Review – Roman Britain: the frontier province

3 mins read
Mark Hassall
Hobnob Press, £18
ISBN 978-1906978426
Review Edward Biddulph

This collection of papers by Mark Hassall, for many years a lecturer at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and co-editor of the epigraphic roundup for the journal Britannia, takes as its model a 1953 collection, Roman Britain and the Roman Army, by the eminent scholar of Roman Britain Eric Birley. Like that volume, this current collection takes stock of previously published research to present an academic ‘greatest hits’ compilation.

Roman Britain: the frontier province brings together papers on aspects of epigraphy, the Roman army, and the system of provincial government. It includes Mark Hassall’s essay on the legendary Batavians (who took part in the invasion of Britain and were famed for their ability to swim across rivers in full armour), articles on the manner and date of the construction of both Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and a thoughtful – if slightly mischievous – argument for London being the site of Britain’s first university. The book discusses the impact of the army on the creation of the province (a piece on Mediterranean urbanism, for example, illustrates how the forum basilica at Silchester and shops at Verulamium were based on military architecture), and reveals how well connected the province was to the Continent by trade (inscriptions suggest that wine was imported from the Rhine provinces in the late 2nd and 3rd centuries, with fish sauce and salt being exported from Britain in return).

While students of Roman Britain are likely to have read some, or all, of these papers in their original publications, and though the collection does not take into account developments in Romano- British studies that have occurred since the original publication of the papers, the reproduction of the work in a single volume is not only useful, but reminds us of Mark Hassall’s scholarship, insight, and elegant arguments.

At the beginning of the book, Mark Hassall acknowledges the debt he owes to the great and the good who preceded him, among them Jocelyn Toynbee and Sheppard Frere, and who inspired his career in archaeology. Mark has been, in his turn, just as inspirational to his many students (this reviewer included) and this book will no doubt find a prominent place on their bookshelves.

This review appeared in CA 338.

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