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BRITARCH  January 2011

BRITARCH January 2011

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Subject:

Re: Roman Britain - a backwater?

From:

Guillermo-Sven Reher Díez <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 18 Jan 2011 13:07:12 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (146 lines)

Seeing as it is that my comments in this list are -again- immediately tagged as "modern pseudo-political viewpoints" and discarded, I will limit my participation to commenting on Malcoml's take on the Exeter metaphor.
He is surely right in saying that being in Exeter is, regarding many things including political power, etc., being far from the centre of the happening in England. My comparison, though, was not narrowing on the availability of local opportunity within a system (which is, of course, quite important, but depends also on social status, etc. Therefore, not all citizens of the city of Rome would feel as connected to Roman-ness. But that is another debate), but whether members of the system evaluate their belonging according to how much 'Roman splendour' (architecture, fine ware, etc.) they posess. I was trying to say that being an Exeterman makes you no less English. They are all organic parts of a whole. You can aspire to be a Londoner in how you networker, but normally you don't feel you are less English. The same, I believe, should be applied to the Ancient world. A Roman citizen in Glevum may aspire to have impressive public works, and being able to walk to work at the Senate, but he still was and felt a Roman citizen, in the provinces. You can take this centre-periphery model as far down as you want. I already offered the Samnite example which is well known, and now the intra-city example.
Yes, Britain was certainly a backwater of Rome in the sense of less access to 'Roman splendour'. But, frankly, the concept is useless when trying to assess the organic role of Britain as a provincial territory of Rome.

> Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2011 09:13:48 +0000
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [BRITARCH] Roman Britain - a backwater?
> To: [log in to unmask]
> 
> I don't know the originator of the term 'backwater' in this context, but I 
> am inclined to disagree with some of our correspondents.
> 
> The concept, to me, is one which sums up the notion of being 'far from the 
> centre of .... whatever' - in this case, Roman 'civilisation. The use of 
> modern pseudo-political viewpoints to rubbish this notion is as pointless as 
> apologising for sending children up chimneys - it happened and whatever we 
> may think, it was generally considered normal and acceptable - perhaps even 
> correct.
> 
> In a real sense Exeter is a backwater compared with London - it does not 
> have the same range and quality of facilities, or governmental bodies, or 
> power, any more than Gloucester or numerous other 'English' (or should we 
> say 'British') towns and cities. I don't think the fact that I have lived 
> and worked in the latter backwater has in any way diminished my sense of 
> 'Britishness; or 'Englishness' and I would certainly take issue with the 
> concept that I was in any way less imaginative, constructive, clever, 
> intelligent, etc than those in London - far from it.
> 
> BUT, and it is a big but, the ability of someone in Gloucester or Exeter to 
> influence consistently the views of the central power base is considerably 
> reduced. I found it only possible by placing myself (obviously temporarily) 
> in that base. But the broader mingling was always impossible or very 
> difficult, such as attending evening functions, social events, etc. I have 
> no doubt whatever that Balbus, in his luxurious villa in Britannia, suffered 
> even more this sense of real isolation.
> But how luxurious was his villa? And to what extent do we really suffer from 
> a degree of mediterranean egocentricity?
> 
> I have been able to visit many towns and cities in Europe, north of the 
> Alps, and have generally found that we come a very poor second. I recall 
> being involved hosting a visit by our twin town - a small north German city 
> called Trier - and showing them our magnificent newly exposed east gate. The 
> following year I visited on a reciprocal trip and saw the Porta Nigra, not 
> to mention the rest of their remains. I said that I thought they had been 
> very polite when they had enthused about our comparatively pathetic remains, 
> only to receive the genuinely meant (ie no irony or spite) 'ah, but you are 
> in England'. I looked at mosaics with lines of tiny tessearae that were as 
> straight as a ruler. I saw stacks of high quality portable antiquities. I 
> saw fine sculptures. We had to use the Grand Tour to get this sort of thing 
> in any quantity in Britain - which itself tells us how little there was to 
> start off with.
> The same happens across Europe - see the galleries at Arles, or the 
> buildings there, or indeed in many other French towns (our nearest 
> provincial neighbour) and you will despair for British archaeology - perhaps 
> this is why we are so good at excavating. I remember finding a Roman 
> aqueduct crossing a road in Provence - it was not considered significant to 
> be mapped, any more than a Jupiter column I found by chance driving in 
> central France. We do not have such things except in pieces in museums or 
> historic houses. A place like Chatsworth has more 'perfect' Roman sculptures 
> than can be mustered (I suspect) from the whole of the indigenous archive.
> 
> We have occasional highlights which are generally cited in the context of 
> 'backwater' but one cage cup or fine sculpture does not reflect the wealth 
> or ostentation of the entire society - rather, these exceptions show the 
> relative poverty of the rest. The small degree to which this wealth and 
> ostentation entered or was nurtured in Britain suggests to me that there 
> were very few genuinely powerful and wealthy people in Britain, except in 
> comparison with others in Britain. Simply cross the Channel and the general 
> wealth rockets.
> 
> One final point. I look at most of European archaeology, and city after city 
> has suffered war after war, with looting and destruction, yet we have 
> nothing in this country to compare with the Pont du Gard (and I doubt if we 
> ever did) or the amphitheatres at Nimes, Arles, etc, the basilica at Trier, 
> or the (locally found) museum collections in Mainz, Trier, Arles, Amiens, 
> etc.
> 
> And I used to curate what I believe to have been one of the outstanding 
> archaeology collections in Britain.
> 
> I have obviously simplified and used a degree of hyperbole. Britain was a 
> backwater I am sure, and there is little in the archaeological record to 
> suggest otherwise. One or two swallows do not make a spring.
> 
> Malcolm J Watkins, BA, AMA, MIFA
> Director,
> Heritage Matters,
> www.heritagematters.co.uk
> 
> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "Andrew Smith" <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, January 17, 2011 11:17 PM
> Subject: Re: Roman Britain - a backwater?
> 
> 
> > "perhaps some of the comments in the Vindolanda tablets might reflect a 
> > desire on the part of the writers to be somewhere, anywhere, else but 
> > here."
> >
> > That comment vividly brought back to mind my experience and feelings of 
> > many years ago. I had walked from Housesteads to Chollerford along the 
> > line of Hadrian's Wall in rain that seemed to be coming horizontally from 
> > the north to the extent that the Tyne at the Wall crossing rose about two 
> > and a half feet in the time it took me to eat my sandwiches ( it had 
> > stopped by then).
> >
> > I have heard some of our Roman antiquities, eg Bath, described as "the 
> > finest north of the Alps", and would suggest that the scale of some other 
> > works elsewhere in Britain is considerable, and the expenditure of the 
> > necessary resources  would not have been justified in a 'backwater', 
> > surely? In the south there was evidently not inconsiderable wealth and 
> > sophistication which together with the number of usurpers that seem to 
> > have been generated hardly indicates a 'backwater' community, especially 
> > in its maturity, I would suggest.
> >
> > Andrew Smith.
> >
> > ----- Original Message ----- 
> > From: "John Shepherd" <[log in to unmask]>
> > To: <[log in to unmask]>
> > Sent: Monday, January 17, 2011 4:26 PM
> > Subject: [BRITARCH] Roman Britain - a backwater?
> >
> >
> > Hi all
> >
> > I am trying to get to grips with this word - backwater. It seems to be 
> > used frequently to precede the description of a new discovery - eg, "Roman 
> > Britain is often regarded as a backwater, but the discovery of etc etc is 
> > making archaeologists and hostorians change their views" - thus making the 
> > discovery all the more important.
> >
> > An open question - who first postulated this status, as backwater, for 
> > Roman Britain? Haverfield? Collingwood? I simply don't know and would be 
> > grateful for comments. And do some still regard it as a backwater? Such a 
> > general term and so out of kilter with the wealth of data we have - but 
> > then, perhaps some of the comments in the Vindolanda tablets might reflect 
> > a desire on the part of the writers to be somewhere, anywhere, else but 
> > here.
> >
> > A broad question there but I look forward to your views.
> >
> > best wishes
> >
> > John= 
 		 	   		  

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