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Autumn Books

Article excerpt

Roman Remains and Ancient Offerings

Early societies are well represented by new histories this autumn. Just published by Batsford, the English Heritage Book of Prehistoric Settlements by Robert Bewley ([pound]25hb, [pound]14.99pb) looks at the development of British settlements from Mesolithic hunter gatherers to the tribes of the Iron Ages, during the 8000 years between the end of the Romans in AD43.

A useful background to the Roman invasion of Britain and the history of the Empire in general, from the eighth-century BC to the fifth-century AD, is Lesley Adkins and Roy Adkins Handbook to Ancient Rome (Roundhouse Publishing Group, [pound]24.95) in the 'Facts on File' series. The guide is organised thematically to include such subject headings as The Republic and the Empire, Religion, and Towns and Countryside -- which looks at town planning, building and amenities etc. Roman buildings are examined with more detailed scrutiny in Roman Building: Materials & Techniques by Jean-Pierre Adam (Batsford, [pound]50), an in depth study of construction from quarry stage to standing wall, and examining water supply, heating and road systems.

The Empire in conflict and at war is also the focus of new work. The Roman War Machine by John Peddie (Alan Sutton, [pound]18.99) looks at the problems of control confronting Roman commanders and suggests the possible logistical and tactical solutions they may have pursued. Further examples of conflicts, successful or otherwise, are explored in Carausius and Allectus: The British Usurpers by John Casey (Batsford, [pound]35) which tells of the little-known episode under these successive leaders when Britain achieved an independence which threatened the stability of the Roman Empire in the years AD286-96. A more serious and lasting danger came in the fifth century from Attila the Hun. A new study by Patrick Howarth, takes the warrior's perspective and looks at the threat posed by the Huns in an exercise that challenges Attila's image of the savage barbarian. Attila, King of the Huns: The Man and the Myth is published by Constable at [pound]16.95.

In Carthage, A History by Serge Lancel, translated by Antonia Nevill, (Blackwell, [pound]19.99) the capital, on the north coast of Africa, of one of the ancient world's most powerful empires, Phoenicia, dating from 814BC, is explored at the peak of its power in the fifth century BC. The two penultimate chapters tell of the great conflict with Rome, featuring Hannibal's crossing of the Alps and concluding with the city's destruction in 146BC.

The Picts by Elizabeth Sutherland (Constable, [pound]15.95) discusses this Dark Age people of Scotland (who generically acquired the term Picts in the works of third-century Roman writers). The author shows Pictland as a territory ruled over by a high king, with the aid of provincial kings and lesser lords. The Picts emerge as highly organised with a sophisticated appreciation of art and a close relationship to the environment. Also a warring people, one of their most lethal rivals are themselves the subject of a comprehensive new study: the Atlas of the Viking World edited by James Graham-Campbell (Roundhouse, [pound]22.95) is the latest in Roundhouse's illustrated 'Cultural Atlas' series. The Atlas charts Viking domination of Europe from the late eighth century to the eleventh century characterised by networks of sea crossings and military campaigns and cultural development, as they spread out from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, reaching westward across the Atlantic, eastward to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, and southwards to the Mediterranean.

Medieval and Early Modern

In spite of our recent survey which highlighted the decline in popularity of medieval history among students, it has not been neglected by academics, who continue to pursue more and more detailed specialisations and to question previously accepted truths.

Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted by Susan Reynolds (OUP, [pound]20) published last month, challenges orthodox conceptions of feudalism and identifies centuries of misconceptions about the nature of medieval social relations. …