The Real Lives of Roman Britain

Review

Alex Criddle
by
published on 21 July 2016
Rating: star star star star star
Audience: University
Difficulty: Medium

Guy de la Bédoyère brings Roman Britain to life through a quite brilliant study of many individuals who escape the overall narrative of historians, but leave glimpses into their lives through traces of the archaeological record. Archaeology has turned up bits of cities and villages, with their houses, monuments, temples, and the occasional daily household item. Even when put together expertly, they provide only fragmented insights into a past time and place and only reveal pieces of their lives.

The Real Lives of Roman Britain

Guy de la Bédoyère brings Roman Britain to life through a quite brilliant study of many individuals who escape the overall narrative of historians, but leave glimpses into their lives through traces of the archaeological record. He works with inscriptions, writing tablets, treasure hordes, and mosaics, and through these he recreates the history of the Roman occupation of the empire’s most northern province, Britain.

The Britain of the Roman occupation isn't very known to us. Archaeology has turned up bits and pieces of cities and villages, with their houses, monuments, temples, and the occasional vase and daily household item. Even when put together expertly, they provide only fragmented insights into a past time and place and only reveal miniscule pieces of the lives of those who lived there.

Guy De La Bedoyere says that the British were an outlier in the Roman Empire. Their story was different from most that were part of the Empire. While many people that the Romans invaded either climbed the social ladder or were extinguished, no British native has been known to have reached even equestrian status in the Empire, yet they stayed around. This could be due to a record full of holes or to an eagerness to adopt Roman names and customs, the British are interesting because of their absence in the annals of history.

History seen through the fragments left by the lives of normal people is quite fascinating. I did not realize that our knowledge about Roman Britain was so thorough and so limited as well. It is a well-researched and quite fascinating book, though De La Bedoyere tends to jump from one individual to another quite quickly because of the lack of information about each person. The text is sometimes a bit dry by nature which doesn’t make it the easiest of reads, though it is very interesting to go through and De La Bedoyere makes the text easy to understand. The vast amount of information in the book, especially the number of people mentioned, makes it a bit hard to follow at times, but it does not interfere with the overall understanding of the book.