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The Romans Who Shaped Britain.

The Romans Who Shaped Britain. By Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard. (London, England: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Pp. 288. $34.95.)

The authors have written a history of Roman Britain in the biographical tradition of Thomas Carlyle's On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History [1841] ("The history of the world is but the biography of great men") and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays: First Series 118411 ("There is properly no history; only biography"). However, Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard have updated this approach for the twenty-first century. The stories are not just of great men like Julius Caesar, who first invaded Britain in 55 BCE, but of great women like Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, who led a revolt against Roman rule in ca. 60-61 CE. There are also tales of lesser players, such as Bishop Germanus, who, coming to Britannia to eradicate the Pelagian heresy in the fifth century, found himself commanding a military force against the Pict and Saxon invaders.

Moorhead and Stuttard deftly use historical fiction as a vehicle to introduce each chapter with short tales that set the historical stage. Roman soldiers prepare to disembark with Caesar, and raiding German pirates confront the self-proclaimed emperor Carausius. This is a very effective presentation meant to engage the reader. The whole cast of characters is here, including Roman emperors (Claudius and Constantine), governors (Frontinus and Agricola), Saint Patrick, and British leaders (Caratacus and Vortigern). The historical narrative is well supported by literary and archeological evidence, including quotes from the histories of Tacitus and Dio Cassius, the geography of Strabo, and the biography of Suetonius, as well as letters uncovered at Vindolanda. Information about various topics (Mithras), historical debates (Claudian landings in 43 CE), and the use of historical evidence (the image of Britannia) are inserted within textual blocks to give more depth to the narrative.

The text of The Romans Who Shaped Britain is complemented with well-chosen black-and-white and colored photographs and helpful maps. There is a timeline of Roman Britain and a glossary of Roman administrative terms and titles. For further reading, there is a listing of original sources and secondary scholarship. The detailed notes, many with expanded discussions, enhance the text.

Moorhead and Stuttard's work is a very good introduction to Roman Britain for the general reader. Undergraduate students will also find it engaging. Many Roman history textbooks, like Richard Hobbs and Ralph Jackson's Roman Britain: Life at the Edge of Empire [2010], are topical studies of Romano-British culture (town life, villas, the economy, religion, etc.). Others, like Guy de la Bedoyere's Roman Britain: A New History [2010], have a short chronological section followed by topical chapters. The Romans Who Shaped Britain, based on current scholarly research, provides a refreshing alternative that follows the saga of Roman Britain over five centuries through the individuals who placed their stamp on its exciting history.

Randolph H. Lytton

George Mason University

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Author:Lytton, Randolph H.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2013
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