by David J. P. Mason
Stroud, Eng.: The History Press / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2009. Pp. 232.
Illus., maps, plans, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0752425412
Sea Power and the Defense of Roman Britain
The author of a number books on Roman Britain, in this excellent work, originally published in 2003, Mason gives us much more than his title implies.
To begin with, Mason does give us a very good account of the role of the Roman navy in the conquest, development, and defense of Britannia. But he also gives us one of the best available treatments of Roman sea power, one of the principal – albeit usually overlooked – underpinnings of the Roman state from the for nearly seven centuries, from its expansion across the Mediterranean world from about 264 BC through the end of the empire in the west after AD 400.
Mason opens with four chapters discussing the origins of Roman sea power, the organization of the imperial navy, and the evolution of the ships and Rome’s maritime infrastructure.
Mason then devotes a chapter each to Caesar’s operations on the Atlantic coast of Gaul and his invasions of Britain (56-54 BC) and to the Roman conquest and consolidation of the island (AD 43-90). He follows with a chapter he calls “The Mature Classis Britanniae” (AD 90-193), on the most stable period of Roman rule.
Mason then devotes a chapter to the unsettling events of the period AD 193-276, during which revolt, barbarian raids, and local usurpation were eventually settled. The final two chapters cover the difficult century that followed. This period was characterized by piratical barbarian raids, bids for the throne by local commanders, and ultimately the withdrawal of Roman troops by AD 410.
Mason seasons his historical narrative with discussions of archaeological finds and trends in ship building, which provide for a more rounded picture of the role of the navy in the conquest and defense of the island, and in the process give us a very good look at the evolution of the Roman Navy under the Empire.