A History of Roman Britain, by Peter Salway, Oxford University Press, New York, New York 10016, $14.95, paperback.
When it comes to authoritative historical analysis, you can’t top the Oxford Illustrated History of England series. A History of Roman Britain by Peter Salway, is a re-issue of Roman Britain, his 1993 contribution to the Oxford series, shorn of the many photographs and drawings that characterize the illustrated edition.
The Roman occupation represents the earliest epoch of recorded British history; a period, Salway rightly notes, that covers ‘as long a stretch of time as from the Wars of the Roses to the present day.’ Those who ponder the sweeping changes of the past 500 years will appreciate the author’s premise that the first half-millennium of British history, while often imperfectly understood by those with a ‘leisure interest’ as well as professional historians, is vital to understanding everything that followed.
Salway presents Britain as a Roman province embedded in a wider Roman world, rather than as a self-contained society, and thereby takes into account such influences on the evolution of British culture as Mediterranean imports, architectural styles, and religion, in addition to providing readers with a very readable account of the pivitol events during the centuries of Roman rule in Britain. The result for the reader is a clearer picture of the Roman occupation as a key transitional stage in local history, not just an interruption of Celtic society that came and went unmourned.