Britain AD by Francis Pryor

41jz6dej8wl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Subtitled ‘A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons’, this is thankfully much more than a rehash of Arthurian myths or Anglo-Saxon aggrandisement.  The veteran archaeologist looks at the period from the end of Roman rule to the Anglo-Saxon invasion and tackles parts of the popular view.  In brief, through his archaeological work he finds sites with a continuity that seems to call into question the idea of a huge Saxon invasion.

There are a few problems with this argument – language being the main one; if there was such continuity in population, then why does English have so few words from its Celtic predecessors?  There are also a few potential issues with the style of the book: it is short, but dry and occasionally unfocused – digressions onto anecdotes from Pryor’s early career on dig sites are enjoyable; digressions onto the history of Arthurian myth actually feel tacked on to the main thrust of the book.

Although this book certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, it is an interesting read and often thought provoking.  Pryor uses his experience to offer some speculative arguments, but these feel grounded and plausible (compared to Neil Faulkner, who got a bit carried away on the same topic).  I’d be keen to read his other work (I believe Britain BC offers similar arguments for the Celtic era invasions), or more books that shed light on early British history.

NB/ I believe there was a TV series of the same name in 2004; I have not yet seen it.

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Decline and Fall of Roman Britain by Neil Faulkner

As I often do, I skipped the preface to this book and went straight into the main text.  Because of that, it was only about half way through that I realised Neil Faulkner was a Marxist – all the references to class war finally started to make sense.

In this book, actually charting the whole history of the Romans in Britain, this approach has advantages and disadvantages.  Roman society was undeniably full of inequality and, in an otherwise dry book, Faulkner does succeed in bringing that to life.  His descriptions of the settlements, showing the disparity in wealth, are bolstered by plenty of archaeological evidence.  His explanation of the effects of Diocletian’s economic reforms is much more vivid that I’d thought the history of taxation could be.

On the downside, his conclusion, that the end of Roman Britain would let a peasant revolt kick out the landlords and live a brief but ideal agrarian society before the Saxon warlords moved in, comes across as far fetched and lacking any real basis to back it up.  His descriptions of the Roman empire outside of Britain are short and one-sided, mostly existing to show either Britain’s role in the empire or the inequality in the system.

I’m not as well read on Roman Britain as I should be, but this stands as an interesting if occasionally uneven take on that particular fringe of the Empire.  Worth reading, but perhaps best balanced with an alternative point of view.