BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology verses History’

103. Roman britain

Reviewer: Michael  Keith

Title: The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology verses History

Author: Birgitta Hoffmann

Total Number of Printed Pages: 222

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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A statement on this volume’s Dust jacket explains its intent well. It notes that ‘The purpose of this book is to take what we think we know about the Roman Conquest of Britain from historical sources, and compare it with the archaeological evidence, which is often contradictory’. It is an accurate summary of what is to follow.

Within the book, a List of Illustrations is placed immediately after the Contents page; it’s function being self-evident. The section reproduces the captions and citations of the monochrome images contained in a 16-page section placed in the centre of the volume. It is in turn followed by a Preface. Within this, the author both provides background as to the book’s origins and acknowledges those who contributed towards its creation. An Introduction follows. This details the academic background to the study of Roman History in Great Britain. The 13 Chapters forming the main part of the volume now appear. With the exception of Chapter 1 (A Few Things to Consider When Reading Ancient Historians) the majority of these are directly-concerned with the Roman conquest and occupation of Britain. Chapter 1 (as its title implies) is instead both a dissertation-on and a guide-to the material likely to be encountered by both Historians and generalist readers, together with the pitfalls that should be expected when such an encounter occurs. The remaining Chapters (2-13) cover specific aspects of Roman Britain. Within each, the author presents both the contemporary versions of events, and, through the use of subsequent archaeological information, either confirms the accuracy of the ancient narrative, or, where this is not the case, a revised and more accurate account of what actually occurred. Where necessary, sub-sections within each Chapter provide greater detail about specific subjects. Two Appendices are placed after Chapter 13. Appendix 1 (Orosius on the Conquest of Britani under Claudius) is an English-language translation of a document originally written in by Josephus, a noted chronicler of the Roman Empire. Appendix 2 (Notitia Dignitatium) is a discussion on the accuracy of this controversial document. A Bibliography follows Appendix 2, and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; its final section. As previously noted, the book contains a 16-page images section, yet several additional images appear within the body of the work itself. For unknown reasons their existence is not acknowledged within the already-mentioned List of Illustrations’. Although the book also contains several Chapter-specific Maps, no reference to their existence appears on either the Contents page or within the Index. There is also no large Ordnance-Survey-type map of the British Isles to both give context to the narrative and aid in the location of significant events and settlements. Despite the use of subject-specific terminology, the volume contains no Glossary. What (for example) is a dendro-date (Page 12)?  In the absence of a clear and concise explanation, the term is meaningless and one which an average reader cannot be expected to know the meaning of. This was but one example of a considerable number found in the course of the review process.

This volume is undoubtedly well-researched and written. However, this reviewer was left with the distinct impression that what has resulted is a university thesis masquerading as a book. That the author uses the APA reference style for citations instead of the more usual MHRA style reinforced that perception. It was also evident that the author presumed a certain level of reader-knowledge and as already noted, did not consider it necessary to include a Glossary of terms used for the benefit of the layman reader. The Index is also problematical, with random searching finding entries either omitted or incomplete; Portus Itius (page 18) being an example of the former, York (page 155) the latter; with Index entries for pages 115 and 123, but none for page 155.  Other, similar, examples were also found, while the previously-mentioned lack of an Ordnance Survey Map was unhelpful.

Although members of the general public may well find this dissertation about the Roman world in Great Britain of interest, the level of research and the language it contains means that its greatest users may be Teachers, Historians, Archaeologists and those with a specific interest in  the Roman Empire and ancient Britain.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology verses History’