I am very honoured to man the last marching fort of Simon Elliott’s Roman Conquest Blog Tour.
The story of Rome’s conquest – and apparently endless re-conquest – of Britain is a long and complex one that lasted for around five hundred years. To encompass such an immense topic successfully is, in itself an astonishing achievement, requiring exceptional organisation, enormous research – not to mention considerable writing skill. I mention organisation because, in order to provide the reader with a coherent analysis of this massive topic, Simon had to adopt an exceptionally disciplined approach. With an ocean of information at his disposal from archaeology, written sources and secondary historical works it would be easy to drown in it. Yet, against the odds Simon produces not only a very detailed account but one that is also easy to follow and enjoyable to read.
One of the great things about a book by Simon Elliott is that you find yourself completely immersed in the subject matter. The author does this partly by giving some context – and context in spades! Instead of launching straight into Rome’s first attempts at invasion, the book begins with an examination of two vital areas of context: the development of the Roman military and the changing relationship between Britain and the continent during the whole period. An understanding of both of these factors is essential for the reader to grasp the evolving nature of the Roman presence in Britain.
Though organisation and context are important they count for nothing without the third ingredient in this book: an engrossing narrative which pulls the reader in. Whenever I was tempted to pause and insert my book mark, I just had to look at the next chapter to explore yet another savage twist in the story of Rome’s ongoing struggle to subdue Britain and defend its frontiers.
The sweep of the narrative is considerable for we see that Rome’s attempts to hold onto Britain were hampered not only by the troublesome nature of its inhabitants but also by frequent mutinies among the legions and political crises at the heart of the empire. The interaction of these factors, which shaped events so much, is skilfully described and analysed by Simon. He has created an image of a rich province on the periphery of the empire which Rome was desperate to hang onto but which seemed to be forever on the verge of slipping from its grasp. At the end, stripped of the protection of Rome’s legions and vulnerable to attacks from all and sundry, the Britons armed themselves, stopped paying taxes to their former masters and reverted to their pre-Roman tribal identities.
This is an appropriate time to reassess the Roman conquest because for the past two decades an increasing amount of archaeological evidence has been unearthed, evaluated and carefully woven into the tapestry of this tortuous story. Since our knowledge base has expanded, it is appropriate for some revision to take place. Simon uses some of these recent discoveries to inform his analysis at the same time as referencing the views of other scholars and I found this aspect of the book particularly reassuring.
Simon Elliott has written what must now surely be the ‘go-to’ book on the Roman conquest of Britain.