Review – Clash of Cultures? The Romano-British period in the West Midlands

1 min read
Roger White and Mike Hodder (eds)
Oxbow Books, £30
ISBN 978-1785709227
Review Edward Biddulph

This volume has been 16 years in the making, its origins being found in a regional research framework seminar in 2002. While most of the contributions in the book were presented as papers at that seminar, they are by no means out of date, however, having taken into account, for example, recent excavations and the latest data from the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

After an introductory chapter that sets the scene, defines the region, and introduces research themes, there follow contributions on the Roman army, Roman Warwickshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, and the county of West Midlands. There are also sections on coins, ceramics, religion, and the region in the 5th and 6th centuries. The approach is a logical one, but inevitably leads to overlaps – for instance, in the discussion of military archaeology – and highlights the familiar problem of applying modern county boundaries to ancient landscapes.

What of the archaeology itself? The region is very much one of two halves, with a military frontier zone to the north and the bulk of civilian settlement to the south. Wroxeter (itself within the ‘military zone’) is perhaps the region’s best-known Roman town, but other sites are just as intriguing, such as Kenchester in Herefordshire, a market centre with a town wall. The region is also the source of major industry, notably ironworking, pottery, and salt production: a grand villa at Bays Meadow in Droitwich may have been occupied by a salt magnate with close ties to the provincial government.

The research framework roots of the book, leading to its county-by-county approach and identification of future research priorities, means that the big question posed by the title of the book largely remains unanswered. While there are hints of an answer – for example, in the discussion of the settlement pattern and occasional mention of the ‘R’ word (that is, Romanisation) – a concluding chapter bringing themes together may have provided an opportunity to address the question more fully. Nevertheless, Clash of Cultures? is a useful introduction to the Roman archaeology of the West Midlands and provides the way forward for future research.

This review appeared in CA 347.

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