The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution

By John Hunter; Ian Ralston | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight

Roman Britain

The military dimension

W.S. Hanson


SETTING THE SCENE

The Roman army was one of the most successful in history, and the Roman acquisition of an empire was primarily a result of that success. Britain was one of the last additions to Roman territory, and the province has been one of the most intensively and extensively studied of the Empire.

It is not proposed here to provide a narrative of the military conquest and occupation of Britain. In the space available it could not provide anything but a superficial coverage, and such historical accounts are quite commonplace. For detailed discussion of that narrative the reader may turn to any one of several books (e.g. Salway 1981; Todd 1981; Frere 1987). The broad chronological outline, therefore, has been provided here in tabular form, indicating the prime sources of information for each chronological event (Table 8.1). This leaves this account free to concentrate more on particular issues and problems, and to demonstrate the way in which archaeological evidence both is integrated into that account and facilitates its expansion in detail.

In chronological terms, this chapter follows on from that on the Iron Age which precedes it, though with a certain amount of overlap, both chronologically and culturally, since the basic fabric of Iron Age society did not suddenly and ubiquitously become Roman. The chapter parallels, chronologically, Chapter 9, dealing with civil and rural society in Roman Britain, and links into Chapter 10 on the archaeology of the early historic period. As with all interfaces between periods defined by modern scholars, there is no clearly defined break, but rather elements of overlap and continuity, all the more so as some of the peoples who had been raiding the shores of the Roman province in the fourth century AD became settlers in the fifth.


Regional strengths and weaknesses in the evidence

Because of the way in which the Province developed and, in particular, the failure to complete the conquest of the whole island, the main geographical focus of any consideration of the military dimension of Roman Britain is on the frontier zone in the north and west. Because much of the area involved falls into the upland zone, which, historically, has been more sparsely occupied and less extensively developed, the state of preservation of many of the archaeological sites is high. Furthermore, because the Roman conquest has been a subject of interest since the earliest days of the development of archaeology as a discipline, many of these sites have been subject to archaeological investigation. By contrast, however, with the exception of some well-preserved late coastal defence sites (e.g. Maxfield 1989), Roman military remains in the south and east of the

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