Amberley (2020) p/b 256pp £19.99 ISBN (9781445690148)
This book is a collaboration between Denise Allen, a professional archaeologist, who spent many years designing, organising and leading tours for a prestigious travel company, and Mike Bryan, a dedicated amateur, who is now studying Roman Archaeology at Oxford after a successful career in publishing. They have pooled their talents and experience in a work which shows that they know what those with an interest in Roman Britain and its historical sites and museums will find helpful and how to set it out in an attractive and informative format.
After a brief introduction to the history of the Roman engagement with Britain from Julius Caesar’s tentative probing in 55 BC to the traditional date for Rome’s withdrawal of its protection in 410 AD, and a helpful note on ‘how to use this guide’, the book is divided into nine geographical areas. Scotland and Wales each have a section to themselves. England is further sub-divided—South East, South West etc. A map in the introduction shows at a glance how this works.
Each sub-division begins with an introduction on the history and extent of Roman involvement with sites to be discussed later highlighted in bold. There follows a list in alphabetical order of all the surviving Roman sites in that area and the museums which house their artefacts. The sites and museums are given between one and five stars depending on ‘how much Roman material can be seen’. We are also told whether the sites are in the care of the National Trust or English Heritage, whether they are ‘open sites’ (i.e. accessible at all times) and their postcode and, if necessary, tips on how to find them. Wisely, since they are likely to change, opening times and, where applicable, entry charges are not included, but the suggestion is if in doubt to consult the website.
To take an example at random: in the East Anglia section Welwyn, Herts, has three stars and head note reads: ‘Bathhouse of Dicket Mead Roman Villa; Museum. Seasonal opening.’ We are then told that ‘the modern entrance to the building covering the bathhouse of the extensive villa is quite unexpected, looking like a hobbit hole leading to an underpass…’. A brief history of the site is offered and the museum is complimented on its models and reconstructions showing how the baths would have worked. There is a half-page colour photograph of the remains of the bathhouse.
There are 242 locations in the index, some of which have more than one site of interest. There are 100 colour illustrations, some of artefacts, some of well-preserved mosaics, some of buildings in differing degrees of preservation, some of modern reconstructions and some of views showing how a site fits into the landscape.
The sites range from a single inscribed stone—St Hilary, Cornwall one star—to Chesterholm (Vindolanda) five stars: ‘Fort and vicus on the Stanegate; site museum with Vindolanda tablets; reconstructed Hadrian’s Wall section.’ In case readers may be unfamiliar with some terms such as ‘vicus’ there is a glossary, which tells us that it is a ‘civilian settlement attached to a fort’, and there is a brief note on Roman road names which mentions ‘Stanegate’.
With a short account of individuals both British and Roman who appear in the text, a timeline of Roman Britain and a brief guide to further reading, this is truly an attractive, well-planned, reader-friendly book and is to be warmly commended.