An Imperial Posession - Britain in the Roman Empire

An Imperial Possession is one in the series of Penguin's History of Britain Series

David Mattingly makes an attempt to draw a line under past studies of Roman history which he feels are too influenced by admiration for the Romans and which stem from a British sense of colonial fellowship, and from generations of scholars educated in Classics.

It is an easy case to make - although most writers of Roman History and Archaeology had cast off the shackles of imperialism many years ago. But the paradigm shift comes not simply from a change from modern day revulsion of Colonialism but also from real evidence a huge number of excavations under PPG 16 guidelines which revealed that the Roman Villas (easily found) were actually a small minority of Roman period housing and that most people continued to live in what might be termed an iron age life style. Romanisation was therefore an elite practice.

Mattingly discusses this new view point in the guise of a discussion of Identity - a very post modern analysis but which analyses the finds from Britain and finds a difference, put very crudely, between the Military Zones, the Rural North and West, the urbanised South East. He tries to identify a set of attributes of the various zones and what he finds is that the Military Zone is most Roman, closely followed by the urban centres of the SE and he suggests the North and West were repressed as they were under military control and fairly adverse to taking on aspects of Romanisation. He used density of Villas, Temples, inscriptions, votive plagues etc as the markers and suggests that Essex, East Anglia were 'resisters' comparatively to the rest of the Romanised South East.

For me Mattingly makes too many statements of opinion which he does not back up, and his viewpoint is as much a product of our times as is the pro-Roman stance of his predessors. I'm not sure whether it is me or him but it was impossible to read the first part of the book without the shadow of Iraq casting a shade over the work. Despite his Identities his sympathies are clearly with the 'resistors' and he uses all his rhetoric to build up a picture of a sullen British people resisting where possible Roman influence. I'm not against this viewpoint but he should have followed the logic of his use of differing identities to explore the complex of attitudes towards Romanisation than undoubtedly existed.

The book is full of detail and opinion - probably too long, too detailed for the average reading but would be a good book for a University reading list. david mattingly


Popular posts from this blog

New Web site and Blog

Updated Lincoln's Inn Fields Wikipedia page

New film on Mary Anning starring Kate Winslet