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Bill Thayer

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John Ward:
The Roman Era in Britain

[image ALT: A tombstone, vertical and rectangular, depicting a horseman riding towards the right, in the act of spearing a man who has fallen under the horse; beneath the scene is a four-line inscription. It is a Roman tombstone from Cirencester; the inscription is transliterated and translated on this webpage.]

H. S. E.

Rufus Sita, eques Cohortis VI
Thracum, annorum XL, stipendiorum XXII.
Heredes ex testamento faciendum curaverunt.
Hic situs est.

Rufus Sita, horseman of the Sixth Cohort of Thracians, 40 years old, 22 years in the service. His heirs arranged to have this made according to the terms of the will. He is buried here.

The tombstone of a foreign soldier, far away on British soil; from Chapter 8.

Roman Britain cannot fail to call to the English-speaking student of antiquity, and as a result the province is far better represented in modern works than its proportional importance would warrant. Another reason is more interesting, however: Britain's sharp insular definition, the lateness of the Roman conquest, the rocky soil of many parts of the island which have conduced to better preservation of roads and forts, a number of factors have converged to document the gradual Romanization — and despite current revisionist trends, that means the gradual civilization — of a barbarian people and land better than that of any other. Britain is an excellent case study.

Thus, dated as it is — one of the unexpected consequences of copyright law is that in the early 21c we have a resurgence of classics from 75 years earlier — this work still presents a twofold interest to the modern student, only one facet of which is evident in its title. Ward took to heart the charge of his editors, and has given the lay reader a good overview not only of Britain, but of Roman civilization as well, at least from an archaeologist's viewpoint: to write about Roman baths in Britain, he tells us a lot about how a Roman bath worked; to write about the pottery we find on the island, he gives us a good little course on Roman pottery in general. In fact, chapters 8‑14, for just this reason, are of particular usefulness to those of us surfing the Web and finding either nonsense, or fragmentary information, or again stuff that is just too scholarly for most of us. Ward's numerous detailed illustrations are particularly clear. The book is thus a natural candidate for Webification.

Finally, though Ward never says as much, this book is in fact a companion volume to another work of his published in the same year, which I've also put onsite: Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks. The works overlap a bit, sharing 18 illustrations and a very occasional paragraph of text, but are otherwise completely different; and together they give the layperson a readable and comprehensive view of Roman Britain.

I know nothing about the author beyond the little he himself tells us in this book: that he was an archaeologist who among other places excavated the Roman settlement at Gellygaer; what appears to have been his first book is an accounting of those excavations, The Roman Fort of Gellygaer, 1903. (He is not to be confused with the later and currently better-known archaeologist John Ward-Perkins.)

For technical details on how the site is laid out, see below; here then is the complete work:


Several years ago, I was desired by the Editor of this series to write a volume on Roman Britain, but I soon found that the subject was too large and complex to be treated comprehensively, and at the same time to place the reader en rapport with the results of the systematic excavations of the last twenty-five years. These have vastly increased our knowledge of Roman Britain, especially its "major monuments" — the towns, forts, public buildings, and houses — and to these I confined myself in Romano-British Buildings and Earthworks, of this series.

It was felt, however, that the series demanded a general work on the era in Britain. This was now feasible, as the subjects which came within the restricted purview of the above volume could be treated in a more condensed manner than would be otherwise desirable. In spite of this, however, the question of space has been a difficulty. Two chapters which could best be spared — a short history of the era, and practical hints upon archaeological exploration — had to be cut out; and a third upon our public Romano-British collections, which was contemplated at the outset, and for which much material was collected, had to be abandoned. In obtaining this material I am indebted to the hearty co-operation of many museum curators, and although the proposed chapter had to be given up, their labour has by no means been in vain in the production of this volume.

The book does not cover as much ground as I wished, but to have included more would have entailed an undesirable curtailment of several of the chapters. But, with all its deficiencies, I hope it will prove to be of service to those — now a large number — whose interest in Roman Britain has been awakened by the prolific results of the systematic exploration of late years.

I am indebted to many for various services rendered, and especially to Mr. A. G. Wright of Colchester, Mr. T. W. Colyer of Reading, Mr. Oxley Grabham, M.A., of York, Mr. Robert Blair, F.S.A., of South Shields, Mr. J. H. Allchin of Maidstone, and Mr. Frank King, who has superintended the excavations at Caerwent for some years, for photographs and particulars of objects in the museums of those places. Most of the objects illustrated are in public museums, and each group is, as far as possible, drawn to a common scale.




Duration of the Era — Roman Britain, its Physiography and the Distribution of its Population and Towns — Natural Resources and Industries — Towns and Local Government — Religions — Sources of Geographical Knowledge — Bibliographical Notes and Museum Collections

Structure and Distribution — Fords, Bridges, and Milestones

Camps — Forts, their Defensive Works and Internal and External Buildings — The Northern Walls

General Characteristics — Two Types, "Corridor" and "Basilical"

Forums and Basilicas — Amphitheatres — Baths, Private, Public, and Military

The Graeco-Roman and Barbaric Paganisms — Mithraism and other Oriental Cults — Christianity

Temples — Shrines — Churches — Altars and their Inscriptions

Diversity of Funeral Customs — Cremation and Inhumation — Tombstones and their Inscriptions

Sources — Characteristics — Manufacture and Decoration — Classical Names of Vessels and their Uses — Classification — Potters' Kilns

Sources of Manufacture — Forms — Decoration — Uses

Hoards — Artisans' and Husbandmen's Tools — Domestic Appliances — Cutlery, etc.

Spoons, Ligulae and Forks — Lamps and Candlesticks — Steelyards, Balances and Measures — Bells — Objects Relating to Games — Spindles, Needles and Netting-tools — Strigils — Oculists' Stamps — Writing Appliances — Seal-boxes

Padlocks and Fixed Locks — Their Kinds and Mechanism as Indicated by their Keys

Footgear — Pins, Brooches, and other Dress-Fasteners — Tweezers — Nail-cleaners — Ear-picks — Mirrors — Combs — Dressing-boxes — Bracelets and Armlets — Finger-rings — Ear-rings — Beads and Necklaces

Allusions to Britain — Mints in Britain — Archaeological Value of Coins — Hoards and their Evidence

List of Illustrations

Technical Details

Edition Used

The original edition, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 36 Essex Street W. C., London, 1911. There was a 2d edition in 1920, which I have not seen: both are now in the public domain.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. I run a first proofreading pass immediately after entering each chapter; then a second proofreading, detailed and meant to be final: in the table of contents above, the chapters are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe them to be completely errorfree; any red backgrounds would mean that the chapter had not received that second final proofreading. The header bar at the top of each chapter page will remind you with the same color scheme.

Inevitably, though the print edition seems to have been well proofread, I've still caught a few errors in it, not all of them even strictly typographical. Those I could fix, I did, marking the correction each time with one of these: º. If for some reason I could not fix the error, I marked it º: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles. Very occasionally, also, I use this blue circle to make some brief comment.

Inconsistencies in punctuation have been corrected to the author's usual style, in a slightly different color — barely noticeable on the page, but it shows up in the sourcecode as <SPAN CLASS="emend">. Finally, a number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, apparently duplicated citations, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any other mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have the printed edition in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is indicated by local links in the sourcecode and made apparent in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line p57 ). Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

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Site updated: 14 Dec 20