the early 18th century, depending on areas. Another interesting discussion, which the bibliography also allows the reader to pursue should there be an interest, is whether and to what extent Roman Britain was in any way “exceptional” when compared to other Roman provinces of Western Europe. In all of these cases, and many others, the author’s responses are well-articulated and nuanced, making this book into a particularly valuable item for anyone interested in “things Roman”.
Five well-deserved stars, without any hesitation, for a book that I can recommend to just about anyone, from the general reader who might know next to nothing on Roman Britain, to the “fan” or undergraduate who has chosen this topic and has a specific and strong interest in it