Roman Britain and Where to Find It is a newly published guidebook focusing on visible Roman remains across England, Wales and Scotland.
The authors have gone to a great deal of effort to visit some 200 sites in compiling this interesting gazetteer. There are a few paragraphs summarising each site (more for the most important locations). There are colour photographs of many, but not all the sites. Each site is given a star rating out of 5 which reflects how spectacular and how visible the Roman remains are.
Having received a copy in March only for publication to be delayed, this book proved to be an enjoyable “lock-down” read for me. As someone with an interest in history and archaeology many of the sites are familiar but to have them catalogued in this comprehensive way will spark the desire to revisit the places I know and to seek out the treasures I have overlooked. A long-standing outline plan to walk Hadrian’s Wall will be prioritised once we can get out and about!
Unlike the various online top-ten lists and interactive maps this book comes across as being written by people with passion and a degree of authority. It’s not an academic publication but the notes are well written and each regionally based chapter starts with a summary of Roman history for that area of the country. As well as the in situ remains of villas, forts and towns there is significant emphasis on museums; indeed many of the higher rated locations are chosen on account of the objects they display or the stories they tell.
I can’t help feeling that the book would have a wider audience if it was presented more in the style of a Dorling Kindersley Eye Witness Guide – with more maps, more pictures and more “side-stories”.
The star rating is useful and helps distinguish between a villa site which is little more than a few bumps in the ground from one with stunning mosaics. It does of course prompt one to question the assignment of “stars” – and encourage comparison between sites and regions. The average rating is 2.6: the South East and East Anglia can claim higher than average ratings – but it is Hadrian’s Wall which is treated as a separate region which is the clear winner (its 14 sites scoring an average 4.1).
The twenty 5-Star locations:
Bath: Temple, Baths
Bignor: Villa with mosaics
Birdoswald: Wall Fort, Wall, Museum
Brading (Isle of Wight): Villa
Caerleon: Fortress, Amphitheatre, Barracks, Bathhouse, Museum
Caerwent: Town, Walls, Temple
Carlisle: Museum, Stanwix Wall Fort
Chester: Fortress, Walls, Amphitheatre, Museum
Colchester: Walls, Gate, Racetrack, Temple, Museum
Fishbourne: Palace with mosaics
Glasgow: Hunterian Museum, Baths, Antonine Wall
Housesteads: Wall Fort, Wall, Museum
Lincoln: Fortress, Newport Arch, Museum, Gates
London: Walls, Amphitheatre, Mithraeum, Museums
Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Hancock Museum
St Albans: City, Wall, Museum
Vindolanda: Fort, Museum (tablets)
York: Museums, Multiangular Tower
I would have few arguments with the ratings given though you need to consider that the whole focus is on visible remains. There is much evidence from historic records, small finds, excavations, non-invasive techniques etc which tell us just as much about the Roman period as the tangible evidence indexed in this gazetteer.
There are a couple of odd inclusions. Though its origins are unclear, I have never thought of the Cerne Abbas Giant as being Roman. And to list Wade’s Causeway on Wheeldale Moor (albeit with qualification) seems to fly in the face of current thinking.
Peterborough’s Roman archaeology weighs in at 3-Stars. There are mentions for Castor, Durobrivae, Water Newton Treasure, Car Dyke and the museum but of course points are deducted for limited visibility of remains.
Do lay your hands on a copy of the book. It’s full of interesting information and will guide you to fascinating Roman sites across the country.
Reviewed by Rex Gibson
Roman Britain and Where to Find It
By Denise Allen and Mike Bryan. Foreword by Ben Kane
Format Paperback | 256 pages
Publication date 15 Sep 2020
Publisher Amberley Publishing