Sources for Roman Britain, anyone?

Thank you to Kristen, who got me thinking by asking about sources for info. on Roman Britain.

I’m not going to duck out by saying ‘Google it’ because I’ve just tried that, and some of the results are… well, they aren’t as credible as they look. So here are one or two suggestions for starters. I know I’ve missed lots out, so if anyone thinks something else should be there, please get typing and send it in, and I’ll add whatever it is and your name. AND the first name is… Gary Corby, whose very sensible suggestions are posted below as a comment, and summarised in here in claret type.  Gary very modestly fails to mention that he is also the author of ‘The Pericles Commission,’ so he knows a thing or two about research.

Avoid Wikipedia at all costs… but membership of most British libraries will get you free online access to Encyclopaedia Britannica – check out your local library website. Virtually every library on the planet has a good selection of classics… and try Google Books.  Even with snippet view only, you can quickly search out the book you want, then head to the library.

Bill Thayer’s splendid Lacus Curtiusnot about Britain but full of classical texts and a mine of information, tho’ of necessity some of it’s quite old. He only reproduces material that isn’t in copyright.  Bill has kindly dropped by and pointed out that there are secondary resources on Roman Britain here.   Gary points out the importance of going back to original texts, which can also be found in the Perseus Digital Library. For Roman Britain try searching under Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio Cassius (also called Cassius Dio) – and Julius Caesar, who came and saw but didn’t really conquer very much. Then check out the Vindolanda tablets – Roman Army correspondence found at Vindolanda . To see the actual letters try Vindolanda Tablets online.

Thanks to Robert Greaves, who recommends, ‘if you want to know what’s been found where – it has lots of maps, descriptions of sites, and details of inscriptions’.

Time Team, obviously, and BBC History .

Sadly the Museum of London’s lovely Roman microsite seems to have vanished, but Britain has some of the best museums in the world. They are your friend. (R- Oh yes! Sorry I forgot to mention this as the original question came from Japan.)

Guy de la Bedoyere’s website

Hadrian’s Wall website

A bit heavier:

Pliny the Elder’s* ‘Natural History’ is not much about Britain but is an entertaining read  He seems to have written down everything he was told, credible or not. Penguin do a paperback selection. (Incidentally, Pliny = two writers with one name, hence ‘Elder’ and ‘Younger’ . ‘Younger’ is chiefly famous for his letters. While we’re on this subject, Octavian and Augustus = one person with two names. I wish someone had told me this many years ago.)

Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Barry Cunliffe and Peter Berresford Ellis write about the Celts (or Ancient Britons, or whatever you wish to call them). NB – Modern Druids are not the same as ancient ones.

Peter Salway and Ian Richmond have both written histories of Roman Britain. Pepper Smith recommends the Peter Salway book as an interesting read. David Mattingley’s ‘An Imperial Possession’ is more recent but takes a different approach (and questions previous attitudes). Guy de la Bedoyere’s ‘Companion to Roman Britain’ (1999) is different again: intended as a summary of the evidence rather than an interpretation.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary is expensive and not really about Britain either, but full of fascinating things you didn’t know you wanted to know. I think there’s a concise (and cheaper) version.

What else?*

*October 2011- agh, how could I not have known about this?! “Roman Britain, A sourcebook”  – edited by Stanley Ireland. Contains all the texts I’ve spent ages hunting out (and losing again) plus a whole lot more. The third edition only came out in 2008 so is pretty up to date. When I think of the wasted hours this book might have saved… I think I’ll give it a new post all on its own. 










11 thoughts on “Sources for Roman Britain, anyone?

  1. Roman Britain isn’t my strong point, but may I add a few points about researching the ancient world in general?

    There’s no substitute for reading the original sources. There are some excellent translations around. Penguin’s translations seem to me the most readable, Loeb library the most academically correct, and the online Perseus library the most accessible and easy to use. Generally I use the Perseus online search function to seek out what I want, and then refer to a printed version of same.

    Libraries! Virtually every library on the planet has a good selection of classics.

    Google Books! Even with snippet view only, you can quickly search out the book you want, then head to the library.

    Avoid wikipedia at all costs. I’ve reached the point where I just assume everything in it is wrong, even though it’s only wrong about…oh…a quarter of the time?

    Museums! Britain has some of the best museums in the world. They are your friend.

    1. Absolutely, Gary – thanks for such a clear summary. As the original question was raised by someone in Japan, I completely forgot to mention museums and libraries! Will now apply my addled brain to amending the post.

    1. Thank you! I wasn’t sure if you wanted your name published – it wasn’t in the public part of the comment – if so please let me know.

    1. Thanks Lora – it’s the combined wisdom of several people and I’m glad you found it useful!

      Good luck with the novel.


  2. Thank you Bill – it’s an honour to have you drop by! I’ll add the link to the blog post.

    (I’ve also corrected the typo in ‘Lacus’, a word which my brain can spell but evidently my fingers can’t .)

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