14 January 2008

Book Review: Britain A.D. by Francis Pryor

Britain A.D. The arrival of the Romans civilised Britain. Their departure reduced it to chaos. The place then got taken over by invading Angle and Saxon hordes. Right? According to this book ... no. The argument it lays out is one in favour of a continuous native British culture, which remained little changed during the centuries of Roman occupation - and against the idea of post-Roman invasion. Rather, the similarities between the post-Roman British culture and that of the Saxons was the result of the willing exchange of ideas across the Channel. The book also looks at the legends of King Arthur and how they may have come into being.

I’m not sure whether it was the book or just the fact that I had to read it in a hurry to get it back to the library on time, but I recall more a general idea of the contents, than the actual evidence used to support them. Nevertheless, that general idea was very interesting and set me wondering what else I’ve learnt from encyclopaedias might not be entirely correct. I can’t say whether the supposed post-Roman collapse of civilisation was one of the fixed notions of history I’d picked up previously (perhaps very vaguely, since it seemed neither strange nor familiar) but the waves of European invasions is something I’ve long known of. Or perhaps believed would be a better word; the argument against their ever having occurred is not just persuasive but logical. It’s gotten me very interested in reading more about the period, to see if anyone else agrees, and it’s made me more determined not to accept things just because they’re in a book, but to consider the evidence for myself. Even if it might be a touch on the academic side, this is a must for anyone with a love of history.

Rating: B

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776