The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain

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NEIL FAULKNER. The decline and fall of Roman Britain. 192 pages, 75 figures, 27 colour plates. 2001. Stroud & Charleston (SC): Tempus; 07524-1458-5 hardback 25 [pounds sterling] & , 0-7524-1944-7 paperback 17.99 [pounds sterling] & $29.99.

Neil Faulkner seeks to chart the development and decline of Roman rule in Britain, within the context of his view of the Roman Empire as a whole. He adopts a strict classical Marxist model of Roman imperialism as a `system of robbery with violence' and follows Finley's reconstruction of the Roman economy as largely agricultural, with parasitic urban centres built for the elite out of tribute and tax from the oppressed rural masses.

In most respects Faulkner's interpretation of Roman Britain is extremely similar to that proposed by Richard Reece in the 1980s. There are two main differences: Faulkner's theoretical outlook and his reliance on textual sources. Indeed, through much of the book, narrative history (not archaeological evidence) is the basis of interpretation. The main foci of the archaeological discussion are Romano-British towns, on which Faulkner has published several earlier studies, and a series of graphs offering a quantification of Romano-British building activity, pottery forms and religious dedications.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide a largely conventional summary of the incorporation of Britain in the Roman Empire. This stresses the urban character of the Empire and places particular emphasis on the role of war and economic exploitation in establishing Roman rule. Chapter 3 discusses Britain in the later 2nd and early 3rd centuries, envisaging the provincial economy as geared to military supply and stimulated by state-investment for military purposes. Chapters 4 and 5 argue that urbanism and the other characteristic institutions of Roman Britain began to falter in the late 3rd century, but that imperial control was re-asserted in the 4th century by the militaristic state. Again, these chapters present a largely conventional narrative history, used here to depict the Roman Empire as a `war machine'.

It is only in chapter 6 that Faulkner departs from writing narrative history. In this chapter he turns to archaeological data in more detail to investigate the hypotheses formulated about 4th-century Roman Britain in chapter 5. …