UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia - Miles Russell, Stuart Laycock UnRoman Britain argues that “Britain, although it may have been a formal part of the Roman Empire for nearly 400 years, was never fully Roman” (p. 21). Like the British in India or the Americans in Iraq, the Roman occupiers established pockets of their culture and co-opted the ruling elites but left the countryside and its people alone. Pre-Roman Celtic culture survived and re-emerged when the legions evacuated c. AD 410.

Sadly, I’ve allowed a backlog of reviews to accumulate on my desk. This book, which I read more than a year ago, is one of them. But, based on the notes I took, here are some of the points the authors make:

- Membership in tribal groups was fluid.* It’s a mistake to look at a map of pre-Roman Britain with its clearly defined tribes and imagine it reflects a late-Iron Age reality.

- After Boudicca’s revolt, Rome imposed a more traditional provincial government. It reorganized existing towns and established others along traditional Graeco-Roman lines, although the archaeological evidence indicates that few were very successful – at least compared to similar foundations in Gaul and Spain.

- The Graeco-Roman pantheon appears to have had little influence outside of urban centers and military foundations.

- While the Romans ruthlessly exploited Wales’ and Cornwall’s mineral wealth, there’s little evidence that that bounty found its way into the island’s economy.

- Not surprisingly, most of the evidence for Romanization is found in the south and east, the coasts nearest the mainland and most tightly integrated in the empirewide economy.

- “By contrast with Gaul…the British aristocracy seem…to have remained insular and uninterested in joining the imperial power structures right to the end” (p. 178).

- After the legions left, Roman culture disappears from the archaeological record – no coins, no building, no manufacturies, no villas. This can’t be attributed to the Anglo-Saxons as they didn’t arrive until after 450. The authors posit several reasons for this: (1) Rapid fragmentation into pre-Roman tribal polities. There was no self-identification as “British,” unlike Gaul or Spain, where distinct Germanic kingdoms arose. (2) There was no well-established Christian presence that might have mitigated the effects of the secular government’s disappearance. (3) As the book hopes to show, what Romanization there was, was a thin veneer, easily cast aside.

- The final chapter of the book looks at Celtic Britain’s transformation into Anglo-Saxon England. A process more thorough and far quicker than Romanization despite indications that the number of Anglo-Saxon immigrants was very low (<100,000?). Again, the authors offer some reasons for this: (1) Anglo-Saxon culture was similar to Celtic, much more so than Rome’s. (2) Anglo-Saxons were infiltrating a country where ancient traditions were at a low ebb; the Romans had invaded at a high-water mark for Celtic civilization. (3) Because of the limited number of Anglo-Saxons, it’s likely they married British women (evident linguistically in Old English, which owes much to Celtic dialects, especially its syntax**, and succeeding generations were raised in a hybrid culture. (4) Roman culture was in decline, discredited. (5) And, though limited as noted above, Anglo-Saxon immigration was still far greater than Roman.</blockquote>

The authors don’t discount “Romanization” but argue that its influence in Britain was far less than previously thought. “Romanization” is not a myth but it was never a conscious policy of any republican or imperial government. Rome imposed a distinctive order wherever it held sway; and, in some cases, they transformed the region (Gaul & Spain), in others, the Roman veneer was swiftly thrown off (Britain).

Turning aside from the content of the book, physically, it’s an impressive volume. Russell and Laycock have provided numerous photos (many in color), drawings, maps and diagrams that illustrate British lifestyles and the paucity of Roman influences.

This is definitely a book I would recommend.

* The issue of tribal identification is a fascinating study in itself, and I would recommend Peter Heather, among others, for those interested in recent research into the matter.

** For the interested, John McWhorter's [b:Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English|3143472|Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue The Untold Story of English|John H. McWhorter|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348081148s/3143472.jpg|3174939], which I reviewed several years ago, offers a brief but fascinating explanation for this.