Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire: 54 BC - AD 409 (Allen Lane History S.)

by David Mattingly

Hardcover, 2006



Call number




Allen Lane (2006), Hardcover


The centuries under which Britain was under Roman occupation have always had a contradictory reputation. Generations of British readers were brought up to approve of the Roman Empire as the model for their own empire, but equally it was embarrassingly clear that within the Roman Empire Britain itself was merely an unattractive exploitation colony. David Mattingly's major new book draws on a wealth of new research to recreate brilliantly this colonial Britain- a rebellious, disadvantaged place needing heavy garrisoning and highly vulnerable to political change in Rome. The result puts the whole great story in a new and fascinating light.

Media reviews

Certain aspects of Mattingly's negative stance strike me as anachronistic: to state, for example (p. 7), that Roman imperialism was applied without the consent of the population is inappropriate, since democracy, as it is now understood, is a relatively recent concept! In fact, through a critique
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of the Roman provincial system, it is the colonialism of the seventeenth-twentieth centuries that Mattingly is taking to task. Though this is a political position I share, it is not a historical viewpoint: I believe that historical critique must shed its ghosts, in this case colonialism, as has already been done in the now obsolete debate on the ancient economy between 'primitivists' and 'modernists'.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Caomhghin
A history of Roman Britain which changes the older viewpoint based on seeing the Romans as forerunners of the British Empire. Britain was a colony and an exploited one. The book is undoubtedly over long for its purpose as a general introduction to the period and part of a series on British history
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up to the present day. This is more of a commercial comment as it is worth the reading. The author pulls together the available information which is largely archaeological but he includes and analyses all the available written material. He analyses Britannia through the lens of three social groups – the military, the Romanised civilians and the non-Romanised. This gives a quite new perspective on the period. The military were obviously very Romanised, very literate and very much part of a larger organisation. While not necessarily identical to military units elsewhere they were very similar. Much of Britain’s trade was based around them and they were the big spenders of the colony. In the towns and the villas people were less literate, less ‘Roman’ (in their eating habits for instance). The non-Romanised British changed their way of life very slowly if at all.

The author doesn't shy away from the fact that it was a frequently bloody occupation run for the benefit of the conquerors not the inhabitants. This, oddly, gives you a more balanced view of the time.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
There were three Britannias going on in this period, the "Official Roman Province, a Mediterranean commercial community and the remains of the indigenous society the romans had conquered. The author seems to advance the view that the three groups did not meld very successfully by the time of the
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Roman withdrawal. In short, this is the anti-colonialist view. A necessary corrective to Rosemary Sutcliff, but a little sad for me. Seems likely, though.
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Original publication date


Physical description

621 p.; 9.21 inches


0713990635 / 9780713990638

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