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An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman…

An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC - AD 409

by David Mattingly

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A history of Roman Britain which changes the older viewpoint based on seeing the Romans as forerunners of the British Empire. Britain was a colony and an exploited one. The book is undoubtedly over long for its purpose as a general introduction to the period and part of a series on British history up to the present day. This is more of a commercial comment as it is worth the reading. The author pulls together the available information which is largely archaeological but he includes and analyses all the available written material. He analyses Britannia through the lens of three social groups – the military, the Romanised civilians and the non-Romanised. This gives a quite new perspective on the period. The military were obviously very Romanised, very literate and very much part of a larger organisation. While not necessarily identical to military units elsewhere they were very similar. Much of Britain’s trade was based around them and they were the big spenders of the colony. In the towns and the villas people were less literate, less ‘Roman’ (in their eating habits for instance). The non-Romanised British changed their way of life very slowly if at all.

The author doesn't shy away from the fact that it was a frequently bloody occupation run for the benefit of the conquerors not the inhabitants. This, oddly, gives you a more balanced view of the time.
  Caomhghin | May 13, 2013 |
Mattingly tries to consider Britain in the Roman Empire rather than the Romans in Britain. He wants to know what it was like for the people of Britain being on the receiving end of Roman imperial rule. Since Caesar forgot to also divide Britain into three parts, Mattingly does so looking at the military, the urban population and the rural population through their archaeological remains.

Although this book is meant to be aimed at the general reader rather than the specialist, I found it very heavy going. I suspect it might have worked better as an interactive website, with summarising texts accompanied by clickable maps so that one could then look at the archaeological evidence in as much or as little detail as one wishes ( )
  Robertgreaves | Aug 24, 2012 |
Even with quite an extensive reading of British history and some previous knowledge of the Roman Occupation this was somewhat of a tough read, requiring study and reference to OS maps and other resource to follow the rich details and – to steal from Eric Newby – a cast of thousands like a Cecil B De Mille Hollywood epic. Because I want to know more of the famous II Legion Augusta, “The Engineers” and their life in Britain, I persevered and did enjoy that same depth of scholarship of David Mattingly’s, that gave this reader such trouble in trying to keep up with the flow of this enormously well-researched history. The only residual criticism of the work is a reflection on those troubles of mine – the absence of maps that would have helped in the spatial placing of events in each chapter. There are maps and charts however – over 20 of them – but they are in specialist detail and did not help this particular reader in trying to grasp exactly where the specific action in the text occurred. Perhaps on a rereading which I already plan, things will become more interlinked.

There was also a tantalizing reference to the recently discovered trove of early Roman, and very human documents from the very region and legion of my interest, but sadly not much detail from those was used in this work. I understand that Guy de la Bedoyere’s book, Roman Britain contains more from this source. (http://www.librarything.com/work/966884/book/5352293)
  John_Vaughan | Apr 15, 2012 |
Showing 4 of 4
Certain aspects of Mattingly's negative stance strike me as anachronistic: to state, for example (p. 7), that Roman imperialism was applied without the consent of the population is inappropriate, since democracy, as it is now understood, is a relatively recent concept! In fact, through a critique of the Roman provincial system, it is the colonialism of the seventeenth-twentieth centuries that Mattingly is taking to task. Though this is a political position I share, it is not a historical viewpoint: I believe that historical critique must shed its ghosts, in this case colonialism, as has already been done in the now obsolete debate on the ancient economy between 'primitivists' and 'modernists'.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140148221, Paperback)

The definitive history of Roman Britain

In the first major narative history of the subject in more than a generation, David Mattingly brings life in Britain during four hundred years of Roman domination into vivid relief. Drawing on a wealth of new research and cutting through the myths and misunderstandings that commonly surround most perceptions of Roman Britain, An Imperial Possession describes a remote and culturally diverse province that required a heavy military presence both to keep its subjects in order and to exploit its resources for the empire. With his wonderful addition to the Penguin History of Britain series, ?Mattingly shows . . . just how interesting life could be on the outer fringes of the Roman Empire? (The Sunday Telegraph).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In a re-creation of Britain's fate as an imperial possession during nearly four hundred years of foreign domination, David Mattingly brings the reader as close as possible to what life was like for people living under Roman rule. Drawing on a wealth of new research, cutting through the myths and misunderstandings that so commonly surround our perceptions of Roman Britain, this book vividly describes a remote and culturally diverse province that required a heavy military presence both to keep its subjects in order and to exploit its resources for the empire." "An Imperial Possession uses cutting-edge archaeological discoveries, combined with written sources and inscriptions, to reconstruct life in Britain at all levels - from the remotest areas almost untouched by Roman presence, to the main towns such as London and military based such as York that formed the cultural and political centres of domination; from the rebellious chiefs and druids who led native British resistance, to the client kings of Rome who reached an accommodation with the imperial power. The story of occupied Britain is told from different perspectives, reflecting the diverse experiences of military, urban and rural communities, and this sweep of historical experience is placed within the context of the dangerously shifting fortunes of the Roman Empire itself."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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