Thursday, 3 March 2016

Book Review: The Roman Invasion of Britain: Archaeology versus History, by Birgitta Hoffman (2013) publisher: Pen & Sword.

 The underlying theme of this book is that the paucity of archaeological evidence and eye-witness narratives concerning the Roman Conquest of Britain means that there is little irrefutable evidence of events, such that each new discovery has the power to change our perception of events. What we are left with is a series of valid interpretations.

Birgitta Hoffman is an archaeologist and scholar of the Roman invasion and occupation of Britain. She attempts to reconcile and interpret the different sorts of data to which the disciplines of history and archaeology have access, offers alternative versions of events, and identifies opportunities for further study. For example, Hoffman compares material and written evidence of the life and career of Commius, sometime Gallic ally and sometime opponent of the Rome. She suggests that there may instead have been two men bearing the same name, perhaps father and son or men of the same tribe.

Eight chapters are devoted to the first century invasion and occupation of Britain by the Romans, including Caesar's incursions, Claudius' invasion and Boudicca's revolt. One chapter is given over to each of the following three centuries of occupation when, as Hoffman explains, a dearth of eye-witness narratives has resulted in the greater reliance on archaeological evidence for the later part of the occupation. Disappointingly, photographs of archaeological sites are not of the highest quality and it would have been helpful if they had been numbered and cross-referenced in the text.

This is not the book for those who like neat conclusions: it raises more questions than it answers. That, however, is its strength. Hoffman has an easy style; her submissions are well argued and presented in such a way as can be understood by the 'lay' enthusiast and those studying classical civilisation or archaeology.

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