ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 2, March 1995


Euro-sceptics of Roman Britain

by John Creighton

PJ Casey
Batsford, £35.00
ISBN 0-7134-7170-0 hb

Carausius and Allectus never became national British heroes - a curious quirk of fate, as between them, from c AD286-96, they maintained Britain and parts of Gaul against the might of Diocletian's Rome.

Roman panegyrics, lauding their Roman masters, were embarrassed about their success and only alluded to them; later histories added only a few details. It is only since the development of numismatics and archaeology that we have the additional data needed to tell their story.

John Casey, Reader in Roman Archaeology at Durham, has skilfully mastered the evidence to provide a comprehensive narrative. It is set against a clear historical background of the changing nature of power politics in the contemporary Roman world. The significant reassessment is the view of Allectus. With the fall of Boulogne to Rome in 293 it was thought the traitorous Allectus murdered Carausius, seizing power until he himself was slain when the junior emperor, Caesar Constantius, retook the island in 296.

However, from the numismatic evidence we see that whatever the motive behind the murder of Carausius - which may have been an attempt at negotiated reconciliation with Rome - areas of Gaul possibly remained in British hands until 295. Also, Allectus's innovations at the mint in London foreshadowed many changes across the empire in succeeding years. In addition, significant building projects were undertaken, such as a new palace in London, dated by dendrochronology to his reign. Even his death is now thought to have been at the hands of a general, Asclepiodotus, rather than of Constantius himself - a cover-up taking place to obscure something that must have gone wrong.

The final section of the book looks at how subsequent generations have viewed Carausius, and developed his story to their own ends. At the end, Casey realises that even his narrative will not be the last word. I wonder if in the future his tale of two leaders, the first charismatic, the second under-rated and misunderstood, both with an ambivalent relationship to Europe, will ever be seen as reflecting the time when he wrote.

Dr John Creighton is a Lecturer at the University of Reading

When the past is dynamite

by Patrick Greene

eds P Stone and B Molyneaux
Routledge, £75.00
ISBN 0-415-096022 hb

`The past may also be a dangerous place, part of the repertoire of dominance in a society that can, and all too frequently does, lead to open conflict.' These words appear in Brian Molyneaux's introduction to this interesting collection of 35 papers. Their underlying theme is that everyone engaged in the presentation of the past is dealing with social and political dynamite, capable of being used by dominant elements and those advocating change as a justification for their actions. There is a great responsibility on archaeologists and historians to be aware of the implications of their work, especially where facts, objects, sites and structures are interpreted for the public.

Such considerations will come as no surprise to colleagues working in Ireland, where outstanding efforts to find a path through conflicting nationalist and loyalist histories have been made by museums such as that at Derry Castle.

The value of this book, and indeed of the efforts to develop a `world archaeology', is to broaden our horizons and sharpen our understanding by introducing us to examples drawn from many diverse societies. We can discover the fascinating story of the writing of a new history of South Africa, commissioned by the Reader's Digest. There are papers on the role of archaeology in popular culture, in social conflict and in the classroom, and on protecting the archaeological heritage.

Ethnic representation, the development of self-confidence through the valuing of cultural achievements by minority, native and dispossessed peoples, and efforts to adapt western archaeological methodology to meet the concerns of native populations all feature in this book. Chapters on the National Curriculum, Stonehenge and Avebury provide a useful British contribution.

Dr J Patrick Greene is Director of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester

Failing Cnut

by Cyril Hart

ed Alexander Rumble
Leicester, £42.50
ISBN 0-7185-1455-6 hb

Despite the ambitious sub-title - King of England, Denmark and Norway - 90 per cent of this book is about England, which Cnut conquered in 1016 and looted systematically until his death nearly 20 years later.

What might a reader expect from a book about Cnut? Historians who review a king's reign may either concentrate on biographical aspects; or, more demandingly, they may try to assess the state of the kingdom under his rule, comparing his influence with that of a predecessor or successor. In the case of Cnut, the obvious comparison is with William the Conqueror.

Both were outsiders with no hereditary claim to the English crown. Having secured the country by conquest, both ruled it for around 20 years, using its wealth to subsidise their continental suzerainties. There the similarities cease.

Whereas Cnut's invasion was aided by the disastrous state of England's governance and by the support of a large section of its population, William's challenge had no such advantages. Cnut's campaign took more than a year to secure the kingdom; William's was all over after a single day's fighting.

Cnut endowed his followers with only a modest number of English estates and was content to rule the kingdom largely through its native landholders and officials. By contrast, William embarked on a revolutionary upheaval in landownership and administration, and introduced a feudal system.

Cnut's direct lineage continued to rule England for only eight years after his death, but William's progeny have worn the crown right down to the present day. Comparisons are odious but there can be no doubt who was the more effective monarch.

Returning to our book, we find in it only patchy and ill-defined reflections of the impact on England of Cnut's rule. Two essays stand out. Simon Keynes provides a competent set of potted biographies of Cnut's earls; and Kenneth Jonsson gives an excellent summary of Cnut's coinage. Beyond these, all the essays are competent and some will be required reading for those who aspire to become specialists, but one concludes regretfully that for the average reader the book will rarely justify the price demanded for it.

What one seeks is an account of Cnut's reign that is informed, informative, and entertaining. Such a book requires an author with an original, wide-ranging approach, a firm grasp of the sources and an adequate command of English. Sadly, such is the state of present-day scholarship that authors of this calibre are very hard to find.

Dr Cyril Hart is the author of The Danelaw (Hambledon Press)

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