British Archaeology, no 21, February 1997: Letters

Roman's in Britain

From Mr Terry Lloyd

Sir: In his article about the end of Roman Britain (`Rebellion remains the decisive factor', December), Michael Jones appears to be seeking a mystery where none exists. There are few, if any, who claim the initial Germanic intrusion in the mid-5th century destroyed the post-Roman society of Britain. On the contrary, that society survived remarkably well until a century later when the settlers did indeed do it irremediable damage.

He refers to `an invasion hypothesis' when it has never been advanced. What is accepted is that small numbers of Germanic intruders did inflict considerable damage on eastern Britain before being confined by warfare to settlement areas. The impact of these intruders was out of all proportion to their numbers in relation to the RomanoBritish population, but that is consistent with evidence from right across the collapsing Western Empire.

Dr Jones's emphasis on the tax and revenue argument is misplaced and seems to assume a modern model of tax collection and revenue usage. Since the Later Empire relied almost entirely on taxes in kind which were extensively utilised locally, the relatively prosperous province of Britain (a factor Dr Jones seems to discount) would have had the means to maintain a substantial garrison. Britain's problem came in fact when the garrison was attenuated, mainly by Stilicho, military commander in the Western Empire, at the end of the 4th century.

Dr Jones's suggestion that 'Britain was regarded as a spawning ground for usurpers' does not stand up. There were only two serious pretenders - Clodius Albinus in the 190s and Magnus Maximus in the 380s - Constantine III, declared Emperor in 406 when the Empire had already collapsed, is discounted for this purpose and Carausius was an outsider coming into Britain. Nor is his suggestion that the army `threw up a series of them' in the period 340-411 sustainable. Compared with the Danube provinces, for example, Britain was a novice in the stakes for the purple. It is not justified to leap to the conclusion that somehow this province was forever awaiting a secessionist opportunity, and the facts do not bear it out.

The interpretation of the Gildan material is superficial, and where Gildas is concerned one cannot better NJ Higham's observation that `Gildas was not writing an objective historical account of British history but a piece of dialectic which utilised the past to establish a system of causality appropriate to the present'. To draw the conclusions Dr Jones has from Gildas is to fly in the face of that. Moreover and more importantly, it ignores the work of John Morris in demonstrating that Gildas, when writing of what he knew directly, was only too well aware of the Roman inheritance which the two, or even three, generations before his had known and sought to preserve. Those were the generations lying between the time of the Honorian Rescript - the Emperor Honorius's command in 410 that the Britons now look after themselves (which in itself is evidence enough of the Romanity of the province) - and the onset of the English in the mid-6th century. There might be some murkiness in that period but it is not a mystery.

Yours sincerely,
18 December

No to franchises

From Mr Barry Horne

Sir: In his article `Let us have franchises in archaeology' (December), John Walker appears to put a reasonable case for franchises. Prices are kept down and quality improved. Utopia.

His railways analogy is all right as far as it goes - he claims the current system in archaeology is like `a privatised railway in which each train is put out to tender as it leaves the station' - but if we don't like the service provided by a railway company, we can take a coach, plane, or even drive ourselves. Under John Walker's scheme those people in the franchise area would have no choice. They may loathe the person who runs the franchise and the people in it, but they would be forced to employ them. Is that fair?

John Walker also ignores the voluntary sector. In some areas amateurs have been quick to take advantage of competitive tendering, as after all they can undercut anyone - and why shouldn't they? Archaeology needs standards, and as long as they are being followed it doesn't matter whether the work is done by academic, amateur, or contracting archaeologists. Let's have choice, not monopoly archaeology.

Yours faithfully,
28 December

Treasure for all

From Mr Tim Schadla-Hall

Sir: I was most interested to read about the recent problems of the Corrymuckloch Hoard (Letters, November). I have always believed that the Scottish Treasure Trove system is vastly superior to that operated in England and Wales - although hopefully the new Treasure Act will go some way to improving the position - but it would appear from Mark Hall's letter that the distribution of Treasure Trove in Scotland is a matter of great concern.

Mr Hall asks, `Should the great national museums get all the best new finds, leaving little of consequence for local museums to display? ' In the last 20 years the quality of regional museums in the UK has improved considerably. Many regional museums can now be favourably compared to the nationals in terms of the quality of conservation, storage, display, and security. Expertise is also spread across the regions.

There really is no case to be made for not distributing archaeological finds closer to the areas where they were found. If people wish to view objects of outstanding national or international importance there is no reason why they should not travel to the regional museums to see them. Mark Hall is quite right - this is an issue that affects all of us who do not live on the doorstep of the national museums.

Yours sincerely,
Director of Museums & Arts
Leicestershire County Council
11 November

Wrong winner

From Mr Neil Faulkner

Sir: There is no such thing as `forensic archaeology' (`Awards 1996', December). Archaeology is a humane discipline concerned with the study of the past. It involves many specialist sub-disciplines, but all of these exist only to further the recovery, analysis and interpretation of data about the past. The occasional use of some methods and skills peculiar to archaeology for entirely different purposes - such as police detective work - does not give rise to a new sub-discipline within archaeology itself. In the 1996 British Archaeological Awards, the Silver Trowel Award should have been given for work in archaeology, not for helping the police.

Yours faithfully,
East Sussex
21 December

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