Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain

Review

Brett F. Woods
by
published on 20 January 2023
Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain (Ancient Warfare and Civilization)
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Title: Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain (Ancient Warfare and Civilization)
Author: Hingley, Richard
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Medium
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 2022
Pages: 336

Richly illustrated and offering an extensive bibliography, "Conquering the Ocean" is a pleasing and well-crafted examination of the Roman occupation of Britain that students of the period, as well as professional historians, will find to be of considerable value.

“Why should a distant island beyond the north-western edge of the Roman Empire have become the target of Roman ambitions for conquest?" (1). With this question, historian Richard Hingley encourages us to contemplate the answer in considerably more detail. The result is Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain, a pleasing and well-crafted examination of the period from Caesar’s first invasion in 55 BCE to c. 440 CE when, as Hingley notes, the Roman occupation of Britain was fully over.

Hingley - Professor of Archaeology at the University of Durham whose previous works include such standards as Londinium: A Biography (2018) and Hadrian’s Wall: A Life (2012) - is certainly well-positioned to navigate the academic friction that may arise when balancing classical literature and archaeological studies.

Conquering the Ocean is a thoughtful and ambitiously argued text that students and professional historians of this period will find to be of considerable value.

In a distinctive twist, Hingley sets the stage for the book by reminding us that the Romans inherited an ancient Greek belief in the divinity of the ocean and the idea that the oceans around them were vast and endless. Accordingly, in this light, the Roman conquest and settlement of Britain emerged as both a religious and military objective shared by many senior Roman officials from Caesar to Hadrian. More to the point, since Britain was geographically located within its own “divine” ocean - the Atlantic, as opposed to the more familiar Mediterranean Sea - the Romans felt it had a mystical quality that seemingly elevated military campaigning in Britain to nothing less than a magical act.

Having established full control of the lands around the Mediterranean Sea and sensing the opportunity, as Hingley suggests, to showcase his ability as a leader and general, Julius Caesar directed his military aggression against Gaul. It was late in the fourth campaigning season of the Gallic War that Caesar turned his attention to Britain.

Again, why Britain? Hingley proposes that while Caesar was personally attracted by the notion of “emulating the deeds” of Hercules and Alexander, his stated objective was to sever the lines of assistance from Celtic tribes in Britain to the Celts who continued to resist the Romans in Gaul. Further, Caesar, who possessed a particular talent for making money through warfare, also clearly intended to seize and carry back to Gaul large numbers of hostages, booty, and - particularly - slaves.

The total conquest of Britain, however, was a victory that even Caesar, despite his political and military brilliance, found to be an elusive goal. In continuing the story of Rome in Britain, Hingley puts forth an engaging and well-researched narrative that emphasizes the roles of successive emperors, from Claudius to Hadrian, in conquering this land and controlling the surrounding seas.

Richly illustrated and offering an extensive bibliography, Conquering the Ocean is a thoughtful and ambitiously argued text that students and professional historians of this period will find to be of considerable value. While Hingley’s prose is compelling and his command of the subject is evident, the book moves a significant step beyond what might be considered a “normal” history of the times and emerges as a reflective examination of the inherent complexities one might encounter when investigating the Roman occupation of Britain.

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About the Reviewer

Brett F. Woods
Brett F. Woods, Ph.D., is a professor of history for the American Public University System. He received his doctorate from the University of Essex, England, and his latest book is James Monroe: Diplomatic Correspondence, Paris, 1794‐1796.

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APA Style

Woods, B. F. (2023, January 20). Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/326/conquering-the-ocean-the-roman-invasion-of-britain/

Chicago Style

Woods, Brett F.. "Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 20, 2023. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/326/conquering-the-ocean-the-roman-invasion-of-britain/.

MLA Style

Woods, Brett F.. "Conquering the Ocean: The Roman Invasion of Britain." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 20 Jan 2023. Web. 01 Feb 2023.

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