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Britannia: The Failed State: Ethnic Conflict and the End of Roman Britain, by Stuart Laycock

Stroud, Glos.: History Press/Chicago: International Publishers Group, 2008. Pp. 256. Illus., maps, notes, index. $43.95 paper. ISBN: 0752446142.

A history of Britain during the six centuries from the eve of the Roman conquest in the mid-first century through the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the sixth. 

In Britannia Laycock, a journalist with a background in Classics from Cambridge, who has written previously on Roman Britain (e.g., Warlords: The Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain), gives us an investigation into why the apparently cultured and sophisticated Roman Britain became the illiterate, barbarous, crude, and fragmented Anglo-Saxon Britain, in contrast to Gaul, Hispania, or Italy, where a more or less coherent Romano-barbarian societies emerged surprisingly early. Acknowledging that our evidence for Roman Britain and the Anglo-Saxon invasions is unusually spotty, with long periods virtually a blank, Laycock nevertheless marshals an enormous amount of archaeological
evidence that strongly suggests that tribal identity, and even tribal power, remained important in Britain throughout the Roman period.  This not only prevented the development of a coherent provincial identity during Roman rule, but, after the departure of the legions, resulted in a disjointed response to the Germanic invasions and led to the fragmentation of the province into numerous petty states. 

An interesting work for students of Roman governance, the Late Empire, Dark Ages, the barbarian invasions, and the formation of England.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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