Monday, 14 January 2013
Britain after Rome, by Robin Fleming
Robin Fleming's latest book. Britain after Rome, is the latest addition to The Penguin History of Britain series. Focusing mainly on England from the end of the Roman era to the Norman Conquest, Britain after Rome is best described as a people's history of the Anglo-Saxon world. Instead of describing the reigns of kings and the politics of the time, Fleming writes about the changes in society and how people lived during the early Middle Ages. The author dives into the vast archaeological evidence that has been accumulating all over the British Isles. The material sources which are being uncovered have allowed historians like Fleming to re-write much of what we know about the Anglo-Saxon world. What can be learned from medieval cemeteries or long-hidden ruins is truly amazing, and this book really succeeds in showing us a new view of how people lived and died over this period. Some general themes emerge throughout this book, starting with the establishment and growth of Christianity in Britain, including the important role played by missionaries and monasteries. Another is how the island found itself almost totally without urban areas by the year 600, but in the centuries afterward towns began to emerge, with places like Ipswich and London getting plenty of coverage. The economic development of early medieval Britain is shown throughout the book, with Fleming telling us about how farming and trade improved as the years passed. We learn a lot about the daily lives of these people, including what they ate, what they wore and what goods they wanted to take with them into the afterlife. Towards the end of the book, Fleming is able to write about the lives and deaths of three otherwise unknown women, based on what was found at their burial locations -- this was very touching and well-written, as is most of this book. A couple of drawbacks to note -- as a medieval military historian I would like to note there is not much about warfare and the effects of warfare. Secondly, while the Staffordshire Hoard gets a prominent picture on the cover, the book only has a couple of brief mentions related to the discovery. These are minor issues, and on the whole Britain after Rome is a book that should be on the shelf of anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon history.