BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain’

113.

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain

Author: M C Bishop

Total Number of Printed Pages: 210

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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According to this volume’s Author (When writing within its Preface and Introduction section), this work ‘…Is not a catalogue of roads…nor a detailed …analysis of the system in Roman times’ but rather it ‘…Offers a brief glimpse of the complexity of origins and destinations, where Roman roads came from and where they went and what they were for’. It is an admirable precis of what is to follow.

Within the volume, a Map titled Margary’s network of Roman roads in Britain is placed immediately after its Contents page. It apparently shows the network of Roman roads within Great Britain. A section titled List of Figures follows. This lists the 33 Maps, Graphs and Diagrams which appear within the work, and is followed in turn by a section titled List of Plates. The title is self-explanatory, and while confirming the existence of the images appearing in a dedicated photographic section placed in the centre of the book, also reproduces the captions (sans source citations) that accompany each one. An Acknowledgements section follows. Within it the author thanks those individuals and organisations who have assisted him in the volume’s creation. A section titled Preface and Introduction follows. While partly biographical in nature, (and as noted previously), it essentially details the reasons why the book was written. The seven Chapters which form the main part of the book now appear. Of these, Chapters 1 to 5 detail what is known about ‘British’ Roman roads (and their predecessors). When doing-so the author draws on both his own researches and that of acknowledged experts in the field of Roman Roads and archaeology within Great Britain. Sub-sections are used within each Chapter to discuss a specific topic within the larger narrative. These are delineated by both italicised and bold-printed sub-headings. Chapter 6 (Conclusions) summarises what has been presented, while noting that ‘…The study of the Roman road network in Great Britain is patently incomplete’, the unstated implication being that the work must be continued by others. The section is followed by Chapter 7 Further Reading. This discusses the various resources (both text and multimedia) available to readers who might wish to take their study of this subject further. The Chapter is followed by five Appendices. These use a Table format to present details of various Battlefields adjacent to Roman roads. Appendix 5 (Possible Roman Roads in North-East England and South-East Scotland) presents the case for possible Roman roads in these areas, again using Tables for the purpose. Where additional information is required, the book uses Endnote citations for the purpose. These are numbered sequentially and are Chapter-specific. The Citations appear within a dedicated Notes section placed after Appendix 5, with that section being followed in turn by an 11 page-long Bibliography. Within this (and where online resources have been used), the latter have not been placed in a separate, specific, section; the focus evidently being on author names rather than technology.

The book’s Index follows the Bibliography. It is the volume’s final section. As previously noted, the volume contains a photographic section; the images within it being monochrome in format, and accompanied by informative captions. These cover a wide variety of subjects relative to the narrative and referred-to within the latter. All are accompanied by source citations with the exception of Image 16. Curiously, although the previously-mentioned List of Plates contains a reference to Plate No. 19, no such plate appears to exist within the Images section per se’; Plate No.18 being the last image within that section. The reason for this anomaly is unknown. As previously-noted, 33 Maps, Charts and Graphs appear within the book. Collectively classified as Figures, they are informatively captioned and clear, and when based on sources other than the author, acknowledge that fact. For unknown reasons a Table titled Fort spacing from Iter I (and appearing on page 66) does not appear amongst the listed items. Despite the use of both Latin language and technical terminologies no quick-reference Glossary is provided. What (for example) are Diachronic (page 2) Dendrochronology (page 4) or Alfred Watkins’ Straight Track Theory’ (page 1). In the absence of a Glossary-type explanation, a reader cannot be expected to know.

While this reviewer found this volume to be extremely well-researched and illustrated, the level of research, the author’s writing-style, the language used and the specialised nature of the topic has resulted in what can be best-described as an Academic Dissertation in search of a home. As such it is likely to appeal to Historians and Archaeologists interested in both Roman History and Roman Britain. Amateur Archaeologists and Historians interested in the subject may also find it worthy of their attention and despite the academic writing-style it might also be of interest to members of the General Public.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I have given this volume a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain’