THE TOWNS OF ROMAN BRITAIN: The contribution of Commercial Archaeology since 1990

edited by Michael Fulford and Neil Holbrook

Society for Promotion of Roman Studies (2015) p/b 232pp £28 (ISBN 9780907764410)

This book draws together what archaeologists have learnt about the major towns of Roman Britain following a radical reform of planning law in 1990. The first two chapters explain the developments in planning law which have led to a profusion of developer-funded archaeology. Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 of 1990 (‘PPG 16’) and later enactments require developers, where possible, to preserve the archaeological heritage in situ. If that is not possible, then the developer must arrange for proper investigation and recording of all significant archaeological deposits. Subsequent chapters review the vast mass of material which urban investigations have revealed since 1990.

Dominic Perring has contributed a chapter on London which neatly updates his well known Roman London (Routledge, 1991). He draws upon dendrochronology and much other recent work in addition to developer-funded investigations. Perring argues that the development north of the river may have military origins. Possibly Plautius’ army was encamped there in the summer of AD 43 while awaiting Claudius’ arrival. He then gives a clear account of the original town, its re-building after Boudicca’s destruction, the city’s fluctuating fortunes over the next three centuries and its eventual decline.

Paul Bidwell is best known for his work on Hadrian’s Wall. Here he reviews recent investigations across the whole of the Midlands and the North, except York. The most important development is probably at Leicester, where recent excavations have revealed parts of the forum, a basilica and an aisled hall of unknown purpose. In a separate chapter Patrick Ottaway, the leading authority on Roman York, reviews recent investigations in and outside that city. More of the legionary fortress has been uncovered. The most important discovery is a pair of timber piles from the foundations of the north-west corner. These are dated AD 80-120.

Michael Fulford is well known for his work on Silchester, but with excavations now ended it has not been the subject of any developer-led investigations. F. therefore concentrates on the other major towns in the South East. At Colchester five phases of the development of the colonia have been traced. Just outside the town archaeologists have explored the remains of the only known circus in Roman Britain. Neil Holbrook of Cotswold Archaeology reviews the South West. The most important recent investigations are at Exeter. It appears that in the first century the River Exe was navigable as far as Topsham, where the Romans established a port. Military buildings have come to light on the road between Topsham and the legionary fortress at Exeter. There is also a military site on the cliffs above the river at Topsham.

Finally, there are three chapters on cemeteries, plant remains and animal remains. They are packed with helpful detail, but do not lend themselves to pithy summary.

This is not a book for the general reader. It assumes familiarity with the history of Roman Britain and it provides a greater amount of detail than the general reader would desire. This is a book for the serious student of Roman Britain: someone who knows his/her way around the subject, but seeks an update on recent developments following the introduction of PPG 16. In short, this book does precisely what the title says and does it very well.

Rupert Jackson—Court of Appeal

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