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


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


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.






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

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


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.




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