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This is a very personal take on Roman Britain and a bold attempt at combining genres. As straight history, there seems to be too many assertions unsupported by argument or evidence. Aug 03, Walt rated it it was ok Shelves: I am not sure what I was expecting from this brief book. I certainly wanted more information. The book promises to give the reader information about Roman Britain.

It does, but in a very strange style. The author mixes archeology with creative narrative. The result is a book that reads like dry archeology interrupted with fictionalized narrative with little connection. The book begins with a narrative of Verica fleeing his kingdom. The king of the Atrebates was fleeing his capital.

Henig is not e I am not sure what I was expecting from this brief book.


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Henig is not entirely clear who was attacking the Atrebates. It appears to have been a coalition of multiple tribes. A few years later, Verica's nephew Togidubnus returns with five Roman legions to conquer Britain. Henig rarely goes beyond Togidubnus. The archeological record does not distinguish kings or territories. It is difficult even to identify kingdoms. The last chapter briefly throws in Alfred of Wessex. It is as though Henig said "first there was Verica, then there was Togidubnus, then?

Consequently, Henig spends most of his time discussing Togidubnus, a king whom Henig clearly admires. Raised in Rome as a close friend and companion of Claudius, Togidubnus possessed the best patron imaginable for reclaiming his kingdom. Henig intentionally avoids the invasion as much as possible.

The Heirs of King Verica: Culture and Politics in Roman Britain by Martin Henig

The single chapter on the invasion was probably the most coherent chapter. Interestingly, Henig argues against so many written sources claiming the Romans were not as ferocious as they are often portrayed. He infers that there was minimal resistance and minimal revolt overall. Many tribes welcomed and allied with the Britons.

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Boudicca was obviously an outlyer. However, he blames the revolt on her rather than Roman oppression. Henig's discussion and analysis on archeological artifacts in informative. Unfortunately, he is clearly writing for a more general audience, so his analysis is frustratingly interrupted with imaginary dialogue involving many imaginary characters. His ultimate conclusion was that the Romanized Britons were unusual in that they prized nature and hunting over war.

Henig comes to this conclusion by friezes and mosaics recovered at villas depicting nature, philosophy, mythology, and hunting. Unique to British villas, there is a lack of gladiatorial and war art. Henig rarely speculates about the tribes. He briefly speculates about the Iceni and Boudicca's revolt. He briefly speculates about the Brigantes, only in comparison to the Iceni. Otherwise, he leaves the tribes alone and leaves his readers wondering ho society was organized. Somewhere into this vague political mixture are the German invaders.

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Saxons formed Gewisse Wessex and nearby was the Hwicce; but Henig does not really talk about them or their interaction with the Britons. Once again, he appears to argue, though less forcefully, that the German invasions were not as violent as depicted in the chronicles. Overall, readers can learn something from the book. However, being written by an academic, this book was grossly short on analysis and full of fictional dialogue. Sources are scarce, and the flip-flop between academic archeology and free prose is irritating to the point of distracting.

A better overview of Roman Britain could certainly be written. Nov 24, Monty Milne rated it really liked it. This curious book has the sober historical analysis interleaved with colourful passages of reconstructive fiction. Different typefaces alert the reader to the change of tone. After a while I rather liked this, but many won't.

The Heirs of King Verica. Culture and Politics in Roman Britain.

On the whole, it works - just about - but I think I'd have possibly enjoyed the author even more if he'd stuck to either one or the other. He is an erudite and engaging writer. He gives a moving and convincing picture of the native but Romanised elite in ancient Britain, en This curious book has the sober historical analysis interleaved with colourful passages of reconstructive fiction. He gives a moving and convincing picture of the native but Romanised elite in ancient Britain, enjoying life in their splendid villas with a nostalgia for the old gods as nascent Christianity gathers momentum.

One is not surprised to find an atheist like Gibbon putting in a good word for Julian the Apostate, but it is a little more surprising to find an Anglican priest like the author doing the same and ditto for the home grown British heretic Pelagius. So far so congenial, but I can't share our clerical don's enthusiasm for the Roman Empire, and disdain for blood-soaked Boudicca.

But I voted for Brexit, and I doubt the author did. He clearly distances himself from those who traditionally have understood Britain as an essentially military province. Henig is not alone in wanting to better grasp the Britons before, during and after the Roman conquest and to investigate the choices they made in embracing and adapting foreign ways and ideas.

In this regard a departure from concentrating on forts, soldiers and military equipment as the essence of Roman Britain is not a bad idea, although the army and its impact cannot be totally ignored, as it is here. Henig commences with an examination of the so-called friendly kings of the late Iron Age in southern and south-eastern Britain, looking at their diplomatic and economic contacts with Rome. His main character, known only through Roman sources and his Roman-style coinage, is Verica, king of the Atrebates and client king of Rome.

Power struggles and territorial disputes between pro-Roman and anti-Roman dynasts resulted not only in the Roman invasion of A. Henig then explores how the land became Roman, citing civilian building programmes at Chichester, Fishbourne, Bath, Bosham and Hayling Island in the 1st century A. The cultural inheritance of the commonwealth of the Empire, according to Henig, was eagerly embraced by later generations in southern Britain. Inscriptions, writing tablets and graffiti are used to explore the spread of literacy and to explain the extent to which Latin literature and rhetoric was a part of British education.

Likewise, literary and iconographic themes displayed in figural mosaic pavements are interpreted as a sign of deep and widespread Graeco-Roman erudition. This section of the book contains more imaginary conversations between a British youth and his Greek teacher, the two of them wandering around Corinium Cirencester and discussing literature and art in the mid-3rd century.

Henig sees no reason why, as long as the province flourished in the high Empire, the owner of an estate or a successful merchant would have opposed the rule of a state which allowed and facilitated participation in the benefits of a larger whole. Rival Roman emperors, barbarian incursions in the west and general instability, however, prompted the British ruling class in A. Henig sketches a plausible picture of imperial reprisals against Britain after , particularly by the members of the house of Constantine, which led to the disaffection of the British elites with the central government in the 4th century.


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  5. Nevertheless, he sees the 4th century as a golden age for Britain. In continuing the theme of the cultivated British elites having thoroughly internalised Roman culture and literature, the imagery of late Roman mosaic pavements alluding to religion, mystery cults and classical philosophy is given an in-depth analysis. A bit of fiction again is stuck in the middle of this section, a religious and erotic encounter between two couples in a grove near Stonesfield villa.

    The couples talk about mosaics, quote poetry, sing and dance to Venus and Bacchus to the point of physical release, and discuss Plato, the Neoplatonist Plotinus and philosophy.